Monthly Mission Spotlight: Covenant Lutheran Church – Houston, TX

By Chris Markert, Bishop’s Associate for Mission

Pastor Chris and Pastor Ele Clay
Pastor Chris Markert and Pastor Ele Clay

This month we hear from The Rev. Ele Clay, redevelopment pastor of Covenant Lutheran Church in Houston.

How long have you been in your call?

8 months, two weeks. But who’s counting?!

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve experienced so far in the work of redevelopment?

The maturity and responsiveness of the people on my Redevelopment Team. It is mutually encouraging, supportive, and therefore satisfying, in ways that I could not have asked of them.

What are you and Covenant excited about right now?

It is too early for me to speak for Covenant as a congregation; but what I can offer is our Redevelopment Team’s fascination with our Acts bible study. Each member of our team takes turns leading the bible study each week.

Consequently we’ve had several approaches and highlights from this familiar text to consider each time we meet. We are discovering, in the process, that the text speaks the same truth, no matter what. We are confronted with comparable spiritual issues in our 21st Century church as we study the evolution of God’s Church in the 1st Century. Wow!

What’s the one thing you’d like the people of our Synod to know about Covenant and the redevelopment process?

Covenant is curious about the future of ministry in our community, and that’s a good thing. We want to know what God is up two in this hyper-busy and expanding area of Houston.

Who are your current mission partners?

We are honored to be chosen by Pastor Ashley and the congregation of Kindred-Montrose as mission partners. Faith Conti, a member of their leadership table, serves on our redevelopment team. She is very insightful and inspires us to think about mission and ministry in light of the unique work to which Kindred-Montrose is called.

To financially support Covenant-Houston click here, or email for more information about becoming a Mission Partner. 

Ashley Dellagiacoma named Dean of Central Houston Conference

Ashley Dellagiacoma 3 picsPastor Ashley Dellagiacoma of Kindred, Houston (Montrose), has graciously agreed to fill the position of Dean of the Central Houston Conference, vacated by Dean Tracey Breashears Schultz’ who is stepping down as Pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Houston (The Heights) in order to serve as Bishop’s Associate in the Gulf Coast Synod.

Pastor Ashley grew up in Houston, rolling down the hill at Miller Outdoor Theater and cheering on the Astros. She takes the Gospel seriously, but takes herself far less seriously. Her journey has included everything from church work to retail and waiting tables. Along with her husband and daughter, she follows her passion for creativity and justice with Kindred.

The Gulf Coast Synod has seven conferences. Conferences meet for mission purposes. We work together on mission, leadership development, campus ministry, stewardship, and global and local mission. These mission-driven conferences are designed to revitalize our regional collaboration, while allowing congregations a way to connect beyond their walls. Each conference has a dean. Deans convene the conference, install pastors, and serve as leaders in the synod.

Gulf Coast Synod conferences map

This Google Map shows the locations of all of our congregations. Conferences are color-coded. The Central Houston Conference consists of the congregations inside Beltway 8. Those congregations are marked with a red pin in the map.

Gulf Coast Synod Conferences & Deans

  1. Bayou Conference:New Conferences
    The Rev. Nancy Andrews
  1. Brazos Valley Conference:
    The  Rev. Andrew Bell
  1. Central Houston Conference:
    The Rev. Ashley Dellagiacoma
  1. Colorado River Conference:
    The Rev. Marcia Kifer
  1. North Houston Conference:
    The Rev. Beth Warpmaeker
  1. Coastal Bay Conference:
    The Rev. Richard Rhoades
  1. Southwest Houston Conference:
    The Rev. Emmanuel Jackson


Perspectives on the Border – Immigration Webinar

Rev Jay Alanis
Rev. Jay Alanis

Date(s) – Mar 7, 2019
3:00 PM – 3:00 PM

This “Perspectives on the Border” webinar series on immigration is a partnership project with Rev. Dr. Jay Alanis, the Lutheran Seminary Program in the Southwest (LSPS), and the following ELCA synods: Grand Canyon, Gulf Coast, Pacifica, Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana, Rocky Mountain, and Southwestern Texas.

There are three different sessions, usually at a minimum cost of $25 each per participant. We are offering all three for only $60 per person! Your synods are helping subsidize the cost of this invaluable training (valued at a significantly higher rate)!

Session I: Living in Third Spaces (March 7, 3pm Central)

Session II: Borderland Perspectives on Diverse Worldviews (March 21, 3pm Central)

Session III: Theological Perspectives from the U.S. – Mexico Borderlands (March 28, 3pm Central)

The sessions will likely run over an hour, based on our prior experience, where much dialogue ensued, especially when talking about culture as a paradigm.

