Heartfelt Gratitude

Wow, wow, wow! You were so very generous. We are deeply thankful for your help. Thank for your prayers too. I believe it has really helped us to keep positive.

I can’t believe you would invest in me.

Thank you for the Harvey help! Thank you so much for supporting us during this weird time! It is so wonderful to know that we have people like you watching our backs. It is a caring community that makes the difference between a difficult time and a disaster.

Thank you so much for this gift. I feel guilty accepting it because I know there is massive need out there. I am grateful for the help—it is indeed healing—and I am grateful that I can share some of it with a family I know that is hurting. 

harvey response

The TX-LA Synod has made the decision that taking care of our leaders is our number one job. To date, we have received about $250,000 from people across the country who want to support our recovery. About one-third of this money is going directly to support leaders of congregations who have been personally impacted. Another one-third will be made available to congregations that qualify, for a grant process. (These congregations have been notified that they can apply for funding by December 31, 2017 with awards being given in early January.) The remaining third is being split between staffing Ele Clay, who will coordinate volunteer teams from around the country, as they come to help with recovery, as well as care and support for others recovering from Harvey. The needs are huge and our church is engaged in this important recovery.

We are aware of five congregations that were significantly flooded, and of course, many, many more that are serving people whose homes have flooded. This is an important time and your partnership is making a difference.  We want to say a big thank you on behalf of those whose lives are blessed by your gifts.

Oct. 32 and beyond

By Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

This is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. For the past year it has been “All Reformation All the Time!” Everything Martin Luther. The really observant have branched out to Philipp Melanchthon and Johannes Bugenhagen. True believers will dress their children up as Martin and Katie for Halloween, or if they tend toward the fear factor, Johann Tetzel.

Bring in the extra brass. Fire up the choir. Sing the fight song (“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”). Dress in red. Binge-watch every Luther film and documentary. (I particularly liked Joseph Fiennes as the young, hot Luther.) This is our year!

Oct. 32.

Now what?

When I am out and about the church, I like to ask people what it means to be Lutheran—what is distinctive about the Lutheran movement. Grace is almost always mentioned, along with justification. Some will say we are ecclesia semper reformanda—the church always being reformed. Others point to our work for disaster relief, ELCA World Hunger, advocacy and other work for justice. Most of this is part of the Lutheran experience, but not unique to us. What then, did Luther uncover and what relevance does it have now?

Interestingly, Luther did not give his greatest emphasis to reform or to reforming the church. Semper reformanda—always reforming—was actually coined in 1947 by Karl Barth, a Reformed theologian. Liberation in Christ through faith was the freedom that transformed Luther. This freedom is what he wrote about most frequently and most passionately. The Freedom of a Christian, a short and accessible treatise, is probably most familiar. I commend it to you. In this brief work and in others, Luther makes the case that liberation in Christ is both a freedom from and a freedom for.

Freedom from is liberation from all spiritual bondage. We are set free from being trapped in ourselves, consumed by ourselves, from the belief or terror that we can and must save ourselves, that our self is the center of the universe. Life in Christ is not an inward-dwelling experience. We are free to get over ourselves. Freedom from is liberation from the law’s accusation and judgment. We are liberated from terror and despair, which are soul-crushing. We are liberated from the incessant and impossible task of measuring up. Freedom from liberates us from estrangement from God and God’s creatures. Caught in sin and standing before a God who demands righteousness, when we believe we are responsible for our salvation, breeds resentment toward God and the objectification of others.

Freedom for means that in Christ we are set free for loving and serving others. Freedom is a relationship, not a new set of activities or the demands of a new law.

Luther put it this way: “Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different people, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O, it is a living, busy, active mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. … And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown them this grace” (Luther’s Works, 35:370-1).

No longer is God transactional and others a means to an end. This freedom is scandalous because it is based on unconditional grace. It is a gift. Think about it—do we feel the burden being lifted? Think about it—do we feel the complete love of God? Think about it—do we now see others through God’s eyes, free and beloved children?

On Reformation Sunday we will hear Jesus’ promise: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32).

On Oct. 32 and beyond let us live in that freedom.

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Her email address: bishop@elca.org. This column originally appeared in Living Lutheran’s October 2017 issue. Reprinted with permission.

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

By Lisa Brenskelle

Lutherans Restoring CreationThe 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 Get inspired by this Christmas sermon & this Christmas Eve sermon. A creation-focused prayer is posted weekly on the synod leaders Facebook. Consider these creation-focused prayers for Advent & Christmas in year B.  Creation-focused commentaries on the lectionary are available.

Education Consider attending a Going Solar talk at Christ the King in Houston on Dec. 10 at 9:45 a.m. Several books may be of interest as educational materials: Behold the Lilies, Toward a Better Worldliness and You are There. The online Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation on  Nov. 26 addresses Connections between People and Nature from the perspectives of both scripture & science.

