Report of the Bishop to Synod Council  25 September 2018 

 Welcome to those new to Synod Council. And thanks to you all for your service. This report follows the “template” I use for all of my reports. My practice is not to review it in detail at our meeting. 

Thank you for the sabbatical! I write this with two weeks to go, one to be spent in Florida. I anticipate returning to work rested and renewed, and a bit resigned that sabbatical is over. I have provided a separate report of the sabbatical for your review. The sabbatical must have “worked” because I really don’t know much of what’s going on, so this report is largely drawn from periodic conversations with Pastors Anderson and Sprang and Vice President Schlesinger–gifts for which I as an extrovert who learns best through speaking and listening, am most grateful–and notes on their activities provided by the three assistants to the bishop. 

I typically begin this report by sharing something theological–in this instance, a short reflection, “On Mission Support.” This subject turned out to be my writing project for the sabbatical. I will have a paper to share with you in the coming months. 

On Mission Support 

Many of us will hear these words from Marks Gospel in worship on October 16–the Sunday after our Synod Council retreat: 

As [Jesus] was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”” Mark 10:17-27, NRSV. 

The good news, of course, is that, while it is impossible for mortals to be saved–as illustrated by the man who could not bring himself to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus–for God all things are possible, and God makes salvation a reality in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. 

This reading also makes clear that Jesus speaks openly and directly about money.1 In my book, Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God’s Invitation to Grow, 2 I examine everything Jesus has to say about money. I expect we will spend time this year as Synod Council talking about budget, budget process, Mission support, and money, and so it is important to spend time considering what Jesus says about money as we move forward as a synod. 

1 See, for example, Mt 6:21, 24; Lk 18:24. 

2 Craig A. Satterlee, Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God’s Invitation to Grow, (Herndon, VA: The Alban Institute, 2011). 

3 Craig A. Satterlee, “Messing with the Power of Mammon…” 

4 Numbers 21:5. 

5 Mark 59; Luke 830. 

In this reading, Jesus names the formidable difficulty, even insurmountable obstacle, that money presents to following Jesus, having treasure in heaven, entering the kingdom or reign of God, or being saved. What the Bible calls Mammon–affluence, money–is very powerful–in our lives, in the world, and especially in the church. Mammon doesn’t like to be called out and examined under the light of the gospel because examining money under the light of the gospel and asking people to give money away in the name of Jesus disempowers Mammon. So, Mammon pushes back.

Like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Mammon deceives us, saying, “If you have enough money, you can be like God.” You won’t need God. You can determine right and wrong, good and evil, and you can live forever. And if we don’t have enough money—and who does—Mammon poisons us with impatience and ingratitude, just like Israel during 40 years in the wilderness. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.”4 God had brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt, led them by a pillar of cloud and fire, brought them safely through the sea, given them the law, provided them with manna. And the people responded with impatience and ingratitude against Moses and God. In the same way, Mammon tempts us with all that we want and need to be safe, and happy and whole. Even worse, Mammon scares us with the money we need and what happens when we don’t have it. And despite all the ways God has provided for us, all the ways God has protected us, all the ways God has blessed us, we find ourselves grumbling, whining, and complaining. “Why have you brought us out to die?” And we can fall prey to the temptation to hold on to money as tightly as we can, to be fiscally responsible rather than faithfully responsive, to let the bottom line rather than the gospel determine our mission. Mammon is a power at work in our lives, at work in the church, and in the world, as Legion was in the gospels.5 Stated plainly, Mammon would be pleased to control our lives and become lord of Christ’s Church. 

Jesus declares the best way to free us from Mammon’s hold on us is not to manage money responsibly but to give money away. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’” When we give money away for the sake of Christ’s own work of reconciling the world to God’s very self, we subject Mammon to the Lordship of Christ, we participate in Christ’s work of freeing us, the church, and the world from money’s hold. And when we don’t let Jesus talk about money, we give the false impression that Jesus has nothing to say about money. Or, we suggest that Jesus agrees with the value we place on money–and that money places on us. Or, we reinforce the message that Mammon is somehow removed from or beyond or not accountable to Jesus and Christ’s Reign. 

When we ask people to give money away for the sake of the gospel, and when we give money away ourselves, we proclaim that abundant life in Christ includes freedom from Mammon’s hold on us. Giving money away for the work of the gospel frees people to see themselves as God sees us—created in God’s image, joined to Christ’s cross and resurrection, forgiven for Christ’s sake, free to live as an image of Christ and not a servant of money. 