This event is a partnership between the ELCA synods in Texas and on our southern border, the Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest, and Wartburg Seminary.

Register Here

Announcing “Blues, Brews, and Good News”

Some might call it “church done way different.”
Some might call it “Blues Church.”
We call it “Blues, Brews, and Good News.”

Blues Brews and Good NewsPremiering February 22 at 7pm, on every fourth Friday of the month, Christ the King Lutheran Church welcomes the public for live blues with Houston’s famed “The Healers.” Enjoy from-the-gut blues with beer or alcohol-free drinks. Hear thoughtful and provocative commentary from well-known speakers in sciences, humanities, politics, religion, and more connect the blues, brews, and real concerns of life and society today.

You can also check out The Healers on the first, second, and third Thursday nights at The Big Easy. Then come on the Fourth Friday of the month, 7pm., to hear The Healers at the church tagged as “A Healing Place.” That’s Christ the King Lutheran Church, 2353 Rice Blvd., in the Rice Village.

No charge, but tips and donations welcomed!

For more info, call 713-523-2864 or check the website at

Tracey Breashears Schultz Called as Bishop’s Associate

Last month the Synod Council gathered in New Orleans for one of its quarterly meetings. Amidst the business at that meeting was a decision that will make a difference to the congregations in our synod. The Council voted unanimously to issue a call to The Rev. Dr. Tracey Breashears Schultz to serve as Assistant to the Bishop in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.

tracey breashears schultz
Tracey Breashears Schultz  Photo credit: Frank Wabnitz

When in the Fall of 2018 Assistant to the Bishop Blair Lundborg announced his desire to retire in the Spring of 2019, it felt a long way off. Nevertheless, the position was posted in November 2018, and the search began. Pastor Blair Lundborg has served as Assistant to the Bishop for the last six years.

Pastor Breashears Schultz currently serves Zion Lutheran Church in the Houston Heights. She has served Zion for nearly seven years. Prior to this call, she served at MacArthur Park Lutheran Church in San Antonio.  A graduate of The University of Arkansas, Pastor Breashears Schultz received her Masters of Divinity from Wartburg Theological Seminary, and her Doctor of Ministry from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Before her journey toward ordination, Pastor Breashears Schultz was a Spanish teacher; prior to that, she was a trainer for a medical software company.

Pastor Breashears Schultz came to the Lutheran church through the ministry of a hospital chaplain who cared for her and her family after the untimely death of her first husband. Perhaps it is because she has experienced the teachings of other denominations that she can so clearly articulate what a gift Lutheran theology is to her.

Her husband, Chris Schultz, is an architect and life-long Lutheran. He divides his time between their home in the Heights and his firm in San Antonio.

About being the next Bishop’s Associate, Pastor Breashears Schultz says, “I am excited about this new work and grateful to the Spirit for stirring up this call within me. I look forward to the joys and challenges that lie ahead, to building relationships with the congregations of our synod, and to being part of the warm and dedicated team that is the synod staff.”

“Pastor Breashears Schultz is uniquely gifted for this work,” said Bishop Mike Rinehart. “She is strategic, detailed, passionate about faith formation, and has a tireless love for the church.”

March 3, 2019 will be Pastor Breashears Schultz’ last Sunday at Zion. She will work with Pastor Blair Lundborg for three weeks starting March 11. Please join us in giving her a warm welcome.


Upbring: Lutheran Social Services of the South

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

Each year, the three Texas-Louisiana ELCA bishops and the two Texas-Louisiana LCMS District Presidents meet at Upbring/LSSS for an update and collaborative conversation.

Photo (right to left): Texas District President Michael Newman, North-Texas-North-Louisiana Synod Bishop Erik Gronberg, Southwestern Texas Synod Bishop Sue Briner, Upbring CEO Kurt Senske, Gulf Coast Synod Bishop Michael Rinehart.

The seeds for Lutheran Social Services of the South were sown in the early 1860s in Louisiana, with the origination of the Bethlehem Children’s Center in New Orleans. In 1866, a Louisiana society that raised money to support needy orphans, tried to build an orphanage, but failed, due to poor economic conditions following the Civil War. The German Evangelical Lutheran Bethlehem Orphan Asylum Association was incorporated to the society in 1881, and in 1883 a plantation house became the first orphanage for Bethlehem. A new building capable of housing 80 to 100 children was constructed in 1886.

