Our Work Together: Domestic Mission

By Chris Markert, Assistant to the Bishop – Mission Catalyst

This past week I had the opportunity to gather with the entire Domestic Mission Unit staff of the Evangelical Lutheran in America.
Domestic Mission 1.png

For those who are new to the churchwide organization: our churchwide work is primarily organized into three “units”: Domestic Mission, Global Mission, and Mission Advancement, with administrative support through the Office of the Presiding Bishop, Office of the Treasurer, and Office of the Secretary.

The Domestic Mission Unit’s purpose is to use “the diverse strengths, leadership, skills, perspectives and experiences” of our members, congregations, synods, and other partners to accomplish God’s work in the United States and the Caribbean.

The work of the Domestic Mission Unit includes:

  • Congregational Mission (New Missions, Redevelopment, Faith Formation, etc.)
  • ELCA Youth Gathering
  • Advocacy
  • Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries
  • Campus Ministry, Outdoor Ministry and Children, Youth and Young Adult Ministry
  • Leadership Ministries and Support (Candidacy, Seminaries, etc.)
  • Poverty and Justice Ministries
  • The Directors for Evangelical Mission

Over the past couple of years, the Domestic Mission Unit has been re-imagining our work together, with a renewed focus on congregational vitality.  And what has emerged is a new, unified understanding of our work together, which is:

To grow Communities of Jesus that nurture life-changing relationships with God, one another, and the world.

Domestic Mission 2Notice that we are shifting language away from “congregations” to “Communities of Jesus.” This is intentional, as we see new emerging models of mission that do not look like traditional congregations: pub-churches, food truck missions, street churches, religious orders, house churches, farm co-ops, academic-related ministries, prison ministries, retreat centers and camps, etc.

One of the important parts of this re-imagining is how we measure vitality. In the past, we have often focused almost exclusively on “butts and bucks” (worship attendance and offering).  We are expanding these common metrics to include measuring ministry in terms of how it connects people and communities with God, each other and the world.

I give thanks to God for the work we do together as church beyond our local setting. I invite you and your Community of Jesus to regularly pray for Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton and the three Units of our churchwide organization as we together seek to share the Good News, domestically and globally.

Wunderlick Intermediate School Opens Aquaponic Garden with help from Kinsmen Lutheran Church

An exciting joint project between Kinsmen Lutheran Church and Wunderlich Intermediate School has come to fruition after six years of planning and hard work.

In 2015 Kinsmen was conducting a capital campaign for needed improvements at the church. They wanted to tithe from that money by giving a portion to other organizations in the community. And when they reached out to Wunderlich Intermediate School, just a few blocks from the church, the idea of an aquaponic garden came up.

Kinsmen tours aquaponic garden
Staff from Kinsmen Lutheran Church tour the new aquaponic garden at Wunderlich Intermediate School, which the church helped fund. From left are Pastor Mark England; Senior Pastor Beth Warpmaeker; Coach Matt Maudlin; Matthew Braud of Sustainable Harvesters; Valerie Cisne, Science Specialist at Wunderlich; Principal Christopher Ruggerio; Assistant Principal Cary Goemans; Maria Sanchez, Parent Liaison at Wunderlich; and Lynnae Schatz, Director of Congregational Life at Kinsmen.

Kinsmen decided to support that idea, among others, with a gift of $8,000—and from there the idea grew even more. It became part of a Klein ISD bond in 2015, providing additional funds to expand the garden project and its learning opportunities. To develop and build the garden, the school partnered with Matthew Braud of Sustainable Harvesters in Hockley, whose aquaponic farm grows about 7,000 heads of lettuce each week.

Wunderlich’s garden is now complete, and the Kinsmen congregation will have an opportunity to visit it after each worship service on Sunday, April 22.

“We were just so impressed with the visionary  leadership at the school in dreaming up this idea,” said the Rev. Dr. Beth Warpmaeker, senior pastor of Kinsmen Lutheran Church. “There are so many educational and practical benefits to this garden. Supporting this project fits with our desire to be ‘In the Community…for Good.’”

Built within a 30’ x 40’ greenhouse, the closed loop, water-based system starts with about 50 male tilapia fish. Waste from the fish creates nutrient-rich water in which the plants can flourish. The water is filtered first through two media beds, which will eventually be used to grow plants like carrots and potatoes that need to dig down into soil. Next it moves to six grow beds where leafy greens and herbs grow in about 12 inches of water. From there the water is pumped back into the fish tank to begin the process all over again.

