2015 Assembly


At the 2015 Assembly, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod articulated a new vision for what it means for the Synod, congregations and leaders to move Forward Together in Faith and launched a three-year capital appeal to allow us to live into that vision.

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Forward Together in Faith Launched

Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 1.22.25 PMAre we as a synod ready to make changes for the sake of the gospel? Are we ready to network, collaborate and share ideas? Are we ready to take risks and even fail? Are we ready to equip and empower congregations? The Assembly answered an enthusiastic “Yes!” to these questions from Forward Together in Faith Chair Ellen S. Daneke, St. Peter, Lafayette Hill.

Since Kairos and Associates presented findings from surveys of synod constituents and the Assembly approved moving ahead with this initiative last year, “there has been a lot more listening, discovering and learning…so that we can live into what God is dreaming for you,” said Jeff Kjellberg, owner of Kairos. “This is not the Synod’s vision for you. This is your vision.”

The vision encompasses:

  • Equipping our congregations’ lay and rostered leaders for innovative risk-taking to reach out beyond their walls and making the Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT) available to all who want it.
  • Innovating the birth of new ministries through the Synod and through congregations listening to their neighborhoods.
  • Communicating our stories more effectively by improving Synod technologies that link congregational leaders and equipping congregations in social media, web and electronic communications.
  • Networking lay and rostered leaders in new ways, using results of the CAT and by supporting local initiatives to partner with church and community groups.
  • Initiatives in these areas will take shape as funds are raised toward the campaign’s $2.5 million goal. In addition, funds raised will be tithed toward The Campaign for the ELCA.

Equipping. The Synod’s vision reflects the development of the 1st Century church, yet requires 21st Century creativity and imagination, especially in the area of equipping leaders, Kjellberg said. He described the process experienced by more than two dozen congregations so far taking the Congregational Assessment Tool (CAT), which has generated a lot of excitement. With funding from this appeal all congregations that want to will be able to use this tool. Teri Lanan of Trinity, Lansdale said that the CAT helped the congregation’s leaders understand why a capital appeal had stalled and how to readjust. Bishop Burkat said that “with the resources we raise in the next three years we will start a mission school to teach clergy and lay leaders how to take risks and to share successes and failures.” Raising additional scholarships to assist seminarians with education debt is also a top priority.

Innovating. “Innovators are willing to risk. Innovators have an innate ability to create something out of nothing,” said the Rev. Patricia Davenport, director for evangelical mission. “We are relentlessly focused on meeting the needs of people” through new Synod missions, like Living Gospel Ministries, a spiritual and helping community for formerly incarcerated persons. The campaign will help fund new mission starts and seed local initiatives. Congregations innovate through programs like Upper Dublin Lutheran Church’s God on Tap theology pub; St. Petri-Hope’s new Lydia’s Closet, which offers clothing and interview suits; and New Creation’s ministry with the poor, homeless and addicted under the bridges of Kensington. She pointed to collaboration in the Northeast Philadelphia Conference: “anytime you can get nine congregations to do one confirmation class, that is a new thing.” She noted the development of house churches and the innovative free arts and homework programs of Rhawnhurst Turning Point, a congregation/Synod/ELCA partnership. “Our young people are compelling us to (look at) the new, creative things.”

Communicating. “Fewer people (today) know what being a Lutheran is about, what God is about,” so the church must use new social media channels and devices and “figure out how to use them to share the gospel,” said the Rev. Keith Anderson of Upper Dublin Lutheran Church. The author of The Digital Cathedral said the church must find new ways to communicate to connect with people’s experience, and the process begins with listening. “The synod has been building a communications network of people in congregations to equip them to tell their stories… (and) help you listen to people in your digital and physical neighborhoods,” he said. The communications landscape is changing at an astonishing rate, said Bob Fisher, assistant to the bishop for communications. Campaign funds will help congregations to tell their stories and leverage digital media. “If we’re going to be successful in spreading the Gospel we all have to be part of telling our stories. People who won’t walk into the building on Sunday won’t follow a church Facebook page… but they know you.”