Texas’ Lutheran charitable work started when a pastor set up a Widows’ Aid Fund in 1867. But the agency officially began in 1881 to help those in need. Lutheran churches in Texas, along with out-of-state churches, helped raise $7,827.15 for people who lost everything in the 1900 Galveston hurricane. The Good Samaritan Society was created in 1924, but to avoid being mistaken for other organizations with similar names, the society later changed its name to Lutheran Aid and Orphan’s Society.

The newly chartered Lutheran Aid and Orphan’s Society bought Trinity Lutheran College property in Round Rock, Texas, with the help of the Augustana Association of Charities. The $25,000 purchase funded the creation of Trinity Lutheran Home, a haven for orphans and elderly that opened in November 1929. Due to a decline in the number of children cared for (from 33 a year to only 17 a year), the program for children ended in 1958. In its place, the Society decided to help unwed mothers and their infants.

Over the next decades, services expanded and diversified. In 1993, Texas and Louisiana combined services, creating Lutheran Social Services of the South. In 2009 foster care was rebranded as Foster in Texas. This and more information can be found on their webpage:

All this is near and dear to my heart. We adopted our daughter through Lutheran Social Services of the South, in 2003.

Today Upbring has an annual operating budget of $70-75 million, serves more than 27,500 people annually in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma, and has approximately 750 employees in 23 communities.

Our visit

We were joined by Loren Riemer, VP for Corporate and Church Relations, Holly Raymond, Senior VP of Finance and member of Gethsemane, Austin, Andy Benscoter, Education and Residential Services, Jessica Vermilyea, Disaster Response, Michael Loo, President and COO.

A few years ago Lutheran Social Services of the South rebranded as Upbring. Upbring/LSSS is the largest provider of foster care in Texas. The reality is Lutherans make up about 1.5% of the population here. The organization has big goals, and the board agreed that they could not be achieved working alone. The foster department had already rebranded as Foster in Texas. (I remember talking to people who thought they couldn’t adopt through Lutheran Social Services, because they were not Lutheran.)

Then, Upbring/LSSS focused priorities. Some departments, like adoptions and fostering were thriving, while others, like senior services, were struggling. It’s harder to operate senior centers these days. You need to have lots of them to create economies of scale. Upbring/LSSS made the difficult decision to sell their senior centers and focus on what they felt they did with excellence: children’s services. Doing so paid off debt and provided resources to double down on their mission: To break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities.

Upbring’s business model is based on three priorities:

  • Excellence in services
  • Thought leadership
  • Advocacy

In 2014, Upbring set up some key Reach Objectives, 7-10 years out, because substantive change takes time. The goal was to impact the lives of 10,000-12,000 children. Four years ago they impacted the lives of 5,000 children. Now it’s 7,000 children and growing. In any given year there are 17,000 in the system in Texas. If they impact 10,000-12,000, that would be most.

Kids get into foster care most often because of abuse. In Texas, 65,000 kids are abused. These are only those who report. Upbring, branded as Foster in Texas, has 800 children in foster care at any given time. Over the course of a year, nearly two thousand are in their care. In FY 2017 the number was 1,900. This year, FY 2018 there were 1,935. Next year they are projecting 2,000. Keep in mind, this is your ministry. Through your financial gifts, angel trees, and volunteering, you are doing this work alongside the staff.

In a program called Ascend, Upbring is assessing kids in our system as to where they are. State metrics keep track of how many times children have been moved, and if their folder is complete. Upbring is trying to assess more qualitative metrics, to see if they improve their education while in Upbring’s care. No one they know of is doing this, with this extremely vulnerable population. They are doing this through five key marker outcomes:

  1. Health
  2. Safety
  3. Vocation
  4. Life skills
  5. Education

Education is key. There are no social services that impact positive outcomes more than education. Upbring has planted two schools, one at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Austin, which started with 20 and now has 50 students, and Trinity Lutheran Church In Houston. Both of these were previously parochial schools that closed. Upbring leases space for a Christian STEM school they operate, with 10% of the students who are low income or in  foster care. Education is combined with wrap-around social services.

upbring maintain reach

Upbring is rolling out some new third-party software that will be a portal for giving and volunteer engagement opportunities. You’ll be able to plug in your geographical area and see volunteer opportunities. You’ll even be able to sign up.

Upbring’s response to disaster remains branded as LSS Disaster Response, because they are still well-known by other groups simply as “The Lutherans.” Disaster Response is done ecumenically.

LSS Disaster Response is involved in recovery as a part of Project Comeback: TEXAS, the FEMA-funded case management for Harvey. Project Comeback is a consortium of several agencies, each with their role: ELCA-LDR, Catholic Charities, UMCOR and others. The consortium is in 33 counties.