The garden will be used to teach students from throughout the school in a variety of subjects. For example, science classes will be able to observe the life cycle of lettuce from seed to harvest in about six weeks. Math classes will chart growth rates; visual arts classes can draw or photograph the plants; special education students can feed and care for the fish, and so on.

“Eventually it will be a school-wide, cross-curricular program,” said Matt Maudlin, a health teacher and coach at Wunderlich who has been part of the project from the beginning.

Beyond academic lessons, food from the garden will also help meet the nutritional needs of students at Wunderlich. Seven years ago the school opened its own food pantry to help families in need who are served by the school. Through the aquaponic garden, fresh lettuce, vegetables, and perhaps even fish will be harvested and distributed to families who utilize the food pantry.

Kinsmen logo“Kinsmen Lutheran, and their congregation, has played an integral role in bringing the aquaponics garden and the hands-on opportunities that come with it to Wunderlich Intermediate,” said Christopher Ruggerio, principal of the school. “The support allows not only instructional value, but allows the campus to provide outreach to the community that supports it. We appreciate the kindness and continued support of our community and students.”

Kinsmen Lutheran Church is a congregation that strives to be rooted in faith and relevant to life. For more information, please visit www.KinsmenLutheran.org or call (281) 444-3126.

Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation Continue…

Sunday, June 17, at 6 p.m.

Going Green for Home Building/Remodeling Projects

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to a monthly environmental education web meeting series whose theme in 2018 is Stewardship.

Caroline Kostak
Caroline Kostak, secretary, Texas Gulf Coast Region, U.S. Green Building Council

At the June web meeting, we welcome Caroline Kostak, secretary of the Texas Gulf Coast Region chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and owner of Greenhouse Integration. Greenhouse Integration is green building problem-solving and education company.  In this talk, you will learn easy and cost-effective ways to make your home building or remodeling project more environmentally-friendly.

Get an expert’s input on how to go green for home building & remodeling!  After Caroline’s talk, there will be time for Q&A.

Please register for this talk, and you will receive an invitation to the web meeting.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com with any questions.

Lisa’s Pieces:  Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

By Lisa Brenskelle

Lutherans Restoring Creation

The mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas:  worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy.  For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

Worship In May, hold a Blessing of the Bicycles for National Bike Month or observe Endangered Species Day on May 18 with these liturgical resources. Here is a creation series in year B in Pentecost from an Episcopal source. Don’t forget World Environment Day on June 5. Consider these creation-focused prayers for Easter and Pentecost in year B. Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary are available.

Education Thinking ahead to VBS? Consider this creation-themed VBS. Include the informational bulletin insert for Endangered Species Day.  The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on May 20, Care and Stewardship of the Wildlife & EcoSystems in Our Communities, and on June 17, Going Green for Home Building/Remodeling Projects, educate on practical creation care.  The Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston offers a talk to help houses of worship go green on June 10.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. The Endangered Species bulletin insert includes discipleship information.  Promote biking by highlighting National Bike Month or wildlife-friendly gardening during National Pollinator Week in June.  Make members aware of how to buy a cleaner, greener car using the EPA’s Smart Way certification.

Building & Grounds Need to replace the church van? Find a Smart Way certified replacement.  Add plants that support pollinators to your church landscape during National Pollinator Week in June.  There are easy, no cost ways to save on your electricity bill. Be sure that staff shut down computers/printers & turn out lights when leaving for the day.  Better yet, connect electronics to a power strip and turn off power at the power strip after shutting electronics down. On hot days, close blinds/curtains to reduce radiant energy entering the buildings.  Speaking of hot days, replacing air filters in the HVAC system regularly saves on energy.

Public Ministry/Advocacy:  The weekly Opportunities to Care for, Learn About, and Enjoy God’s Good Creation features volunteer events in the greater Houston area (see upcoming opportunities link). In June, plant pollinator plants during National Pollinator Week , do a beach clean-up for World Oceans Day, or simply get connected to nature on World Environment Day. Petition Congress to stop attacks on public lands.

For more information on any of the above, or for creation care assistance/information, contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team by writing to Lisa at gcs.lrc@gmail.com. The team is seeking additional members.  If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.

April fools

By Elizabet Eaton, presiding Bishop, ELCA

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

It all started with such promise: The angel announcing to Mary that the child she would bear would be called Son of the Most High; Mary’s conviction that this child was the embodiment of God’s promised justice, that the powerful would be brought down from their thrones and the lowly lifted up, that the hungry would be filled with good things and the rich sent away empty; angels announcing his birth; Simeon and Anna declaring the fulfillment of God’s promise in the tiny child; the youth teaching in the temple; thousands being fed; the sick healed; the dead raised; wind and waves stilled; teaching with authority.