Discipleship:  Make use of the “Bulletin blurb” eco-tips (+ verses & quotes) on the synod leaders Facebook page each week. A devotional for the Climate conference (Dec. 3 – Dec. 14) will be available from the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation team.  Consider Celebrating with Simplicity this Christmas. Or these sustainable holiday ideas from TX Impact. The GreenFaith pledge encourages discipleship in any season.

Building & Grounds:    Still using T-12 fluorescent bulbs? Convertor kits for light fixtures to go to T-8 are available and inexpensive (& save energy). Conduct a waste audit and see how you might reduce waste.   Consider these water conservation resources. Another way to conserve water is to install a rain barrel. The City of Houston (and certain other municipalities) periodically have these on sale. Consider using printer/copier paper made from recycled paper or other waste materials.

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). Now that the weather is getting cooler, keep an eye out for outdoor fundraisers or hands-on stewardship events that benefit local environmental non-profits.  One example is the Fall 2017 Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event on Nov. 19. Advocate to preserve National Monuments or to protect both people and wildlife from wildfires.

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.

Synodwide Harvey Work Day

By Pastor Chris Markert, OLF, Assistant to the Bishop – Mission Catalyst, ELCA Director for Evangelical Mission

After the devastation left behind in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, the Gulf Coast Synod hosted a synodwide workday on Saturday, September 9, 2017.

In the end, we had 316 volunteers deployed out of four sites around the synod, working in 33 work crews that helped more than 40 homes.

Volunteers from Christus Victor – League city

Several congregations have continued to serve and assist their neighbors by mucking out homes and helping with debris removal.

Thanks to Living Word- Katy, Faith- Bellaire, Christus Vistor- League City and Kinsmen- Houston for being deployment sites.

The debris pile outside Faith Lutheran in Dickinson.

We have recently formed a synod short-term recovery team to oversee the synod disaster fund, coordination of continued volunteer efforts, and the spiritual care of our pastors, deacons and congregational leaders in our congregations. Pastor Chris Lake (of Tree of Life Lutheran-Conroe) is the Chair of this Team. You can contact disaster@gulfcoastsynod.org for more information.


Pastor Chris Lake, Tree of Life -Conroe, at the synodwide Harvey clean up day. Sept 9, 2017
Salem in Houston flooded
Salem Evangelical-Houston during the storm (majority of the property was flooded).
Kinsmen volunteers
Volunteers from Kinsmen-Houston also helped out with the clean up. Sept 9, 2017

Mission Companionships Make a Difference!

By The Rev. Chris MarkertAssistant to the Bishop – Mission Catalyst and ELCA Director for Evangelical Mission

Recently Gethsemane in Chalmette, one of our synod’s redevelopment congregations, decided to become a mission companion (also known as a mission partner). So, they approached another of our redevelopments, Bethlehem in New Orleans, who accepted their invitation!

Gethsemane God's work our handsThe weekend of September 10, 2017 members of Gethsemane joined Bethlehem for worship and God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday. They also surprised the congregation with a $1,000 donation as a sign of their companionship in ministry.

Being a mission companion is simple. It requires the following minimum commitments:

1)    Pray at least once a month for your mission companion during worship

2)    Plan an opportunity for your two congregations to worship, fellowship and/or serve in the community together at least once annually.

3)    Give a financial gift to your mission companion. This can be as simple as a special one-time offering during worship or adding the mission companion to your budget, The amount does not matter; it’s the relationship that matters.

To learn more or to sign up as a mission companion click here or contact the synod mission catalyst Chris Markert at chrism@gulfcoastsynod.org.

LINK FOR THE CLICK HERE   [[gulfcoastsynod.org/congregations/new-missions/companion/]]


At the Table Together

By Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the ELCA

Elizabeth Eaton
Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

Old recipes are precious things. They give instructions about how to prepare a dish, but they are so much more. They are filled with memories. They connect families as they are passed from one generation to the next. They bring events and people from long ago right into the present.

I am looking at a recipe card that has that effect on me. It’s my mother’s recipe for stuffing for turkey. It’s written in her neat hand—a skill I never mastered. It’s a basic recipe, just bread and butter and onions and celery and poultry seasoning. I don’t even have to read it now when I make stuffing, but I like to look at it because it puts me right back into Thanksgivings past.

Thanksgiving in our family was an event. The Eatons have been gathering for Thanksgiving dinner for nearly 70 years. We traded off between our house and my aunt and uncle’s home. When it was our turn we got up early and started cooking.

Out came the recipes and equipment. There were no food processors in those days. We had a cast iron food grinder that clamped on to the edge of the kitchen table. It was kept in its own special box. It only made an appearance once a year and its emergence signaled that Thanksgiving had arrived. Grinding the celery was no problem. Onions were another story. My brothers and I spelled each other at turning the crank until we were overcome by the fumes.