This is a hard teaching. It makes so much more sense to responsibly hold on to our money. So, I totally understand the response of the man in our reading: “When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving…” but I nevertheless here Jesus saying to his church, “Follow me.” 

“Proclaiming Christ and prayerfully participating in Christ’s own work of reconciling the world to God’s very Self by renewing congregations, empowering leaders, and strengthening connections.” 

Renewing Congregations 

Call Process 

20 congregations are currently in the call process: 11 are preparing the ministry site profile; 4 are awaiting candidates; 1 has identified their candidate; and 4 will install pastors this fall. Those installations are Mamrelund/Kent City (September 23); Trinity/Midland (October 20, 5 PM); Messiah/Constantine (October 21, 2 PM); Christ/Wyoming (November 4, 4 PM). 

At this writing, we are requesting three first call pastors from the September assignment; I will be overjoyed if we receive one. 

We are working with Southeast Michigan to help Hope/Marlatte partner with Trinity/Brown City, so they can call a pastor together. Trinity and all the neighboring ELCA congregations are part of the Southeast Michigan Synod, so we will also be helping Hope transfer synods–a motion that will be brought before the 2019 assembly. 

Call Committee Training for St Paul, Alpena, Peace, Gaylord, and Prince of Peace, Rose City was September 13 at Peace, Gaylord, with all three assistants to the bishop presenting. 

Teaching 

I have seen excellent educational events advertised in synod communications this fall, including Refugee Lansing, presentations on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and training for ministry to people who are sick and homebound. 

Our youth table will hold a Synod Youth Summit at Trinity/Midland November 9-11. The goal is to help young people claim their voice as leaders in their congregations. I have hoped for this kind of event since I became bishop. I provide a flyer from the youth table for your review. 

Pastoral Care–In addition to helping negotiate congregational conflicts, our pastoral care of congregations currently and increasingly involves issues of sustainability and partnership.

Sustainability– The assistants to the bishop are developing a sustainability review document to use with congregations in transition to help them obtain a realistic assessment of their viability and future. We have several suitable documents and need to determine how best to merge them. 

 Partnerships–As congregations in other parts of the country have been doing for decades, congregations partnering, or yoking, will increasingly become a characteristic of our synod. It would be interesting to ask Pastor David Sprang to present his spectrum of cooperative ministry to you sometime. 

I assess 40 of our 115 congregations are at risk for not being sustainable. We are eager to be of assistance; however, with 40 congregations in this situation, we have neither the time nor the resources to invest in congregations that do not want to change. I learned in teaching that we cannot do more to help students than they are willing to do to help themselves. More important, some congregations choose to be who they are until their life ends rather than change and become something new. I honor their right to make this choice, even as we do not take extraordinary measures to postpone the inevitable. 

The two congregations in Midland are contracted for shared pastoral services. Zion/Freeland and Our Savior/Saginaw are approaching the end of their first year as yoked congregations. Zion, Freeland, and Our Saviour, Saginaw, and Trinity, and St. Timothy, Midland have been invited to the ELCA Gathering of Anchor Churches Event–a sharing of best practices of larger congregations shepherding smaller congregations 

Four Lansing congregations have begun conversation on how they might partner together as a parish. At the request of congregations in Muskegon, we have engaged a consultant to help them discern how they might come together. 

We continue to explore ecumenical pairings, especially with the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan; most recently, the Lutheran and Episcopal congregations in Three Rivers, as well as St. Luke’s Lutheran and St. Andrew Episcopal in Grand Rapids, are working together. We are also in discussion with the Episcopal Diocese about partnerships between Immanuel Lutheran and St. Andrew Episcopal in Big Rapids. 

Mission/Community Engagement

 Funded by a synod outreach grant, Ms. Chelsey Satterlee, our director of communication, undertook a special project to visit our congregations’ webpages and provide them with feedback from the perspective of a visitor. She is preparing a report with an overview of her key findings and suggestions based on her work to date. This project will continue for the duration of the grant. 

n August, Pastors David Eidson, Sarah Samuelson, and David Sprang attended the ELCA Missional Leader/Vitality Training in Seattle. Vitality will replace redevelopment as our church’s approach to congregational mission and community engagement. I expect this topic could fill an entire Synod Council meeting,; I invited Pastor Spring to take some time during my report to give us an “elevator talk.” 

