Synodical Mission Support

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Allegheny Synod,

Grace and Peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our last edition of the Lutheran Letter came out on the heels of our Allegheny Synod Assembly. My intention for that article had been to talk about our Synod Mission Support, which was a major topic of conversation at our Assembly. Then, as you know, we had the tragedy in Charleston and that was the focus of my article in the last edition.

For this issue I would like to talk with you about our Synodical Mission Support. This was a major topic of discussion at our Assembly, and I believe it was good and fruitful discussion. We have many good and wonderful things that are going on in our Synod, but we also have some challenges before us. The challenge is that it is time now to focus, or refocus, ourselves on supporting our congregations and our Synod.
Mission Support is the total of the financial gifts that a congregation gives to our Synod for the work we are called to do together. These funds make it possible for the committees and staff of our Synod to work to support the ministry and mission of our congregations. Examples of the work our Synod does and that you support are, we search for and find pastors and Associates in Ministry for congregations and work to support these rostered leaders in their call. We support the ongoing ministries of our partners like Sequanota and ALSM financially. We work to bring together our Synod Assembly. We have committees that work on our relationship with the Global Church. We work with people who are discerning God’s call to ministry and walk with them through the years of their Seminary training with our Candidacy Committee. We are blessed that we have many people who may not feel called to be a rostered leader in the church but want to serve. We are thankful that our Synod is able to train and utilize our Authorized Lay Leaders through our DYD program. We celebrate with congregations in their joys. We work with congregations through their sorrows and sometimes through their conflict. All the work that we do as the Synod is about finding ways that we can support each other and be about Christ’s mission in these Allegheny hills and valleys together. Half of the mission support dollars that comes into our Synod supports these projects and ongoing work in our Synod.

The other half of our Mission Support is shared with the national church to support the work that we do together as the ELCA. Those funds go forward to support the varied and exciting ministries that we can do when we work together as a national church. It is good to recognize that a sizable investment in ministry comes back to our Synod from the ELCA. Pastor Tim Knauss serves as our Director of Evangelical Mission. Half of his salary plus a grant of $15,000 comes back to our Synod from the ELCA for the work of extending and supporting ministries.

In addition, our church supports missionaries and trains young people for global service mission work. We support our companion synods around the world, people like our sisters and brothers of the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church. We work to feed people around the world and to provide clean and accessible water. We work for peace and justice in places like the Holy Land. Together we work to start new churches and support their new ministries. Many of you have worked with and collected funds for the ELCA Malaria campaign. As the national church we support hospitals and medical missions across the world. We help train new leaders and support their education. We can do a lot when we work together.

I want to hold up something that we should all celebrate about our church and our work together. Lutherans are very good when disasters strike. Our church is usually one of the first ones in. We dives in with response to the initial disaster, but then is known for doing the long hard work of the rebuilding, the redevelopment, and the work of helping people re-stabilize their lives.

That is some of what mission support does. Locally it helps your neighbors, it goes to support your church and your sisters and brothers down the street. When combined with the resources of all of the church we change people’s lives for the better. That is what we do together.

The issue then that we discussed at our Allegheny Synod Assembly, is that over the past 11 years we have seen a consistent downturn in the mission support that comes in for the work of our Synod. Since 2004, we have seen mission support for our Synod decrease by $20,000 - $25,000 a year. When this started it was a downturn and our budget could absorb the loss. As this went on, we had to begin cutting some of the programs we have in our Synod. Eventually we had to reduce support to our ministry partners. Finally we had to eliminate support to most of our partners except Camp Sequanota and Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries. We have cut and cut back. As I told the Assembly, we are at the point now where we are running out of things to cut.

It is kind of like being in a boat. If you have a small leak you can put up with it for a while. If you get an inch of water in, you can tolerate that. But eventually if you don’t change coarse or plug the leaks, then your boat is going under. We are at the place now where we still have time to plug some holes and turn this thing around. But it is going to take us working together. I do not think the boat is going to sink. I do not think we are going down. I just think we have some work to do.

Let me be clear. My first concern is for the mission support that we give to our congregations. A major reason that Mission Support to our Synod has seen a down turn is because Mission Support and offerings to many of our congregations has decreased in the last decade. Please understand we can only be healthy as we work together to first strengthen our support of our congregations, and then through that support we prop up the work we do together.

Here is the good news. Turning the budget around is not as difficult as we might think. An example of how underwhelming a problem this is can be found in one strategy we might have to fix it. The Allegheny Synod averages 8,100 people in church on any given Sunday. If each of us gave just one dollar a month to support the mission of our Synod, we would have an additional $97,200 a year to support and extend the mission of the church. That is just one more dollar a month. I use that illustration to show that this is a problem that we can solve together.

The other piece of this is that many of us think that we might be able to increase our contribution a little bit, but then wonder what difference an extra $10 a month might make. But remember that we are not alone in our work. If we have 40 people in our congregation, and each of us gave $10 more dollars to our congregations, that is $400 a month and $4800 a year. That would make a huge difference in many of our churches. We don’t have to sell the farm and give everything to the church. What we want to do is try to take a little step. Try each year to reach out and share a little more. When all of us do that, then we get where we need to go.
So I am telling you that we are doing to be talking about stewardship and the need to support the mission our Synod does together. This is not going to be a six month program. This is going to be a point of focus from here on out. It is not my favorite thing. I don’t like to talk about money any more than you do. I really want to spend all my time talking about Jesus Christ, that is my favorite thing to do.

But we need to do this. It is time for us to work together to take the steps and support the work we do together.
Here is what you are going to get from our Synod as we move forward. We are going to be intentional about the importance of mission support and telling the story of what we are doing together. We are looking at some pilot programs for intentional stewardship training which we can offer to our rostered leaders – the particular program and training we are looking at has seen positive results in other Synods. We are working with several congregations to test some congregational stewardship education and programs to see what might work best in our Synod. Our Synod Finance team continues to see if there are things we can do on our end to help manage the funds we have, and to use our resources to best support our mission. We are going to work to learn how to understand that our generosity, our giving, our support of the mission of the church is part of the way we work to help those in need and share the love of Christ with this world.

We can get there everybody. I have no doubt about it. Since we talked about this issue at the Allegheny Synod Assembly we have already seen an slight increase in our Mission Support. We are not out of the woods yet but we are heading in the right direction.

The reason I am telling you is that the one response we continued to get at Assembly from people was that, “I had no idea we had a challenge with mission support.” I want to make sure you know that we are facing a challenge but we are working on it together. Together we will meet this challenge, plug the holes, and move forward together. I am confident of that, because Jesus Christ still has a mission for us in these Allegheny hills and valleys.

I pray that Jesus will hold you and keep you, and that you will know the presence of the living Lord.

In his most Holy name,
+Bishop Michael