To the Saints of the Allegheny Synod, ELCA

Grace and Peace to you in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One theme I have been holding up during our ministry together is that Jesus Christ is with us and that makes all the difference. In our Fall Conference meetings, we explored this idea through John 6 where we heard St. John’s version of our Lord Jesus feeding the 5,000. When we reflected on this we saw that our Lord Jesus takes what we have, and makes it sufficient. Jesus uses our gifts, skills, talents and abilities and through them works to meet the needs of this hurting world. We are making a difference because Christ is here and Jesus Christ is making a difference in these Allegheny hills and valleys and is letting us take part in his work of healing and loving this world.

                I therefore want to celebrate something we have done here in our Synod and invite you to take part in two upcoming projects.

                25,000 Can Challenge

                What I want to celebrate with you is the great work that you accomplished in the Advent through Super Bowl Sunday, 25,000 Can Challenge. As you know we worked together to see if we could gather food items and other necessaries to support our local food banks, agencies, and ministries that seek to feed and care for people in our region. You probably know by now that we greatly exceeded out goal of 25,000 items gathered and came in with a grand total of over 36,000 food items collected to care for those in need around us. I put this number as over 36,000 because as of writing this letter we still have some congregations sending in totals.

                What was exciting for me was how excited our churches got around this issue. Our office manager, Michelle Bossler, got constant calls wanting to update congregational totals and to ask what our current totals were.  The vast majority of our congregations did participate, and what was wonderful to see was when some of our smaller congregations would take this project and run with it and get collection totals closing in on 1000 items. Clearly, this project hit a nerve, in a good way, and got some excitement going.

I hope that all of us can celebrate what we were able to do together. It was a very good project and though we enjoyed taking part, the beneficiaries are our friends and neighbors in need. We do all of this because we follow the Lord who calls us to be people of mercy and goodness, and who share out of what we have first been given. I thank God for the wonderful success of this project and for all of you who took part in reaching out and caring for our neighbors.

                The two upcoming projects are about helping us help others. I hope that you will join us in both as both are relatively simple, but could have unforeseen benefit for our congregations, our Synod, and our communities.

                Pray for the Church

The first is I invite you to pray for your congregation and our Synod throughout the season of Lent and the Season of Easter. I think we greatly undervalue the power of prayer. We greatly underestimate what can happen when we continue to lift before God the concerns and the desires of our hearts. We are already in the season of Lent and therefore this could be something you easily add to your Lenten Discipline. I ask you to join me each day in asking God to bless your congregation and ask God to bless and lead our Allegheny Synod. As you pray, you may consider challenges you hope the Lord will help your congregation with, or you might lift up places and opportunities you would like to see the congregation head. Either way, if you pray for your congregation and our Synod things will happen. Either those challenges may start to get unstuck, or the Lord will change you to the place that you may be able to offer help and leadership to move the congregation and Synod forward. Also, if you don’t do it already, please pray for your pastor. They really need it.



‘Week’ of Christian Service

We had such success with our Can Challenge, I invite you to see what we can accomplish together when we work together to help our communities.  On the ‘week’ leading up to Pentecost, Saturday May 16th - Pentecost Sunday May 24th, I welcome all congregations to participate in a time of service and outreach to our community. Over this nine-day ‘week’, I invite congregations to involve themselves in a service project which will benefit people beyond the doors of the church. This project doesn’t have to involve the entire week set aside. We know that Saturdays and Sundays are better for most of us and therefore want to give us two weekends to work with. 

What kind of project are we hoping for? It could be anything that helps the neighbor or the world. If there is a local park that needs to be cleaned up that would be wonderful. If there is a local nursing facility where the kids could go sing Christmas in May carols that is great. If you have a fire hall or a police station in your area, I would suspect that those men and women would love cookies or notes of encouragement from your congregation. If you have people whose physical mobility is limited, maybe you could gather and write notes of encouragement to our soldiers. Anything is possible. If there is a rule, it would simply be – let us all do something to benefit and reach out in love to people around us. What you do can be as complicated or simple as you would like to make it.

The Synod office will have information coming to your congregations and to your leaders in the near future about this project. We also hope that you will let us know what you are doing and possibly send pictures that we could share with the rest of our Synod.  More information to come.

All in all, I think that the Can Challenge shows us what we can do when we work together. I hope we can find more ways to do this and to celebrate how our Lord is working with us and through us. Please join in remembering your congregation and our Synod in prayer, and let us see what God will do with us when we reach out together in May. 

May God bless and keep you now and always

+Bishop Michael