Bishop’s Reflections

Advocate for Christ! Advocacy Day Sermon

Micah 6 and Luke 4–Too frequently they serve as the double barrel shotgun of the social justice wing of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We pull them out, take aim, and pull the trigger, in much the same way that another wing of the church fires off Leviticus 18 and 20 and Romans 1. When they do it, they’re ignoring the passage’s cultural context. When we do it, well, we’re right.

I use the image of a shotgun to describe our readings intentionally. We find ourselves engulfed in a culture of violence–in thought, word, and deed–and we need to own our lack of “gun control” in our discourse and the violence we’ve done using sacred scripture as a weapon.

On more than one occasion of late, I’ve caught some Biblical buckshot in the behind from people committed to social justice concerned that I am concerned about some of the communication on social issues and politics that has been brought to my attention. So, I can tell you that Micah 6 and Luke 4 are lethal weapons spiritually when they are used to shame others or to defend what are, in essence, outbursts masquerading as advocacy.

 For example, criticizing parishioners for wearing red, white, and blue to worship on Memorial Day weekend signals that we judge people by what they wear to church.

Making fun of people’s physical appearance because we disagree with them makes the church petty and small.

Wishing the President of the United States dead in the name of the environment because he pulled out of the Paris Agreement is contrary to the Fifth Commandment, not to mention the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Drawing a line in the sand between one’s voice as a pastor or Christian and one’s voice as a citizen with its first amendment right of free speech signals to others that they too can draw a line in the sand between their Christian selves and their political selves by, say, praying for immigrants on Sunday and advocating for a wall the rest of the week.

Add after 30 years serving this church, currently as a person entrusted with power who gets a lot of truth spoken to him, I can honestly attest that, regardless of the cause, when advocates for social justice are uninformed about, uninterested in, and dismissive of my realities and needs as a person who lives with a disability–a largely oppressed population in our nation and in the world–those advocates give me just what I need to discount them and to dismiss whatever it is they have to say.  

And to use Micah 6 and Luke 4 to justify and defend any of this.  Well, lock and load. These are not examples of thoughtful, biblically based, theologically sound, social commentary. This is not advocacy. It’s certainly not prophetic. This is stupidity. You know what they say: There’s no defending stupid.

For followers of Jesus, the end does not justify the means. It is not enough that we advocate for the things for which Christ would have us advocate. We are to advocate for Christ. We are to advocate for Christ. Not in the personal-lord-anti-savior manner, but on Christ’s behalf, in Christ’s stead. We are to advocate in persona Christi–in the person of Christ. Christ advocating through us.

Perhaps the epistle reading we need is from Second Corinthians:   “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (5:18-20).

God appeals through us because Christ lives within us. Christ lives within us. We received Christ at baptism and we will receive Christ again when we come to the table. Jesus moves your spirit and energizes your life to advocate for immigrants, prisoners, people who live with disabilities, the planet, people of other faiths, people who live in poverty, victims of trafficking, any sort of violence, addiction or abuse, people discriminated against because of race, gender, or sexual orientation, or whomever fills your heart. The spirit of the Lord anoints you. The “Today” Jesus proclaimed in Nazareth is fulfilled in and through you.

And Jesus will work with you. Jesus will work in you, so that your advocacy is his advocacy.  Do not hear me saying silence, passivity, and acceptance; Jesus certainly didn’t do that. But neither did Jesus overthrow the Roman Empire. So we shouldn’t expect Jesus to overthrow the Trump administration. Our hope and prayer and goal is that both the person for whom we advocate and the person to whom we advocate, will see in our advocacy the presence of Christ who is the power and wisdom of God that transforms the world. After all, that’s mostly what Jesus did.

So Micah is right. It is not enough to do justice. We also have to love kindness. And we have to love kindness enough so much that we are kind to those with whom disagree, those whose words and deeds we hate, those who would silence us and silence Christ. Jesus says, ““Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” And Jesus does. “Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing.” Love kindness that much.

And walk humbly with your God. Jesus’ humble walk with God led him to the cross. Jesus’ walk with God led him to victory, yes, to resurrection, but not apart from the cross. “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” And still, now, today, Jesus is bringing good news to the poor, release to the captive, recovery of sight to those who are blind, and the year of the Lord’s favor–humbly, often one heart, one life at a time.  “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,” Jesus says, “for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Advocating for Christ–on Christ’s behalf, in Christ’s stead–is humble, kind, justice-doing, life-changing, world-transforming stuff. And how we do it–in persona Christi–is at least as important as what we advocate for. And so we come to the table to receive Christ once again so that in our advocacy we might be Christ, anointed by the Spirit and walking humbly with God for the sake of the world.

Report of the Bishop to Synod Council 5 December 2015

This report is organized under the four priorities agreed upon by synod council (bold) supplemented with goals I sense emerging as mission priorities (italics). Action items are identified with an asterisk (*).  While this is the report of the bishop, it is an ensemble effort and includes input and contributions from the synod staff.

