The generous mission support from our congregations to the Northeast Ohio
Synod of the ELCA makes it possible for lives to be transformed.
Synod of the ELCA makes it possible for lives to be transformed.
Dennis Betts is a long-time, active member of Celebration Lutheran in Chardon. He does not come from a long line of Lutherans or even an early history of religious training.
If fact, as a child Dennis had no religious training and therefore knew very little about God. When he was married at age 23 he promised his wife he would attend church and their children would have a religious upbringing. Dennis was true to his promise and even became an active member of his congregation. However, he still did not feel close to God or really have much faith.
All of this changed dramatically during Lent of 2010. As Dennis sat alone in the sanctuary after a Wednesday evening worship, he saw what appeared to be Jesus and his disciples at the last supper. Jesus walked through the pews to him, kissed him on the forehead, and whispered in his ear “You will.” Dennis has absolutely no doubt that he saw Jesus that evening.
After Dennis’ encounter with Jesus, he acted and truly believes differently. He then and now believes he is a true disciple of Jesus. He tries to do the things that Jesus wants him to do. He admits that he sometimes fails in this but is confident that Jesus forgives him. Dennis now freely talks about his belief in Christ and is truly a disciple of Jesus. He now makes, wears, and hands out small wooden crosses, as an easy way to begin the conversation about his faith.
While we may not have an encounter with Jesus as dramatic as Dennis did, Jesus shows up every day in our daily lives.
Our congregations of the Northeastern Ohio Synod are holy grounds where God meets us in the waters of baptism and at the table. They are also places where God shows up in the comforting hug of a friend, the joyful noise of music, and the quiet moments in the sanctuary. We are grateful for the ongoing and life-giving ministry of our congregational partners here in the Northeastern Ohio Synod. Thank you for the ministry you provide to people like Dennis.
During the turbulent September 2020 Covid resurgence, middle school students, and sisters, Emerson and Olivia Beery were filled with pain as they watched several friends, classmates, and adults act in cruel ways in response to Covid-19 protocols. During school, they saw students clash with teachers and principals about masks and vaccinations. Sadly, Emerson and Olivia witnessed daily battles: us versus them, right versus wrong, and Left versus Right. And what hurt the most was that many of the people who acted the worst did it in the name of God.
“I couldn’t understand why people were so mean,” Emerson recalled, waving her right hand with newly painted pink nail polish.
“It made me feel mad,” Olivia remembered, wrinkling her freckled nose, making her mad face.
Emerson and Olivia were forced to consider their understanding of what it meant to walk out the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many dinner conversations with their parents revolved around, “What should we do when people do that? What does it mean to be a Lutheran in a crazy world?” Or, as Olivia asked flatly, “How can I just make those idiots go away?”
Their parents listened and comforted them, but sometimes a guiding presence from outside the home can help escape the family echo chamber to change the narrative.
Fortunately, the Beery sisters started another school year of confirmation classes at Christ the Redeemer, Brecksville with Rev. Randy O’Donnell. Quickly, the outside world intersected with their class sessions; not as intentional lessons, but simply when Pastor Randy asked each student how they were doing, and the outside world was impossible to ignore. Both Emerson and Olivia mentioned their concerns, but Pastor Randy reaffirmed that, “It is okay to wrestle with one’s faith, have doubts, and have questions. God is about love, so when making tough decisions we, as Lutherans, err on the side of love and inclusion of people.”
In their discernment, these words helped reaffirm with Emerson and Olivia that much of the divisive actions they witnessed didn’t square with their Lutheran Theology. Pastor Randy’s expertise and care gave them the space, support, and confidence they needed. His words helped them learn what they could control and stressed that uncertainty is something we shouldn’t fear. “Love and acceptance are at our core because we all fall short of perfection,” shared Pastor Randy. “We can never do anything to make God stop loving us. The church is a critical part of this journey, and we are a welcoming place for all people, even those we might deem as idiots.” These statements reasserted that God loves them more than they can imagine—and their ultimate call is to be compassionate and accepting.
In Hallmark movie fashion, it would be convenient to report that these confirmation classes cleared up all that troubled these girls with absolute certainty. But that’s not reality. Instead, both young ladies realized that a faith life can and will breed complexity; however, with their parents, Pastor Randy, and a loving congregation, their discipleship will be continually nurtured. Further, by holding binary thoughts in their hearts and minds and leaning into uncertainty, using their intellect and awareness, and asking what can be learned in life’s trials, means that God is working in their lives. And with that, they can live boldly with love, justice, mercy, and kindness.