And his teaching! The kingdom of heaven has drawn near. Blessed are the poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst. God so loved the world that he gave his only son. We are no longer servants in the household, but children. Sin and its consequence, death, no longer have power. Love is stronger than hate. And all of this comes from the merciful and gracious will of God as a gift.

Could this be true? Was the world being turned upside down? Was this the start of the revolution? No wonder the crowds shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” when he rode into Jerusalem. Perhaps the disciple Nathaniel remembered Jesus’ words when they first met: “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51).

And then, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was over. The world hadn’t changed. Might still made right. How ridiculously naïve to believe that any reversal of the old order could come about. Hope is for the gullible. Looking at this broken man hanging utterly helpless, naked and broken on a cross, the powers and principalities, earthly and spiritual, death and the devil must have said, “You fool.”

This, as Paul reminds us, is the wisdom of the world. And the world can present plenty of hard evidence that it is right: children killing children in horrific school shootings; human beings living underground to escape bombing and chemical weapons in Syria; children afraid to play outdoors in my city of Chicago because they could be shot; sexual violence; claims of supremacy; and 60 million displaced people—all of this supported by our rebellion against God, our idolatrous claim that we are in control and the world is ours. In the face of this and all of the suffering others cause and we cause others, we, too, might cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).

I believe that the beginning of Psalm 22 expresses the anguish of the psalmist and the anguish of our Lord, but there is more going on here. Citing the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying an entire passage. The psalm ends this way: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. … Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”

This is the wisdom of God. Jesus’ crucifixion is the death of our death. His innocent suffering has reconciled all of creation to God. He has done it. We stake our lives on this.

This year Easter falls on April 1. We shall have come through the Lenten desert to the Easter garden. We shall say, “Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.” And we shall confess this and live this in the face of worldly wisdom that is based on death. Life wins. Love wins. And if the world wants to call us April fools, we are glad to claim that title.

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address: bishop@elca.org. This article originally appeared in Living Lutheran’s March 2018 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Deepen Faith this Fall

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

One of the things I grieve, as I think over the last 30 years I have served as an ordained pastor, is the diminished capacity for faith formation. Sunday schools are struggling all over the U.S. Adult classes seem less common. Some congregations I visit have no adult classes whatsoever.

While I grieve this, I also see that it provides us an incredible opportunity. We are going after this in two ways this year. I’d like to share these with you.

Children and Youth

Faith Every Night in Every Home.pngI don’t propose we try to jump start Sunday school the way it used to be. There is a reason it isn’t working in most places. It fit a bygone era. In fact, Sunday school was an invention in 18th century England. The church has done faith formation many different ways over the last 20 centuries.

Think about the way our children learn English. Think about the way they learn grammar. Sure, they teach it in school, but you learn to speak the language in the home. If your parents say “ain’t” you probably do too. If your family is bilingual, you probably are too. What if faith is the same way?

We learn the language of faith in the home. If your parents read the Bible you probably will too. If your family prayed at meals, you probably do too. The language of faith is taught in the home as well. This doesn’t mean the congregation is without a role. The congregation can help families teach the faith. There are some creative ways to do this.

So, at our Synod Assembly next month, we’ve invited Rich Melheim to share a different model for faith formation. This is not a new model. It is a very old model. I hope this will spark your imagination for faith formation in the congregation. You can get a sneak preview at http://www.faith5.org.

So, send to synod assembly people who are interested in and in charge of faith formation among children. You are welcome to send more than just your voting members. Visitors are welcome!

Students and Adults

Whether we are talking about student ministries, or adults, faith formation happens when people get together and talk about things that matter. This kind of interaction doesn’t often happen in worship. Our team that is working on deepening faith is absolutely convinced that faith formation rests or falls on bringing people together in small, relational groups. These groups also build lifelong friendships. People are in search of meaningful relationships, with God and others.

To spark small groups, we have encouraged fall series over the last few years. This is a way to spark a large number of small groups at one time. It’s like a shot in the arm. A lot of good things happen when this happens. You close the back door of your church. Ideas emerge. People grow in faith. The fun quotient goes up. People pray together.