Networking. Equipping leaders, innovative ministries and communicating the gospel are woven together through networks, said Pastor Jim Goodyear from Gloria Dei, Huntingdon Valley. “Networking is a bunch of holy threads together. Often times it looks kind of messy,” he said, but “when you put it all together there is a whole lot of beauty,” he said. Forward Together in Faith will help the Synod and congregations create and expand networks, and link congregations according to shared passions and challenges. Welcome Church’s Welcome Threads project is both a funding stream and a network that includes artisans among people experiencing homelessness, a local artist and studio, and business students from Johns Hopkins. Resurrection, Yardley, pioneered the Lower Bucks Food Insecurity Alliance with other congregations, civic group and businesses. They do advocacy, prepare 500 breakfast boxes a week for hungry school children, and are committed to being a group of study and prayer. “No matter how big or how small your congregation is, together in partnership you can do more,” says Resurrection’s Diane Casey.

Prizes. To demonstrate the types of initiatives that could result from the funds raised by the Forward Together in Faith campaign, congregations represented at the Assembly could enter a raffle for one of four prizes in each of the campaign’s focus areas. Prizes and winners are:

  • Equipping: Dr. David Lose, LTSP president, preaching and leading a workshop on the 21st Century church, won by Christ, Pipersville
  • Innovating: A grant and support for a new ministry idea, won by Christ the King Lutheran Church of the Deaf, West Chester
  • Communicating: A professional communications and social media review and advice, won by Faith, Northeast Philadelphia
  • Networking: Taking the CAT and professional interpretation, won by Good Shepherd, Coatesville


Bishop’s Sermon: Unlocking the Future


The keys that enabled the Apostles to “unlock the power of the Holy Spirit and unleash their minds” for innovating, communicating, networking and equipping are available to each of us right now, Bishop Burkat said in her opening sermon. As we unlock our ministries, congregations, communities, and individuals are revitalized.


“In Baptism We Belong Before We Believe”

In baptism we belong before we believe,” so it’s critical for the church to pay attention to relationships, the bishop said in her address. “It is a holy privilege, this calling of being the church. What more can we do? And how can we be? Where can we go? And don’t you want to go together?”


“What a Great Job We Are Doing”

“Despite fewer people who may be engaging in our churches, less money to work with, and closing of some of our congregations, we are still reaching out to change the lives of people and make a difference in our communities,” said Vice President Tracey Beasley. She lifted up the work of churches that are fighting hunger by starting community food pantries and gardens, running prayer shawl ministries, holding pet blessings and establishing vibrant youth ministries. Of special note was the work of Faith Immanuel, East Lansdowne and Good Shepherd, Coatesville, raising awareness, money and supplies to respond to the Ebola crisis. “High-five somebody,” she said. “What a great job we are doing.”


Richard Elected Secretary

Newly elected Secretary, the Rev. Karl Richard (right) with Bishop Burkat, outgoing Secretary the Rev. Raymond A. Miller (second from left), and his predecessor, the Rev. Larry V. Smoose (left).

Newly elected Secretary, the Rev. Karl Richard (right) with Bishop Burkat, outgoing Secretary the Rev. Raymond A. Miller (second from left), and his predecessor, the Rev. Larry V. Smoose (left).

The Rev. Karl Richard was elected as Synod Secretary to succeed the Rev. Raymond A. Miller.

Pastor Richard, of St. Matthew’s, Springfield, says he wants to do the work of the secretary “because I enjoy being part of each expression of the church. I enjoy being a parish pastor and also being part of the broader church.”

In the second ballot Saturday morning, Richard received 149 votes to 132 for the Rev. William Vanderslice, then dean of the Upper Montgomery conference.


Congregational Giving Continues Upswing

14MissionSuppCongregations’ mission support offerings to the larger church totaled $2.148 million in 2014, the second year in a row of slight increases, turning around a long decline, Treasurer Janet Neff said. Fifty percent of mission support is sent to the ELCA for churchwide ministries. View slides

More than half of congregations (81) maintained or increased mission support. Twenty-seven congregations offered 10 percent or more of their regular receipts, while 21 provide no support to the Synod or ELCA. Total receipts of $3.713 million exceeded expenses by $226,000.

