A Short History of the Advent Wreath

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

Advent began in Gaul as a 40-day season beginning on the Feast of St. Martin (November 11). Around 1000 AD a four-week Advent developed. It was a penitential season, though not quite as austere as Lent. The Gloria in Excelsis was suppressed in Advent, but not the Alleluia. (Frank Senn The People’s Work: A Social History of the Liturgy.)

Advent Wreath 01The Advent wreath may have developed from the Yule Log. The Yule Log came from pagan religion. It was lit to drive way the demons of ice and snow. As Europe became Christian, Christians kept the Yule Log. The first Advent wreath of record was used in Lutheran homes in 16th century Eastern Germany.

Professor Haemig of Luther Seminary, St. Paul, points to Johann Hinrich Wichern (1808–1881), a Protestant pastor in Germany who worked among the poor. He used a wreath.  https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advent_wreath.  During Advent, children at the mission school Rauhes Haus in Hamburg, founded by Wichern, would ask daily if Christmas had arrived. In 1839, his wreath was made from a wooden ring (an old cartwheel) with 20 small red and 4 large white candles. A small candle was lit successively every weekday and Saturday during Advent. On Sundays, a large white candle was lit.

Advent wreath 02It should be noted that this was not a liturgy for the church, but a devotion for the home. In time, however, it became more popular in German Protestant circles and evolved into the smaller wreath with four candles, or five (with a large candle in the middle for Christmas). Roman Catholics in Germany adopted the custom in the 1920’s, and in the 1930’s it spread to North America.  Professor Haemig’s research also indicates that the custom did not reach the United States until the 1930’s, even among German Lutheran immigrants.

Advent Wreath 03Today most Advent wreaths use four purple or blue candles with a white candle at the center. Sometimes a rose candle is used for Gaudete Sunday (the third Sunday of Advent which focuses on joy). The practice has spread to Catholic and even Orthodox Churches.

I was recently asked by a member of our altar guild about the proper colors of the candles of the wreath, and by a pastor about the meaning of the rose candle. You won’t find instructions about the Advent wreath in any historical books on the liturgy. It was a grass roots family devotion that found its way into Sunday worship.

I have heard quite elaborate teaching around the meaning of the candles over the years, but this is a fairly modern invention. What we have is a simple devotion that has evolved over time. Use it in any way that serves the gospel, and proclaims a word of hope to the world.

Holy Hospitality: Responding to Immigrants and Refugees   

By Chris Markert, Mission Catalyst

AMMPAROThat means you must also love immigrants because you were immigrants in Egypt.”
-Deuteronomy 10:19 (CEB)

As the synod continues to move forward with our strategic plan, one of our strategic priorities is Radical Hospitality, with a commitment that our synod and its congregations will be intentional about embodying hospitality.

One of the goals of this strategic priority is to increase the number of congregations that have designated themselves as AMMPARO congregations.

In Spanish, amparo means “refuge” or “protection from harm.”  In 2016, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a strategy to address migration and violence in Central America. The program’s full name, Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO), is our church’s response to serving those (especially children) who are forced to flee their communities because of violence, poverty, environmental displacement or lack of opportunities in Latin America.

The AMMPARO program invites ELCA congregations to become a designated AMMPARO congregation. An AMMPARO congregation commits to providing pastoral and, when appropriate, physical accompaniment, to migrants who are making the journey to the U.S.  This is different than being a sanctuary congregation.

Other things your congregation can do:

  • Pray regularly for those who are fleeing their homes because of violence.
  • Learn more about the ELCA’s work and advocacy with immigrants and refugees. (visit LIRS or the ELCA Advocacy)
  • Host educational forums and bible studies around issues concerning immigrants and refugees.

For more information about becoming an AMMPARO congregation, visit the ELCA AMMAPARO page or contact the Synod Hospitality Team.