  • Preach and Preside across the Synod as a visible expression of our unity in Christ:
    • Pastor Friesen-Carper, Pastor Sprang and I have visited all but one (1) of our 113 congregations, and have visited 85 congregations more than once.
    • I have preached in 87 of our congregations and plan to visit every one by All Saints 2016—26 in the next year.
  • Represent the Synod beyond the Synod:
    • One of the tasks facing our synod is to chart a sustainable direction for Lutheran camping and campus ministries in the Lower Peninsula.  I believe we are  well on our way to accomplishing this goal.
      • Living Water Ministries – The board continues to move forward on a plan for a finance committee and a strategic plan that includes a site plan for Stony Lake.
      •  Lutheran Campus Ministry – The New and Redeveloping Congregations Table will begin putting a grant program for campus ministry together and q draft copy of the grant form in process. I hope this synod will support Lutheran campus ministry that is geared toward students and provides (1) a welcome to campus, (2) worship grounded in Word and Sacrament, (3) opportunities for fellowship or community, (4) study and discussion that connects faith and life, whether that be social issues, vocational discernment, or something else, and (5) opportunities for service. Campus ministry should also (6) cultivate relationship with partner Lutheran congregations.  We should also be able to say how we are doing in these areas.
    • I am in the process of drafting a letter to the governor on refugee resettlement. I will share it when it is finished.
    • Drawing on 50 years of national and international dialogue, Lutherans and Catholics together have issued the "Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist," a unique ecumenical document that marks a pathway toward greater visible unity between Catholics and Lutherans that finally leads to full communion. At the heart of the document are 32 "Statements of Agreement" where Lutherans and Catholics already have points of convergence on topics about church, ministry and Eucharist. These agreements signal that Catholics and Lutherans are indeed 'on the way' to full, visible unity. As 2017 approaches, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, this witness to growing unity gives a powerful message to a world where conflict and division often seem to drown out more positive messages of hope and reconciliation The document also indicates differences still remaining between Lutherans and Catholics and indicates possible ways forward. In October both the ELCA Conference of Bishops—an advisory body of the church—and the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) received and unanimously affirmed the 32 Agreements. ELCA bishops requested that the ELCA Church Council accept them and forward the entire document to the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the denomination's highest legislative body. The document seeks reception of the Statement of Agreements from The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). The LWF is a global communion of 145 churches in 98 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States. The conclusion invites the PCPCU and the LWF to create a process and timetable for addressing the remaining issues. It also suggests that the expansion of opportunities for Lutherans and Catholics to receive Holy Communion together would be a sign of the agreements already reached. The Declaration also seeks a commitment to deeper connection at the local level for Catholics and Lutherans. The text of the Declaration on the Way and more information are available online:
  •  Help the synod council communicate what a synod and bishop do:
    • Celebrate all that we as a synod are doing together. We need to communicate all that we see and strengthen the connections between natural partners. 
      • Mission Storyteller - We are receiving very positive comments for our mission storyteller. A pre-seminary student in Presbyterian Church, Trinity Seminary, and the ELCA churchwide staff all praises this way of “knittin’ the mitten” and celebrating our mission. We began this program with a grant. As we build our budget, I request synod council to fund 1/2 grant for $3500 in 2016 and full funding of $7000 in 2017.
      •  Pictorial Directory – Production of the pictorial directory has taken a back seat. I welcome wisdom on how to put the images and information in a usable form.
      • Employee Handbook that include synod policies for credit cards, cars, phones, etc. We expected to bring a proposal to our December meeting. Our synod attorney continues to work on this project.
  •  Listen across the synod for direction in shared ministry:  
    • Recruit the best pastors and rostered leaders for our congregations. Strengthen a culture of support, collegiality, accountability and compensation so that our rostered leaders are fulfilled in their calling and excited to be in the mitten.
      • Call Process
      • The call process continues to constitute the bulk of our work as a staff. We have completed 34 call processes. 23 congregations are currently in the call process and I anticipate 11 more will enter it in the coming months.
      • Pastor Sarah has revamped the call process manual so that it works better for a synod with thirty congregations in transition. We hope to reduce synod staff visits from 3-4 to 2-3 by bringing call committees together for an overview of the process. We have also changed the voice and tone of the manual so that it is both more active and more grounded in and open to the Holy Spirit.  We ask for synod council endorsement.
    • Compensation
      • Pastor Sarah and Vice President Schlesinger have begun work on the compensation guidelines that will come before you in February.
      •   We continue to work on a plan for addressing rostered leader indebtedness. Regrettably, we were not able to bring a proposal for your consideration to our December meeting.
      • Portico plan changes – I encourage you to view this video on wellness from Portico. I am making personal wellness a goal and commitment for 2016.
    • Continuing Education
      • I am receiving many questions about Islam and would like to invite my friend, Mark Swanson, who teaches interfaith relations at LSTC, to come to our synod. Do you think there would be interest? When would be a good time?
    • Equip congregations to carry the gospel to their communities. Become a church that moves out of the pews and into the streets proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven has come near to you!”
    • Find innovative ways to ensure the Lutheran proclamation of the gospel continues in every quarter of our state.
      • North Ottawa Lutheran Community - ELCA approved 1 year Synodically Authorized Worshiping Community Exploration in Grand Haven/ Spring Lake Area, with Pastor Justin Walker as developer-explorer, as an extension on the mission and ministry of Peace, Holland. The grant for $10,000 and begins January 2015. The Outreach Committee approved a $5,000 grant for the synod’s portion.
      • New and Renewing Mission Table (Outreach) – I request that Synod Council appoint Pastor Sarah Samuelson and Pastor Kjerstan Priddy for a three-year term. 
      • Pastor Sprang met with the Saginaw Geographic Parish Design Team monthly, made a presentation on Cooperative Ministry to Ludington Mission, and held an ELCA Renewal Ministries Consultation with Pastor Neil Harrison and our 4 congregations in Redevelopmentand our 4 congregations in Redevelopment.
    • Plant our next new congregation.
      • Sudanese Christ Lutheran has moved to a Synodically Authorized Worship Community while they raise and train a new leader – Abraham Mach applying to seminary.
      • Peace, Holland is seeking to explore ministry opportunities in Grand Haven. Pastor Sprang and I brought a resolution to the synod council to authorize a synodically authorized worshipping community exploration, for one year, in partnership with Peace/Holland and the ELCA, for Grand Haven/Spring Lake. See attached.  The ELCA requires a “synod council resolution” to move forward as a sign of respect for and partnership with us. It was approved on November 10.
      • Children’s Bible Study is beginning at Neighborhood House in Saginaw, in partnership with Zion/LSSM
    • Grow our relationships with our global companions in Honduras, Latvia, and Papua New Guinea.
      • I am scheduled to visit Honduras January 27-31, 2016 as part of an ELCA roundtable.
      • I have accepted an invitation to visit and teach in Latvia June 5-13, 2016.
    • Strengthen ministry with children, youth and young adults.
    • Become a graceful Christian presence for victims of crime and prisoners.
    •  Claim our God of abundance by becoming congregations and a synod known for our generosity.
      •  The mission endowment committee had an initial meeting.
      •  To Whom Shall We Go/Making Us One – We are collecting materials requested by the synod attorney.
      • Macedonia Grant – We have additional funding to offer Preaching Stewardship again. It was undersubscribed in the fall so we will try again in the spring. 

St Ambrose

Monday (December 7) is Saint Ambrose Day. For two glorious years my professional life was near perfect. I preached and presided on Sunday mornings, taught homiletics on Wednesday afternoons, and spent the rest of my workweek sipping cappuccino while reading and writing about St. Ambrose. While some consider the fourth century bishop of Milan to be the patron saint of lawyers, preachers of the Word of God, and church leaders who show by their lives God’s love for the world, I claim Ambrose as my personal patron saint of publishing contracts, month-long fully-funded research excursions to Northern Italy, and successfully dodging direct questions during a job interview at LSTC the day after I defended my dissertation. I was asked about Lutheran theologians; I quoted Ambrose. These days, I find that Ambrose has much to teach me about being a bishop.

Like all the Church’s blessed saints, I find much in Ambrose’s life and work to both marvel at and to be offended by. Ambrose’s treatment of the Jews makes me shudder. But I applaud Ambrose tearing down the imperial purple from his basilica—the fourth century equivalent of removing a flag from the chancel–-and I commend Ambrose’s rejection of Roman civil religion.

Ambrose was emphatic when it came to the empire. Talk about speaking truth to power, Ambrose regularly addressed the emperor from the pulpit. On one occasion, the bishop told Theodosius that the emperor owed his position to God, and unless the emperor promised to change a policy, the bishop could not in good conscience celebrate the Eucharistic liturgy, with its solemn prayer for the emperor. Ambrose quipped, “How can I ask God to do for you what you are not willing to do for yourself?”

On another occasion, after the emperor ordered the slaughter of seven thousand as punishment for a riot, Ambrose told Theodosius that Theodosius wasn’t welcome in worship until he’d done public penance. Whether it was the empire’s moral laxity, religious indifference, propensity toward violence, or disregard for the poor, Ambrose was quick to respond when the state failed to, in Jesus’ words, feed the lambs and tend the sheep (John 21:15-17).

This bishop’s exhortations were also ecclesiastical. Ambrose’s expectations of clergy make my pastoral expectations document sound like a weekend in Vegas. As Jesus exhorted Simon Peter to tend and feed his flock, as First Peter exhorts elders to tend their flocks eagerly and not for sordid gain, not lording but offering an example (5:2), so Ambrose exhorts priests to embody virtue. He asks, “Who would seek to drink from muddy water?” Ambrose’s directives for those who minister at Christ’s altar are straightforward and simple: Spend your days studying and your nights praying. No sex, no wine, no desire for money, power or glory, no worldly pleasures that inhibit the development of the likeness of Christ. No fancy clothes. I hesitate to speculate about Ambrose’s response to the purple shirts, chasubles, copes, and miters that I like to wear. Ambrose would invite me to sell them to Liz Eaton and give the money to the poor.

And let’s not get started on orthodoxy. Ambrose would tell you that the opposite of Catholic is Arian, not Lutheran. And the Nicene Creed, which Ambrose rigorously defended, makes no claims about the gender of God but only about the divinity of Christ.

As for how empire and church work together, Ambrose might describe the separation of church and state this way. The Church instructs and judges the state by setting the moral perimeters in which the state can legitimately operate. The state protects the church so as not to infringe upon its independence. As Ambrose wrote to his sister about another emperor, Valentinian: “It is alleged that everything is permitted to the emperor and that all things are his. I reply: Do not burden yourself, O Emperor, to think that you have any imperial right to those things that are divine. The palaces belong to the emperor, the church to the bishop.”

Ambrose’s clear directions—to clergy and emperor, church and state—reflect an Advent truth. Neither church nor empire nor any leader’s vision nor anything we should or ought to do will bring the reign of God. While individuals may play a role, while institutions surely have their place, God’s reign rests in God’s hands. “Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are scattered, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered” (Ezekiel 34:11). Jesus promised it this way: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32),

As God seeks out and rescues God’s sheep, as Jesus draws all people to himself, individuals and institutions need care and correction. For while they play a role, though they have a place, individuals and institutions, and all that we should and ought to do, never save the world or us. Left to themselves, nether church nor state nor any of us can truly feed the lambs and tend the flock.

And so God does. God feeds the lambs. God tends the sheep. Sometimes God feeds the flock through individuals. Sometimes God tends the flock through institutions. Sometimes God even uses USA, ELCA, and U and I. And sometimes we are the individuals and ours the institutions that need to be rescued and gathered, tended and fed.

And God does. God brings God’s people out. God gathers God’s people in. God feeds them on the mountains with good pasture. God promises, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. I will feed them with justice” (Ezekiel 34:13-16).

God tempers correction with care. As a preaching student once reminded me, even Jesus’ words to Peter—“Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep”—are more invitation than command. Jesus was concerned with gathering Peter in even as he sent Peter out. Jesus meant to restore Peter by entrusting the flock to his care.

