2011 Assembly

Under the theme “The Once and Future Church,” The 2011 Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly looked ahead to the faith needs of the millennial generation, reached back to heal an historic rift with Mennonites, and discussed the new realities in which the church is currently living.

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‘We are Ambassadors of Reconciliation’

SA11BishopSermonAll this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the ministry of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

In her sermon during worship, Bishop Claire Burkat opened the 2011 assembly of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod reminding those present of their vocation as ambassadors of reconciliation for Christ.

“Think of the implications of this in your role as a Christian,” she said. “You are, in the eyes of the Church, an official of the highest rank representing Christ himself.”

While most of us do not have credentials to serve as “ambassadors,” Burkat indicated that it is the particular contexts in which we live, work, and serve that make us perfect for the job because we are each positioned at the center of a unique constellation of local human networks.


Living in the Present Tense

“Our lives as we once knew them are changing,” said Bishop Claire Burkat in her Friday night address to the Assembly. “Our church … (and) our world as we once knew it is changing.”

She reminded those gathered that the mission we’re engaged in is God’s, not ours. Throughout the Bible God led people of faith through anxious and unsettling times. The Hebrews exiting Egypt had no idea where God was leading them. How could those witnessing the crucifixion possibly appreciate the world-changing, culture-crushing, faith-forming, and life-transforming event they were witnessing?

“No one knows what this century will bring.  But we do know this…It’s God’s mission, the resurrected Lord Jesus is Lord of the cosmos, and we can be sure that the Holy Spirit is guiding us, even when we don’t have a map for the journey,” Burkat said.

Millennial Ministry

Rodger Nishioka

Rodger Nishioka

Ministry with the generation aged 10-30 today “looks more like the church of the 1stand 2nd Centuries” than the institution of the 1960s that many leaders fondly recall, saidDr. Rodger Nishioka, a professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia and an expert in the faith of young adults.

Instead of catering to a dwindling tribe of insiders, the church has the opportunity to reach out to religious “immigrants” who “have no experience with the church,” Nishioka said.  Research shows that youth and young adults are hungry for spiritual experience rather than religious knowledge, and are open to the mysteries of faith when presented in ways that resonate with them.

Nishioka outlined a number of trends among millennials that challenge the church to change. For example, this generation is looking for authentic, gifted leaders and doesn’t rely on academic credentials.  Also the rapidly pace of change this generation has grown up with forces organizations to shift focus from long-term to short-term plans.  Seekers are looking for real experience of faith, not just a tradition to join.  This generation is also hostile to traditional mass evangelism but is open to one-on-one invitations, he said.


Dr. Rodger Nishioka on millennials and how they approach life and faith.

Dr. Rodger Nishioka on trends among millennials that challenge the church.


Reconciled Communities in Christ

The Assembly opened with Lutherans and Mennonites receiving bread and wine and distributing the elements side-by-side, and a time of reconciliation marking Lutheran repentance for the sins of our 16th Century ancestors who persecuted and murdered Anabaptists because of doctrinal differences.

SA11MennoniteBishop Burkat made an emotional apology on behalf of the Synod to Pastor Charles Ness, a Franconia Mennonite Conferencepastor who has been involved in the global Anabaptist reconciliation movement. She then presented him with a pitcher, basin, and towel representing the washing away of past sins.

In his own emotional acceptance of the gifts, Pastor Ness said, “These words and actions today point to the truth that the Kingdom of God is more than denominational labels and distinctions. Through these confessions I believe that Christ will heal the wounds of history and free us to become whole persons and spiritually renewed churches.”

Financial Matters

The Assembly approved a balanced $2.54 million budget for 2012. After completing several years with deficits that depleted the Synod’s Fund for Mission and with a continuing decline in partnership support gifts from congregations, the finance committee and Synod Council decided to present a balanced budget for 2012, said The Rev. Christopher Weidner, finance chair.

On the revenue side, the budget anticipates that partnership support income, which makes up 90 percent of the synod’s revenues, will not significantly increase from 2010 levels. Last year, partnership support income again fell below the total received in 1985. Partnership support as a percentage of congregations’ regular income was about half what it was in 1985, Weidner said. To reduce expenses, the Synod eliminated two staff positions in March, and another staff position will be voluntarily reduced to half time this summer.

The Assembly also elected Janet Neff, C.P.A., as treasurer to succeed Dick Reimet, who stepped down after 32 years.  Reimet will continue to handle property matters for the Synod.

The Rev. Chris Weidner presents the 2012 budget to the Assembly on May 7, 2011. The budget was adopted as presented.

Dick Reimet gives his 32nd and final treasurer’s report, and is honored by Bishop Burkat.


Commissioned for Mission

SA11MacPhersonsSurrounded by family, friends, and congregations supporting ministry in Tanzania, Tom and Susan MacPherson were commissioned by Joanne Carlson, Assistant to the Bishop for Global Vision, and Bishop Burkat, to serve as volunteer missionaries at the Children’s Home in Irente, Tanzania.

“We did not wake up one morning and say to each other let’s be missionaries,” said Tom. “On the contrary, I was trying to plan for our future. I thought I was in control. Boy, was I wrong.”

He told of how a visit in 2008 to Tanzania with their home congregation, St. John’s in Mayfair, changed their lives as they were touched by the depth of the people’s love for God.

The Assembly also formally received New Life Ministries as a new congregation, which formed a year ago from a merger of Calvary and Immanuel in West Philadelphia.


Other Business

The Synod re-elected The Rev. Raymond Miller as Secretary.  Miller, pastor of St. John, Quakertown, has served since 1999.

Other election results:

Treasurer – Janet Neff
Synod Council – Clergy: Sandra Brown (2014), Charles Leonard (2014),Christopher Weidner (2014)
Synod Council – Lay Woman at Large: Jill Meuser (2014)
Synod Council – Lay Male at Large: Fred Brown (2014)
Synod Council – Chester Conference Representative (Male): Rodman Rothermel (2014)
Synod Council – Lower Bucks Conference Representative (Male): Walter Shultz (2014)
Synod Council – Youth (Male): Malcolm Davis (2013)
Synod Council – Young Adult (Male): Brandon Starnes (2013)
Synod Council — Lower Montgomery Conference Representative (Female): Referred to Synod Council
Synod Council — Upper Montgomery Conference Representative (Male): Referred to Synod Council

The Assembly passed a resolution encouraging congregations to modelenvironmental stewardship by auditing and reducing their energy use, and encouraging members to use less energy in their homes. The resolution also calls on the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to challenge all congregations to reduce energy use by 5 percent a year, with an ultimate goal of reducing overall emissions by 35-40 percent by 2020.

The Assembly also passed a resolution urging congregations to join or create programs to prevent bullying in the church and to combat its effects in schools and other areas of culture.

The Assembly passed a resolution acknowledging 2011 as the International Year for People of African Descent, as well as one reinforcing the Synod’santi-racism practices.


Credits  Prepared by the SEPA Assembly Communications Team

Robert W. Fisher
Assistant to the Bishop
Mission Interpretation

Writers: Rev. Sue Lang, Marjorie Miller, Bob Fisher

Photos: Rev. Jesse Brown
Videos by CCI


Assembly reports and materials

As part of the Synod’s ongoing effort to use our resources wisely and become more “green”, the Bulletin of Reports will not be printed for every member but are available online below.

Bulletin of Reports