Harvey Disaster Recovery in Galveston County

By Shelli Williamson, Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response

Harvey 01During the week of September 23-30, St. Phillip’s Lutheran Church’s Disaster Relief Team from Fridley, MN ventured to the Gulf Coast to participate in long-term hurricane recovery work in Galveston County.  This was their 72nd disaster relief trip since forming in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2006.  Mike Anderson and Renee Johnson, the co-coordinators, work diligently with community partners throughout the US in determining where they will focus relief efforts next. And, the need for volunteers continues to be great as disasters become more common.

Harvey 02.pngThis particular journey was St. Phillip’s 2nd visit to Galveston and neighboring towns due to Hurricane Harvey.  With the assistance of the Galveston County Long Term Recovery Committee and Galveston County Food Bank, 3-5 projects were determined for the week. The 24 wildly talented volunteers poured their hearts and hands into a variety of ways of serving, including: building steel walls, sheetrocking, floating/taping/painting, insulating walls, tearing out carpet and installing new laminate flooring throughout a home.  Each evening the work teams would return to Zion Retreat Center in Galveston for a hearty meal and to debrief about Harvey 03the day’s activities.

I had the great honor of joining the team one evening to share in devotions and to extend a warm, Texas-sized thank you for their commitment to heeding the call to “love thy neighbor.”  As the evening unfolded, stories were told of previous disaster relief adventures, skills-based trainings required prior to the trip, multiple experiences with worn out homeowners who are living in only 1 room of their homes due to the exceeding amount of repairs that remain.  We concluded with prayer (and cookies, of course!).  This is a very organized, fine-tuned, outgoing, vivacious group who truly know what serving the world really means.

If you have family, friends or neighbors in need of help/support post Hurricane Harvey, please call 512.539.7987 or email harveyassistance@upbring.org.



Safe Communities

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

safe haven churchThese days it seems we hear revelations of sexual misconduct regularly, among newscasters, politicians, entertainers, teachers, sports figures and even church leaders. The church should be a safe place where people can worship, learn, serve and care for one another in a safe environment. Children and adults alike should expect to enjoy a safe environment. “Safe” means free of sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and verbal abuse, as well as sexual and racist microaggressions. It is the responsibility of church leadership, lay and clergy, to establish guidelines and boundaries for behavior in the life of a congregation. When lines are crossed, we must act.

There are some things that you can do to minimize misconduct. Every congregation should have Safe Haven Guidelines. Such guidelines lay out the congregation’s commitment to being a safe place for children and youth. They establish a code of conduct. For example, a common rule is the “two-adult rule.” Children and youth are never supervised by one adult alone. This provides accountability. Another example is the “six-month rule.” A new member cannot work with children or youth until having worshipped regularly for at least six months. Sexual predators look for quick and easy access to kids. Churches are often targets. Most predators won’t wait around six months to get access to kids.

Background checks should be run on all adults who work with children or youth in any capacity. Some congregations budget for this. Other of them charge it back to the adults who work with youth. If you want to work with youth, we expect you to participate in this important act of safety. Some congregations have dodged a bullet through this practice. While some will see this as a nuisance, for most parents, it raises their confidence in the church. Do you want adults with multiple DUIs driving kids around for youth events? Would you like someone with multiple convictions caring for kids? Background checks can cost between $10 and $20, a small price to pay to keep our children safe.

Creating Safe Spaces Workshop

On October 27, 9am-12 noon, LEAD and the Synod will offer a Creating Safe Spaces Workshop to help congregations get set up. Congregations are invited to bring a team of 3-5 people (pastor/staff person, council rep and children/youth volunteer). You will leave with a draft of your own congregational Safe Haven Guidelines and a plan to continue the implementation process when you go home. It will be up to your Congregation Council to adopt it, but your draft will get you most of the way there.

As church leaders, we want our ministries to be safe, healthy and caring environments safe haven for kidsfor children and youth.  Whether it is in Sunday School, at Confirmation or at a lock-in, we want everyone to be safe.  In a world with so much hurt, churches can be vulnerable to abuse when we haven’t carefully thought through how adults are screened and trained to work in environments with children/youth.

What about adults?

