2023 Synod Assembly

The family portrait: Bishop Davenport gathers Synod staff and deans, council members, rostered ministers and voting members during the Assembly on Saturday.

We are grateful

that the saints of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod could again meet in person for Synod Assembly after four long years. The energy and spirit was uplifting as long-time friends greeted one another and new connections were made. The stories of our creative and sustaining partnerships in ministry were shared on screen, around Mission Center tables, and in countless conversations. Read on for highlights from this year’s assembly.


Bishop’s Keynote

Transformed to Make a Difference

In her address for the 2023 Synod Assembly, Bishop Patricia A. Davenport of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA expressed her delight that the Assembly was able to meet in-person again after four years of the pandemic. She asked the gathering how they have been taking care of themselves during this time. She noted she enters each year discerning a bible passage that will guide her year.

This year, the scripture is Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” 

“Church, God is doing something new in each one of us. I genuinely believe we must be open to change, because in the renewing of our minds, we realize that the church is changing, and as followers of Jesus, we must adapt,” Davenport said.

She told the Assembly that our theme is a reminder that expresses that our acts of faith change the world as Christ has changed each of us, even as the world seeks to lure us into a false sense of security according to the world’s standards. Thankfully, we have learned to be agile.


Read more

“God’s work. Our hands. We are transformed by faith to go into the world and make a difference. To bring hope to those who question, ‘where’s the faith?’ To show God’s love in our words and deeds. To be reminders of God’s healing presence in our broken world.”

“For example, the isolation and chaos of the pandemic taught us we could adapt and share God’s love in community with on-line worship. We learned to show love for ourselves and others by wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. As our world has become more racially and ethnically diverse, we have had to learn to love a neighbor who we have had limited contact with in our lives. We know that poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and other challenges are facing so many people today. As people of faith, we found there is a need for us to accompany them as they try to cope with the struggles in their lives,” said Davenport.

We continue to live amid the ongoing struggles of Covid, climate change, mass shootings, Racism, sexism, ageism, widening wealth gaps, and war and unrest in Ukraine, South Sudan and France.

Davenport reflected upon the words of President John F. Kennedy, Jr., who  in his inaugural speech challenged every American to work for the common good when he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

She also lifted up the words of Amanda Gorman and her poem, Hymn for the Hurting, which she wrote after the mass shooting at the Uvalde and a subsequent shooting.

“Beloved, in the hurts of the world, we are renewed in God’s Word and transformed by love to serve in faith,” said Davenport.

“This is God’s will, that we share in the faith and transform together as community,“ she added.

She pointed out that through the Synod’s Ministry Link website the question was asked: “How Are You Serving Your Community? How is your congregation being transformed to serve?” Congregations responded, and several examples were shared with the Assembly:

  • Reformation, Media, and their emphasis on a culture of generosity and stewardship.
  • Trinity, Lansdale, for their focus on the sharing of time and talents by volunteering to assist elementary school students whose grades suffered during the pandemic.
  • New Hanover Lutheran Church, Gilbertsville, and how they are addressing food scarcity in their neighborhood through their Garden of Hope and feeding ministry.
  • Emmanuel, Souderton, and their ministry through Meleny’s House and their ministry to survivors of human trafficking.
  • Nuevo Creacion, In the Nicetown-Tioga section of Philadelphia, and their creation of a Spiritual Pharmacy to deal with the effects of homelessness and the opioid crisis

“God’s work. Our hands. We are transformed by faith to go into the world and make a difference. To bring hope to those who question, ‘where’s the faith?’ To show God’s love in our words and deeds. To be reminders of God’s healing presence in our broken world,” said Davenport.



Garden of HopeWhen the pandemic struck, New Hanover Lutheran Church started a food ministry to aid members of the community, and soon began sharing meals with local recovery houses. Soon after, members started a garden to provide fresh vegetables for these meals.


A Culture of Generosity

When Reformation, Media’s leadership decided to share most of the earnings of the endowment for mission outreach and new programs, a culture of generosity was born. In 2022, Reformation gave $217,000 to support refugees in Ukraine, support the Wellness Center at Grace, Broomall along with Welcome Church and The Well, and many other causes.


Spiritual Pharmacy

Kensington sees some of the worst of the effects of the opioid crisis in our region. Iglesia Luterana Nueva Creación (New Creation) started a Spiritual Pharmacy program to accompany neighbors affected by addiction and its side-effects. This program was the recipient of a Forward Together in Faith campaign grant.