Your mission support to the Northeastern Ohio Synod makes it possible for Rev. Angel Jackson and the Candidacy Committee to nurture and find leaders who can have this kind of influence on young people and older folks too. Her work has never been more important to find competent and called future leaders who feel the Spirit’s nudge. Further, Rev Jackson’s work makes the Northeastern Ohio Synod desirable for future and current pastors to come and serve in our midst to push our goal forward of having a settled and equitably paid pastor or deacon in each one of our parishes by May 2023. Thank you for your partnership and support in the work we share here in Northeastern Ohio Synod.
“When I was first approached six years ago to consider standing for election to the office of synod vice president, to be completely candid, I really had no idea what a synod vice president did and wasn't sure that I was at all qualified.” These words of Bryan Penvose, our outgoing Synod Vice President, ring true in so many ears. God so often has more trust and faith in us than we do in ourselves. Bryan discovered
this as through the years he has found this office not just to be a “position,” but a true call. After winning the election, Bryan “quickly discovered [what was] to be a most wonderful time in ministry together with people across our synod and the entire ELCA.”
Bryan is now concluding not one, but two terms as our synod Vice President. “Whenever I speak with others about the office of synod vice president and even with other synod vice presidents, this is what I talk about - that serving in this office is a joyous and blessed call. Having the opportunity to serve alongside our bishop, synod staff, fellow synod council members, the rostered leaders in our synod, and
so many other amazing leaders across the church, has truly been a life's blessing.“
So often we aren't quite sure how our gifts and skills fit into God's hopes and dreams for the world. “I always wondered and prayed about where God might have a place for me in the church. I knew that God was calling me to serve somewhere and in some way, but I was struggling to discover exactly how God was calling me as a lay person to serve and just where the spiritual gifts that the Holy Spirit blessed me with might fit into the tapestry of God's church.”
Six years later, Bryan is thankful: “I give thanks to God for finding a place for me in doing God's Work with Our Hands, together, as God's church.” We give thanks that six years ago, Bryan listened to the still small voice of God. We look forward to who God might call next. Thank you for your partnership in this ministry we share here in Northeastern Ohio Synod.
Patty and Ikasha sat at the lunch table with their bright green chef jackets on and their “student” badges around their necks. These are a far cry from the prison uniforms and inmate ID tags they wear at the women’s correctional unit where they spend the rest of their time.
Like thousands of women throughout Ohio, Patty and Ikasha are serving time for crimes they committed. And while they admit to those crimes and will serve their time, they find that a system that is meant to reform them is a system that dehumanizes. “In prison we get called by our last names. There is no dignity.”
Their chef’s coats and student IDs that Patty and Ikasha proudly wear was issued by Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries (LMM) as part of their Chopping for Change program. This program partners with the prison system to teach women cooking skills so that upon reentry they have a career to help them move forward with their lives. But Chopping for Change is not just about cooking. There are therapy sessions to help the women address the trauma in their lives; they are able to earn certificates and even an associate’s degree in culinary art. Perhaps most important, there are family events to help them reconnect with their families in a non-prison environment; “Being with our families here [at LMM] is such a different experience,” reflects Patty. “Here we are Patty and Ikasha.”
Patty and Ikasha sit confidently at the table with members of the LMM staff. They tell their stories with a reflective maturity. And they unabashedly point to Chopping for Change. “It is wonderful to be seen not as an inmate,” declares Patty. “The dignity and respect that this program gives is invaluable; it gives you faith, gratitude, a future, a purpose. Ikasha reflects on how the program has changed her life attitude, “This program humbled me. I am sure that doors will now open to me.”
“There is no other program like this” [in the prison system], says Mary. She talks about how Chopping for Change and the people at LMM trust her and the other women. Even more, she and Ikasha have been inspired to give back to their community. They often go into the clothes closet at LMM where there are professional and street clothes to help women who are re-entering society. “It is something to give a woman her first pair of jeans in 6 years,” says Patty with a look of profound grace in her eyes.
Today we delivered a check to LMM on behalf of the Northeastern Ohio Synod. On behalf of you. Your gift to LMM helps to open the future to Patty and Ikasha and other women like them. Your gift help restore the dignity of life to people that society has locked away. You gift helps people regain their names.