Children are particularly vulnerable, but adults also experience a host of inappropriate words and actions. Every person’s body is their own. They have the right to be hugged, shake hands or not be touched at all. Leaders need to stand behind this. If someone is the victim of inappropriate touching, or inappropriate comments, they should speak to the pastor or a member of the Congregation Council. A couple of Council members can speak to that member. If the behaviors continue, disciplinary action should be initiated. All are welcome, but one person does not have the right to make the space unsafe or unwelcoming for others. Leadership is the immunity system of any organization.

What about convicted sex offenders?

Someone accused of a sex offense should be carefully monitored, but people are innocent until proven guilty. If, however, someone has been convicted, other steps must be taken. Those who have committed crimes and served time have a need for spiritual community as much as anyone. Congregations can establish clear, written guidelines for such individuals. Those guidelines stipulate which service will be attended, and which buildings, including which parts of those buildings are off limits. Such individuals must always be accompanied. The synod office can help you establish these guidelines, which must be public, and approved by the Congregation Council, that way everyone helps keep the community safe, for the sake of the church and also for the sake of the convicted offender.

What about pastors and deacons?

Pastors and deacons are in a particular role of power. Those who wear a robe, stand before the people and speak the Word of God are held to the highest of standards. When professional church leaders use their position and power for personal gratification, or to use or demean others, families suffer, the Congregation suffers, the wider community suffers and the witness of the church is harmed. Such stories in the news are heart-breaking.

The ethical standards of conduct for professional leaders are set out in a document called Visions and Expectations. This document is currently being updated and will likely have a new name in the next year or two, but the current documents, one for pastors and one for deacons are available online. Disciplinary guidelines called Definitions and Guidelines are also available.

What to do if you are a victim of (or know of) sexual abuse by a bishop, pastor or deacon

First of all, tell someone. Find a safe place. A friend, a counselor or a pastor. If the misconduct involves a minor or violent behavior, report it to the police. If the perpetrator is a bishop, contact the ELCA Churchwide Offices in Chicago. Ms. Barbara Keller, 773-380-2568, Barbara.Keller@elca.org specializes in this area. If you contact the ELCA Churchwide Offices in Chicago about a pastor or deacon, they will contact the local bishop immediately.

If the complaint is against a pastor or deacon, contact the local bishop. In this synod, the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, that is Bishop Michael Rinehart, 281-873-5665, bishop@gulfcoastsynod.org.

How is misconduct handled?

Bishops are trained to handle misconduct legally, transparently and compassionately. The local bishop will begin an investigation. Bishops do everything in their power to help reporters of abuse and victims to remain anonymous, unless they give permission to share their identity.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has a zero-tolerance policy. This means that reports are taken seriously and investigated. Misconducts get removed from the clergy or deacon roster. Allegations that involve breaking the law get reported to the civil authorities. Those who resign under allegations of misconduct, in order to avoid disciplinary action, go off roster and cannot return unless the investigation is complete. After a misconduct, full disclosure is made to the congregation to avoid speculation and provide healing for other potential victims. Full transparency is practiced. Finally, no leader gets removed because of baseless accusations or hearsay.

People are people. People have abused power and violated trust going back to David in the Old Testament times. The church can do many thimgs to be a safe space, but there will always be predators. What the church can do is identify predators and deal with them forthrightly. Here are some resources for members of congregations and their surrounding communities:

What is YAGM? Well, we’ve got three!

By Chris Markert, Mission Catalyst

Have you ever heard of YAGM? It refers to those participating in the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. This programs invites ELCA young adults ages 21-29 into a transformative, year-long journey in international service in the spirit of accompaniment.
YAGMA year of service through the Young Adults in Global Mission program invites young adults to become the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, providing critical support to ministries and projects in communities of need. It also invites YAGMs into a journey of self-reflection, providing space to consider their sense of identity, God’s work in the world, and their place within it all.

YAGMs serve in the spirit of accompaniment, walking alongside global companions in a manner that practices mutuality, interdependence and solidarity. They are also responsible for raising $5,000 for their service year.

