By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

Under the wonderful theme “In this Together: What the World Needs takes all of Us,” we gathered for our 2019 synod assembly, now visible in the “rearview mirror.”

“It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ event for the synod staff, with work beginning for next year even before the current assembly is even done.”

Looking back on the complexity of the event, one could also say: “In this Together: What the Assembly Needs takes all of Us.” The list is long and includes:

  • Confirming contracts with sound and video, interpreters, caterers, hosts, child care providers, and furniture rental companies;
  • Inviting speakers, presenters, nominees, musicians, and visual artists;
  • Creating videos, power points, clues for “Jeoparody,” and composting stations;
  • Preparing final copy of worship bulletins, resolutions, agendas and contingency agendas – all timed to the minute; and
  • Managing the online registration process for 450-plus people; confirming the correct representation of lay, clergy, and youth; and leaving the space as clean as we found it.

It’s an “all hands on deck” event for the synod staff, with work beginning for next year even before the current assembly is even done.

When it all comes together like it did last weekend, we all breathe a sigh of relief and give thanks for what feels almost miraculous.



  • Representing a glorious diversity of race, age, and gender; our speakers inspired and challenged us with unique perspectives that complemented each other in remarkable ways. Often referring to the speaker who preceded them, they truly engaged with each other, with assembly participants, and with our theme. (There was nothing “cookie cutter” about the presenters.)
  • The theme engaged what some call the “issue of our generation” – the reality of climate system change and the church’s calling to serve the world Christ came to save. We heard from Presiding Elder Stacy Smith with deep ties to Flint, Michigan; from Bishop Bruce Ough, a leader at Standing Rock; from Dr. Larry Rasmussen, a premiere Lutheran environmental ethicist; Mikka McCracken, a millennial Korean American whose faith story in the ELCA is so powerful, inspiring and authentic. Even our Vice President’s report by Felecia Boone and Treasurer’s Report by Ty Inglis were among the finest I’ve ever heard. Recordings of our speakers will soon be available on the synod’s YouTube Channel and on the website.
  • Within 24 hours, we heard the witness of a Native American, Korean American, Latina, and African Americans – all bringing profound perspective to the church they love but a church that remains 96% white.

Yes, a synod assembly takes all of us to be successful. And that raises a significant concern for me. If it “takes all of us,” what does it mean that fewer than half of our congregation’s voting members were present this year (450 present versus 936 that are eligible to attend).

Attendees are quick to affirm that it’s important work – well worth their time. What changes can we make to increase engagement? We are working to develop more comprehensive invitation process with intentional follow-up conversations. We are looking at an earlier assembly date so we aren’t competing with one of the first warm days of spring.

What other ideas might you have? We welcome your thoughts and ideas. Because, you see, we’re all “in this together.”