Do not be afraid. It is I. Come.
Southwestern Minnesota Synod Assembly 2018
Notes by Carla Klawitter

Friday, June 8, 2018

This year’s synod assembly had a soft start – people rolling in at various times – opening with service projects and workshops. Better Together – Redwood Falls, open to participants of all ages from the community and surrounding area, packed 113,000 servings of food for local food shelves, backpack programs, and disabled/homeless veterans. Assembling fleece blankets, a project of the Women of the ELCA, and baby kits, a project of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, were also service opportunities.

Participants could attend two of the nine workshop options:

  • Healing Veterans’ Moral Injuries
  • Capital Campaign – Ready or Not?
  • Music – A Language That Speaks Volumes
  • Natural Death Through Comfort Care: Trusting God’s Timing
  • Congregational Memory: A Powerful Tool in Mission Planning
  • The Community of Jesus in a World Where People Hunger
  • Public Mission: Social Action and Advocacy
  • Hunger Issues in SW Minnesota
  • The Women and Social Justice Statement: Your Voice in the Process

The display area included 22 vendors from camps, colleges, Luther Seminary, campus ministries, insurance company, architects, website designers, Mission Investment Fund, ELCA Foundation, companion synod, Friends of Madagascar, youth ministry, Lutheran Social Service, Lutheran Advocacy – Minnesota, ReconcilingWorks, and our synod women’s organization.

After lunch and new-voting-member orientation, there was a packed house for opening worship with Holy Communion. Rev. Jeanette McCormick, First, Worthington, presided; Bishop Jon Anderson preached; Rev. Daniel Rift, ELCA representative, assisted; ELCA Glocal Musician Educators led the music; and Jane Crawford, intern at Grace, Dawson, was the lector. Songs were from different nations of the world, including Dakota, Kenya, South Africa, Lebanon, Nigeria, Estonia, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, and Tonga. The assembly was declared in session.

Redwood Falls Mayor Corey Theis welcomed everyone. Vanessa Goodthunder gave a special greeting in the Dakota language. She also told a little about the area – the historical homeland of the Dakota people.

Introductions were made for those leading the meeting – Vice President Gwen Arneson, Secretary Rev. Dr. Julie A.K. Anderson, Clerk Carla Klawitter, Parliamentarians Rev. Stephen Cook and Linden Olson, A.V. specialist Chris Kiewel and his assistant, Declan Kiewel, and the 11 Glocal Musician Educators. The agenda and assembly rules and procedures were adopted.

The Assembly Planning Committee report was presented by Rev. Bailey Fossum, who introduced the other committee members – Rev. Tim Wheatley, Judi Morton, Rev. Tim Wittwer, Gary Boraas, Rachel Rundquist, Deitra Paulsen, Rev. Shannon Wachter, and Rev. Eunice Woodberry. A special time of remembrance for Rev. Maggie Cumings, who had served as chair of this committee, was included.

The Nominating Committee report was presented. The assembly voted 379-8 to cast a unanimous ballot for all positions with only one nominee. There were no nominations from the floor, so nominations were closed. Elected: Consultation Committee – Tina Blaire; Lutheran Advocacy – MN – Rev. John Gabrielson; LSS of MN – Rev. Dee Pedersen, Andrea Carruthers; Synod Council – Rev. Michael Nelson, Rev. Justin Ask, David DeLong, Pat Branstad; Churchwide Assembly (CWA) Voting Member – V.P. Gwen Arneson, Rev. Julius Miller, Mark Nelson, Rev. Mindy Czycalla, Rev. Krista Lee, Rev. Mark Astrup, Cheryl Astrup, Quentin Markfort, Rev. Erik Rundquist, Ashley Gilbertson, Rev. Erik Karlson, Rev. Denise Fossen, Bruce Wornson, Rev. Shannon Wachter, Andy Busman, Rev. Ron Nichols, Rev. Sarah Taylor. Others were elected as first and second alternates to the CWA.

Bishop Jon’s report #1 was next. While waiting a moment for the technology to be ready, he asked, “What’s one sweet thing that’s been happening in your congregation?”

This year’s assembly theme: “Do not be afraid, it is I…come!” Focus: Deepening Local and Global Mission. What’s your mission? Most people respond with something being done far, far away. Where is God sending you personally? Where is God sending y’all?

A language lesson: missio – send; promissio – promises. Where is God sending your congregation to share the promises of God? Why do our congregations exist? Why does your synod exist?

Share the love of God. Invite people into relationship with Jesus and the community that bears his name. Proclaim God’s promises – Good News.