This year, the Gulf Coast Synod has three YAGMs getting ready to be deployed:  Hannah Johnson, Zeb Rose, and Mariah Sands. I recently had the opportunity to meet Hannah Johnson, from Lord of Life-The Woodlands, Texas, to hear her story and excitement about being a YAGM in Senegal:

What made you consider YAGM? I first found out about YAGM through my sister’s friend who was a YAGM in Rwanda from 2016-2017. I was very interested in the service aspect because service has been such a huge part of my life, starting with mission trips that I went on with the Senior High youth group at my church. This love for service was continued through college, and it seemed natural to me for this next year to also incorporate service. I was also interested because it was through the ELCA, where my love for service was first ignited.

What are you excited about as you prepare for your service in Senegal? What excites me about this year of service in Senegal is the connections that I will be able to make with the community there. I have always loved people and loved learning from and about them. I believe that there will be many such learning opportunities this year, and I cannot wait!

What’s the process of becoming a YAGM? What training is required? The first step is a pretty lengthy application process, which includes an online application, with follow-up documentation and two phone interviews. In March you find out if you were chosen to go to DIP (Discernment, Interview, Placement), and are assigned two possible countries which seem the most promising fits for you. DIP is in April and lasts for three days. It is used for you and for the countries with whom you are interviewing, to determine which country is the best fit and whether you want to accept your placement in YAGM. If you decide to go forward and do YAGM, the summer is spent doing visa paperwork, getting the necessary vaccinations, and fundraising for the program. YAGM officially starts in mid-August, with a week of training in the United States. After that week, you fly out to your country and spend various amounts of time doing in-country training. After in-country training, you move to your community and your service starts.

What are your plans when you return from Senegal?  I plan to attend graduate school to get either a master’s or a PhD in Environmental Anthropology. I hope to work with a disaster relief organization, such as FEMA or the Red Cross, on developing policies to better help people recover from natural disasters.

To make a donation to support Hannah (or one of the other synod YAGMs), visit our Synod donation page.  Be sure to check “Other” and specify “YAGM Hannah Johnson.” You can also make checks payable to the Gulf Coast Synod and in the memo specify “YAGM Hannah Johnson.”

Meet Your Ecumencical Representative: Karin Liebster

Bishop Mike Rinehart

Each of the 65 synods of the ELCA is asked to select an Ecumenical Representative (ER). This ER is an appointment by the bishop. Many thanks to retired Pastor David Roschke, who served in this role for many years. He has now stepped down.

Karin Liebster Ecumenical Representative
Pastor Karin Liebster

I have appointed Pastor Karin Liebster in this role, starting September 1, 2018, which is serendipitous, as she was installed as Associate Pastor of Faith Formation at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Houston on September 1, 2002, sixteen years ago. First a little bit about Karin, then a little bit about the role.

Karin came to the United States from Germany where she received her Master of Divinity and was ordained in the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland. Her theological formation took place in the climate of second generation postwar Germany, a time characterized by the desire to build global ecumenical understanding and relationships, the reformulating of Christian theology in light of two world wars, and the effort of the church to repent and renew relations with the Jewish people.

In the 1985-1986 school year, she studied in Jerusalem at Hebrew Union, becoming part of the ministry at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City. She became deeply rooted in Christian-Jewish Dialog, what she describes as “the prime ecumenical relationship.”

After taking her first examinations in Düsseldorf, Karin served her residency in Heidelberg, as a part of the Evangelical Church of the Rhineland. It was there that she learned about agape meals and Taize. After her two-year residency, she returned to Düsseldorf, the seat of the Rhinish church for second set of exams.

In 1993 she moved to the U.S, serving served Montvale Congregational Church in Woburn, MA (United Church of Christ) before moving to Houston in 1997.

The emphasis of Karin’s work at Christ the King is providing educational programs and opportunities toward the formation of the Christian faith in all stages of life. She works closely together with volunteers and ministry staff especially in the areas of children, youth and family ministries. She teaches the Confirmation Class.

