For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body,
though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…….
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. – 1 Cor. 12.
One of the great joys of my call is to visit the congregations across this synod. Our territory includes vast plains, rich agricultural land, hilly vistas, quiet lakes, and powerful rivers. God planted our congregations in cities, open farmland, and towns. We are very different from each other; yet in Jesus Christ, we all are one.
As we’ve journeyed together this year, we have been united by focusing on the WORD: Jesus - the Word-made-flesh, and the word of Scripture – as the source and center of our lives.
Embody the Word. Synod Assembly 2023 brought over 365 voting members together in-person for the first time in 4 years! We rejoiced to sing again in Christ Chapel, passed the 2025 budget, and elected new leaders. And plenary speaker Matt Bloom helped us consider wholistic wellness in daily life.
Serving the Word Today. Rostered ministers gathered for the Fall Theological Conference and considered how the Word is served (our calling to serve Christ) and how we deliver or serve-up the Word to people in our presiding and preaching. Presenter Jason Moore provided insights that can transfer in some way to all of our congregations, as we serve the Word both in-person and online in our both/and world today.
Living the Word Today. Equipping Congregations Day 2023 gathered participants at Vinje Lutheran in Willmar to discover ministry resources – from stewardship to hospitality – to take back home. Luther Seminary Professor Rolf Jacobson led participants to look for the gifts of the Holy Spirit who is at loose in our world today.
Those actions – Embody, Serving, and Living the Word Today - provide the framework for reviewing this year and leaning into the next.
Embody the Word
Thank you for the way you, as beloved children of God, embody the word in your congregations and daily callings. You are engaging in ministry that is vital to the lives of your participants and the larger community. Although many of us are still exhausted from pandemic adaptations, congregations are emerging from these difficult years with a clearer sense of who we are and what God is calling us to be and do today. The dedication of our church leaders to ministries of word and sacrament and serving, to compassion, mercy, and justice - has never been greater.
As we review the past year, one place to turn is the numbers. No, it’s not all about the numbers, but trends do tell a story, whether in our households, businesses, or congregations. A synod’s responsibility is to note the trends occurring among our congregations because these numbers represent real people, hearing the story of God’s love in Jesus Christ.
The most recent statistical summary for congregations comes from the annual reports you completed for 2022. Of the 229 congregations in the SW MN Synod in 2022, 166 filed an annual report; 63 filed no report. When the annual report information comes to you in January, please direct the info to others in your congregation who can assist. Talk with your Church Council about the trends you are seeing. Return the form. And then know you have helped us reach a target of 100% responses this year! Thank you!
|Baptisms age 16+
|Affirmation of Faith
|Ave. wkly worship on-site
|Ave. wkly. worship online
|Ave. att. per cong. on-site
|Ave. att per cong. online
What stories do those figures tell? There is the cultural trend of fewer people connecting with a faith community. But these numbers also represent stories of outreach as adults are welcomed through Holy Baptism as hospitality is extended and new members are received, and as people are drawn to worshiping together both in the room and online.
We know there is great generosity in our congregations! Although earned income for congregations was challenged last year everywhere, regular giving and other receipts increased. Over the pandemic years, many congregations held special appeals to upgrade technology – what a gift!
You have an impact on human lives every day. Each week in the announcements, try telling a brief story about one of your ministries. Share a photo on a screen. Thank people for their generosity and the difference they are making. If you are looking for resources to help affirm your people’s generosity, check out the synod website under the “Generosity” tab!
Thank you for the generous Mission Support you shared in 2022. Although current 2023 figures won’t be known until after the fiscal year ends January 31, we have seen a significant decrease in Mission Support this year. Why? We know that the cushion of PPP money is used up. Everything costs more. Some of our congregations’ most generous givers are passing away or face high costs for elder care. And there is the tendency that when faced with financial challenges, congregations choose to direct funds close to home. Whatever the reason, we will continue to wisely steward the resources we receive and are committed to prioritizing providing pastoral care of congregations and rostered ministers. Like you, we know that challenges can also lead to doing things in new ways, and we trust in God’s creative Spirit as we plan for the future. Thank you for your generosity.
If you have not yet sent in a Mission Support contribution for this year, will you please consider a gift yet in January? And if you have not yet returned a Mission Support Intent form for 2024, please do so. We are deep in planning the 2026 budget that will be presented at the 2024 Synod Assembly, and your planning will help us do our best planning, as well. Thank you!
Serving the Word Today
Thanks be to God for all the Lay and Rostered Ministers leading our congregations today. They are serving Jesus and serving the Visible and Spoken Word to people in worship in this synod and far beyond. Our synod includes 300 rostered ministers, half of whom hold active calls in congregations, specialized calls, and synod calls.
This year, we celebrated the ordination of 5 new pastors: Rev. Chad Duffy, Rev. Mort Meyenberg, Rev. Stefan Swanson, Rev. Bob Ossefoort, and Rev. Sarah Zender. We consistently welcome more rostered ministers to this great synod than we see move away.