Meleny’s House

The former parsonage at Emmanuel, Souderton had been vacant for nearly two decades. Worthwhile Wear, a local non-profit that helps women transition from being trafficked, needed space to house women who had completed its leadership program. With congregation and community support and hundreds of hours of volunteer labor, Meleny’s House was born.


Congregations Transforming

Click the image to see a slide show of stories from congregations across our synod.

Share your congregation’s story by contacting Pastor Bob Fisher.


Vice President’s Message

“You Have Done an Excellent Job”

SEPA Vice President Tracey Beasley had a simple message for this year’s Assembly:

“I have always thought it was my responsibility to lift you up, and all you have done throughout the year,” she said. “It’s tough, and you have done an excellent job.”

She pointed out the videos shown during the Bishop’s report the previous day, and how they highlighted various congregational ministries.

Then, with a request to the Synod, she said, “Invite me to your church so I can lift you up during Assembly time.”



Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

An Abundance of Connections

Jill Beverlin, program manager for ELCA Coaching, shared greetings from the churchwide organization and blessings on our partnership.

“Thank you, good people of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, for all that you are — for the beautiful and generous ways you are engaging the gifts and resources God has poured upon you, and for your amazing intentionality in using this abundance to support the wider church, and to love and heal the world. We truly thank God for you.”

In 2022, our synod sent $792,000 to support churchwide ministries – 50 percent of mission support dollars contributed by congregations. Collectively we also sent more than $311,000 to Lutheran Disaster Response and $222,000 to ELCA World Hunger.

That abundance returns to us in many ways. The ELCA helps to support three new start communities in SEPA: The Welcome Church, which serves with people experiencing homelessness; The Well, an offshoot of The Welcome Church which provides supportive community for women in need of shelter; and Kairos Communities in Quakertown, an experiment in gathering people in homes, around food, with the Word, and sharing their own stories.


Read more

The Welcome Church lifts up the gifts of people experiencing homelessness or in poverty, Beverlin said. “On a very basic church level, the transformation has been that you don’t need to be inside a building to worship God,” Pastor Violet Little said in a video interview. The community “strips everything else away and puts us smack in the face of grace every single day.”

The Well’s shelter community “explores the impact that authentic, healthy relationships can have for people who are unhoused,” Beverlin said, quoting The Well’s leader, Pastor Schaunel Steinnagel. Pastors Little and Steinnagel were also instrumental in establishing the ELCA’s Homeless and Justice Network.

Kairos, led by Pastor Bob Fisher, serves with Welcome Church and The Well, providing worship leadership, coffee hour, and meeting needs of Well residents and community members moving to permanent housing. “This is a beautiful example of the body of Christ thinking creatively about stewardship, and loving and caring for one another,” Beverlin said.

Churchwide also helps support four strategic ministries that engage underserved or marginalized communities: Atonement, Fishtown; St. Michael’s, Kensington; Grace, Broomall, and Mediator, Philadelphia.

“There’s no community too small to make an impact,” says Grace’s Pastor, Kayla Sadowy. “We are a tiny worshipping community but we have already established ourselves as the place to go to get well” by starting grief support groups, opening a counseling center and other wellness activities.

The ELCA also provides more than three million dollars in seminarian support through the Fund For Leaders. Ian Clements, a member of Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion in Philadelphia, is one of the current recipients. He is studying at United Lutheran Seminary. “He wants to be a leader who shows that this denomination is committed to listening and learning,” Beverlin said.

Another recipient is Rodger Randolph III, a federal chaplain candidate assigned to SEPA. He will deploy to Djbouti next year after ordination.


A Vision for Urban Ministry

“Many urban congregations are struggling, and yet there are stark disparities by race in calls, salary, and benefits,” Megan Tang of the Urban Ministry Task Force told the assembly.

Since being authorized by last year’s assembly, the team has completed the first of its six tasks, analyzing compensation for city pastors and determining the cost of bringing these leaders up to synod compensation guidelines, Tang said.

“There is a real need for ministry,” she said. “Our cities have a lot of material poverty (and) they have a lot of spiritual poverty.”

About one-half of all city congregations have full-time called pastors, which breaks down to two-thirds of predominantly white congregations while only one-third of congregations of color have full-time leadership. Some congregations have gone years without a pastor.

Only one in three city pastors are at the 2019 synod guidelines and only one in six leaders of congregations of color. More than 60 percent of pastors at congregations of color receive neither healthcare nor retirement benefits.


To bring all city pastors to compensation guidelines would cost $600,000 per year, the team found.

Read more

“This is not a surprise,” Tang said. “We have known this for a long time, but now we have numbers to back it up.”

