The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is one church in three expressions – congregations, synods and the churchwide organization. These three expressions are interconnected and interdependent.
Our English word synod comes from two Greek words syn + hodos that literally means “a way together.” In and through synods, congregations and other ministries “walk together.”
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod expression of the ELCA cares for the health and vitality of Christ’s Church in Philadelphia and Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. The congregations of the synod in representative assembly elects a bishop to be their pastor, and the bishop appoints staff members to help carry out the varied ministries of that office. The synod is organized into nine geographic conferences, each of which elects a local pastor to be their Dean (a part time assistant to the bishop). Congregations may be organized into local groupings or clusters to do cooperative ministry and mission. This simply means that no one is alone in doing God’s mission. There are supports for moving forward and resources in times of trouble.
Our synod is really all of us – congregations, pastors, members, lay professionals, a seminary, eight social ministry organizations, a camp, and many other ministries – walking together as Lutherans to witness to Christ’s presence among us and in our community.
OK, but what does the “synod” do?
The synod organization – bishop, staff, council and committees — serve to link the Church in our five-county area. These connections foster collaboration between congregations, call and equip leaders for ministry, bring congregations and people together to carry out Christ’s commission to make disciples and meet human needs, and build ecumenical and interfaith bridges with other Christian denominations and other faith traditions.
Just as congregations have pastors, the synod elects a bishop, who is constitutionally the pastor to the synod. The bishop and staff provide pastoral care and oversight to the congregations of the synod as well as to the pastors and lay professional leaders on its rosters. The office of the bishop:
- walks with congregations in times of transition and conflict;
- helps congregations keep their focus on God’s mission;
- assists rostered leaders in times of life or ministry crisis.
The ministry of the synod is broad, and seeks to equip our congregations and leaders to live out their baptismal and vocational callings.
The staff and volunteer committees and consultants work in many areas:
- Candidacy (vocations) helps individuals discern their call to service in the Church, and provides a process to nurture personal and spiritual growth that parallels seminary education. The candidacy committee must approve all candidates for ordination, consecration or commissioning within the church.
- Communications/mission interpretation tells the story of the Church’s ministries to our congregations and members, and to the world at large. Staff produce materials (such as what you are now reading) that interpret the work we do together, and publish them via email (SEPANews), Internet, print, video and in-person presentations. In addition, communications provides teaching opportunities for congregations (such as our SEPAComm communicators network), works with print and broadcast media to tell our story to the public, and consults with congregations about working with the media in a crisis.
- Evangelical outreach equips congregations to tell God’s story to their neighborhoods. The Transformational Ministry Process helps congregations clarify their vision and re-engage with God’s mission.
- Finance stewards the resources that you provide to fund the ministries of the larger church, synodical and churchwide, and provides guidance to congregational treasurers and finance committees.
- Global vision tends to our strong partnership with the North Eastern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and lifts up global concerns including world hunger and disaster response in the life and ministry of our congregations.
- Mission development identifies the need for new Lutheran congregations to reflect the changing demographics and shifting population centers of our five-county area, and starts and supports new mission congregations and the mission developers who serve them. Currently – missions are in development
- Technology cares for the information resources of the synod, helping the staff to be more effective and efficient, and models the use of media in presentations, worship and outreach for congregations.
- Youth ministry provides a network of prayer, support and connection for our congregations’ youth workers and enhances their ministry by coordinating connecting events for youth, including the Senior High Youth Gathering, junior high gatherings, servant trips, Helping Hands Day and more.
In addition, our synod represents all of us in projects and boards and meetings for many of our shared ministries, including Bear Creek Camp, the Philadelphia seminary and Muhlenberg College, Lutheran Advocacy Ministry in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Lutheran Network, Region 7 (the Northeastern US) and many, many more.
Whew! How is all this ministry funded?
In the ELCA synods are primarily funded by partnership support offerings by congregations and members. The expectation in the ELCA is that congregations at least tithe — that is, give at least 10% of their regular giving receipts – to the work of the larger church (synod and churchwide). Of course, that is a guideline and not a rule. Some congregations meet or exceed 10%, while others give less. In the aggregate, the synod’s congregations gave 7.2% of their regular receipts as mission support in 2011 (4.5% of their total expenditures).
Synods, in turn, send about half of the received mission support to the churchwide organization for national and global ministries. For 2014, the Synod has committed to send 50% of congregations’ partnership support offerings to the churchwide organization.