LSS-DR is handling monitoring, evaluation and data management for the entire consortium, about 12,000 cases. In  addition, they are doing direct case management services for a target of 1,015 families in ten counties: Aransas, Bastrop, Brazoria, Calhoun, Kleberg, Lee, Matagorda, Nueces, San Patricio, and Victoria. They are currently directly serving 130 families (42% with children, 23% with a head of household over 65). They have offices at St. Marks Lake Jackson LCMS and Salem Port Lavaca ELCA.

In Texas, Upbring is involved in Project Renew, in partnership with LCMS National Housing Support Corporation, Rebuilding Together Houston, and Living Water Lutheran Church. Their work is in the Trinity Houston Gardens Area.

In Louisiana, Upbring is doing disaster case management from the March 2016 floods. 205 total client families, 67% of which report disabilities. $800K+. They are also doing disaster case management  for the August 2016 floods. They are responsible for anything west of the Atchafalaya Basin. 694 families. $4M. Finally, they are doing project management with the Long Term Recovery Committee, Hammond, LA. Seven homes are being built. Three are currently in progress.

After more than two decades serving what is now Upbring, Dr. Kurt Senske is getting ready to step away from this work. The board is beginning an executive search. Sometime late in 2019 a decision will be announced.

Please keep the work of Upbring in your prayers, and in particular, the many vulnerable children, and families recovering from disaster.

Learn more:

Pastor as Patient: 6 Lessons I Learned from the Other Side of the Hospital Bed

By Chris Markert, Mission Catalyst, TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod

I had a recent battle with my gallbladder. I didn’t mind having it around. It didn’t like the spicy, creamy, fattening things I enjoyed eating. This led me to the ER the week before Christmas. Thankfully, the ER was able to stabilize me so that I could go find my own doctor to remove my gallbladder. After “interviewing” a couple of surgical contenders, I settled on a surgeon and a date. And all I had to do was wait two weeks.

hospitalI watched what I ate during those two weeks of waiting. I didn’t want to have another flare-up. I was anxious, as this would be my first “real” surgery. I had friends who regaled me of their experiences with getting their gallbladders out, all assuring me:

  • “It’s outpatient! You’ll be in and out in no time.”
  • “It’s laprascopic! You’ll hardly notice the scars.”
  • “You’ll be out for a day or two and then back to your old self!”

Alas, I also had two very dear people in my life tell me their horror stories of gallbladder surgeries gone wrong:

  • “Good, fun-living Billy:  when they went to take his gallbladder out, they found he had pancreatic cancer. He was dead in a month.”
  • “Yup, that’s how my father died- routine gallbladder surgery gone bad.”

By the way, friends, that’s not good pastoral care for those going for even the simplest of surgical procedures.  Don’t tell them the worst-case scenarios that you’ve heard!

With a week still away, everything seemed to be going fine until Saturday morning, when I joined my family for brunch. I ate light. Nothing spicy, fried or greasy. And after brunch I went to visit my parents. But while I was there, I began to have significant pain in my entire abdominal area. It scared me. It felt more than just a normal gallbladder attack. What if something was wrong?

I called the on-call surgeon who told me that if I became feverish, nauseated, or if the pain got worse, to head to the ER. As the pain got worse, I had my sister drive me to the ER.

What happened next was a blur of things- pain meds, blood work, an ultrasound, being told I’d be staying overnight; an MRI, a gallstone found stuck in my pancreatic duct, a special surgery to remove it that led to acute pancreatitis, ICU for 4 days, and then FINALLY, on Day 5, my gallbladder was removed!

As a pastor who has had to provide care on the other side of the bed in hospital settings, here are some important lessons I learned from the experience of being a patient:

  1. Knowing there would be times I would be unavailable to communicate, I appointed a loved one to be responsible for communicating on my behalf. She communicated to my pastor and church, my work, and family and friends. She’d let others know if I was receiving visitors, or if I was in surgery, how I was doing. This kept from feeling overwhelmed with texts and calls.
  2. I felt it important to make sure that, as a rostered minister, the synod office knew what was happening. I also contacted my church and asked for prayers, but no visits from members.
  3. If you are a visitor, pay attention. There were times when I was in the mood for visitors, and times when I wasn’t. And when I tried to give signs for the times I wasn’t, they were often ignored. Even if the patient isn’t saying “Please go away,” it’s probably better to only plan to stay for five or ten minutes, unless explicitly requested by the patient.
  4. Make sure you have a Power of Attorney for HealthCare and an Advance Directive. My family has a shared Drobpox folder with each of our information in it to ensure we all have access to these documents for one another. Here is a link  with more information about Advance Directives and Power of Attorney for Louisiana and Texas.
  5. It was great for my pastor to visit. I think I actually cried. Not because of him (yes, I like him), but because he was representing the whole Church of Jesus Christ in those visits. I never expect the pastor or deacon to be the one to visit me, but a visit from church leadership shows care and intentionality. Pastors and deacons, I know we are busy, and that many of us train up others to make regular hospital visits. But do not neglect this sacred ministry yourself!
  6. Nurses make all the difference. I had multiple nurses care for me throughout my stay. Except for one, they were all diligent, responsive, caring, friendly, efficient. Be gentle with your nurses and care assistants, and thank them. They work hard in often stressful situations.