Advent is about waiting to be gathered even as we reach out to those who are scattered. Advent is about being restored to God by participating in God’s own work of bringing God’s reign. Mostly, Advent is about expecting God to act. And so, with Ambrose we pray:

"O Jesus, God's only Son, you o'er sin the victory won. Boundless shall your kingdom be; When shall we its glories see?"

And God answers:

“Now. Now. Be gathered at my table, my sheep, and I myself will feed you.”


Mark 10:46-52

As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.


I am not so far removed from Bartimaeus.  I was born legally blind in 1959.  They told my parents not to invest in life insurance, because I’d most likely run out into the street, get hit by a car and be killed before I was seven.  If I did survive, I could probably learn to tune pianos or make change at a newsstand. While my seminary gave me a shot, the church wasn’t sure.  Lots of congregations out there think that God intends people with disabilities to be ministered to, not to minister.  And, although I’ve enjoyed a modicum of what we might call success, when I can’t hop in a car but need to arrange how to get from there to here, or when I need to ask for help with something that I’ve been asking for help with for a decade, and nothing’s changed, somewhere in my soul I am reduced to a beggar. 


Maybe you’re not so far removed from Bartimaeus.  Perhaps you have been someone whom the crowds want to silence.  “And many sternly warned Bartimaeus to be quiet.”  Perhaps you are someone stigmatized by some sort of disability or because you have dishonored yourself by begging in some way.  And others have felt justified in excluding you from the Jesus procession. 


Or maybe you are working so hard to maintain or sustain your congregation or institution that you’ve developed that strain of spiritual blindness so common among Jesus’ closest followers, at least as Mark tells it.  This kind of spiritual blindness comes from being unwilling or unable to accept the radical, subversive claims of the in-breaking Reign of God.  Jesus proclaims that the Son of Humanity will be betrayed into human hands and undergo suffering, rejection, and death.  And unwilling or unable to see it, Peter rebukes Jesus.  James and John jockey for positions of power at Jesus’ right and left hands.  And the disciples are just plain confused.  So, what about us when the expression of Christ’s body that we are responsible for isn’t joyful, successful, and thriving?  Do we rebuke Jesus? Do we jockey for power?  Do we stand around confused?  Or are we simply reduced to begging? 

Maybe our church is not so far removed from Bartimaeus.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  Jesus asks Bartimaeus.  Jesus asks James and John.  Jesus asks the ELCA.  “What do you want me to do for you?”  How will we answer?  Will we James-and-John it, and presumptively ask for places of honor, prestige, and success, in glory – more members, more money, more mission?  Or will we answer like Bartimaeus?  “My Teacher, let me see again.”  “Success or sight?”  I guess the question is whether we will approach Jesus relying on well-established religious laurels or admitting that we find ourselves in a place of darkness and doubt.  Are we trying to sidestep suffering, or to make our way through loss, exclusion and helplessness? Are we exercising some claim to righteousness, or bowed in need before the One who alone is righteous?  “Success or sight?”  Given the alternatives, it seems better to join Bartimaeus and beg.  


Coming face-to-face with the imploring cries of a beggar named Bartimaeus, or a beggar named Craig, or a beggar named . . . fill in your own name, or a beggar named the ELCA, Jesus hears, stops, and brings us into his presence.  Jesus allows us; Jesus invites us, to name our need. “What do you want me to do for you?” Then Jesus heals with a single word: “Go, your faith has made you well.”  “Go, your faith has made you well.” 


This is the compassionate Christ who brings near the good news of God’s victory over the physical brokenness of the world, God’s victory over the stigma of blindness brought on by society, God’s victory over the spiritual blindness so common among Jesus’ closest followers, God’s victory over the quest for institutional survival that blinds us to what it means to be Church.  


I must confess that I take great delight in the fact that Bartimaeus, who cannot see, has great insight and may even be a model for followers who claim 20/20 vision.  Bartimaeus calls Jesus, “Son of David,” echoing what the crowds will say when Jesus enters Jerusalem:  “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.” Despite his blindness, Bartimaeus sees what others who met Jesus do not – that Jesus is the Messiah.


Bartimaeus does what the man with many possessions cannot.  Bartimaeus casts aside his cloak, his most treasured possession, the thing that kept him warm through cold nights, the place where he kept the meager spoils of his begging.  Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, leaving his former life behind. 


And once Jesus restores his sight, Bartimaeus follows Jesus “on the way.” Bartimaeus testifies to the life-altering consequences of receiving sight from Jesus.  Once Jesus brings the good news of God’s Reign to bear in our lives in tangible ways, we can do nothing but follow Jesus – even when we know that we are headed to Jerusalem.  With Bartimaeus and the disciples, we may hear the raucous crowds heralding Jesus and be tempted to have messianic expectations, if not for ourselves then certainly for our church.  We may find ourselves surprised when Jesus is betrayed, denied, rejected, suffers, and dies, and our world is turned upside down.  And when it gets tough, unpopular, costly, we, like disciples before us, might find ourselves deserting Jesus or at least Christ’s body in the world, called Church.   Or we might be reduced to begging.


And that’s why I like Bartimaeus.  Bartimaeus does what I have trouble doing; what perhaps you have trouble doing, what I suspect our church is having trouble doing.  Bartimaeus begs Jesus for the help he needs.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Bartimaeus begs.  Bartimaeus is not dissuaded by the crowds who would silence him.  Bartimaeus persists until his pleas are heard.  Bartimaeus calls Jesus out.  He understands that being restored to honor, productivity, and well-being requires the mercy of the one whom he knows as Son of David.  And so Bartimaeus is not afraid to ask for mercy.  Bartimaeus is not ashamed to beg for it.  And Jesus names Bartimaeus’ begging as faith.  Jesus names Bartimaeus’ begging as faith. 


Bartimaeus gives me pause as I take in that to be faithful in this seasons of our lives, to be faithful in this season of the life our church, might mean that, rather than figuring it out for ourselves, we beg Jesus to have mercy on us. 


“My Teacher, let me see again,” we beg.  “Our teacher, let us see again.”  And Jesus does.   We see a young man, dressed in a robe of white, telling a group of women that Jesus has been raised.   We see a Church of beggars gathered around Christ’s table, receiving Christ’s mercy.  Jesus gives us eyes to see the Reign of God, the resurrection and new life of Christ, and the work of the Spirit around us.  “Go; your faith has made you well.”  Jesus says in response to our begging.  And with restored vision we set out, only to find ourselves following on the way. 

Bishop’s Report to Synod Council

12 September 2015

In worship on the Sunday after our synod council retreat, congregations that follow the Revised Common Lectionary will consider the question:  Who do people say that Jesus is?  (Mark 8:27-38) A student once reflected on that question this way: 

Rarely do I hear names of prophets past as Jesus’ disciples offer.  Instead, the range of answers is vast.  Some examples… Jesus is a relic, a tired concept based loosely on some long-ago discredited religion. Jesus is the name Christians use to try and oppress others.  Jesus is a talisman, a magic word that can be used to try and make things that I want to happen. Jesus is a nice guy, a moral example and life coach that demonstrates one of many honorable ways of moving through the world.  Jesus is my dear and personal friend and savior who takes care of me as long as I am good.  Jesus is part of my national and ethnic identity and a cultural icon. Jesus is someone I used to think I knew, but I’ve matured beyond that now…

In Mark’s gospel, Peter gets it right, and all wrong at the same time.  Peter acknowledges Jesus as Messiah, the anointed one, but then demands Jesus conform to his expectations.  Whatever those expectations are, they do not include suffering and death.

Suffering and death are certainly part of Jesus’ ministry and, in the time in which we live, suffering and death seem to be part of the ministry of Christ’s body, his Church. We experienced suffering and death in the sale of a beloved camp. We face it again in the restructuring of campus ministry and rebranding of LSSM. Congregations in our synod will either embrace the suffering that comes from the death of yesterday’s church or of the way the church used to be, or they will surely face the suffering that comes with the literal death of their faith community. 

Preparing for this meeting, I am mindful that the way we tackle the business before us, and the decisions we make, bear witness to and proclaim who we believe Jesus is.  Perhaps the best way to prepare for our meeting—in addition to all the reading—is to prayerfully contemplate Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29).

My answer:  Jesus is the one who brings life out of death.  Jesus is the one who makes it so we not need be afraid. Jesus is the one who frees and empowers us to dare to share in his own work of bringing life to others and to the world.

It will be good to be with you!

