Some 274 voting members and visitors gathered June 9-10 at Luther College in Decorah for the 2023 Northeastern Iowa Synod Assembly, with the theme “Growing Together in Faith, Hope and Love.” Seventy percent of the voting members were laity and 30 percent were rostered ministers.
Voting members adopted five resolutions:
- Minimum Compensation Guidelines for 2024 & 2025
- Mission Goals for 2024/2025 and Synod Spending Plan for 2025/2026
- Amendments to the Northeastern Iowa Synod Constitution
- Efforts to address barriers to people of color in the call process
- Synod-wide Greenhouse Gas Emission Goals
In addition, voting members elected new committee members, Synod Council members, and voting members and alternatives to attend the 2025 Churchwide Assembly.
Around 140 people attended the optional Friday night activities, which included opening worship service with Pastor Kristen Rod preaching.
Saturday’s activities included an opening prayer service, ministry exhibits and three plenary sessions with resolutions, elections, reports, recognitions, keynote presentations, and video greetings. Bishop Kevin Jones preached at the closing worship service. A video version of his sermon was made available for congregations to use for their own Sunday worship service after the assembly.
Highlighting the assembly’s “Growing Together” theme, Bishop Jones shared how the Northeastern Iowa Synod and church can grow in ways other than attendance and engagement numbers.
Jones shared that since its beginning 35 years ago, ELCA membership has declined from 5 million to 3 million. Jones cited some contributing factors, including disaffiliations, declining population and birth rates, and an aging demographic. As a result, some communities in this synod are considering end-of-life options for their congregations.
“We need to be able to see these as faithful finishes, not failures,” Jones said. “At the synod office we have a number of resources to help such congregations.”
With a commitment to sharing the Gospel of Christ and caring for people in the world, Jones said the church and its members have an opportunity to grow in other ways. “Discovering and creating opportunities to partner in ministry where we used to compete with one another is essential for the days and years ahead.”
As the synod moves to holding synod assemblies every two years rather than annually, Jones said that partnerships with people, conferences and networks can help new ministries get started quicker, and he plans to work with the Synod Council to look at some of those options.
Jones lifted up the partnerships this synod has with the Southeastern Iowa and Eastern Iowa Synods, such as supporting outdoor camping ministries and college campus ministries and riding together in RAGBRAI to highlight anti-hunger ministries and raise $50,000 for ELCA World Hunger. He invited the assembly attendees to use the pledge cards in their registration packets to support this effort.
Jill Beverlin, program manager for ELCA Coaching Ministry, brought greetings from the churchwide organization and a video report about the ways that the church is stronger together and how the Northeastern Iowa Synod is part of that.
- In 2022, this synod gave $363,423 to the ELCA for Mission Support, $320,767 for Lutheran Disaster Response, and $261,054 to ELCA World Hunger.
- ELCA Domestic Hunger Grants have supported the ministries of three Northeastern Iowa Synod congregations over the past three years: St. John’s, Dubuque; Our Saviour’s, Mason City; and St. John’s, Guttenberg.
- The 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly authorized the formation of the Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church to reconsider the statements of purpose that make up the church, and the Rev. Dr. Kristin Largen, president of Wartburg Theological Seminary, is one of 35 members serving on it.
“It is easy to see the plethora of ways you are all joining in God’s mission of loving and healing the world.,” Beverlin told the assembly. “This report from the churchwide lens has only scratched the surface of the good fruit you are bringing to bear.”
Three presentations focused on stories related to the assembly’s faith, hope and love theme.
GROWING IN FAITH
Pastor Kim and Diane Wills of Zion-St. John, Sheffield, shared about the community support and faith in God that guided the development of the West Fork Food Pantry. What started in 2016 as a mobile food pantry at Zion-St. John serving 16 families each month grew into a free-standing permanent food pantry that now serves 150 families each month.
Pastor Wills said that he and Diane were there representing a lot of wonderful volunteers and five congregations from two different denominations. They learned a lot on their journey together, but Wills said three things stood out: “We have to be willing to listen to God and to one another. We have to have open and caring hearts and third, we have to follow Christ, always.”
Diane added that listening for God is often through other people, and hearing the word “yes” can be even harder than hearing “no.” “When God says yes, you’ve got to have a wiling heart. You’ve got to be willing to say, hey, we can do this.”
GROWING IN HOPE
Beverlin shared about the ELCA coaching ministry and how it can lead people to a new sense of hope and a deeper way of serving. The coaching theology is based on Jesus’s walk to Emmaus, in which Jesus walked alongside the disciples, listened to them and expanded their understanding.
“Jesus helps them see where God’s resurrection power was at work in their circumstances,” Beverlin said. “This conversation transformed their grief and doubt, bringing new hope and compelling them to action,”
Beverlin told how coaching brought hope into her own life when her 20-year-old son died ten years ago. A friend connected her to an ELCA coach and through their conversations, Beverlin said she was able to name the depth of her pain and find hope for her to live and engage in life in some meaningful way.
“My coach helped me realize that because my eyes open today, there was more that God was inviting me to do. And slowly but surely, that got me out of my own grave clothes and started me on a path which led me to being with you here today.”
GROWING IN LOVE
Pastor Beth Olson of St. John Bennington, Waterloo, shared about the love and support that she and her family received from her congregation in response to her husband’s injury, hospitalization and death earlier this year.
Congregation President Jeff Seamans told Olson at the time to take the time she needed to be with her family, which ended up being more than two months during the busy Lenten season. The congregation arranged for worship leadership through synod staff and supply pastors and continued Sunday morning education. They took care of the pastor and her family with food drop offs, visits, cards, and paid emergency family medical leave.
“Because of the council’s decision to care for us as they did with grace and generosity of heart and wallet, I had less to worry about and more energy to put into our family when we got Bob home,” Olson said. “We had three good weeks together.”
Seamans told the assembly that this was an opportunity for the congregation to walk the walk and show appreciation for another in need. “In this case, it was a member of our leadership team, someone that we often lean on in our times of greatest need. We were given an awesome opportunity to share God’s love.”
GIFTS & OFFERINGS
Thank you to the congregations that brought family care kits and other items to support Lutherans Services in Iowa’s Early Childhood Services program.
As of June 19, 2023, the Synod Assembly offering has collected more than $6,280 to support the H. George Anderson Fund for Leaders and the Bishop’s Crisis Fund. Offering gifts can still be made online through the donate button below or by sending a check to: Northeastern Iowa Synod, 201 20th St. SW, P.O. Box 804 Waverly, IA 50677-0804.
MINISTRY FESTIVAL 2024
Bishop Jones thanked everyone for attending this year’s Synod Assembly and announced that the next assembly will be in 2025, with the date yet to be announced.
Next year, the synod will host its first Ministry Festival with workshops, service opportunities, networking, worship and more for anyone from all the congregations to attend. Jones asked people to contact the synod office with suggestions for workshops they would like at that festival and the names of people who they think would be good to lead workshops.
The festival will be at Wartburg College in Waverly in June 2024, with the date yet to be confirmed.
2023 SYNOD ASSEMBLY RESOURCES