Mission Spotlight

By Chris Markert

church groupWelcome to this new monthly mission highlight, where we will introduce you each month to some of the most exciting missions, missional experimentations, and missional leaders around our synod!

This month, we invite you to meet our Synod Mission Table, and hear a little about their work.

Current members of the Mission Table include: Sandra Barnes, Adriana Johnson-Rivas, Chris Markert, Stephanie Stark, Jason Thomas, and Jennifer Tinker.

The Purpose of the Synod Mission Table is to cultivate an environment for mission to grow through:

  • creative experimentation;
  • intentional diversity; and
  • faithful accompaniment.

One of the most important responsibilities of the Mission Table is to review and recommend new mission starts and synodically-authorized worshipping communities for our Synod. Other important responsibilities include: 1) authorizing grant support for new and renewing ministries; 2) providing ministry reviews for missions and redevelopments; and 3) ensuring ongoing leadership training for missional leaders within our Synod. Recently, the oversight of campus ministries has also been entrusted to the Mission Table.

Click here to learn more about our current missions and redevelopments.
Click here  to learn more about becoming a Mission Partner that supports our new missions and redevelopments (congregations and individuals can be Mission Partners!).
Click here to give an immediate donation to support one or more of our new missions!

Contact Chris Markert, the Bishop’s Associate for Mission, for more information in how to become involved in supporting new and expanding mission in our Synod.

Being a Bridge-Builder in an anxious, highly polarized time

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ,
and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…
2 Corinthians 5:18

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one
and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
Ephesians 2:14

bridge builder

The church is a community of moral deliberation. We talk about things that matter. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.” But in a highly anxious and polarized society, how do we do so gracefully? More than agreeing to disagree agreeably, the church is called to a ministry of reconciliation. This does not diminish the prophetic voice. In matters of injustice, we are called to speak the truth in love.

Even so, people of faith don’t agree on everything. They never have. Even Jesus’ disciples disagreed with one another, and at times, even with him. We aren’t called to agree on everything. We are, however, called to be a place where people can debate tough moral issues with kindness. As Lutheran theologian Rupertus Meldenius said during the Reformation,

In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.
In all things, love.

This five-week Lenten study will give us the opportunity to hone our skills at speaking about things that matter, with kindness. We will practice listening carefully to others, even when we disagree. We will practice stating our views in ways that do not put down others. We will learn to articulate one another’s viewpoints to their satisfaction. And we will discover than we can even have fun with it. We will pray together and read Scripture.

New Life Lutheran Church, in Dripping Springs, Texas

new life lutheran church

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

As part of an annual continuing education event, ELCA and ELCIC bishops visited New Life Lutheran Church, an outdoor congregation in Dripping Springs, Texas. “A majority of people coming to us said they encountered God in nature,” said Pastor Carmen Retzlaff. “So do we.”

The congregation is located on 12 acres a little bit west of Austin, in the hill country. The folks worship close to the land, to the rabbits, deer and birds. They make their own wine and their own bread for communion. They have a community garden from which they donate fresh vegetables to the local school system.

They worship outdoors most of the year, and in a covered tent during the cold months. “There is a feeling of vulnerability with the wind and weather, that reminds us of the vulnerability of life,” says Pastor Retzlaff. The property has walking trails, picnic tables, stations of the cross, a labyrinth and more. They have developed a strong commitment to environmental stewardship.

new life lutheran church 02

Bishops arrived to a group of five harpists from a local Girl Scout Troop. These harpists have played every Epiphany since 2011.

Pastor Carmen and congregational leaders welcomed worshippers and provided leadership for the service. People were dressed casually. Children were free to move around in the space.

new life lutheran church 03

New Life is a unique congregation in Texas. They have made a conscious decision to stay close to the earth. “This is a diverse area politically. The ground has helped us find common ground,” said Pastor Carmen.

new life lutheran church 04