The Rev. Craig Alan Satterlee, Ph.D., Bishop

* * * * * * *

This report is organized under the four priorities agreed upon by synod council (bold) supplemented with goals I sense emerging as mission priorities (italics). Action items are identified with an asterisk (*).  While this is the report of the bishop, it is an ensemble effort and includes input and contributions from the synod staff.

  • Preach and Preside across the Synod as a visible expression of our unity in Christ:
    •  Please see the updated summary of the synod called staff’s congregational visitation. Inasmuch as I believe the foundation of everything the Church does is to proclaim Christ-centered good news, this report reflects worship—preaching and presiding—and does not include the many other ways we are in the congregations of our synod.
    •  Pastor Friesen-Carper, Pastor Sprang and I have visited all but three (3) of our 113 congregations, and have visited 76 congregations more than once.
    •  We know that people desire to see the bishop, I am pleased to report that I have visited 78 of 113 congregations personally, 18 more than once, with visits to 18 of the remaining 35 scheduled. I plan to visit every congregation personally by November 6, 2016. 
  • ·Represent the Synod beyond the Synod:
    • *We get to appoint an additional voting member (person of color) for churchwide assembly - Abraham Mach (Christ Sudanese)
    • One of the tasks facing our synod is to chart a sustainable direction for Lutheran camping and campus ministries in the Lower Peninsula. 
      • Living Water Ministries – The executive director and board are clear that the sale of Michi-Lu-Ca gives us our best chance to chart a sustainable course, but no guarantee. The board is putting a plan for a finance committee in place and will undertake a strategic plan that includes a site plan for Stony Lake. Summer camp registration was strong and the spirit very good. Living Water led tours at the ELCA Gathering in Detroit. Plans are underway for the Gathering. I led worship for the Stony Lake camp staff in July and Cathy hosted a dinner for the staff, organized and provided by Pastor Sprang.
      • Lutheran Campus Ministry - At its August meeting, the Lutheran Campus Ministry Board voted to disband this administrative structure, effective the end of the fiscal year. Oversight of campus ministry will revert directly to the bishop and synod council. We are responsible for MSU and Western.
      • I have been slow to weigh-in on campus ministry. Early on I asked about goals and metrics for measuring the effectiveness of campus ministry and experienced resistance and shaming from members of the board, some campus ministries—not East Lansing, which welcomes this conversation—and the regional coordinator. It is becoming incumbent on this synod to identify what we value in campus ministry. It seems to me Lutheran campus ministry should be geared toward students and provide (1) a welcome to campus, (2) worship grounded in Word and Sacrament, (3) opportunities for fellowship or community, (4) study and discussion that connects faith and life, whether that be social issues, vocational discernment, or something else, and (5) opportunities for service. Campus ministry should also (6) cultivate relationship with partner Lutheran congregations.  We should also be able to say how we are doing in these areas. Some say this is an outdated model.
      • Moving forward, I believe we should embrace campus ministry as part of our mission, placing it under the New and Renewing Congregations table. We should appoint a synod representative to any campus ministry board that we fund. Funding should be open to all congregations engaged in campus ministry and modeled after the grants programs of churchwide and our synod’s outreach committee—we fund mission rather than maintenance that is moving toward sustainability.
      • Lutheran Social Services of Michigan – LSSM is engaged in a process of rebranding (new name sans Lutheran), which it believes will increase viable partnerships and enable it to serve more people. Bishop Kreiss and I hear little enthusiasm for this change among our constituents. I am choosing not to invest energy in this conversation. Deans and pastors who participated in a recent meeting on this subject, requested by LSSM, came away convinced that LSSM is not listening and has no interest in engaging in dialogue.
      • The board of directors of Trinity Lutheran Seminary voted to undertake a capital campaign and will expect to solicit contributions in our synod.
      • I participated in the ELCA Worship Jubilee in July with Pastor Rachel Laughlin, chair of our synod worship committee, and others from our synod.  I provided a workshop on liturgical preaching. I will participate in the Lutheran and Episcopal Bishops Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. September 22-24—the pope is upstaging us. I will attend the Conference of Bishops in Chicago October 1-6, and a seminary visit to PLTS (Berkley) October 12-15, where I will preach.
      • Pastor Sprang participated in the ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission Review Table for Grants Aug. 4-6 in Chicago to assist in vetting and giving $2.5 million in grants to 144 ministries. He is assisting the ELCA in writing a resource on How to Be the Second Pastor – Strategies for the second Chapter in the life of a congregation. He finished third in the Faster Pastor Race at Tri-City Raceway, July 24 as a Fundraiser for St. John, Saginaw Community Dinner.
      •  Pastor Friesen-Carper attended a meeting of the Covenant Cluster in February in Nebraska on vocational discernment for youth and young adults.  She also attended the Assistants to Synodical Bishops Gathering in Jacksonville in March.
  • Help the synod council communicate what a synod and bishop do:
    • Celebrate all that we as a synod are doing together. We need to communicate all that we see and strengthen the connections between natural partners. 
      • Synod assembly – I continue to hear very positive about synod assembly (“inspirational,” “felt like church,” “fun,” “meaningful”). While a few lament there was nothing to fight about, most seem to comprehend and appreciate synod assembly as hope and strength for the journey.
      •  Pictorial Directory – Carrie is working on a plan to produce the pictorial directory. 
      • *Appointment of Nominating Committee for 2016 SA (7 people – 4 can be reappointed). We will bring the nominations we have to the meeting.
      • *Approval of Crowne Plaza Grand Rapids as the site for 2016 SA (May 15-17, 2016).
      • *Committee Name and Responsibility changes. We have continued to work on updating synod committees and are pleased to bring a proposal for your consideration.  I believe I explained at synod assembly that these changes reflect our being “church together” and provide a common language as we seek grants from churchwide. More name changes are coming at the 2016 churchwide assembly, so get ready.
    • Our auditors requested that we update the employee handbook to include synod policies for credit cards, cars, phones, etc. We will bring a proposal to our December meeting. The Executive Committee is also working on responding to IRS rulings around reimbursing employees for non-covered medical and health expenses.
  • Listen across the synod for direction in shared ministry:  
    • Recruit the best pastors and rostered leaders for our congregations. Strengthen a culture of support, collegiality, accountability and compensation so that our rostered leaders are fulfilled in their calling and excited to be in the mitten.
      • Call Process
        • The call process continues to constitute the bulk of our work as a staff. We have completed 32 call processes. 22 congregations are currently in the call process and I anticipate 10 more will enter it in the coming months.
        • Some congregations lack clarity about what they desire in a new pastor; others desire what is truly not possible. Call committees are taking their time to decide whether to interview candidates only to find candidates have accepted other calls. The decision not to be open to pastoral candidates who are gay limits the pool of available candidates, as do gender and family composition.
        • A few congregations are, in essence, “firing” their pastor without consulting the Office of the Bishop, which constitutes a violation of constitutional process. When things “blow up,” as they always do, we go in and work to negotiate an amicable severance. We work to provide worship leadership. These congregations do not receive candidates until issues are resolved. To help this work, we encourage congregations to avail themselves of the synod bridge building team.
        • Due to the shortage of interim pastors in our synod and the church, I have reclaimed from decades past and other parts of our church the position of vice or administrative pastor—a neighboring pastor who takes pastoral and administrative responsibility for a vacant congregation and oversees “pulpit supply” for Sunday mornings. We have developed a position description and four administrative pastors are currently serving (Trinity/Manton, Resurrection/Saginaw, Faith/Sidney, Spruce/Spruce).  
      • Pastor Sarah will lead an ELCA Candidacy Discernment Retreat at the Dow Hotel and Conference Center/Hillsdale September 18-19. Joint Michigan Candidacy Committee Meeting is November 12-13 at St. Francis Retreat Center/Dewitt.
      • Compensation
        • We continue to work on a plan for addressing rostered leader indebtedness and intend to bring a proposal for your consideration to our December meeting. Carrie is taking the lead on this and is in conversation with other synods and churchwide. We also plan to consult a tax attorney.
        •  We discovered a resolution passed some years ago that directs the synod to compensate interim pastors at some level while they are between assignments. The executive committee will give this an initial review.
        • Portico plan changes – Congregations and rostered leaders have been informed of portico changes for 2016. Our Portico rep will meet with the synod staff on September 3 and we have offered open forums with her for pastors and congregational leaders.
      • Continuing Education
        • Rostered Leader Event: The rostered leaders of the three synods in Michigan will come together for a Fall Leadership Event on Mackinac Island, hosted by the Northern Great Lakes Synod, September 27-29.
        • Community Organizing for Small Town and Rural Congregations – Oct. 14-16.
        • Wally Taylor Week – October 19-23. Text study for pastors and preachers. Palestinian-Israeli Conflict for everyone.
          • 10/19 7 pm Zion/Comstock Park Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
          • 10/20 10 am-3 pm Zion/Comstock Park Text Study 
          • 10/21 10 am-3 pm Christ United/DeWitt Text Study
          • 10/21 7 pm Christ United/DeWitt Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
          • 10/22 7 pm Peace/Gaylord Palestinian-Israeli Conflict
          • 10/23 10 am-3 pm Peace/Gaylord Text Study
        • Coworkers in the Gospel (St. John Lake City, October 24) is designed for congregation council and other leaders. The workshop will feature speakers, discussion, and idea sharing with other leaders on leadership, synod resources, boundaries, your church building as a mission, and topics for treasurers. The spring event was well received.
        •  Anti-Racism Training (St. Luke’s/Grand Rapids, October 24)
        •  Boundaries Training:  Boundaries Training for Lay Leaders (October 3, Christ United/DeWitt). Boundaries Workshop (November 3, Zion/Comstock Park and November 10, St. John/Grayling).
        • First Call Theological Event (Christ United/Dewitt, November 15-17).
        • Thanks to all who joined me in learning the roles of the Consultation and Discipline Committees from ELCA Secretary Chris Boerger on August 15 at Zion in Cadillac.  
          • *Consultation Committee - Authorize the expansion of the committee by 6 (from 6 to 12 based on Secretary Boerger’s recommendation) and appoint 2 females (1 replacement, 1 not elected at SA) for a total of 8 appointments. We will bring nominations to the December Synod Council meeting.
          • *Discipline Committee – 2 males. Jim Allen (to fill vacancy) and 1 to appoint (not filled at SA)
    • Equip congregations to carry the gospel to their communities. Become a church that moves out of the pews and into the streets proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven has come near to you!”
      •  *At this meeting we will consider charter approval for Open Hearts, Open Church, a group committed to accompanying and equipping congregations that want to open themselves to all people.
      • *As a synod council, we need to come to an understanding of how the called staff will respond when asked to perform marriages. Since our constitutional responsibility is to “Provide for pastoral care of congregations and rostered leaders in the synod” (*S.6.3.a), we do not ordinarily provide direct pastoral care for members of congregations; it is inappropriate for us to “replace” anyone’s pastor. My own practice is to perform marriages of rostered leaders or for members of congregations without a pastor. Yet, exceptions arise, often out of longstanding relationships. I therefore propose: 1) pastors called by the synod, including the bishop, will discuss performing marriages in conversation with one another and in consultation with the called pastor of the congregation where the person or persons belong; 2) synod pastors, including the bishop, will make every effort to partner with the called pastor of the congregation; 3) synod pastors, including the bishop, will only officiate at same gender marriages as part of the ministry of congregations that have engaged in conversation and resolved to be open to this ministry. In keeping with current practice, I will 4) inform the Conference of Bishops when I (or one my assistants) performs a same-gender marriage. 
    • Find innovative ways to ensure the Lutheran proclamation of the gospel continues in every quarter of our state.
      • Pastor Sprang writes:  The synod council is a partner in mission and ministry within our synod. As Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton reminds us, “We Are Church Together.” Especially in New Start Congregations, Synodically Authorized Worshiping Communities, and in Redevelopments, the synod council is a partner on behalf of the synod. With that in mind I wanted to update the council on those particular partnerships that are exist and what is new.
      • New Starts – See Plant our next new congregation below.
      • Redevelopment
        • Trinity, Battle Creek – Final year 2016 – ELCA $6,000, synod $6,000
        • Our Savior’s, Muskegon – First year 2015 – funding began Aug 1 with new redeveloper, Pastor Jane Mountain – ELCA $25,000, synod $12,000.
        •  Zion, Saginaw – grant submitted for redevelopment to combine Anglo and Latino ministry. Grant returned for re-write (Outreach Grant - $10,000) given for 2015.
        • St. Stephen and Calvary, Lansing – Ministry adjustment for addition of staff for Youth, Young Adult, and Young Family ministry – ELCA 2016-$6,000, and synod $4,000.
        • Cooperative Ministry Conversations – Ludington; Saginaw (geographic parish); N. Grand Rapids; Montcalm County,
    • Plant our next new congregation.
      • Sudanese Christ Lutheran is moving from New Start/Congregation Under Development to Synodically Authorized Worship Community while they raise and train a new leader – Abraham Mach applying to seminary.
      • *Peace, Holland is seeking to explore ministry opportunities in Grand Haven. Pastor Sprang and I are bringing a resolution that the synod council to authorize a synodically authorized worshipping community exploration, for one year, in partnership with Peace/Holland and the ELCA, for Grand Haven/Spring Lake. See attached.  The ELCA requires a “synod council resolution” to move forward as a sign of respect for us and partnership with us.
      • Meetings being held to explore a worshiping community at Neighborhood House in Saginaw – partner with Zion/LSSM
    • Grow our relationships with our global companions in Honduras, Latvia, and Papua New Guinea.
      • We were fortunate to have a summer camp counselor come to Stony Lake from Papua New Guinea.
    • Strengthen ministry with children, youth and young adults.
      • National Youth Gathering - Pastors Sprang and Friesen-Carper and I were thrilled with the National Youth Gathering participating as we could in all aspects. The Synod Day, which Pastor Sarah spearheaded, was a particularly moving event for the youth of our synod and showcased some of the talents of the young people in the Mitten. Many volunteers from this synod helped to make that a very special event for more than 30,000 youth and adults. Pastor Sprang was in his glory as Proclaim Justice – Service Skilled Labor.
      • Youth Ministry Report- Pastor Friesen-Carper will provide a report on the status of youth ministry in our synod. I expect that our effort will be best served by strengthening the connections between natural partners.
      • I have offered to participate in the December Gathering and been invited (and accepted) to participate in the Bass Lake Music Festival at Stony Lake in July.
    • Become a graceful Christian presence for victims of crime and prisoners.
      • I continue to receive inquiries and encouragement in this direction.
    • Claim our God of abundance by becoming congregations and a synod known for our generosity.
      • *We recommend that synod council appoint Rebecca Bossenbroek, Dan Smith, and Rev. Shirley Ross-Jones to serve as the three at-large members of the mission endowment committee
      • To Whom Shall We Go/Making Us One – Margie completed the work in tracking down the campaign funds.  We will bring a report to our meeting.
      • Macedonia Grant – We have additional funding to offer Preaching Stewardship again. It will be October 11-12 and November 8-9 at St. Francis Retreat Center/Dewitt. ELCA is using this as a video model.   








Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?"  Jesus said to him, "What is written in the law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."  And Jesus said, "You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live."  But wanting to justify himself, the lawyer asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"  Jesus replied, "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead.  Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when the Samaritan saw him, he was moved with pity.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them.  Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  The next day the Samaritan took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, 'Take care of him; and, when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.' Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"  The lawyer said, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus said, "Go and do likewise."

If you’ll permit me to stretch Jesus’ parable just a bit, I wonder what the one who fell into the hands of robbers chose to remember on the first anniversary of that fateful journey down from Jerusalem to Jericho.  What did he choose to remember?  You know, how we remember is our choice.  Whether we observe an anniversary and how we observe that anniversary are choices we make.  So what choice do you suppose the one who fell into the hands of robbers made? How do you imagine he chose to remember that awful day? 

Do you think the one who fell among robbers dwelled on the attack?  Did he take the day off to sit and watch the images replay again and again in his mind?  Maybe he created a media event, something like Larry King’s Where Were You When? or Jane Pauley’s The Untold Story Behind or Diane Sawyer’s Stories of How Loved Ones Survived the Last Year.  Perhaps this one who fell among robbers returned to the spot and held a ceremony--dignitaries, a wreath, and a prayer.  Maybe he wrote a book about his experience.  Could it be that he simply paused silently as the clock ticked the hour of the terror?

What do you suppose he chose to think about? Was his mind so filled with the robbers, the bandits, the zealots who stripped, beat, and abandoned him, that the one who fell into their hands was consumed with anger, so that the desire for justice bled over into vengeance and the need for security whetted the appetite for war? 

Were his recollections of the priest and the levite?  Passed by twice after laying there so long, did this one see in these policymakers the faults and failings--and worse, the selfishness and indifference--of the system in which he’d placed his hope and his trust? 