The Assembly approved a 2016 budget of $3.174 million. The budget is not about dollars, said the Rev. Karl Richard, finance committee chair, but about people and what we will do in ministry. The budget anticipates a shortfall of $181,000.


ELCA Partnership Remains Strong

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Bouman, executive director of the ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, addresses the 2015 Synod Assembly.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Bouman, executive director of the ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, addresses the 2015 Synod Assembly.

The Rev. Dr. Stephen Bouman, executive director of the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit of the ELCA, gave a churchwide update by opening with a reflection on a comment his grandfather made once when fishing together, “The only death to be afraid of is already behind you in baptism.” Bouman related his grandfather’s comment to John 5:1-9, where Jesus asked the man at the pool at Bethesda, “Do you want to be made well?” He suggested the church needs to be asking that same question of itself. He believes the Synod is saying “Yes” and, like the man at Bethesda, Jesus is telling the church to stand up and “take up your mat.”

He noted that the Forward Together in Faith campaign is proof that we are already getting up and doing things together. He thanked the Synod on behalf of the ELCA and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton for our support of the churchwide organization, which amounts to 50 percent of the mission support offered by congregations. He noted, of the 53 new congregations and 363 new ministries under development across the ELCA, a number are happening in our synod, including Welcome Church, Living Gospel Ministries, and Rhawnhurst Turning Point.


Sendoffs for Joanne Carlson, Secretary Ray Miller

The Carlson extended family gathers around Joanne as she is honored for 25 years of service.

The Carlson extended family gathers around Joanne as she is honored for 25 years of service.

The Assembly gave a long, standing ovation to Joanne Carlson, assistant to the bishop for global vision and events, who is retiring in July after coordinating 25 Synod assemblies. “Joanne has a truly missionary heart,” the bishop said of her service representing SEPA to companion synods in Tanzania and the Czech Republic. The extended Carlson family, led by grandchildren carrying a banner that read “We love our Nana,” stood with Joanne.

Secretary Ray Miller with Bishop Burkat and Vice President Tracey Beasley.

Secretary Ray Miller with Bishop Burkat and Vice President Tracey Beasley.

Bishop Burkat and Vice President Tracey Beasley honored outgoing Secretary the Rev. Raymond Miller for his 16 years of service to the Synod including as many assemblies and 80 Synod Council and executive committee meetings. “He may look quiet and unassuming sitting on the podium at Synod Assembly or taking notes at Synod Council, but he is a super hero in his expertise in all things constitutional, rational and theological,” the bishop said. “Ray is scarily patient, wise, thoughtful, deliberate and courageous. His keen mind and quick thinking can give lightening perspective and insight in areas of discussions which are perplexing to mere mortals.”


Global Connections

Susan MacPherson (left), with husband Tom, displays a "welcome home" gift.

Susan MacPherson (left), with husband Tom, displays a “welcome home” gift.

We said “Karibou” to missionaries Susan and Tom MacPherson of St. John, Mayfair, who were welcomed home from an extended three-year service at the Irente Children’s Home in Tanzania. “God was there waiting for us,” Tom said, recalling that the Synod theme the year they were sent was Plant it. Water it. Watch it grow.

When the MacPhersons came there three years ago, Tom asked the villagers how to plant cabbage. He was told to draw a line in the dirt and drop the seeds in. The result was lots and lots of cabbage, much more than they expected, more than enough to share. In the same way, the seeds of love that the MacPhersons helped to plant, watered with the help of SEPA synod, support the growth of the Irente Children’s Home, the Irente School for the Blind, and many other initiatives, large and small.


Bishop Burkat presents Susan Pursch with a gift honoring her service to our SEKOMU partnership.

Bishop Burkat presents Susan Pursch with a gift honoring her service to our SEKOMU partnership.

