calendar April 29, 2021 in 2021 Assembly, Assembly, Bishop, Bishop messages, Communications

“We’ve Come…a Mighty Long Way”

Message from Bishop Patricia A. Davenport to the 2021 Synod Assembly

Dear Synod! I greet you with deep gratitude for your faithfulness and profound partnership as we have endured together the joys and challenges of this pandemic.

We have experienced a year filled with anxiety, pain, change, challenge and death, and yet there have also been times of opportunity, hope, healing and joy. Yes, we have had 31 million 400 thousand 26 COVID 19 cases, 5 hundred 69 thousand deaths. And the reality is that the number of cases and deaths have increased since I researched the numbers for both. People have died from natural causes, other medical diseases, suicides and murders. The cases and deaths from COVID-19 are not restricted to one racial or ethnic group, socioeconomic group, age group or the sexual orientation of a certain group. It has included the health of and led to the death of young and old, black, white and brown, rich and poor, the famous and the unknown.

Some of us have experienced the death of family, friends and associates from the virus, or we know of someone whose life has been changed by the tragic death of a loved one from COVID. One of the many tragic aspects of this pandemic has been that many could not be with their loved ones as they took their last breath because of the isolation restrictions. Many have died without beloved friends or family members at their bedsides to offer a warm smile or a prayer or a hand to hold. We are truly thankful to God for the hospital staff that tried to do their best to connect the dying with their loved ones. Some use Face Time to connect. Other families left written messages to be read to their loved ones because hearing is the last of our senses to go when we’re dying. Yes the efforts of hospital staff was greatly appreciated. But the pain of not being there for our loved ones may take a long time to cope with.

The pandemic has led to countless losses in the lives of many. There has been job loss, housing loss and loss of economic security. In-person teaching has led students who not only miss the benefits of an in-person classroom but they miss seeing their friends. Fun school activities such as proms did not happen, and college sports were restricted for some time.

And we dare not talk about the loss of not being able to worship in the walls of our beautiful churches. We not only missed being in our physical buildings, but we miss doing our various ministries, especially those where we went out into the community and shared the Gospel with others. It seemed extremely odd not to be in church for communion, confirmation, baptism, weddings and funerals.

In the midst of all the change we were experiencing, we saw other events that transformed the world before our eyes. We watched as Mr. George Floyd died as police officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes. The public outrage was evidenced by marches and rallies, not only locally or domestically but even internationally. And then came January 6, 2021, and most of us were hoping that peaceful transfer of power would happen as the electoral votes were being finalized. We watched in utter amazement when individuals stormed the Capitol building in protest about the results of the presidential election. Five persons were killed including a Capitol police officer. This event showed the fragile nature of our government. It was seen across the world, and questions were asked like how could this happen in the United States?

Let us not forget that even as all these things are happening the usual challenges of life continued. Such as domestic violence. Statistics show that there was an increase in domestic violence during this pandemic. Natural disasters did not stop. We continued to have hurricanes and floods and fires, and even snow in Texas that led to a breakdown in the electrical operations of many of the major cities. Residents of Texas were melting snow in order to have water, These natural disasters led to homelessness, which was already increasing because people were being evicted from their home.

I mentioned the challenge of our buildings being closed, but there have been other issues that have affected us as a Synod, For example, congregations in transition longing to call a pastor or a deacon, rostered ministers leaving their calls to move closer to family. Our councils were concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their congregational giving. Will we be able to pay our ministry leaders? Will we have the money needed to offer effective virtual services? Will we be able to continue to offer our various ministries with financial support?

Rostered leaders had to think fast and furiously how they would offer virtual services. And the reality is, not everyone has the skill set or know-how to do that. In addition, ministry leaders wanted to continue to stay in contact with parishioners, and had to develop creative strategic ways for keeping in touch not only with the sick and the shut-in but how to keep congregational members connected with congregational members.

And needless to say, family life certainly changed. If someone in the home had to work, the family feared getting the virus from them. How do you keep children entertained in the midst of a pandemic? Who is going to do the shopping? What if you’re a parent and you need to go out to work? Who will keep the children? How do you stay in touch with an elderly parent who is home alone or in a nursing facility? Who gets to determine who’s in charge of the tv remote? What do you do if you cannot afford a computer? And remember, screen fatigue is real. There is such a thing as Zoom call burnout, Trust me. Screen fatigue is real. Mental illness is real. Parents juggling working from home, schooling and meeting family needs.