Perhaps thoughts were of the road--the seventeen-mile, 3,000 foot, rocky descent from Jerusalem to Jericho.  People fall into the hands of robbers on that road all the time.  And there are roads where people are stripped, beaten and left half dead all over the world.  Why should this attack get an anniversary celebration when so many other attacks go unnoticed? 

Certainly there were remembrances of the Samaritan, whose face was but a blur and whose name remains unknown.  An anonymous volunteer who made all the difference, an ally who acted unexpectedly and saved a life. 

Perhaps the man’s thoughts were only of himself, of how life had changed.  Where once the isolated road from Jerusalem to Jericho didn’t bother him, now travel made him feel uneasy, unsafe, cautious, vulnerable.  Where once what the robbers fought to take from him was so important, now he was concerned with things less tangible but harder to steal.  Or perhaps this one who fell among robbers spent the year developing complex security systems to make himself feel safer.  Has that camel been in your possession the entire time or did someone unknown to you pack it?

Yes, we choose whether and what we remember because we just can’t bear to remember it all. It’s just too overwhelming.  So how did you choose to remember today?  What images replay in your mind--the planes hitting the towers, the firemen carrying the bodies, the 63 babies born in the last year to 9-11 victims?  Do you long to see a flag in our sanctuary and red, white and blue paraments on our altar?  Or is the word from Washington only compounding your fear? Are your thoughts of the world, of all the ways that people are attacked and terrorized--the daily violence in the Middle East, the lack of fresh water in Africa.  The list goes on.  Or maybe you are so keenly aware that the American cocoon has been pierced, that you no longer feel as safe.

I choose to remember how quickly various groups within our country, including assorted expressions of Christianity, how quickly these groups told us what we should remember about September 11 and how we should respond.  While many saw the United States as the victim laying at the side of the road, or even as an ungrateful world’s Good Samaritan, many others saw our country as the lawyer seeking to justify himself, as the priest and levite selfishly and indifferently passing by those stripped, beaten and left half dead, or even as the robbers.  Voices asserted that, although the events of 9-11 were a shock, they should not be a surprise. Other voices countered that nothing the United States may have done makes such violence conceivable, let alone anticipated.  Along with prescriptions for what to remember and how to respond came strong convictions about inappropriate recollections and offensive responses.  I had a few of those convictions my own self.  A year later, we are so bombarded with September 11 recollections that one writer worries that memories have  become so public and so procurable that America is left numb, bereft of anything of 9-11 that is personal or profound.

Jesus doesn’t tell the lawyer what to remember or how to respond.  Jesus points to God’s Word and asks, “How do you read?”  How we read Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan depends on where we find ourselves in the story.  And whether we find ourselves in the robbers or in their victim, in the priest or in the Samaritan, or even in the innkeeper, God is with us.  God is with us.  Regardless of how we choose to remember, God always responds to us, perhaps with comfort, perhaps with challenge, but always with love and life.   

As we cry with the psalmist, “Deliver me, O GOD from evildoers; protect me from the violent,” God comforts us with recollections of times the Lord God, the strength of our salvation, has covered our head in the day of battle, maintained the cause of the poor, and rendered justice to the needy.

As we taste the death that is the way of this world and are terrorized by the spirit of wrath at work within and around us, we are empowered to resist by Paul’s promise that these forces will not stand.  They will fall not because of military might, increased security, national resolve, or international coalition, but because of God who, rich in mercy and great in love, makes us alive with Christ.  The terror of the cross tells us that nothing, not planes crashing, not buildings crumbling, no attack of any kind can keep us from God’s love.  On the cross Christ does more than remember. Christ bears all our memories in the most personal and profound way, in his own body.  On the cross Christ lives and dies with us, showing us God’s response to terror.  God raises Jesus to new life, and with Christ God raises us up.  In Christ we are saved.  And, more pertinent perhaps, in Christ we are safe.  Not by our own doing, but as the gift of God. 

And God intends this gift for all.  God intends this gift for all.  Even as we draw lines and identify suspects and beat the drums of war, we hear of God’s love for the hundred and twenty thousand people of Nineveh. And we are challenged by God’s love for the people of Bagdad and Alchata. 

With Jonah we find ourselves sitting under our booths, waiting to see what will become of the city. In Christ we know. Regardless of what we choose to remember and how we choose to respond, God remains faithful.  God remembers Jesus and responds with life and love.  God responds with mercy and with grace.  If like the lawyer who asked about neighbors, we want to justify ourselves, we must go and do likewise.  But if we remember that we are justified in Christ, when we respond we won’t have to go and do likewise.  We just will. 

On Leave-Taking and Other Boundaries

Leave-taking is hard. For pastors (rostered leaders) and congregations who have worshiped, served, lived together and loved one another for even a few years, leave-taking, saying good-bye rather than “until we meet again,” feels unnatural. And even when we commit ourselves to cutting ties, the leave-taking is not like flicking a switch. It lasts and lingers for years. And it seems anything can trigger grief and loss. 

While we were at assembly, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago had commencement. The last class that will know me as their preaching professor graduated. LSTC also recently called a professor of preaching. In a few weeks I will teach for the last time in the Doctor of Ministry in Preaching program where I served as dean. It’s taken two years, and I am finally over. 

After my election, under President James Nieman’s and then Dean Michael Shelley’s excellent leadership, we mapped out an extraordinary leave-taking plan: a written document outlining what I would do until when and what I wouldn’t do after that; an invitation to return to LSTC to preach and preside and take leave; the granting of the title “adjunct professor” and the gift of the chair that professors ordinarily receive when they retire.  We established boundaries and expressed appreciation. All was well.


Then LSTC’s Epistle arrived at our house—photos from commencement, my friend Antje Jackelén was the speaker, and articles on my predecessor, LSTC’s visiting preaching professor, and the difference LSTC’s adjunct professors are making in the church—no mention of me. Cathy felt bad for me, former students expressed their disappointment that I was omitted to me, and I felt unappreciated and sorry for myself. Imagine how former pastors feel when beloved parishioners and friends die and it’s not their place to do the funeral. 

Feelings are not facts. As I said, my leave-taking was extraordinary. The fact is that I am no longer a seminary professor; I surrendered that call to become bishop.  Thankfully, Jim Nieman was my friend before becoming president so I could email and say I was feeling unappreciated. Jim quickly emailed to say he was sorry I was feeling unappreciated, and we both got back to the work to which God has called us. 

I am so thankful to have boundaries to help and protect me and, more important, those I love and serve when I was not at my best and my needs and feelings might get the better of me. Several months into my time as bishop, I was asked to prepare a document offering my guiding principles on the boundaries that help and govern rostered leaders, since much of the work of interpreting those boundaries is the bishop’s direct responsibility. The document is called “Pastoral Expectations” and you can click on the title to read it. 

As I build personal relationships, even friendships, with the people of our synod and grow in the office of bishop to which you have called me, I do so in the awareness that, when this call ends, I will face more leave-taking. I know already that leaving you and this office will be hard. So once again I will rely on the Church and its boundaries to guide me and protect you whom I love and serve as I make the transition to the next phase of the life to which God calls me. 

Yes, I know firsthand that maintaining the correct boundaries can be hard on pastors and rostered leaders. So, please, whether you are a colleague or parishioner, do your best to help us to maintain them!

The Rev. Craig Alan Satterlee, Ph.D., Bishop

Bernard G. Philabaum

To the Philabaums, to Pastor Gerald and the people of Trinity, to our synod, and the church:

 From Craig—your brother and bishop and friend,

 The Apostle Paul tells us that we do not grieve as those who have no hope (1 Thes. 4:140). Paul is right. But we do grieve today as Bernie’s laughter—How can you think of Bernie and not hear his laughter? Pastor Philabaum truly comprehended Jesus’ words, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’ (Jn 10:10), and that discipleship means basking in Jesus’ abundant life. And so we grieve as Bernie’s laughter fades to an echo and a memory. 

Bernie taught me to be a pastor. Another pastor whom I respect told me Bernie taught him to be a better pastor. Many people shared in recent days that Bernie taught them to be a Christian, or to have faith, or how to love. Behind each of these statements is a story. Bernie was a generator of stories. We got the Philabaum adventure and then the delight of Bernie regaling us with the tale, even thirty years later.

A few days into my internship, Bernie asked me my greatest fear. “They’re going to say I can’t do this,” I answered. “Then we will just have to see that doesn’t happen,” Bernie replied.

