September 17, 2020
The Synod Council met on September 12, 2020, from 9 am-4 pm over ZOOM. Detailed exhibits and reports can be found at https://www.elca-ses.org/committeemeeting/sept-2020-synod-council-meeting-14143216 Official minutes of this meeting will be approved at the January 2021 meeting of the Synod Council.
We began the meeting with prayer and devotion, then welcomed new Synod Council members including Dr. Roland Bernard Welmaker, Atonement, Atlanta; Ms. Phyllis Solgere, Christ, Oakwood GA; Rev. Susan Thisell, Messiah, Knoxville; Rev. Eric Murray, Shades Valley, Birmingham; Ms. Imani Robinson, Atonement, Atlanta; Ms. Carol Hawkins, Advent, Murfreesboro.
Vice President Imran Siddiqui led us in a brief training on Consensus Decision Making and Legal Responsibilities of the Council.
Bishop Kevin Strickland reflected on the acronym used by his pastoral care professor in seminary: WIGIAT – Where Is God In All of This? In the midst of a pandemic, despite the challenges we all face, in the hurricanes and fires, the protests and elections, where is God in all of this? God is in our advocacy, as we wear masks and stand up for the marginalized. God is in the 90+ candidates we have preparing for ordination. God is in the bishops and pastors, the lay leaders, the hungry, and homeless. God is in our work in racial, gender, disability, and LGBTQIA+ justice. God is in our congregations who are in transition and listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit guiding them into their next phase of ministry. God is in our ecumenical partnerships of campus, Latino, and congregational ministry. God is in the prayers we lift and the meals we serve to care for each other. God is in the $70K in COVID grants given to congregations and individuals struggling through this pandemic. God is in our ordinations and installations, the launching of our new ministries. As we gather as the assembled body of Christ, God is with us, dwelling in, with, and among us. We give God thanks!
We heard updates from the Strategic Vision Task Force member Ms. Rhonda Clay. Our vision statement is “To equip, empower, and engage God’s people to love and serve.” This team has met a few times in that past few months and looks forward to lifting up a major goal for us as a synod yearly that also lifts up the active verbs of “equip, empower, and engage.” This team will be working with the intersections of the Advocacy Committee, Diversity and Justice Task Force, Women in Ministry Group, and others. Stay tuned for more information to come.
Treasurer Steve Gehret presented the financial reports. Mission support has been severely impacted by the pandemic and continues to lag behind what is required to sustain our synod ministries. Even with the Payroll Protection Program (PPP) Loan, which we expect to be forgiven, and expenses significantly curtailed, the shortfall is unsustainable. A subgroup has been assembled to evaluate the shortfall and provide suggestions for possible ways forward. Serving on this subteam will be Rev. Paul Summer, Rev. Eric Murray, Ms. Elaine Schwartz, Rev. Susan Thisell, Ms. Phyllis Solgere, and staff liaisons Rev. Patti Axel and Rev. Karen Boda. For additional information, see Exhibits D.1-6.
Rev. Ana Lugo and Rev. John Eggen from the ELCA Foundation shared with the Council how the Foundation can assist in planned giving to help the synod ensure the continuation of God’s work in the world now and for years to come. The Synod Council will consider in January 2021 a formal agreement to partner with the Foundation. Rev. Paul Summer shared a personal story about the importance giving has made in his life, which included giving to the three expressions of the church – the congregation, the synod, and ELCA churchwide.
Rev. John Mocko presented the economic situation that many rostered ministers face as they hold on to an average education debt of $45,000, with family debt ranging to upwards of $180,000. Congregations have the opportunity to assist with education debt reduction. The synod’s LifeLine fund also provides financial assistance and education to help develop healthy leaders, vital congregations, and flourishing communities. Two grants have already been awarded by our synod, with several more in process.
The Synod Council took action to decline to be a participating employer in the optional federal payroll tax deferral program in effect from September 1, 2020, through December 31, 2020.
The 2021 Compensation Guidelines for Rostered Ministers were approved and will go into effect in January 2021. These guidelines are approved annually at the Synod Assembly but with no Assembly in 2020, approval was granted by the Synod Council. These guidelines incorporate feedback from congregation leaders and rostered ministers along with best practices from Region 9 and the ELCA.
Bishop Strickland updated the Council on the ongoing work to support congregations and leaders during the pandemic. The COVID-19 working group has continued to provide guidance to congregations for safety, opening protocols, and worship practices. Best practices in technology and remote meeting guidance continues to be provided by the synod.
Rev. Dr. Mary Hinkle Shore, Dean and Rector of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir Rhyne University, provided an update on the attendance, staffing, and finances of the seminary.
Rev. John Moeller, CEO Inspiritus, gave an update on the clean-up and repair work after Hurricane Laura struck the Louisiana coast. Inspiritus is seeking foster families to help with medically fragile children. They have also been authorized to provide nursing and support services to families and will resume resettling refugee families at the end of this month.
We heard from our synod’s member of the ELCA Church Council, Mr. Gary Pederson, from Christ our Shepherd in Peachtree City, GA on the ELCA Future Church Initiative.
Actions were taken to formally: