Around the Synod

Around the Synod 2017-07-18T20:01:48+00:00

Below is a collection of stories about how God is moving in our synod. If you have a story to share, please send an email to j.huff@mpls-synod.org.

Eco-focused Advent Tools

This year, Advent follows closely on Pope Francis’ visit to the US and converges with the crucial United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris (Nov 30 – Dec 11). The last two months of 2015 offer an extraordinary opportunity for churches to await the incarnation with attention to the earth, “our common home.” Through its EcoFaith Network, the Minneapolis Area Synod offers the following two resources for congregational use, developed by participants in Lutherans Restoring creation:

Lutheran Study Guide to Pope Francis, by Terra Rowe. A four session study guide on Laudato Si’.

Eco-justice lectionary commentary for the Sundays of Advent, with appropriate references to Laudato Si’, by Dennis Ormseth;  petitions for the Prayers of Intercession by Pastor Ingrid Rasmussen; and hymn suggestions by David Sims; the team is from Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Minneapolis.

Overview of themes

Minneapolis Area Synod now has a Nigerian Theologian in Residence

By Kara Lattu

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Bishop Ann Svennungsen recently announced that Dr. Ibrahim Bitrus has been named Companion Synod Theologian in Residence for the Minneapolis Area Synod. As such, Bitrus will work with congregations in both short-term and long-term settings on a variety of topics.

Bitrus was born and raised in northeast Nigeria. He received his Bachelors degree and Masters of theology from the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, followed by his PhD in systematic theology from Luther Seminary. Previously he was a lecturer at the Bronnum Lutheran Seminary — Yola, Nigeria.

“It is wonderful to have Ibrahim here and to have a connection to our companion synod, the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria,” Bishop Svennungsen said while making the announcement. “Having him in our midst will strengthen our relationship and deepen our commitment to have an incarnate partnership that is both visible and real.”

Bitrus is also author of several articles, including “The Influence of Neo-Pentecostalism in Nigeria” in Karen L. Bloomquist, ed., Lutheran Respond to Pentecostalism, Minneapolis: Lutheran University Press, 2008; “An ‘Absence of God’ from Public Life? The Disconnect between Faith and Life in the Church in Nigeria in Word & World; “The Theology of the Cross: A Stumbling Block to the Neo-Pentecostal Gospel” in TCNN Bulletin; and upcoming “Disturbing an Unjust Peace in Nigeria, The Contribution of Luther’s Critical Public Theology” in On Secular Governance: Lutheran Perspectives on Contemporary Legal Issues, edited by Marie A. Failinger and Ronald W. Duty.

Ibrahim is married to Julecy and they are blessed with four children — Pasy, Tunary, Falnyi and Titveren. They live together in St Paul near Luther Seminary.

This Companion Synod Theologian in Residence position has been funded by individual donors and congregations for one year, with funding being sought for an additional year. During this time Ibrahim will visit synod congregations and share his knowledge and expertise through preaching, teaching, small groups, and forums. He and/or his wife Julecy are also available to speak with congregations about general life or the conflict in Nigeria. Those interested in being added to Ibrahim’s schedule should contact him directly at ibitrus001@luthersem.edu.

The synod is seeking donations to help fund this position for the next two years. Congregations wishing to make a donation in support of this position should contact Craig Pederson at c.pederson@mpls-synod.org.

When a church is the hub, the spokes can zip 

When Redeemer Lutheran Church opened an after-school program many years ago, reflected Pastor Kelly Chatman, a young girl in foster care come up and asked, “Is this a church or a magical place?” That image stuck with Chatman, especially when Redeemer first opened Venture North, a retail bike and coffee shop in North Minneapolis, something that hasn’t existed there for many years.

Recently, the Minneapolis StarTribune named Venture North the “best bike shop for a cause” in the Twin Cities. “It’s an innovation, with an emphasis on being part of the neighborhood,” said Chatman. “It attracts the imagination.”

The shop now employees young adults from its Harrison neighborhood, offering skill training in a growing industry. And, in a section of the city that often has insufficient economic energy, Venture North provides a trusted gathering space for neighbors, explains Chatman. He says that other engagements with the congregation, such as neighborhood block parties, have led to the commercial success of this shop.

Venture NorthPeople can participate in Venture North by purchasing a bike there, making a donation of an unused bike, or leading neighborhood bike rides. For more information, visit http://venturenorthbwc.org/ .

New grant and loan programs encourage health, energy efficiency

The Minneapolis Area Synod recently announced two new programs that provide resources to help congregations improve the health of their neighborhoods and the energy efficiency of their buildings. The projects – one a grant program, the other a loan program — were announced at the Synod Assembly on May 15, 2015.

As part of the synodical commitment that all people live in just and healthy neighborhoods, the synod is accepting proposals from congregations for grants of $3000-5000 to partner on innovative efforts. The guidelines explain eligibility for the grants.

The funds for this Just and Healthy Neighborhoods Grant Program are available because more than 65% of the synod’s plan members took the Portico Health Assessment in 2014.

The Energy Efficiency Loan Fund will support the environmental and financial stewardship of congregations by providing loans to congregations that have meet certain requirements. Property improvements like new lighting, programmable thermostats, and water-saving technologies will qualify. Applications are available on the synod website.

The funds for this loan program come from a seed InFaith Foundation grant and conservative fiscal management within the synod.

Minneapolis Area Synod Engages Interserve to guide its ‘First Third of Life’ Work

Every interim period within a congregation is unique. In 2010 Kris Bjorke served as Interim Director of Youth Ministry with Christ Lutheran Church in Blaine, Minnesota. Her short-term position included working alongside volunteers in ministry to discover where they wanted to go with their ministry to young people.“We conducted surveys, focus groups, did training, as well as kept the ministries going,” Bjorke explained.“The result of our work led to the hiring of Jenna Bergeson who at the time was a college graduate. Jenna still serves at Christ Lutheran with a thriving ministry to young people.”

Bjorke is now co-director of InterServe Ministries, an independent ministry that serves congregations in their work with children, youth, and families. InterServe has worked with congregations in several ELCA synods while they are experiencing changes in their children’s or youth ministries. Its co-directors, Bjorke and Susan Megrund, provide interim youth ministry staffing: assisting with Sunday school and childhood faith development, providing stability during a congregation’s transition times, and partnering with existing committees to plan for future programs and staffing.

Recently, Bishop Ann Svennungsen announced that the Minneapolis Area Synod will partner with InterServe to expand synodical support for leaders and congregations in their “First Third of Life” ministries. Interserve is uniquely qualified to help the synod staff expand its work in this area. “Between them, the two Interserve directors have nearly 30 years of experience in youth ministry — plus a wealth of relationships with leaders and congregations of our synod,” explained Svennungsen. “Their expertise will be invaluable as we support this ministry so essential to the church, and as we envision how the synod can most effectively support First Third of Life work into the future.”

“Our role is primarily at the congregational level,” explained Megrund. “We see ourselves networking with all stakeholders in a congregation and providing resources that will help them thrive.” She added that they curate information for staff and volunteers that help them work within the context of their congregation so they can find the best model for them.

“Kris and Sue will help us to relate to the leaders of young people in our synod,” explained Pastor John Hulden, assistant to the bishop, including programs related to the first-third of life. “The synod now has experienced leaders concentrating for 10 hours each week on how best to do Children, Youth, and Family ministry in the congregations of our synod.” InterServe will work with Hulden to strategize alongside Children, Youth, and Family leaders in the synod and to strengthen the flourishing of all First Third ministries.

Bjorke is now co-director of InterServe Ministries, an independent ministry that serves congregations in their work with children, youth, and families. InterServe has worked with congregations in several ELCA synods while they are experiencing changes in their children’s or youth ministries. Its co-directors, Bjorke and Susan Megrund, provide interim youth ministry staffing: assisting with Sunday school and childhood faith development, providing stability during a congregation’s transition times, and partnering with existing committees to plan for future programs and staffing.

Recently, Bishop Ann Svennungsen announced that the Minneapolis Area Synod will partner with InterServe to expand synodical support for leaders and congregations in their “First Third of Life” ministries. Interserve is uniquely qualified to help the synod staff expand its work in this area. “Between them, the two Interserve directors have nearly 30 years of experience in youth ministry — plus a wealth of relationships with leaders and congregations of our synod,” explained Svennungsen. “Their expertise will be invaluable as we support this ministry so essential to the church, and as we envision how the synod can most effectively support First Third of Life work into the future.”

“Our role is primarily at the congregational level,” explained Megrund. “We see ourselves networking with all stakeholders in a congregation and providing resources that will help them thrive.” She added that they curate information for staff and volunteers that help them work within the context of their congregation so they can find the best model for them.

“Kris and Sue will help us to relate to the leaders of young people in our synod,” explained Pastor John Hulden, assistant to the bishop, including programs related to the first-third of life. “The synod now has experienced leaders concentrating for 10 hours each week on how best to do Children, Youth, and Family ministry in the congregations of our synod.” InterServe will work with Hulden to strategize alongside Children, Youth, and Family leaders in the synod and to strengthen the flourishing of all First Third ministries.

ELCA Youth Leadership Summit

Reflections from Chris OkeyChristian Benz being part of Detroit's historical timeline (PHOTO: ERIC PIKE)

On Thursday, November 13, I traveled with two youth from the Minneapolis Area Synod (Christian Benz- St. John’s Lutheran Church, South Minneapolis & Grace Pelowitz- Wooddale Lutheran Church, St. Louis Park) and two youth from the Saint Paul Area Synod (Rachel Larson- Augustana Lutheran Church, West St. Paul & Rebecca Steffen- St. Steven’s Lutheran Church, West St. Paul) to Detroit for the ELCA Youth Leadership Summit.

The ELCA Youth Leadership Summit is a collaboration of the ELCA Network (Formerly Youth Ministry Network) and SYMBOL (Synodical Youth Ministry Band of Leaders).  It was the new formation of previous leadership events LYO boards and Cyclops.

Grace, Rebbeca, and Rachel listening in during a presentation (photo: Eric Pike)The summit looked at the work of the ELCA through branches of the larger church, including: Lutheran Disaster Response, World Hunger, and the ELCA Advocacy Office.  On Friday, Rev Stephen Bouman (Executive Director of the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit for the ELCA) facilitated a discussion around advocacy and embracing the world through baptism.  On Saturday, Rev. Lindsey Anderson (Pastor of Detroit Cooperative Perish) gave us a history of Detroit and encouraged us to look at history through multiple lens, and not just what the media portrays.  Saturday afternoon, Judith Roberts (ELCA Program Director for Racial Justice) had some friends with her and led us in an important conversation around identity and racial equality.

A lot of important information was presented and I feel it was a beneficial event for the youth involved.  Thank you to St. John’s, Wooddale, Augustana, and St. Steven’s for lifting up your leaders and supporting their travel.  Next year’s Youth Leadership Summit is at Carol Joy Holling Camp & Retreat Center, near Omaha, NE. Look for details in the spring/early summer.

Chris Okey was the Director of Missions at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield and served as the Minneapolis Area Synod Chair of the MAS/SPAS Children, Youth, and Family Leadership Team at the time this article was written.

Adding a Rich Tapestry

The synod has a new worshipping community

Building bridges across cultures is just what Pastor Melissa Melnick does. Years ago, as a high school Spanish and ELL teacher, she noticed that the honors Spanish students were all white and the ELL learners were mostly Latino. And the two groups never interacted. So, she worked to bridge relationships and to help desegregate the two groups. Pastor Melissa lived a multicultural life in every aspect except one – church.

“My church life didn’t reflect my multicultural life,” she said.  So now, she is starting one. She named it Tapestry, and right now, she’s cultivating a core group of leaders who are working together to create a multi-cultural dinner church. They meet on Sundays at 5 p.m. at Woodlake Lutheran Church in Richfield, Minnesota. People from many different cultures come to share a meal and then sing, worship, and create relationships.
“I got the idea when I was sitting in McDonald’s one day,” said Pastor Melissa. “I was watching a group of retirees who were enjoying each other’s company around cups of coffee and food. At the same time, I noticed that others nearby were on the outside and looking in as the others experienced the power of community. I could sense their loneliness. So I wondered, ‘How do we build this kind of community at church?’ Beautiful things happen around a table with food – community and relationships, stories and listening. And in the church, we also have a table where Christ is present and feeds us.”

At this point in their development, leaders are knocking on doors in the surrounding neighborhood to listen. They are curious about what residents think about their city. What changes need to happen? What strengths are present? “At first, people are suspicious of us,” she said. “But as we ask about their thoughts, they discover that we really are just curious about them, and you can see the suspicion melt away. And by the end of the conversation, they want to know more about who we are. We’re learning the importance of coming in humility.”

Melnick+FamilyWoodlake Lutheran Church, as part of its desire to more closely fit their changing neighborhood, is fully on board with this new ministry. The members see the congregation as one of the “hosts.” They are sharing their space, and some staff time, and some financial support. More partners are welcome at the table, though. “We’re hoping to cultivate congregational partners who are willing to walk side-by-side with us,” said Pastor Melissa. “Of course, we need financial support, but we also want true relationship that benefits both communities.”

Melnick reminds her new flock, as it is recorded in The Message’s version of Colossians 2:2, “I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery.”

It takes intentionality to weave together cultures and relationships, with Christ at the center. And that is what Tapestry is about.

‘Where there is silence, let me sow sound’ 

A St. Olaf grad launches instrumental music program in Guyana

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When Eric Sayre was walking the halls of the music education building at St. Olaf College, he likely was envisioning that he would soon be standing on small riser, baton in hand, conducting a wind ensemble at an underfunded urban or a small rural school just hours from his native Twin Cities home. He could probably smell the trumpet valve oil and hear the squeaks of fresh woodwind enthusiasts.

He probably did not picture himself establishing a music education program in an underdeveloped South American country. He didn’t anticipate that he would be raising money to buy instruments for students who didn’t even receive band instruction in their school settings.

But Sayre did know he felt drawn toward a vocation of service. And his enthusiasm for music didn’t know any boundaries … including the borders of country.