You know there is so much more, but as I reflect on this time of challenge, I am reminded of an old Negro spiritual that speaks to my heart. It gave strength to people in the struggle. It says,

“We’ve come a long way Lord, a mighty long way

We borne our burden in the heat of the day,

But we know the Lord has made a way.

We’ve been in the valley and we prayed night and day.

And we know the Lord has made a way.

We’ve had hard trials each and every day.

But we know the Lord has made a way.”


That’s it beloved. Despite the challenges, we know that the Lord has made a way. The Psalmist writes of God in Psalm 73.

“Nevertheless I am continually with you,

you hold my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel,

and afterward you will receive me with honor.

Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

This is the Word turning each of us to our relationship with God. The great I am is with us as we are confronted with woes and distractions.

I am reminded of Martin Luther’s words to defend his belief. He says, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.” What calms our anxiety, what has given us the fortitude to keep moving, embracing change, challenge and opportunity that result in joy.

Yes, God helps us in spite of 31 million COVID 19 cases. Nevertheless, we can proclaim 24 million have recovered while others are receiving care. The Lord made a way in life and death!

We have learned to say farewell, at graveside services, live streams on Facebook.

Pastor Folks and Pastor King with our Anti-Racism Team took this opportunity to use book studies, conversations and trainings to raise awareness of the ills of systemic racism and the need for racial equity in the current divisive climate of our country.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod celebrates 11 congregational votes to call pastors, of which three are first call candidates, six calls through Synod Council, with an additional three congregational calls to take place in the coming weeks on digital platforms, praise God.

I want you to note that your Synod Council works, and they work very hard on our behalf. We have moved from the perspective of “we’ve always done it this way” to a perspective where we ask the question, “Considering the resources we have at this point in time, how can we do what we have to do in a new, creative and strategic way so that all will benefit and God will be proud.”

With all of the distractions thrown our way, Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod has creatively stepped up to the challenge of maintaining the vital ministries that we offer. Hundreds of you volunteer to make a difference in the lives of people we do not know heeding the greatest commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. You have donated your time and resources to bless the least of these among us.

We are Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod strong, not only strong but bright. Look at the shining ministries we’ve done despite the darkness of this pandemic. Here’s some of our amazing stories.

  • John and Deb purchased two refrigerators to store the food for the E-Meal program at Emmanuel in Souderton. Marge drives down from Little Zion to pack and hand out food bags. Pastor Heidgerd, members and neighborhood volunteers have distributed 90,000 meals and counting. (On the day of Assembly, E-meals passed 100,000 meals!)
  • Pastor Neale and the awesome volunteers of Feast of Justice have distributed over 2 million pounds of food in the Northeast. St. Michael’s Kensington is a vital food bank in a community that has increased its outreach footprint. Members of Grace in Mantua partnered with Holy Trinity Narberth to provide food for those who are in a food desert and food insecure in West Philadelphia. Saint Mark’s and Saint Peter’s care for those in West Oak Lane. Welcome Bread has made over a hundred thousand sandwiches, feeding communities in the suburbs and in the city. Saint Paul’s and Tabor partnered to provide for Olney and the Nicetown-Tioga area.
  • Pastor Little and Pastor Steinnagle of the Welcome Church, founding partners of Sanctuary Village, which is a tiny home project for those experiencing homelessness, tell me their ministry is about more than peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. This ministry also focuses on Jesus being at work in their midst. For example, Brother Tyrone found five dollars and wanted to know what can we do to help somebody in the community. His five dollars was used to seed the Welcome Church’s I have a Dream Fund that now blesses all people anybody in need.
  • Tabernacle West Philadelphia is a COVID 19 testing and vaccination site; Trinity Landsdale (was) also a vaccination site. These ministries are small samplings of our 143 ministries making a difference in times like these.