The team’s next task is to strategize ways to move forward toward raising compensation. It will also look at building and maintenance issues in the city as well as professional development for these leaders.

“The ELCA is looking to us for this information, because our resolution (on this topic) went to Churchwide (Assembly),” Bishop Davenport said in thanking the team for its work. She also noted that the numbers will change with the synod’s recently released compensation update.

More than $3,000 was raised from the assembly worship offering to support the work of the team. It is not too late for you to make an offering. Use the QR code below to make a secure online donation, or send a check to the synod office referencing the Urban Ministry Team.



2024 Budget Adopted

The assembly adopted a budget for fiscal 2024 that anticipates $3.88 million in revenues from all sources and expenses of $2.76 million. The budget anticipates no increase in mission support contributions from congregations.

This budget anticipates more than $720,000 in investment income. In 2022’s volatile markets investments lost $1 million in value. The budget also anticipates $1 million in income from the sale of property.


Opening Worship

Word: Transformed To Serve

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18

Deacon Kathie Afflerbach, a member of St. John’s, Spinnerstown, preached the sermon at the Opening Worship of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly.

Afflerbach said that this familiar text from Matthew 16 challenges us to think about why Jesus and his disciples were in Caeserea Philippi, and why this conversation occurred in this known center of pagan culture. Jesus asks the disciples who the people think he is, and then who they think he is. Location matters.

“Jesus asks this basic fundamental question of his disciples since he knows his time on earth would draw to a close, and this is the world into which he is sending them,” said Afflerbach.

Jesus knows that the disciples would face persecution, imprisonment and even death for being his followers. He wanted to leave them with a promise that nothing, not even Hades, would prevail against his church.


Read more

Who do we say Jesus is?

“This is the basic question of faith that we need to be willing to answer honestly and truthfully if we are going to do the work of ministry in a world filled with so many idols,” said Afflerbach.

She listed some modern-day idols: money, material possessions, guns, political power and influence, white supremacy, entitlement, personal identity and status, and phones and technology.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

Pointing to this year’s Assembly theme, Transformed to Serve in a Where’s the Faith World, she indicated we had much work to do in our individual and communal lives amid people who are unwilling to commit to the church or have been harmed by it.

“…but the gauntlet has been dropped with a challenge for the church, that is you and I and all the folks back home in our congregations, each called to live our faith daily as transformed people of faith,” said Afflerbach.

Conforming to the way of the world is not an option for Jesus’ followers; instead we should live as “living, breathing, beloved, transformed children of God.”


Prayer, Praise, and Preaching

Visible Transformation

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:1-2

Minister Tiese Giles, a 12-year-old lay preacher from St. Mark’s, Philadelphia, inspired the assembly with the sermon during Saturday’s Prayer, Praise, and Preaching service. Pastor Charles Leonard introduced Giles noting that the Holy Spirit had first called him to the pulpit at the age of five.

Giles observed that Paul had never been to Rome but wrote his letter to the Romans so they would stay on track.

“Isn’t that a good thing to have encouragement to stay on track?” Giles asked. “Even when you are doing it right, it is important to know there is somebody saying you can make it.”

He pointed out that Paul makes it clear that we are all sinners and deserve condemnation, but because of Jesus Christ we have been saved from the consequences of our sin. Romans explains how we should respond to God’s grace.


Read more

“Paul is saying through the inspiration of the Holy Spirt that we ought to make ourselves sacrifices — offer ourselves over to God’s service, offer ourselves over to God’s work,” Giles said. “Don’t run away from it. Offer yourself. Don’t run away because times get hard. Offer yourself. Don’t run away because people aren’t listening to you. Keep on going. Paul says offer yourself as a living sacrifice.”

After everything that God has done for us, God is worthy of us living our lives for God and sharing the gospel with others. That’s what living transformed by God’s love means: Don’t follow the systems and ways of the world but be transformed.

“It’s not good that you walk around … and you look nice on the outside but your heart is evil. There is malice in your heart. There is jealousy and envy,” said Giles “Get rid of all of that and be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

“That means my mind has to change. I cannot walk into this Christian life with a mindset that it’s just me and it’s not we. … No, it’s about his glory.”

This inward transformation should be outwardly visible and shared with others.

“You should have some fruit that is showing forth. So, we thank God today and we praise God that God is transforming and God is working in each and every one of our lives. So, follow what God is doing,” he said.


More videos:

Inclusive Communities Committee

Creation Care Team
Introducing Approved and First Call Candidates for Ministry

ELCA Coaching


Greetings from our companion synod in Tanzania

Greetings from United Lutheran Seminary