Pastor Liebster says about herself and her ministry, “Faith is a wondrous thing. When I most want it, it can escape me. When I least expect it, it comes as a gift. It is this elusive and yet real presence of the triune God which is daily at the center of my real work with real people. I like best the many ways in which we assemble as the Body of Christ – in worship, for storytelling and listening, for study and play, for shared meals and conversations – because each is an opportunity for the Word of the living God to come and meet us.”

Karin is married to Matthias Henze, who teaches at Rice University.

I asked Karin to take on this role because she is one of a number of folks who show up for ecumenical events, because she knows about and cares deeply about Jewish relations, and because she understands that in theology and ecumenical relations, words matter.

She said yes because of her Jerusalem experience, because of the influence of her Heidelberg mentor, because she considers herself a child of the ecumenical age and the World Council of Churches, and because she came from the UCC.

As this synod’s Ecumenical Representative, Karin will be a part of the LEIRN Network: Lutheran Ecumenical and Inter-religious Representative Network. Working with Pastor Kathryn Lohre in the churchwide offices, LEIRN’s role is:

To manifest the unity given to the people of God by living together in the love of Christ and by joining with other Christians in prayer and action to express and preserve the unity which the Spirit gives. (ELCA Constitution, 4.02)

Karin will serve as a direct resource to the bishop for ecumenical issues, connecting with LEIRN and with faith leaders in this synod. Karin will work on the team that plans events for the week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January. She will promote study of dialog materials and encourage ecumenical relationships.

Karin’s work will be primarily in Texas, and frankly, Houston-centric. This is because in Texas, the Methodist, Episcopal and Catholic bishops are in Houston. Houston is also the center for Jewish and Islamic leadership. In Louisiana, Dean Nancy Andrews represents the bishop and synod frequently. Pastor Ron Unger has also been very active, recently coordinating our Reformation events with Archibishop Aymond’s staff. In Baton Rouge, Pastor Robin McCullough is Director of Interfaith Ministries of Greater Baton Rouge.

A special word of thanks to Karin for agreeing to take on this role.

Accompaniment in our Church

By Cody Miller, Service Learning Project Manager, ELCA

31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[f] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Luke 24:31-32

Project Talk
ELCA Youth Gathering 2018: Youth group helping The Center for Hearing and Speech get the school ready for their Project T.A.L.K. summer camp.

When we go out into our communities to serve, why do we do it? Many of us have different answers. Some go to feel good about themselves for doing something that helps others. Others are passionate about what they are doing. Probably all of us genuinely want to help the community that we are serving.

Serving others does not necessarily have to be picking up a hammer and building a Habitat for Humanity home. Serving others can be something as simple as listening to someone else’s story to better understand what they need, so we can walk alongside them as we serve them and recognize that God is already at work through them. That is what the accompaniment model of serving is: not coming in thinking that we know what they need, but intentionally listening to their needs so that we may better serve them.

When thinking about the idea of accompaniment, I am often reminded of the story of the Road to Emmaus. Two people were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, talking and grieving about Jesus being crucified and all had taken place the past few days. All of the sudden Jesus appeared, walked with them, listened to them and was in relationship with them. Later that night at dinner, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. When we serve, we walk that road to Emmaus. We walk alongside our communities, listening, and being in relationship. Then we see God reveals Godself to us.

I was part of the planning team for the ELCA Youth Gathering that was just held here in Houston. Our team was tasked with developing all of the service projects that the 30,000 high schoolers would do in the three days that they served. We spent the better part of two years developing the projects. One reason we spent so long was because we had to find 200 unique opportunities to serve to accommodate that many participants, but we also spent that time intentionally listening to the needs of the city of Houston and finding ways where we could help further the mission of our community partners.

Our hope was that when the participants showed up to serve that they were already entering into a relationship that had been nurtured, and that they would come in with open ears and open hearts to help in whatever way they were asked.

God’s Work Our Hands was less than a month ago, but there is never a bad time to go out into our communities and listen to what the needs are and explore how we can best serve. It can be tasks such as helping stock the local food pantry, or lending a helping hand to teachers, or preparing a meal for the nearby fire department.