One of the greatest challenges for congregations and synods today is securing rostered minister leaders who can “serve the Word” in their context. Today, seminaries are seeing approximately half the number of enrollments they did 15 years ago. The good news is that congregations are embracing the gifts of their people and becoming less pastor-dependent than we were. The other piece of good news is that more lay leaders are sensing the Holy Spirit nudging them to consider part- or full-time ministry – often as a second career; and they are bringing incredible skills and life experiences into these new callings today.
TODAY, I pray that God will “send laborers” into this new and changing vineyard of ministry. My mentor, Rev. Dick Vangerud, often spoke of an initiative of our predecessor church body (The American Lutheran Church) called, “Men for the Ministry.” Yes, back in the 1960s, the initiative was only about “men” for the ministry! But back then, congregations prayed that God would raise up new leaders. Pastors encouraged those they knew to consider ministry as a life calling. Since we can’t grow pastors on trees, this is what I ask you to do:
- Pray in weekly worship and in your own devotions that the Holy Spirit would move hearts for people to consider part- or full-time ministry.
- Notice the people of any age in your church who might have the faith, temperament, and gifts for ministry. Affirm their strengths. Ask them if they might pray about and consider ministry in their future.
We are grateful for the ministry of Gifts of Grace that helps rostered ministers reduce the debt from their seminary training, and for the scholarships that are available from so many sources – including this synod, our seminaries, and the ELCA churchwide. Thank you!
For congregations who have rostered ministers leading you, please take care of them by providing appropriate compensation (see our synod compensation guidelines) and benefits. Encourage them to take sabbath time away from work and make use of continuing education growth. Got a concern? Talk to them, not about them. Give them a word of thanks for their ministry, which they serve 24/7.
Whether there are lay or rostered leaders serving the word with you today, strive to live together as the body of Christ. Nothing is more draining of leadership or destructive of Christian community than behaviors which tear apart the body of Christ. At the end of chapter 12, St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” And that is the way of love - the way of Jesus.
Living the Word Today
These are interesting times to be called and sent by the Triune God to live the Word today! The territory of our synod is described by the state demographer as including areas that are entirely Rural, Town/Rural Mix, Urban/Town/Rural Mix, and Entirely Urban. “Cities, farms, and towns together.” As demographic trends continue, the report asks, and we as the church can ask:
- How will we support the many older adults who are part of our communities who may live farther from services and family support?
- How will we respond to labor force shortages as more Boomers move into retirement?
- How can our churches help our distinct communities to be more attractive to new residents?
- How can churches make a difference in communities with growing racial and cultural diversity, and create connections and belonging?
Those gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12) will lead the way as God continues to reform us to live the Word today.
This fall we celebrated the reactivation of our relationships with our friends in the South Eastern Diocese of Southern Africa. Four guests came to be with us here in Sept. -Oct., and then five leaders from SW MN made the journey to South Africa and were blessed by warm hospitality, joy in our friendships, and new opportunities to accompany one another in Christ. Another gift!
I am grateful for the leadership of our Synod Council, taking seriously its responsibility to be faithful stewards of our resources of staffing, facility, and funding. I am excited to work together with them on the Council’s commitment to “empower Christian communities to join in God’s mission of reconciliation: listening intentionally, loving unconditionally, serving others authentically, and faithfully healing creation.” They have been focusing on the strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and results they see in this commitment, and are eager to live out this vision with you in the coming year.
I conclude this report by expressing my sincere thanks and gratitude to the synod staff who embody, serve, and live the Word each day: Rev. Heather Culuris – Synod Minister, Tammy Schacher – Executive Assistant, Kristin Bakeberg – Communications Coordinator, Maggie Berggren – Administrative Assistant, and Rev. Dr. Troy Pflibsen – Director for Evangelical Mission. They walk beside you in ministry with wisdom and joy. We are grateful for the ministry of Youth Ministry Coordinator Rev. Nikoli Falensheck, who served with us for the past year. And we continue to grieve the passing of our colleague and friend, Pr. Naomi Mahler, who brought energy, courage, and faith to her many ministries and lived out + SOLI DEO GLORIA! each day.
Thank you for the privilege of embodying, serving, and living the Word together with you as the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, ELCA.
Holy God, we praise you for calling diverse people into your church and its ministries. Uphold all leaders with your strong and loving arms. Empower ministers to serve your people with the word of scripture, the water of life, the meal of grace, and deeds of love and mercy and justice. Equip them with both beloved traditions and fresh ideas; grant them joy in their tasks; and renew them daily by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the Word among us, now and forever. Amen. (adapted from ACS, p. 46).
+ with grace, peace, and love,
Rev. Dee Pederson, D. Min
Bishop, Southwestern Minnesota Synod, ELCA