Empowering Leaders

Candidacy & First Call i) Dr. Chrysanne Timm prepared a candidacy report for your review. She [correctly] anticipates that she will be giving an increasing amount of time to candidacy, as the Distributive Master of Divinity programs at Luther and Wartburg Seminaries assume that the student’s local synod will arrange their internship. There will be 2-3 persons from our synod planning 2019 internships, and 3 or more planning internships to begin in 2020. Another factor increasing Candidacy’s demand for Dr. Timm’s time is the uptick in the number of persons applying for candidacy – a real blessing! I need to appoint one lay male member to the candidacy committee and welcome suggestions. 

Our autumn First Call Retreat was Oct 3-4 at the Lansing Office. The topic was Community Engagement. The three assistants to the bishop presented the book, Surprise the World! The Five Habits of Highly Missional People, by Michael Frost. We presently have five first call pastors. 

The regional 2018 Fall Discernment Retreat for people exploring a call to professional ministry within the ELCA will be October 26-27 in Hillsdale. Dr. Timm will be a leader of this event. 

Continuing Education rostered ministers & congregational leaders 

The 2018 Autumn Leadership Event hosted by the Southeast Michigan Synod will be October 15-17 in Livonia. This year's event is focused on wholeness and well-being and will feature Deacon Tammy Devine from Portico Benefit Services. 

We will be scheduling a Michigan 101 gathering for the (currently) six pastors new to our synod. 

The response team, chaired by Pastor Rosanne Anderson, developed a retreat to assist pastors approaching retirement and their spouses to consider the non-financial aspects of that transition. We have been slow to have people willing toparticipate. Our next step is to give the retreat a retry with leaders still a few years out from retirement as Portico does with its pre-retirement seminar 

Pastoral Care – This summer, the assistants to the bishop responded to what strikes me as a higher number of health-related issues that both active and retired pastors are facing. 

Rostered Minister Debt – Responding to rostered minister indebtedness remains an unfinished goal of my first term as bishop. Ms. Dawn Brackmann and I are undertaking to bring a proposal for your review and approval to our December meeting. We invite one or two council members to work with us in reviewing and improving the proposal we put together. 

Roster–See the attached report and the actions related to the roster. Thanks to Ms. Ann Stavros for meticulously maintaining the roster. 

Strengthening Connections 

Preaching the Word, administering the Sacraments–Please see the visitation report. 

Congregations –Please see the Synod Snapshot for a quick look rather than a complete picture of ways congregations intersect with the synod. I maintain this report so, if you would like specific information added, please provide that information rather than a category to me. The word consultation indicates interactions that are not public. 

Campus Ministry–In August, Pastor Sprang organized a Lutheran Campus Ministry Day of consulting and collaborating among those engaged in campus ministry in our synod. We are very excited about what we see happening in East Lansing, Kalamazoo, and Mount Pleasant. The Episcopal Churches in Lansing determined to move in a new direction, ending the partnership with University. I am providing for your review the summary of findings from the ELCA 2018 study on Lutheran campus ministry. 

Synod Assembly–Dr. Chrysanne Timm and Ms. Chelsey Satterlee authored an evaluation of the 2018 assembly; Ms. Satterlee summary is provided for your review. In the long term, we need a conversation about assembly since we have people that desire both shorter and longer assemblies. After consultation with VP Sandy Schlesinger and me, Dr. Timm will be creating another survey this fall regarding length and frequency of assemblies. 

Looking to 2019, Synod Council is responsible for the bishop election and should appoint someone to lead. VP Sandy Schlesinger led the Bishop election in a stellar way in 2013, so we have a strong model from which to draw. As we begin to think about the assembly, I am finding that the election has implications even for the rest of the agenda, and there are things I ought not decide. For example, I had assumed an opening and closing Eucharist. Dr. Timm wondered if that is advisable since people will be coming from work on a Thursday night. An alternative is to have a festive Eucharist on Friday, when we are in the midst of the bishop election. I don’t want to be make decisions that could be perceived as self-serving. We will, therefore, be consulting through the vice president as we put the agenda together. 

ELCA 

ELCA Training Workshop: Equipping Facilitators to Build Synod Capacity to Address Race was Sept 13-15. Pastor Marilyn Robinson, Megan Floyd, Pastor Doug Ogden (and his intern) attended. Pastor Anderson Will convene a meeting of this team, the chair of the Publicly Engaged Church table, and me so that we might develop a plan to reboot our antiracism team. 