In September, Sayre will launch the Guyana Lutheran Music Academy, in New Amsterdam, Guyana, the home of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana (ELCG). He says, “We will be enriching lives through music education for all.”

Such a project has its costs. For the GLMA, these costs include $60,000 for the renovation of the academy and home to the instructors (which is next to the denomination’s headquarters), as well as the $40,000 cost of procuring and shipping as many instruments as possible for the Guyanese students.

The ELCG has invited Sayre’s involvement. He says, “The success of international outreach lrelies in large part on local support and desire. The Guyanese Lutheran Church has graciously agreed to be our partner and host.” The church is able to ensure that classes will be open to students of all cultural and religious backgrounds in this religiously and ethnically diverse nation.

Sayre, and his project partner, Linda Berger, music education chair at St. Olaf, interviewed and selected staff members for four spots in the academy. Each will arrive in New Amsterdam in mid-August and stay through June. While the teaching positions are volunteer, they are provided with basic necessities while in Guyana.

The staff will be able to train 240 students per year, with about 15 students per class. Instruction will include voice, keyboard, guitar strings, percussion, and brass. “Every instrument [donated to GLMA] will either be used through the Academy or will go to a student’s home,” Sayre explained. “Practice is where the growth happens.”

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In 2011, Sayre was recruited by Erv Janssen, a Lutheran from Tulsa, Oklahoma, whose congregation has taken week-long medical, construction, and literacy mission to Guyana since 1996. Janssen made regular trips to St. Olaf to find music students willing to teach basic music literacy to a few students.

When Sayre heard Janssen’s enthusiasm for service, he immediately went back to his dorm room to talk his roommate Michael Murchison into committing to a six-month term of establishing an actual music program for the ELCG. The duo not only planned to develop a music education program; they decided they would stay long enough to do instruction on individual instruments as well.

Sayre and Murchison provided musical instruction to more than 500 people during their six-month stint in Guyana in 2011, including 53 different brass players. More than two-thirds of their students were under 18, and did not receive any musical instruction in their public school.

“If things go well, it is our dream to open schools in other countries that are interested,” Sayre said. This may include Haiti and Nicaragua, the only countries in the Western Hemisphere even poorer than Guyana. When St. Olaf music education majors dream, they dream big, it seems. http://glma.gy/

Dirty Water, Clean Water

A children’s sermon launched our healthcare campaign idea last Sunday as we began Lent. Children were offered a bottle filled with dirty water to remind them how important clean water is to each one of us. Bottles were then handled out to the congregation by a show of hands. People were challenged then to cut the tops off the bottles and to bring them back weekly.

Then, each week at worship (during of the sharing of the peace until the end of April) people are invited to bring back their dirty water bottles filled with change (or bills) in buckets placed in our aisle, by reflecting on the use of water and how fortunate our water supply is. Lent will be our time to think on these contents of dirty water throughout the week as we gather change and bills together. Hope this spurs and launches others.

To get ideas about how your congregation can support the Nigeria Healthcare initiative, click here.

Pastor Dan Ankerfelt, Minnehaha Communion Lutheran Church

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Celebrating Student Discipleship

From the Lutheran Campus Ministry blog

Lutheran Campus Ministry-Twin Cities has long been committed to cultivating faithful leaders for both church and world.  We are excited to announce that we have been awarded a 5 year, $100,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment to deepen and strengthen our leadership development and vocational discernment work with undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.[1]

This initiative, the Theological Exploration of Vocation for Campus Ministries Initiative 2013, invited 30 campus ministries from various denominations across the country to apply for funding to “build up their capacities to play a more prominent role in identifying and nurturing a new generation of highly talented and religiously committed leaders for church and society.”   We are very excited to be a part of this cohort, to learn and discern together how we might nurture young adults to lead faithfully in the 21st Century.” Continue Reading

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Tubfrim – A Mindekirken Mission Project

Mindekirken (Norwegian Lutheran Church, Minneapolis) is doing mission in a new way. This past year alone, they have collected 38 pounds of cancelled stamps and used phone cards to help handicapped children and youth in Norway, and support tuberculosis research. Members of Mindekirken and people around the country bring (or even pay postage to mail) in used stamps and phone cards. The stamps need to have a 1/2” border around them. The stamps are sorted by a Mindekirken volunteer and marked as “U.S. Stamps” or Foreign Stamps.” At the end of each year, they are turned into Sons of Norway (who has been collecting stamps for over 50 years), who ships them to an organization called Tubfrim in Norway.

Tubfrim was established in Nesbyen in 1928 and the first year brought a profit of NOK 1.500 ($198.87 USD) was made. In 2011, the profits totaled NOK 650.000 ($86,157.22 USD). This money helps improve the quality of life for handicapped children and youth – and support tuberculosis research. For more information on how you can support this mission, visit Mindekirken’s website or Tubfrim’s website.