Ten years ago, Susan Pursch heard of the dream of building a college in Tanzania that would serve individuals with special needs. Joanne Carlson and Bishop Almquist suggested Susan lead a new coordinating committee. First came ground breaking and renovation of old buildings in disrepair. Roads were cleared. Within a year curriculum was created, faculty hired, an IT lab built, using over $400,000 raised by SEPA synod. Ten years later, Sebastian Kolowa Memorial University (SEKOMU) focuses on serving people was disabilities, training graduates to work with people with physical and intellectual challenges.   Now it is a university with 1500 graduates. Susan was invited to speak at SEKOMU graduation, along with the president of Tanzania.



Pastoral Transition Process Reviewed

A15_transitionchartMuch discussion was sparked when the Resolution Task Force reviewed and affirmed the current process on Transitional Ministry. Acknowledging that not every transition is smooth, the task force reported confidence in the current process and recommended ways to increase its effectiveness. “Communication is so important. Everybody in the lay leadership needs to be brought in so you don’t feel like what is going on is other people’s decisions,” said Teri Lanan, chair of the Resolution Task Force. Bishop Burkat closed the conversation with an affirmation that the Synod will continue to discern and support “the best and most faithful process for our congregations.”


Congregation Anniversaries

Introduction of Candidates

Report from LTSP

Luther 2017 Report


Resolutions Approved

The Assembly adopted a World Hunger resolution affirming the work of the Hunger Ministry Team in working to engender congregational support of and advocacy for food insecurity issues and fostering collaboration toward eliminating hunger in our region.

Also approved was a resolution declaring “solidarity with fellow Christians everywhere and all people persecuted for their faith” and encouraging congregations “to promote reconciliation that ends persecution.”

Also approved was the document, “Sabbaticals: Extended Study and Renewal, Guidelines for Implementation (April 2014),” as presented at the synod’s 2014 assembly. watch video



Synod Council, Clergy

Rev. William Rex

Rev. Tyler Rasmussen


Synod Council, Lay

Robert Hensil, at-large

Susan Pursch, at-large

Joyce Maloney, Central Phila. Conference representative

Henry Strobel, youth

Upper Bucks Conference representative had no nominations, referred to Synod Council.


Churchwide Assembly, Clergy

Rev. Sandra Brown

Rev. Moses Dennis

Rev. Ben Krey

Rev. Marissa Krey

Rev. Jennifer Ollikainen

Rev. Carlton Rodgers


Churchwide Assembly, Lay

Joyce Brown Adams

Emily Fowler, youth

Charles Horn

Jill Meuser

Douglas Parry, young adult

Susan Pursch

Tom Salber

Karl Segletes

Sandra Zimmerman


Synod Assembly Media Team

Prepared by SEPA Communications Assembly Media Team.
Director: Bob Fisher.
Writers: Bob Fisher, John Kahler, Rev. Katherine Cartwright Knodel, Elise Seyfried, Mark Staples, Patty Burger.
Editorial assistance: Jane Jorgensen.
Social Media: Jen Sandmann, Sarah Self, Virginia Woodbury (One Mile Creative).
Photos: Rev. Jesse Brown, writing and social media teams.
Video: Ken Selinger/CCI Communications, Bob Fisher, John Kahler, Dan Scharnhorst, Jane Jorgensen, Rev. Jesse Brown.
Production: Steve Selinger/CCI Communications and crew, Wynne Fisher, Gerry Derstine, Dave Alburger.
Powerpoint: Carrie Johnston, Jessica Smith, Doug Parry, Emily Fowler.
Mission Center: Ann Wong, John Woehr III, Patty Burger.

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Track your Synod Assembly experience in one place with the 2015 SEPA Assembly guide in the ELCA app. The guide is available for iOS and Android devices. Just go to your app store and find and install the free ELCA Organizations & Events app. Open the app and tap Get your first guide, then tap 2015 SEPA Synod Assembly near the top of the list to download the guide. After the guide downloads, tap the banner to enter the app.

This app allows you to download, store and access assembly documents and schedules in one convenient place. You can annotate documents, make notes, follow Facebook and Twitter and share photos with other app uses right inside this app. Questions? Contact .


Watch this page for updates from the Assembly when it is in session. Download pre-Assembly materials below.

Pre-Assembly Reports

Resolution Task Force on Transitional Ministry Report

Resolution 1

Resolution 2