My parents and my aunt and uncle established this tradition shortly after World War II. We have always had three and sometimes four generations present. A lot has gone on in our family and in the world these past decades. Marriages, children, moves, deaths, war, recession, elections, the ’60s. We are a lively bunch and none of us lacks an opinion or the ability to express it. Conversations were spirited and sometimes heated. My father and my uncle served in the army during World War II. My older brother and older male cousins didn’t support the Vietnam War. We belong to different political parties. We are Lutheran and Catholic and members of the Unification Church and unchurched. We are liberal and conservative.

But no matter what, when my mother or my aunt announced, “Supper’s ready,” we all came to the table together. We were family, we shared our lives, we loved each other.

A lot is going on in our church and in the world right now. We are a changing church, which brings its own tension. We live in a wired world where news is instantaneous and continuous. We don’t agree on everything. We belong to different political parties. We have varied ethnicities. We’re liberal and conservative and everything in between. We’re in an “either/or” world. And we are contending with cultural forces that exacerbate division. But by the tender love of God, by this ceaseless pursuit of the Spirit, we are members of the body of Christ. We are family. We share our lives. We love each other.

Here is another simple recipe: flour, water, wine, the body and blood of Jesus. A meal of healing, forgiveness and thanksgiving. No matter what, when our Lord tenderly and urgently invites, “Supper’s ready,” we all come to the table. There in our common brokenness we meet each other in Christ.

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

Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation Continue…

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to attend Sunday Evening Conversations on Creation, an environmental education web meeting series whose theme in 2017 is Connections between People and Nature.

Sunday, Oct. 29, 6 pm:  Connections between People & Nature: Scripture & Science I

Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 pm: Connections between People & Nature: Scripture & Science II

Conversations on CreationAt the October & November web meetings, Lisa Brenskelle, leader of the Creation Care Team at Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, leader of the Lutherans Restoring Creation Team for the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, member of the Interfaith Environmental Network of Houston planning committee, and a research and development project manager with a PhD in Chemical Engineering, will address the connections between people and nature from the perspectives of both scripture and science. Her talk will investigate the relationships and similarities between people and nature highlighted in scripture and then give examples of how these relationships and similarities have been observed by science. Learn some exciting newer science of which you may not be aware, and marvel at the connections between people and nature! After Lisa’s talk, there will be time for Q&A. If you would like to join either of these online conversations, please register (October and/or November) and you will receive an invitation to the web meeting. For more information about either talk, contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com.

Conversations on Journey of the Universe

Tues./Thurs. Nov. 2 – Dec. 7, 6 p.m.

journey of the universeThe synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to join them for conversations on Journey of the Universe, an Emmy-award-winning documentary of the 14 billion year history of the universe. The first half of these conversations go into detail on the history of the universe with top scientists. The second half of these conversations are interviews with change-makers in many areas, inspired by our knowledge of this history. We will meet online, via web meeting, to listen to and discuss the conversations.  We meet at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursday, from Nov. 2 – Dec. 7 (except the Thanksgiving holiday). Join the conversation to be awe-struck by the journey of the universe!  Please register. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com with questions.

Journey of the Universe – Take 2!

Apr. 23, 12:45 – 2:30 p.m. (12:30 p.m. for lunch)

Missed the screenings of The Journey of the Universe held in February?  The CTK Creation Care Team invites you to go on the Journey of the Universe in April.  This Emmy-award winning documentary narrates the 14 billion year story of the universe’s development in a way that is accessible to everyone. The film tells a comprehensive story drawing on astronomy and physics to explain the emergence of galaxies and stars, geology and chemistry to understand the formation of Earth, biology and botany to trace life’s evolution, and anthropology and history to see the rise of humans. Journey weaves science and humanities in a new way that allows for a comprehensive sense of mystery and awe to arise. This approach expands the human perspective beyond an anthropocentric worldview to one that values life’s complexity and sees the role of humans as critical to the further flourishing of the Earth community. An open facilitated discussion will follow the film screening. A sandwich lunch will be available at 12:30 p.m. (for $5/person payable at the door in cash).  To register, see events on the Christ the King – Creation Care Facebook. Contact Lisa Brenskelle at brenskelle@aol.com with questions.

Fall 2017 Interfaith Environmental Stewardship Event

volunteer planting crew
Volunteer planting crew hard at work at the Fall 2016 event.

The synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team invites you to join with people of other faiths in Houston to care for creation on Sunday, Nov. 19, from 1:30 – 4:30 p.m.  We will engage in hands-on environmental stewardship at the Willow Waterhole Conservation Reserve. This event will offer activities for all ages and skill levels, so bring the whole family, your neighbors and your friends.  Meet at The Gathering Place, 5310 South Willow Dr., Houston 77035 to sign in.  Metro bus line 7 stops nearby and line 49 is not far.  Tools/supplies will be provided.

This event is organized by Christ the King Evangelical Lutheran Church, Congregation Brith Shalom, and The Blue Mosque, in partnership with the Willow Waterhole Greenspace Conservancy. Please register for planning purposes.  Contact Lisa Brenskelle at gcs.lrc@gmail.com for more information.