We always finish our worships service with the words “Go in Peace, and Serve the Lord.” That is what we are called to do. To go out, serve, and witness God at work through all of us.

Thank YOU TLGCS! THIS is how a Synod goes from Vision to Mission

By Peggy Hahn

LEAD rise-up-creativeIf you’ve ever wondered how you go from a big vision to a concrete mission, ask the Gulf Coast Synod.

The Vision: Almost six years ago, our synod’s strategic planning team launched a big vision that included birthing a separate organization focused on Christian leadership. It was a big, risky, audacious goal that as far as we know, no synod had ever done before. Sure, synods had put leadership on the plate of already busy people, but never said, “Build something totally new. And we will put money into it.”

The Call: I admit (tent of mercy, please) that when Bishop Mike invited me to go to work on the vision, I said no the first time. The second time he asked, I said maybe. I didn’t feel equipped, I didn’t have time, I didn’t really think this was my call. I had a ton of reasons why I was the wrong person for this important work.

Bishop Mike asked again. This third time (Biblical, right?) kept me up all night wondering, what if I said yes? Now I know…at least this far.

We started by listening to many of you who are reading this article. We listened to 60 pastors in three weeks. Themes started to surface.

Then we built a Design Team. Thanks to Carsten Alsguth, Pastor Mike Button, Pastor Don Carlson, Vonda Drees, Chris Hicks, Pastor Blair Lundborg, Evan Moilan, Pastor Rich Nelson, Pastor Brad Otto, Bishop Mike Rinehart, Pastor Mindy Roll, and Pastor Pedro Suarez (now a bishop) for dreaming LEAD into existence.

The Experiments: We started LEAD by doing two things: we said yes to every opportunity that came along and we brought in great speakers for events. By the end of the first 18 months, Beth Hartfiel, Chris Hicks and I (the LEAD staff at the time) were exhausted, frustrated and clear that this wasn’t God’s plan. We stopped doing events because we lost money and people weren’t showing up. We started asking ourselves what have we learned? Who else do we need to listen to? Where is transformation really happening? What does discipleship look like? Where are the God sightings?

Pushing pause on the chaos that we ourselves had created helped us find clarity: The behaviors we had noticed when we listened were not just behaviors – they were vital indicators of leadership as discipleship. Listen. Center. Explore. Connect. These are LEAD’s values, but they are also our work and our hoped-for behaviors for leaders in the church.

The Surprises: Congregational leaders started responding. They were growing in faith and transforming their home congregations. Then, thanks to a single, one-hour workshop at the ELCA Youth Ministry Extravaganza, our world got bigger. We began working with another synod. Then another. We didn’t see that coming, yet how did we miss this? Of course, we knew how to work with synods. You had taught us that. Today we are honored to be in relationship with 79 congregations in six synods. Thank you TLGCS!

The Learnings: When congregational pastors get passionate about transformation, and they have a team of lay leaders who are ready to go to work, things happen. It takes commitment, a new mindset, new wisdom and new skills. It takes a deep, bold, consequential faith to change a church.

We are in partnership with rural, suburban and urban congregations with anywhere from 46-300+ people worshiping God every week. We are humbly learning how to be the church in a changing world.

This would not have happened without you and Bishop Mike and our synod council all believing in us. The financial support at the beginning gave us room to imagine and experiment. The decreasing funds from our synod made it urgent for us to say yes to new ideas. This sounds like good parenting. Thank you.

Next Steps: In 2019, LEAD will take a leap of faith and become a stand-alone nonprofit. We will move our office to a classroom at Faith Lutheran in Bellaire, TX. We will deepen our relationship with our synod as the new strategic plan calls us together. The synod is making an ongoing financial investment in LEAD. We could not do this without you. (We’ve moved from $100K in 2013, to $80K in 2015, to $60K in 2016-2018, and are moving to $45K in 2019.)