This year we are encouraging you to use a curriculum that was created by our own Pastor Mindy Roll (Treehouse/Brazos Valley Campus Ministry). This curriculum is called Deepening Faith. This series begins by encouraging people to reflect on the various eras of their lives. The bishop (yours truly) shares about his life in a video. Then the pastor is encouraged to tell his or her life story. Key questions are asked each week to invite participants to prepare to tell their own life story. Where was God present or not present? What role did faith play? The next week the group leaders tell their life stories, and the group offers feedback. Finally, by the third week, group participants tell their stories, two per week. 8-10 people for 8-10 weeks. This is truly sharing our lives. The Spirit works.

Already, ten congregations have signed on to take part in the series. Most are doing it in the fall. Tree of Life is doing it this Spring, and Memorial Drive this summer:

  1. Peace/ Our Saviour’s College Station Parenting Group
  2. Salem Brenham
  3. John’s Bellville
  4. Tree of Life Conroe
  5. Grace Conroe
  6. Lord of Life The Woodlands
  7. Kindred Houston
  8. Living Word Katy
  9. Kinsmen Houston
  10. Messiah Cypress
  11. Memorial Drive Houston

At noon on Friday, May 18 at the Hilton Houston North (during Synod Assembly) we will hold a training workshop for anyone interested. Pastor Janelle Hooper will lead. Bring a lay leader along with you to the workshop if you’d like to learn more.

Deepening Faith By Mindy RollYou don’t need to wait until the workshop next month. You can order a copy online now. We tried to make the leader guide self-explanatory. When your group concludes we will ask you for some feedback about the experience, and offer some other series if the group wishes to continue.

Each participant will need a participant guide. The leader/leaders will need a leader guide. Those can be found here:

Participant Guide: http://amzn.to/2IMgSpx

Leader Guide: http://amzn.to/2u8MthU

Deepening Faith Leader GuideMy suggestion would be that you choose your small group leaders now, so that they can attend the workshop. In my experience, you can have as many small groups as you have leaders. If you want 10 small groups, brainstorm 20 names. More than half will likely say yes, and these groups will all have participants.

­­Questions?  Contact Pastor Janelle Rozek Hooper who will lead the lunch time at assembly at pastorjhooper@gmail.com.

Our goal is not to fill churches with people, but to fill people with the Spirit. When that happens, anything can happen.


Let’s ask better questions

By Pastor Blair Lundborg

When your congregation begins the Call Process, one of the first tasks will be the completion of the Ministry Site Profile (MSP). When a rostered minister is considering a new call, their first task will be the completion of the Rostered Minister Profile (RMP). Those two documents are used to find a good match between candidates and congregations.  Put a pin in that, we’ll come back to it later.

Image result for lutheran church in call process

We’re really good at filling out forms in the church. We’re even better at referring to the forms by their acronym- MSP, RMP, etc. I’m not sure we’re as good at asking the right questions on our forms. Let’s use the MSP and RMP as examples. Both documents ask the typical questions you might find on a job description or resume. Both documents include narrative sections where the congregation or candidate describes their gifts and abilities. The MSP includes demographic information of the community and congregation. The RMP provides background information on where the rostered minister has served and what he or she has accomplished. Standard stuff, right? Maybe standard stuff, but not always helpful.

Too often an MSP describes a congregation’s past rather than where the congregation feels God is calling them into the future. Likewise, the RMP will often give a snapshot of where the rostered minister has been, not necessarily where they might be headed. Having a sense of our history is important, but it’s not enough.

Here’s the problem. Our memory of the past is often viewed through rose-colored glasses. We start dreaming about the “good ole days” and pay less attention to where God is leading us in the next chapter of ministry. When a congregation is in transition, and a rostered minister is seeking a new call, we need more than a rear-view mirror image of ministry. We also need a windshield vision of where the congregation and rostered minister is heading.

Ok, let’s go back to the idea of a “good match” between congregation and candidates. What does that really mean? Is it our hope that our next leader will fit well with a congregation’s memory of who and what they have been? Is a rostered minister looking for a church that comfortably matches what they know and have experienced? Most of us will answer yes to both questions. It’s comfortable. It doesn’t rock the boat. But I wonder if this is a subtle way of maintaining the status quo. Maybe the best “match” for congregations is the pastor they need rather than the pastor they want. That may be the same person, but often it’s not. We tend to resist change, so we go with what’s comfortable. Sadly, that will not get us where we need to go in the ever-evolving mission field we serve.

Pastor Don Carlson has written an excellent article on this topic for the congregation he is serving as an interim. I encourage you to read it (below) even if you or your congregation is not currently in the call process. Congregational and pastoral transitions are not a matter of IF, but WHEN. Every one of us will need to be asking these important questions at some point.