Beloved Synod, we have been forced to do things differently, taking into account our priorities in this moment, moving from the world of negativity and apathy, drawing people into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ! We are the church using a digital platform to proclaim the gospel, caring for those in need and seeking justice with our hands and our hearts. I pause for a point of personal privilege to offer a debt of gratitude to our Office of the Bishop’s staff. This team, I thank them for their agility and diligence in working remotely and as a hybrid as CDC permits.

In our office, Ms. Yvonne Curtis, director of operations, who keeps me on task with our church-wide matters, in addition to coordinating congregational meetings with council presidents for call votes.

Mr. Martin Schwab, our senior accountant, who works with our Treasurer, Ms. Janet Neff, to assure all our financial responsibilities are met.

Ms.Cynta Outerbridge, database manager, communications assistant and synod registrar.

Pastor Bob Fisher, assistant to the Bishop for mission interpretation and director for communications, who meets weekly with our congregational communicators, sharing tech tips to improve our online experiences, as well as ensuring our mission is clearly communicated and critical information is updated on our many digital platforms in these fast-paced times, especially

Dr. Bill Flippin, director for evangelical mission, working with our vitality team, and Pastor Brian Penman in creating space for innovative kingdom-building ideas, and works with several other teams to align us with our ELCA Future Church design of being new, younger and more diverse. As we deal with the increase of shootings and murders, Dr. Flippin is working more intently with Heeding God’s Call to end gun violence. Pastor Bell, director of mobility, Dr McMullen, director of interim ministry.

Pastor Sease, our assistant to the Bishop for vocations and leadership, and our committee of Deans have innovatively provided leadership for and with congregations in transition to assure pastoral coverage. Along with Pastor Neff, our candidacy chair, Pastor Sease and our candidacy team accompanied candidates in our candidacy process to offer guidance and support, and I’m grateful that the Holy Spirit is guiding candidates into the process.

Please note that, in this pandemic, we have needed to let some things go as we’ve taken on new responsibilities dictated by pandemic restrictions. We have decentralized out of necessity and I have a new appreciation for equipping leaders to be ready when called to serve in any area. Lay members have shared a new understanding of vocation. There is an enhanced realization that we live out our faith not only on Sunday but each day.

The neighbor helping their neighbor with grocery shopping understands in a new way that they’re living out their faith in daily life. Some people have come to know that they are essential. They do a job that we cannot do. They are front line workers of God who have tried to maintain some normalcy to some aspect of our lives. Even in this pandemic, where would we have been without doctors and nurses and transit workers and teachers and grocery store workers, and all of the front-line workers who are willing to risk their health on our behalf?

I am grateful for the saints willing to represent our synod in church-wide meetings. Meetings with our companion synod, attending meetings related to ecumenical relations and youth ministry.

Beloved, we are people of faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and the convictions of things not seen.”

We are the faithful Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. We truly walk together along this road of pandemic life. Not marking time, we are making a difference for the Kingdom of God. Awesome, That’s what you are. Awesome Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, hold to God’s unchanging hand and strive to live out the ELCA tagline, “God’s Work, Our Hands.” Because that is how we make it through these difficult times.

We reflect on the words of scripture that give us strength, and we take our strength and continue to serve our neighbor, despite all of the obstacles of this pandemic. Saint Paul writes to us. Hear these words,

“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for us all, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us, Hold on to these Words, “We are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus.”

Beloved, we are one day closer to the other side of this pandemic, Praise God. We will hold to God’s unchanging hand to gain strength, and with that renewed strength, we will continue to show up, serve our neighbor and, thanks to our efforts, God’s love for the world will show out through our Lutheran tribe in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia Counties, causing a ripple effect that will transform lives around the corner, around the globe. Hallelujah! “Be strong and bold, have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you, He will not fail you or forsake you.” That’s the Word.

Like Martin Luther when he was confronted with things that challenge his faith, we too can proclaim, “Here we stand; we can do no other. God help us.” God give us the strength we need to get to the other side of this pandemic. Give us the skills and desire to help our neighbor. And always know loving God that we are thankful for all you have done to help us this far through the pandemic, Not only helping us as individuals but blessing our synod with so many dedicated servants who are committed to serving their neighbor, no matter how difficult their lives may come. For these blessings and all the blessings you bestow on us each day, we say thank you and amen.