The power of these strategic plans should not be missed. The move to organize independently makes my heart stop beating when I think about it all. At the same time, it gets me curious about what God is up to next which is a giant reminder that we are never alone.

The power of putting plans into action is essential. It takes financial investment, committed leaders who work harder than they ever have over a longer period of time (thank you, Chris and Beth), and it takes a willingness to risk. A start up is a lot like your work in the church these days: an action-packed pilgrimage of faith.

So, come with us into the future in new ways. Bring your vision, your curiosity and your partnership because we are the church together, ushering in a new era. The learning is just starting. My heart is filled with gratitude for you.

LEAD organizes as a separate non-profit organization

By Bishop Michael Rinehart 

LEAD Partnering with You.pngOnce upon a time, a synod was heavily engaged in the deep-listening portion of a strategic planning process. One of the things they heard over and over again, was the desire for more training, coaching, consultation and resources around the basics of ministry. Congregational leaders were asking the synod for more leadership tools, though the synodical budget had been in decline for years. That synod, our synod, started to imagine how we might do this.

An idea began to emerge. What if we created, alongside the synod, a separate leadership organization that could focus on providing the needed resources, without having to worry about maintenance issues that the synod handles, like call process, candidacy, conflict and so on? This organization could find out what congregations needed, and what the best of the best are doing. The funding from this organization could come from grants, and fees from congregations using those resources.

Key Ministry Area 3 of the 2012 Strategic Plan read, “We will establish a new, separately funded, Partnership for Ministry Excellence.

Our vision was to provide expert and exceptional training, coaching, and consultation to leaders and congregations with the desire to do what it takes to grow. We wanted to effectively and creatively using the strengths and passions of current leaders and congregations to be a resource across our synod. Let’s find those who are doing things well, and help them serve as a resource to others.

Peggy Hahn was chosen as the leader of this effort and things were off and running. Assistant to the Bishop Peggy had been serving on the synod staff since June of 2000. A life-long Lutheran follower of Christ, who had grown up in this synod (New Orleans), Peggy had a passion for the church and a strategic mind. She hit the ground running and LEAD was born: Living Everyday as Disciples.

Like most startups, liftoff took quite a bit of energy. The synod began with a grant of $100,000, and a commitment to a diminishing grant for multiple years. The vision was that, in time, LEAD would become separately funded, through grants and fees, eventually standing on its own. Five years later, we are there.

Almost immediately, congregations from outside our synod became interested in what LEAD was offering. This was crucial, because grants were hard to come by and fees from congregations within the synod, who were used to getting things at no cost, were not paying the bills. These additional congregations helped give the organization lift. LEAD was able to scale up by recruiting and training top-notch coaches from around the country. Their costs were paid by the congregation, with LEAD receiving a portion of those fees. This came at a crucial time: About a year after we launched LEAD, on the tail of the Great Recession, the Alban Institute, a 40-year-old organization that provided advice and continuing education to mainline Protestant churches, closed its doors.

Then there was an even bigger surprise. Other synods began to show interest. When congregations get serious about listening, planning and praying about ministry, the Spirit stirs things up, and stuff happens. Turn up the leadership heat in a congregation and thins begin to move. Synods looking to help congregations collaborate together for health and vitality began to look to LEADs model of coaching with cohorts and jump in. Today LEAD is working with six ELCA synods.

The LEAD board has been an advisory board until now. The synod has provided financial support and in-kind support (office space, bookkeeping, office equipment, tech support, etc.). Starting in 2019, LEAD will become a stand-alone organization. The synod will continue to use services from LEAD as needed, on a contractual basis, though at a decreased rate in 2019. LEAD is currently helping this synod with several parts of our strategic plan, such as developing an intentional leadership pipeline for pastors and other leaders in the church, developing a digital resource center, and so on. Until now, Peggy has continued as an Assistant to the Bishop on our synod staff. Starting next year she will be employed by LEAD.

For many in this synod this feels like both the fulfillment of our vision, but also like a child leaving the nest for college or work. There is both joy, and, if we are honest, a little bit of grief.