I wanted to preach Christmas. Bernie scheduled Trinity’s only-ever Christmas Day service. Bernie also corralled—or maybe caroled—his family to sing. “I’m more nervous about singing that I ever am about preaching,” Bernie confided. And then, “Maybe that’s because I know how to preach.”

Bernie liked to tell about our taking a class together in Saginaw and Bernie reading the assignment to me as he drove. The reading was interspersed with three words:  “Don’t tell Barb.”

Bernie took me everywhere, including to meetings with Bishop Holle, where I sat quietly until I got scolded. “I don’t take you with me to sit there. We want to know what you think.” As it turned out, I didn’t make a very good assistant pastor in my first call, because Bernie never taught me to know my place.

In the last days of my internship, Bernie sat me down and told me how excited he was for my future—and that the time had come for me to let go of Midland, of Trinity, and, yes, of him. I am grateful that David is reading these words, because I still cry when I recall that conversation.  What I really didn’t totally realize, until I was elected bishop, is that even as he told me to let go of him, Bernie never let go of me.

Today we let go of Bernie as we commend this servant of Christ to God’s eternal care. But in the stories and the prayers, the lessons and the love, and, yes, in the echo of his laughter that will never completely fade, Bernie doesn’t let go of us. And since this is true of Bernie, it is so much truer of Jesus, true for Bernie and for us. “I give them eternal life,” Jesus says, “and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn 10:28).

Report of the Bishop to Synod Council - February 7, 2015

Inasmuch as this is a conference call and we met two months ago, I will intentionally endeavor to keep this report brief. Please know that if you have questions or if a topic that interests you is not included here, I invite you to give me a call (517-321-5066).

  • Travel
    • Since I saw you in December, I have spent much of my time traveling, exercising my responsibility as a bishop and teacher of the whole church. I bring you the greetings and gratitude of other quarters of our church both in the ELCA and Germany. I am grateful to you for the privilege of serving in this way, and to the synod staff that take on additional responsibilities in my absence.
    • Bishop’s Academy 
      • From December 28-Jnuary 11, Cathy and I were part of a historical pilgrimage of ELCA bishops and spouses through Germany in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The trip was heavy on Lutheran history and theology and included receptions with Lutheran and Catholic Church leaders in Germany. A highlight for me was preaching and leading worship at the church where Luther was baptized. The best part of the trip was traveling with the bishops and spouses. We had opportunities for extended conversation, prayer, laughter and support.
      • While in Germany, I visited Luthergarten, which was created to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017. The mission of Luthergarten is to plant 500 trees around the city of Wittenberg to show the significance of the Reformation and be visible signs of Luther's optimism. I took the opportunity to become involved in the project and sponsor one of the trees in the name of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod. If you would like to be involved, we invite you to support our tree by sending donations to the Synod Office marked "Tree for Luthergarten." We also invite you to plant your own tree to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. For more information on Luthergarten, click here.
      • Sr. Nancy and I will be in conversation about a possible synod trip.
    •  Teaching
      • From January 13-20, I taught “Preaching Weddings and Funerals” at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. I am grateful for this opportunity to continue my ministry as a teacher of preaching—and so is the church. There are currently fourteen faculty searches underway for professors of homiletics. While at Gettysburg, I preached in chapel at Christ church in town. The pastor from Christ came to Battle Creek to preach at Pastor Fawcett’s ordination/installation, so I was glad to return the favor.
      • I preached and participated in a symposium on the connection between the sacraments and daily life at Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA on January 20-22.
      • From January 25-February 1, I led a continuing education event that predates my election as bishop. “Preaching Lent at Sea Year B” took place aboard the Carnival Dream and included pastors from our synod. Interestingly, pastors from our synod were part of my last continuing education cruise in January 2013, where I first heard about a bishop’s election in the mitten.
      • I will be the presenter for the Northern Great Lakes Synod (UP) February 8-10 and lead Preaching Lent for our rostered leaders February 13.
      • I am gratified that I led three continuing education events in our synod in 2014, and Pastor Sprang has secured funding for us to offer “Preaching Stewardship” again this year. 
    • Congregation Visits - My travel within the synod continues at a rigorous pace. We are currently scheduling Sundays in July [Now November]. As I did last year, I am devoting the summer months to our northern congregations. We will provide an updated visitation report at our April meeting.
    • Staffing
      • We ask your prayers for Pastor Sarah, who broke her ankle in early January, and for your patience as the synod staff moves a bit more slowly while Sarah mends. With Sarah, we are negotiating the tension of needing to sit still and rest—something this synod staff is not good at—without letting particularly call processes grind to a halt. God has graced Pastor Sarah with increased empathy for her bishop during this season when she cannot drive and must depend upon the goodness of others.
      • We received a grant from the Outreach Committee to engage a mission storyteller—a gifted writer/interviewer to investigate, write and edit mission stories for publication in the synod. These mission stories might be stories of individual faith, outreach efforts by congregations, God moments, and news stories from around the synod. They will be organized and posted on the synod website in an “on-line” magazine style
    • Pastoral - The movie was, “Four weddings and a Funeral.” My ministry has been “Four Funerals and a Wedding.” You will recall that I preached at the funeral of my pastor, David Paul, and spoke at the funeral of Barbara Philabaum. Since I saw you, Bernie Philabaum, pastor emeritus of Trinity/Midland and my internship supervisor, entered the church triumphant. I am grateful to Pastor Sprang for bringing my words to those gathered at the funeral. I also lost my dissertation director, Fr. John Allyn Melloh, SM. I was privileged to officiate at the marriage of Pastor Laura Gerstl and her husband Chris Beukema on the day after Christmas.
    •  Synod Assembly 2015 will take on a different look than in the past.  In line with the theme, "We Are Church" we will be extending an invitation to congregation members to participate alongside voting members on Monday afternoon by signing up for one of three tracks:  Practicing Your Faith (led by Nancy Brousseau), Renewing Your Congregation (led by Pastor Dave Sprang) or Serving your Community (facilitated by Pastor Matthew Titus and the Capital Conference congregations).  Each track will offer a different experience and will include a worship service suited to that context. Plenary sessions will be conducted on Sunday evening, Monday morning and Tuesday morning.  Reverend Professor Walter Taylor will present the keynote address on Sunday evening titled, "Paul's Newly Discovered Epistle to the Church of the Mitten," which he is writing specifically for this Assembly.  Sunday worship will be Evening Prayer and Assembly will conclude on Tuesday with worship with Eucharist.  Our churchwide representative will be Pastor Kevin Strickland, Director for Worship, who will deliver the traditional message from the Presiding Bishop and lead a workshop. Other activities at SA2015 will be the "unveiling" of a Synod Quilt, a book giveaway and rostered leader picture-taking for a Synod Directory.  Assembly will be held at the Lansing Center.
    • Leader Support - We are planning a day of appreciation, enrichment and support for congregational leaders on April 25 and for rostered leaders on June 15. Graduates of the Lay Ministry Training Program and Synodically Authorized Ministers are, first and foremost, congregational leaders and are not on the roster of the ELCA.






Report of the Bishop to Synod Council 6 December 2014

On Sunday in worship, many will hear these words: 

"But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief…" (2 Peter 3:8-10)

When I teach seminarians and rostered leaders about change and transition, I talk about a “neutral zone” or “liminal phase” in which the old has passed away but the new has not yet come into being. I think that’s where we are—as a church, a synod, and in most of our congregations. It becomes easy to grow weary and impatient because everything seems to be moving so slowly and taking so long.  It can be tedious to explain something yet again. Second Peter reminds us that the Lord is not slow to keep promises but patient so that all might participate in them. And the day of the Lord, when God fulfills all God’s promises, will come unexpectedly, like a thief. When I take the time to stop and reflect, I am genuinely grateful for the ways God continues to fulfill promises in unexpected ways in the work that we call synodical ministry. 

Preach and Preside across the Synod as a visible expression of our unity in Christ:

o   I expect that we will have visited every congregation by Easter—21 months, well ahead of the three years I was advised it would take. Also note that we have visited some congregations two and even three times.

o   Some of the most joyous and meaningful visits include the installation of a pastor or rostered leader. I invite and encourage synod council to attend these worship services when they are in your area, as another tangible expression of the greater church. I also wonder if synod council members would be interested in attending congregational meeting where call votes take place, as my representative. If you are, please let me know. Your service in this regard would be very helpful.  

o   This fall, my travels around the synod included conference gatherings with rostered leaders to engage in conversation about whether one must be baptized to receive Holy Communion, as Presiding Bishop Eaton requested. These conversations are greeted with skepticism until leaders learn that they come from the church council in response to a memorial from the Northern Illinois Synod, and they are conversational rather than instructional in nature.  These gatherings will continue into February. Click and see resources on the right.

o   I am grateful for the pastoral privilege of speaking at the funeral of Barbara Philabaum and preaching at the funeral of Pastor David A. Paul.