I will be visiting two seminaries this fall–Luther in Minneapolis and United (formerly Philadelphia and Gettysburg)–on behalf of the Conference of Bishops. 

I will be lecturing on preaching in the Lower Susquehanna Synod in October. I am grateful for this synod’s support of my ministry as a teacher of the church. 

I will be preaching at Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, on October 28. 

I will be preaching at St. Augustine’s House, Oxford, Michigan, on October 13. The Congregation of the Servants of Christ-St. Augustine’s House-is an ecumenical Christian community whose life of discipleship is inspired and shaped by the Holy Rule of St. Benedict. 

As I write this, I anticipate the fall meeting of the Conference of Bishops (Sept 26-Oct 2) at which we will have (at least) two important conversations. First, we will explore which expression of the church–congregation, synod, and churchwide organizations–is best able to carry out each of the church’s priorities as identified in Future Directions 2025. This will hopefully clarify what each expression of the church should both do and stop doing. We will also have a conversation about what it means to be sustainable. The insights from this conversation will help every expression of the church to consider its future. 

 Trinity Lutheran Seminary–Dean Kit Kleinhaus advises me that Pastor Fred Fritz’ second term on Trinity’s board ends June 30, 2019. She asks me to begin thinking about who might best serve the mission of the seminary and represent the Mitten Synod as a member of the advisory board. Given the current composition of the board, as well as other anticipated openings and the fact that we have been represented by Pastor Fritz, an ordained minister, for the past 12 years, Trinity has greater need of lay representation at this time and has designated our representative as a layperson. Dean Kleinhaus hopes for someone who cares deeply about the church and its leaders and is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard to help Trinity succeed. I welcome your suggestions. 

Ecumenical and Interreligious– The Rt. Rev. Whayne M. Hougland, Jr, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan, and I will lead a conversation on Lutheran-Episcopal relationships at St. Luke’s/Grand Rapids on October 11 at 7 PM. I found it noteworthy that the diocese is moving to a deployed model similar to our own and is in conversation with the Episcopal Diocese of Eastern Michigan about becoming a single diocese. If this happens, the Episcopal Church in the Lower Peninsula will largely mirror the ELCA. 

 Global–Our synod has three global companion synods: Honduras, Latvia, and Papua New Guinea. 

Honduras –Our synod sent a delegation to Tegucigalpa, Honduras September 6-12. The delegation describes its primary goal as “continuing to develop relationships with the Lutheran Church of Honduras. where we walk in accompaniment with our sisters and brothers in Christ.” The trip included a participatory evaluation of the impact of the synod’s Health for Life project in ICLH communities and how that ministry will continue, a spiritual reflection on teamwork, a message of love and inclusion in the gospel of Christ with a self-support group and finally a dental talk and demonstration of oral hygiene practices with children. The delegation included Linda Stark from Peace in Sparta, Jamie Royalty from Redeemer in Lansing, Max Quero from Caledonia and Connie Lenkowski from ULC in East Lansing. You can read more at Hondurashealthforlife.wordpress.com. If you desire a more formal report, I expect the delegation would be happy to provide one. 

 Latvia–At the request of the ELCA, I prepared a letter of greeting to Archbishop Jānis Vanags, whom I met during my visit in 2016, to be presented by Dr. Kathryn Johnson of our ecumenical office who will meet with the archbishop as an observer with a delegation of women teaching theologians from Germany. This is our first interaction with Latvia since our trip there in 2016. 

Papua New Guinea –Pastor David Sprang, Mike Piatek-Jimenez, Pastor Dave Heuter and Jamie Royalty attended a consultation of synods that relate to Papua New Guinea in Chicago August 9 – 11, 2019. Orientation will be held in Australia, followed by the consultation at the national office in Lae. The four synods will then visit their companion areas and meet back in Australia for debriefing. Tentative dates are August 27 – September 12. Cost of this trip will be high and our Global Mission committee discussed using the $2,500 budgeted for travel in 2019 for this purpose. I expect Global Mission may request doing some fundraising in our congregations. 


Synod Office–We relocated our synod desk from Kalamazoo to St. Luke/Grand Rapids and Pastor Anderson is there a regularly on Thursday. 

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