“In Christ … Always Being Made New” [Excerpts from my written assembly report]

    “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation:  everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  [II Corinthians 5:17]

             The Allegheny Synod is twenty-five years old this year.  We could say, though, the Allegheny Synod or Alleghany (note spelling) Synod is actually one hundred and seventy years old!  Yes, the first Alleghany Synod was established in 1842, separating from the Western Pennsylvania Synod because of the geographical territory.  According to the people of these Allegheny hills and valleys the Western Pennsylvania Synod was simply too large a territory.  Apparently our ancestors felt the church could more faithfully and effectively serve our Lord “on the road together” by being in smaller congregational groupings.

             Interestingly less than thirty years ago as conversations were initiated to establish the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, there was a strong cry to divide the very large (638 congregations) Central Pennsylvania Synod in the Lutheran Church in America (of which we were then a part) into several smaller synods, so that it had less power and its leaders and congregations more accessible to one another.  Smaller synods would also enable the bishop to function more pastorally amidst the several administrative responsibilities.  Thus, decisions were made to divide the Central Pennsylvania Synod into several smaller synods, one of which, with only a spelling change in the name, became the Allegheny Synod.

             I discovered in my research1 for my annual report to the Synod that the Alleghany Synod is attributed as having some very specific characteristics, some of which I found fascinating and perhaps even reflective of why we are the people we are here in this present Allegheny Synod.

 ·         Unlike some synods in the region, the territory of the Alleghany Synod consisted of a mixture of ethnic groups.  Yes mostly Germans resided in these hills and valleys, but there were also Swedes, Finns, Scotch, Irish, and Slovaks who made their home here. 

 ·         The Rev. John Christian Frederick Heyer founded and pastored many congregations of this region.  Additionally he fostered an early interest and commitment to missionary activity within the Alleghany Synod.  Father Heyer, in fact, served as the first Lutheran missionary to India.

 ·         The missionary emphasis at home sometimes had a revivalist tone and tenor.  Writes Benjamin Kurtz, editor of The Lutheran Observer in 1842, concerning the Alleghany Synod, “Surely it [the Synod] cannot be charged with being inimical to foreigners, though its members are all, so far as our knowledge extends, decidedly in favor of so-called new measures; in other words, they are all the advocates of extra efforts on suitable occasions, for the conversion of sinners,…”2

·         The people of the synod were known for their sense of independence.

 ·         The synod took a strong stance against slavery and the trafficking of liquor.  In other words, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was a strong movement in the region.

 ·         Theological education was considered to be important for the public leadership of the Lutheran Church in the synod.

 ·         The synod had ‘leanings’ toward the theological positions of the more moderate confessional stand of the General Synod over against the General Council.  The General Synod under the leadership of The Rev. Samuel Simon Schmucker tended toward becoming more like other Protestant churches, thus reflecting what some called an “American Lutheranism” – a modification of historic Lutheranism, “so as to infuse into it the vigor of Presbyterianism and the warmth of Methodism”.3

 ·         Open to working cooperatively with other Christian communions.

            The characteristics and qualities of this west central Pennsylvania territory and the earlier  traditions, piety and practices of Alleghany Synod Lutherans are most certainly reflected in the people who reside here today.  This 25th year of the most recent Allegheny Synod is a time to give thanks to God for all we have and all we are.  Unfortunately, we have a tendency to look back on what has been and act as if our best years are behind us.  Do not, however, be misled by that ‘stinkin thinkin’.  Remember, it is not in me or in you, but it is in Christ that we are always being made new … and for that reason I believe our best years are ahead of us.  Thank you my partners for your faithful ministry with me in the Allegheny Synod!

+Bishop Gregory R. Pile

 Endnotes

1 History of the Alleghany Evangelical Lutheran Synod

   One Body We

   One Body We – The Last Decade

  History of the Allegheny Synod – First Five Years

2 One Body We, Harold Dunkleberger, p. 18.

3 A Basic History of Lutheranism in America, A. R. Wentz, p. 131.