Pastor Don Carlson’s letter:

Pastor Don Carlson
Pastor Don Carlson

Dear Friends,

“Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when it is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”  – 1 John 3:2

When I was working on my Doctor of Ministry degree, one of my advisors told me, “Make sure that you read people with who disagree with you.”

“Well, that’s no fun! I would much rather read people who agree with me and reinforce what I already think, thank you very much! Reading people who think differently might challenge me, change me, and make me grow.”

Growing can be painful; forcing us to see things from a different perspective. He was trying to push me out of my comfort zone.

We frequently do that in all of life; perhaps especially as we get older. We “center on our center”; on what we already are rather than on what we will be, or what we ought to be. However, oftentimes it’s only when we “center on our margins” and focus on our growing edges that real growth happens.

When looking for a new pastor, congregations often center on their center. They figure out who they already are and then find a leader to match. Now, there is some wisdom in that approach. A congregation certainly doesn’t want a leader who is a total disconnect from what they are. But it may be that real growth only happens when a congregation centers on its margins and seeks a leader who will push their growing edges; focusing not so much on what they are, but on what they might become. And it may also be that real growth only happens when a congregation centers itself on the marginalized who are around it.

And, sometimes when congregations do center on the margins and say that they want a leader to help them push their boundaries, the new leader arrives and all they encounter is “push-back”. There cannot be significant growth without significant change. As the saying goes, “Your system is perfectly designed to deliver the results you are getting.”

What would it mean to have a pastoral leader who would center you on what you aren’t yet and on those who aren’t here yet? No one yet knows exactly what that may look like; but, it would be to center on your margins and on the marginalized.

It can’t just be about us. It must also be about them; whoever they are. But then, deep down inside, we always knew that to be true – because that’s what Jesus said.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Don

(NOTE: I am deeply indebted to Pastor William Storm, Memorial Drive Lutheran Church, Houston, TX, for his insight into this reality.)

 Spring 2017 Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event

Sunday, April 29, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.


Interfaith Environmental Stewardship event
Volunteer planting crew hard at work at the Fall 2017 event.

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to join with people of other faiths to care for our shared environment during Earth Month. We will mulch around plantings, plant native plants & remove trash at the Willow Waterhole Conservation Reserve. This is a great activity for a youth group, but all ages are welcome.

Tools/supplies will be provided. This event is organized by Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, Congregation Brith Shalom, and the Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston, in partnership with the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy. Please register for planning purposes.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com for more information.

Lisa’s Pieces:  Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

Lutherans Restoring Creation

The mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas:  worship, education, discipleship, building & grounds, and public ministry/advocacy.  For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

Worship Consider this water-focused liturgy from the ELCA. Get inspired by these sermon texts or by listening to this sermon recording. Consider these creation-focused prayers for Easter in year B. Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary are available.

Education Continuing the water theme, check out water-focused educational materials for teens & kids. The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on April 29, Addressing Ongoing Air Quality Challenges in Houston, and on May 20, Caring for Wildlife, educate on practical creation care.  The Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston offers a talk on Making Houston a Resilient City – How Houses of Worship Can Help on May 8.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. Make the 10 Simple Ways to Protect your Watershed (on page 28) available to members.  Or, offer these green tips from Carthage College.  Help members reduce pollution from their daily commute. This video with music makes a lovely meditation.

Building & Grounds May is National Bike Month. Does your church have a bike rack to encourage cycling to church?  Consider how you might Garden for Wildlife (also observed in May).  Installing a bird feeder & keeping it stocked is another idea. Solarize Houston’s extended deadline for enrollment is mid-May. Sign up to consider discounted solar panels for your property.  Check out these Houston specifics for PACE – Property Assessed Clean Energy, very attractive financing for energy/water conservation projects.

Public Ministry/Advocacy:  The weekly Opportunities to Care for, Learn About, and Enjoy God’s Good Creation features volunteer events in the greater Houston area (see upcoming opportunities link). The Spring 2018 Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event on April 29 at 1:30 p.m. is a great youth activity (but all ages are welcome).  No space on your property to Garden for Wildlife? Volunteer at a local garden.  Consider organizing an event for Endangered Species Day on May 18. Petition Starbucks to cut plastic waste from its operations.

For more information on any of the above, or for creation care assistance/information, contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team by writing to Lisa at gcs.lrc@gmail.com. The team is seeking additional members.  If you would be willing to serve, please contact us.