Represent the Synod beyond the Synod:

o   Sandy and I will attend a Region 6 Steering Committee on December 3 that is largely devoted to “Always Being Made New:  The Campaign for the ELCA.” Margie Bauer continues to work slowly but surely to resolve our “Lord to Whom Shall We God” campaign.

 Listen across the synod for direction in shared ministry:   As I talk to other bishops, casting the grand vision for the next chapter of the synod’s mission seems to be a last-third of a bishop’s first term or first-third of a bishop’s second term task. Nevertheless, these continue to serve as my priorities and, in this pre-Christmas season, my Wish List.  As I review them, I am pleasantly surprised by the ways God is moving our synod in three directions. 

o   Celebrate all that we as a synod are doing together. We need to communicate all that we see and strengthen the connections between natural partners.

o   Recruit the best pastors and rostered leaders for our congregations. Strengthen a culture of support, collegiality, accountability and compensation so that our rostered leaders are fulfilled in their calling and excited to be in the mitten.

§  Our “Congregations in Transition” list has decreased from a high of 32 congregations to 12. Pastor Friesen-Carper has worked hard and deserves considerable credit for this.

§  Pastor Sarah and I now Skype interview every pastor interested in coming to our synod. The standard questions we use are very helpful. We learned that the compensation guidelines Synod Council approved are helpful to pastors and that leaders consider the positive changes on the synod web page indicative of positive renewal in the synod. We also learned that, in other synods, leaders are expected to participate in boundary training every three years.

§  Pastor Sarah, aided by the entire staff, led a retreat for our pastors in their first call and their mentors, which was very well received.

o   Preach Christ-centered good news.

§  Thanks to an ELCA Macedonia Grant secured by Pastor Sprang, we held a two-session retreat for fifteen pastors in which I taught them to preach the gospel as it relates to money. In the second session, the class preached and reviewed the sermons.

o   Equip congregations to carry the gospel to their communities. Become a church that moves out of the pews and into the streets proclaiming, “The kingdom of heaven has come near to you!”

§  This was precisely the theme of the Autumn Leadership Event (replacing the Winter Leadership Conference) held at Bethlehem in Traverse City. Carrie and Ann put together a great event. The presenter was accessible and on target. We received rave reviews. 

o   Find innovative ways to ensure the Lutheran proclamation of the gospel continues in every quarter of our state.

§  Pastor Sprang is leading conversations on shared mission in Saginaw, Muskegon, and Lake City/Manton, and is supporting conversations in northern Grand Rapids and Jackson congregations.

§  On my behalf, Pastor Dennis Smith is participating in an Ecumenical endeavor to train gifted and qualified Christians to lead small and viable congregations under the direct supervision of the bishop and a pastor. 

o   Grow our relationships with our global companions in Honduras, Latvia, and Papua New Guinea. 

§  The Global Mission Committee is making concrete efforts to increase the synod’s awareness of the Church’s global work and partnership. These efforts include a page on our website and Global Fridays on our social media.

§  The synod will be sending a delegation to Honduras in March to mark the tenth anniversary of our partnership. I expect to ask Bishop-emeritus Schleicher, who is making the trip, to lead the delegation as my representative.

§  The ELCA is attempting to find a way forward with our partners in Latvia and New Guinea as they struggle with our church’s 2009 decision. I will participate in those conversations in consultation with our Global Mission Committee. 

o   Strengthen ministry with children, youth and young adults.

§  Using an ELCA Worship Grant, Pastor Rachel Laughlin and our Worship Committee held a Welcoming the Children Event to assist congregations in welcoming children in worship. 

§  The Gathering already has a strong registration, which includes a concurrent track for young adults.

§  We are slowly and deliberately stepping into our role in the National Youth Gathering in Detroit. 

o   Become a graceful Christian presence for victims of crime and prisoners.

o   Plant our next new congregation.

o   Chart a sustainable direction for camping and campus ministries in our synod.  

§  Living Water Ministries – Much of Pastor Sprang and my time and energy this fall has been devoted to participating in and responding to the Living Water Ministries Board’s decision to sell Michi-Lu-Ca and consider an offer. At its December 1 meeting, the board issued this statement:  “With excitement and faith, the Living Water Ministries Board of Directors commits to a full range of summer programs at Stony Lake. The 2015 camp brochure will be available soon. As we move forward with the offer of sale for Michi-Lu-Ca, the Living Water Ministries Board of Directors has decided to take additional time to evaluate and consult.”

§  Lutheran Campus Ministry – New leadership on the board is asking hard questions and bringing new energy and vision.  The board is planning on synod contributions decreasing over time. That decrease is reflected in the proposed budget.  

o   Claim our God of abundance by becoming congregations and a synod known for our generosity.

§  As I review the synod budget and the proposal before you, I remain impressed by how much we give away. I think this would be a helpful way to talk about the synod’s budget.

§  Thanks, again, to a Macedonia Grant, we prepared two synod stewardship video presentations that will be sent to every congregation in our synod. You can find them at the North West Lower Michigan Synod You Tube channel.

§  Support for congregations through Outreach Committee grants.  These are the congregations that the committee has given financial support to this year in partnership with the ELCA.


·      Advent, Lake Ann - New Mission Start

·      Christ Lutheran Sudanese, Wyoming - New Start moving to Synodically Authorized  Worshiping Community

·      Trinity, Battle Creek - continuing in redevelopment

·      Hope Community, Rockford - continuing in redevelopment (on hold - no pastor)

·      St. Stephens/Calvary, Lansing - Ministry Adjustment - new staff for outreach

·      Immanuel, Allegan - Endowment Grant for outreach

·      New in 2015 - Our Savior's, Muskegon – redevelopment

·      New in 2016 - Zion, Saginaw - Latino Ministry Grant

Help the synod council communicate what a synod and bishop do: 

o   Synod Committees  Carrie led the staff on reviewing synod committees, a task akin to herding cats, and will present our report.

o    Synod Assembly 2015 – Bishop Eaton would like us to use the theme, “We Are Church.” The focus might be on worship, faith practices and renewing congregations. Walter F. Taylor of Trinity Seminary, who is rostered in this synod, accepted my invitation to present a keynote address on the theme, “Paul’s Newly Discovered Epistle to the Church of the Mitten.” We will devote Monday afternoon to three tracks (1) practicing your faith, (2) renewing your congregation, and (3) serving your community. Carrie is taking the lead on assembly. The first planning meeting is December 18.

o   The staff has begun the practice of reading and discussing a book chapter monthly and holding a daylong retreat with Larry Foster quarterly.   

o   Staff Reviews will be December 11.

o   North American Lutheran Church (NALC) – I am grateful to Pastor Dennis Smith who helped me research the ELCA’s response to schismatic organizations, including the North American Lutheran Church. This is a policy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Secretary Boerger communicated it to me when I sought his counsel after I received complaints from pastors about a retired pastor in our synod allegedly pastorally involved—preaching and administering the sacraments—in a congregation of the North American Lutheran Church. In August, I requested that the retired pastor provide me a clear description, in writing, of any pastoral relationship he has with the NALC congregation. I never received a response to that request. Since August, I received additional complaints. I am again requesting a clear description of his involvement with the NALC congregation. Since an ordained minister preaching and presiding in a NALC congregation is considered self-removal or resignation from the roster, the synod council’s role is to receive the bishop’s report of a pastor’s self-removal or resignation. That I have not made such a report either to Secretary Boerger or the synod council is my attempt to be patient and pastoral with the retired pastor.  I will not engage this pastor in conversation or correspondence that attempts to debate or invalidate ELCA policies related to the expectations of rostered leaders.

·      The synod staff will celebrate Christmas Eucharist on December 23 at 11 AM in Lansing. As we did last year, we will observe administrative rather than regular hours December 24-January 2.

·      I will be traveling much of January, including to Germany with the Conference of Bishops. My schedule is on my personal web page.

·      I began the yearlong Journey of Renewal for Bishops provided by Portico and aimed at health and wellness. 

`© 2006 Craig A. Satterlee ● North/West Lower Michigan Synod ELCA ● 2900 N. Waverly Rd. ● Lansing MI 48906 ● 517-321-5066