What’s a synod good for? Equipping leaders, growing gracious disciples. What’s been happening through your synod? Stewardship education; assessment and planning; restructured partnerships – mission, not money; making ministry calls more attractive.

What will be happening through the synod? Evangelizing, faith formation practices, deepening our culture of call, tending the mission field.

Equipping Synod Minister Linda Pedersen told us she was called to this work in 2004. It was decided to try a Congregational Leadership Day in 2006. There were 128 participants. In 2012 it was called Equipping Congregational Leaders Day, and there were about 200 participants.  In 2013 it was renamed Equipping Congregations Day and attendance doubled. In 2014 there were two tracks of sessions in one building (Vinje, Willmar). The 2015 event in Willmar included both Vinje and Bethel for space, plus items from Calvary to make it work. By letting one program end and stretching to equip the people of the SW MN Synod, we’re getting attention from other places in the ELCA – and we’re being equipped. Feb. 23, 2019, is the next Equipping Congregations Day.

Engaging Leaders Synod Minister Kathryn Skoglund explained how it takes a village … to develop a servant leader in the church. She shared a story of Rev. Matt Danielson’s journey to becoming ordained last month. Matt’s is just one of a multitude of stories that illustrate how God is at work through us to raise leaders in the church. Keep identifying, nurturing, and equipping the gifts in the people around you to continue to develop servant leaders.

Everyone say it together:

We equip leaders
To grow gracious disciples
In communities of Jesus
Who care for God’s world.


Deacon Sarah Hausken said that in the last nearly 18 years, she has seen God’s transformative power through our youth, including LYO. Those young adults who have come back to help with our youth gatherings are now working on developing a community of their peers.

Rev. Larry Strenge told of projects he has been leading – planning sessions using Situation Obstacles Action Results (SOAR); Discovering Hope; and Hope in Christ with Consultant Peter Soli and the Redwood Central Parish, Wabasso area. Some from the Redwood Central Parish decided to knock on every door in Milroy and invite people to worship in the Milroy Park. Nineteen new people were there!

Bishop Jon led the singing of the Doxology in honor of West Lake Johanna, a congregation that closed during the year. NOT! Pastor Steve Bovendam, who serves at West Lake Johanna, Brooten, confidently stated that they did not and are not closing. The assembly was amused. Bishop Jon apologized for his error. It was West Lake, Sunburg, that actually closed. With that, the bishop’s report has come to an end!

Now, it was VP Gwen’s turn to apologize for missing an item. Is there a motion to approve the Nominations Committee report? Voted to approve.

Rev. Andy Hermodson-Olsen, Lilly project director, pointed out that things have changed regarding education costs for our pastors. When he completed seminary, his debt was $1,500. The average debt for seminary graduates is now $50,000. Considering the cost of seminary, summer earnings, scholarships, loans, work study, and living frugally, Pr. Andy said that, if he had graduated five years ago, he would have a significant amount of debt. How would his ministry have been different?

Some are living that reality. The Lilly Endowment’s initiative is to try to raise awareness and make a difference in the lives of pastors and the congregations they serve. Through our Lilly project, we have been able to assist pastors. A sense of freedom and hope has come to those who have been helped. A video shown included Rev. Bryant and Lindy Kaden, Gloria Dei, Redwood Falls, and Bp. Jon. We’re encouraged to change our thought processes from If/Then to Because of/Therefore.

Lilly Endowment Inc. has invited us to apply for a second grant – Phase 2. We are in the process of applying. We should know by the end of this year whether or not we are awarded that grant.

Credentials report #1 as of 1:45 p.m. given by Deacon Dorothy Stenberg, Zion, Litchfield: 211 rostered voting members possible, 169 registered, 133 present, representing 63% of all rostered voting members possible; 575 lay voting members possible, 337 registered, 276 present, representing 48% of all lay voting members possible; totals – 786 eligible, 506 registered, 409 present, representing 52% of all potential voting lay and rostered; 76 advisors and visitors, 43 present.

Chair Julie Rath presented the Election Committee report and gave instructions. Voting was preceded by prayer led by VP Gwen. Julie led us through the ballot and voting process.

In the first Bible study, Chaplain Jeff Zust told us he left Bernadotte Lutheran Church about 25 years ago to begin his military ministry. In pictures he showed the following: What the public thinks we do (Father John Mulcahy, M.A.S.H.); What the military thinks we do (cartoon of people sitting around); What our parents think we do (cartoon of heavenly looking people).