In 2020, all aspects of congregational life were upended by COVID-19. Worship, education, fellowship, and outreach all had to be hastily adapted and sometimes greatly restricted, for the safety of members, staff, and neighbors. And as unemployment increased and families struggled financially, so did many of our churches. In an effort to help those congregations with the greatest need who also provide vital services to their surrounding communities, the ELCA created the COVID-19 Response Fund.
Advent Lutheran Church in Cleveland serves a community with high unemployment and high infant mortality rates. Advent’s Pastor Leonard Killings reports that, thanks to the COVID-19 Relief Fund, the congregation was able to continue operating its Lee Miles Hunger Center, fill holiday food baskets the congregation provides annually to needy families, and purchase winter coats for needy children. The congregation incurred both financial losses and additional expenses related to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this support from the wider church helps Advent continue its life-saving ministries. The people of Advent are grateful to receive the ELCA COVID 19 Response funds.
The ELCA COVID-19 Response Fund provides grants to congregations and local ministries serving communities with the highest health risks or economic impacts from the pandemic. The grants allow these churches and ministries to continue paying staff, and providing food, water, shelter, or health care to people in need. And they’re only possible because of YOUR mission support. Thank you for sharing your gifts to provide life-changing opportunities across our Church.
Going forward, we’ll be sharing more stories like these: examples of how your mission support funds vital synodical and churchwide ministries. If you have a story of how Mission Support funds have benefited a ministry near or far, please share it with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2019, St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Medina, Ohio said goodbye to Pastor Tom as he retired. Because of Covid, the call committee was finally able to start their work in the Spring of 2021. “We were where lots of congregations found themselves during this time,” said Jill Heck, Chair of the Call Committee. “We didn’t know how to get together to do the work of the committee, when and even if we could get together. Covid was quite difficult. It didn’t allow us to have the same access to each other that we were used to having. That slowed the Call Committee down.
During this same time, Rev. Mitch Phillips began his work at the Northeastern Ohio Synod office as the Assistant to the Bishop responsible for the Call or Transition Process. “Bishop Laura Barbins and I have been working on making the call process more contextual.” shared Pastor Mitch. “We want to be able to better respond to situations. Now we refer to it as the Transition Process because call is only a small part of it.”
When Pastor Mitch began his work with St. Matthew their position had been vacant for nearly 2 years. “They were eager to call a new pastor,” he said, “but their particular situation required finding someone who could manage a staff as well.”
“Once we got going as a committee, we were steadfast,” shared Jill. “We met once every two weeks initially. There were times we met weekly. It was really important for us to review the process in the Call Manual for the ELCA and learn it and understand it. We also wanted to act accordingly. It made a big difference because by doing so, we started with growing together spiritually before we started doing the work of the committee. Pastor Mitch helped us in this respect. By being together spiritually, our work flowed so much easier because people felt safe and secure in their relationship with one another. It was a really beautiful thing.”
The committee members worked diligently to ensure they represented what the congregation wanted while also understanding this was a partnership with the synod office. “That was very enlightening,” Jill said. “Hearing from Pastor Mitch the synod’s position with regards to the call helped make it about the greater church, not about a singular church.”
Jill, the committee, and the congregation are grateful to the Synod Office, and Pastor Mitch for the leadership provided to them during their call process. “Although he was new to his position, he was very knowledgeable about the Call Process and assisted the Call Committee from beginning to end. He always had time to answer our questions and give guidance on sensitive issues.”
“What Pastor Mitch did exceedingly well was to not only guide us administratively, but he was our Spiritual Call Committee leader as he continuously prayed for us and reminded us that we were doing God’s work. Over time, it was clear that his influence helped to mold us into an open, caring group of God’s faithful servants who recognized that we had the privilege to receive the Holy Spirit as we prepared our Ministry Site Profile, prepared questions for prospective candidates, interviewed candidates, and made the recommendation to our congregation.”
“The process at times was tedious and seemed like we were not making progress, but the thorough preparation resulted in the Call Committee being assured that God was in our midst and that the recommendation to call Pastor Steve Mahaffey was indeed God’s plan for St. Matthew. On February 27, 2022, the congregation voted to call Pastor Steve.”
Your mission support to the Northeastern Ohio Synod makes it possible for the synod staff to walk alongside congregations providing spiritual guidance, coaching, teaching, and process support. Thank you for your partnership in this ministry we share here in Northeastern Ohio Synod.