What we actually do – nurture the living, care for our wounded, honor our fallen – the same as any other pastor or lay person in our synod. Chaplain Zust told the story of four chaplains who received the Medal of Freedom for their compassion – helping others off a torpedoed boat – the only ones to receive this in our history.

That brings us to the boat. We’re pushing people out of the boat! How much time is spent getting people into the boat – welcoming them, getting them involved, to join? Peter was in the boat because that’s where Jesus was.

What are those ministries that call us out of the boat? Jesus made the disciples get into the boat. He pushed them out onto the water, and he knew exactly what was going to happen out there. Only one of the twelve got out of the boat. The church needs to get out of the boat and enter into the mission. Peter left the boat, and Christ got back into the boat with Peter.

With our emphasis on Global and Local Mission, all specialized ministers including military, hospital, and nursing home chaplains were recognized.

Wendy Seefeldt, Gethsemane, Dassel, presented the Endowment Committee report beginning with the reading of Matthew 6:21. She expressed gratitude for the generosity of many who help to grow our endowments. Distributions this year will total $46,700; last year, $52,000. The committee has been working on policies regarding spending. Also in the works is a simple ministry grant process for congregations for the ministries they’re passionate about; kickoff will be early 2019. Let us all consider sharing the many gifts God has given us.

Information regarding conference realignment from ten conferences to six was presented by Rev. Art Wiese and Rev. Ann Zastrow. Why? The landscape of the synod is changing regarding where people are and where people are not. The plans have considered the following:

  1. As little disruption as possible
  2. Respect school district boundaries
  3. Keep parishes intact

The realignment is based on average worship attendance – 3,600-4,325 per each of six. Conferences should be durable. Where growth is happening (northeast), smaller numbers now. Where decrease is happening (south and west), larger numbers now.

Synod Council will make the final decision about the conference realignment at their Sept. 2018 meeting. Conference name changes will be decided at our next synod assembly.  Conversations at tables followed. Thoughts were written down and shared with Bishop Jon, who will share them with synod council.

Synod Treasurer Chuck Engebretson gave the financial report and presented the proposed budget for fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2020.

Rev. Jon Dahl, Bethel, Willmar, presented the 2019 Compensation Guidelines. He encouraged all to make this a people-honoring process.

Rev. Dwaine Bruns, conference minister and funding initiative interpreter, and Jeff Kjellberg, Kairos, gave an update on the funding initiative. The funds received so far have helped support participants at ReCharge events, lay preacher training, congregational assessments, Better Together food packing events, stewardship training, grants for pastors. About one-fourth of our pastors have been assisted with grants to ease their debt.

Two congregations have built free food pantries – sharing and receiving – loving and serving our neighbors. There’s a chance to win a food pantry at the Funding Initiative display table. The funding initiative helps us to share and receive. It’s not just about how much money we can raise, but it’s to change the narrative to that of hope, possibility, and that we are important to God’s work in our community and the world.

Answers to funding initiative quiz: 103 congregations have contributed; $1,149,000 has been committed; 399 individuals have made a financial commitment; 79 have benefitted from the MEF grants (out of the pantry); opportunities to help develop servant leaders: lay ministry courses, financial literacy training, MEF grants for pastors; 465,000 packets at Better Together food packing events; deepen congregational vitality: congregational assessment, equipping congregations events, congregational stewardship training.

Results of the first election were announced as follows:

Synod Council – Christina Nelson, Rev. Kris Isder, Mia Eisenbacher; Discipline Committee – Rev. Jeffrey Wallager, Rev. Harvey Nelson, Rev. Rebecca Thomas; Churchwide Assembly Voting Members – Carla Klawitter, Christina Nelson, Ian Graue, Jim Branstad, Delaney Holland, Rev. Bruce Berg.  First and second alternates to the CWA were also elected. One more ballot will be needed for two positions.

Announcements were given by Rev. Kathryn Skoglund. Prayer was led by Intern Amy Asendorf, Redwood Central Parish, Wabasso (native of Maryland). Business meeting is in recess until Saturday morning.

Dinner was followed by a program and special recognitions. Rev. Lisa Meshke was the emcee. Among those recognized were departing synod council and assembly planning committee members, new-to-the-synod pastors, interns, seminary graduates and first-call pastors, celebrants of 10th, 25th, 50th, and 60th+ anniversaries of ordination, and pastors who have retired since the last assembly. In between, the Glocal Musician Educators provided lessons and music. All Assembly materials are available on the assembly webpage.

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