What Does the Synod Do For You?
“The ELCA’s 65 synods vary greatly in size, geography, membership, staffing and program. Our smallest synod has 30 congregations – the largest nearly 300. The synods are grouped into nine regions, which are points of connection for them and the churchwide organization. Synods unite the work of congregations within their areas, serve as regional support, and guide pastoral and other staff candidates. In order to strengthen the relationship between synod leaders and the churchwide office, many churchwide teams relate to and support the work of the synods.”
“We are a church that believes God is calling us into the world – together.”
– From the ELCA Website
Which Synod Is Our Synod?
Name: Northern Great Lakes Synod
Area: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the six bordering counties of Northeast Wisconsin
Address: 1029 N. Third Street, Marquette, MI 49855
Telephone: (906) 228-2300
Bishop: Rev. Katherine A. Finegan
Congregations: 79 + 1 Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community
Clergy: 105 (active and retired)
Licensed Lay Ministers: 6
What Does Our Synod Do?
The short answer is: a lot! Following is just some of what the NGLS does:
Facilitating the Call Process: When calling a pastor, congregations work with the wider church. Synod staff are responsible for the initial legwork, looking at possible candidate’s Rostered Minister Profile and the congregation’s Ministry Site Profile, working to find the best match. Synod staff also meet with congregation councils and call committees, putting in long hours on the road.
Congregational Crisis Management: At times tension and crisis can break out in a congregation. Synod staff meet with congregations and leaders to find resolutions to these situations.
Discipline: When no other resolution is available, it is the responsibility of our Synod to enforce discipline.
Committees: To facilitate conversations and the work of our Synod, these committees have been established:
Synod Council, Candidacy Committee, Companion Synod Committee, Endowment Fund Board, Evangelism Committee, Finance Committee, Healthy Conversations Team, Leadership Support Committee, Licensed Lay Ministry/Lay School for Mission Board, Mission Outreach Committee, Stewardship Committee, Synod Campus Ministry Committee, Synod Consultation Committee, Synod Discipline Committee, World Hunger Committee, Worship Committee, Youth Ministries Support Team, Synodical Women’s Organization Board.
The members of these boards and committees, clergy and lay, organize events, make decisions, offer vision, and provide leadership in their areas.
Prayfaithfully: Every week, pastors and lay people in our synod publish brief devotions that are perfect for daily use. Prayer calendars are published in Notes & Quotes, and the website offers opportunities for prayer requests and to be a synod “pray-er”. https://nglsynod.org/prayfaithfully/
Church is Good: Who represents the Christian voice in media? Often, it’s not Lutherans! Partnering with a local news station in the Upper Peninsula, our Synod created a series of TV spots and a new website specifically for people in our Synod looking for a church (fun fact: the main contact person at the news station through this whole process was so impressed by what she saw as she worked with our congregations that she ended up joining one of them!). https://www.churchisgood.org/
Women of the ELCA/Synodical Women’s Organization: A chapter of this nationwide women’s ministry is in our synod and is not only active, it’s on fire! They organize retreats, conventions and service projects such as pillowcase dresses and grocery bag sleeping mats. https://nglsynod.org/welca/
Men in Mission: Our Synod promotes mission and study opportunities for men to help them learn how to be good disciples of Christ. https://nglsynod.org/men-in-mission/
National Youth Gathering: Every three years, the National Youth Gathering brings together 30,000+ high school students for worship, workshops, group-building, service projects, and yes, fun! Our Synod provides resources, financial support and coordination for congregations in our Synod who are sending youth to this amazing event. https://www.facebook.com/groups/354157674979807
Lutheran Campus Ministry: Our Synod actively supports Lutheran Campus Ministries at Michigan Tech University, Northern Michigan University, Lake Superior State University, and Bay College.
Lay School for Mission: Our Synod’s Lay Schools offer classes taught by local pastors for lay people who are interested in delving more deeply into the faith and practices of our church (and it’s free of charge!). About 80 students at six campuses take advantage of this opportunity every year.
Companion Synod: Our Synod is partnered with the Eastern & Coastal Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. Together, we support each other’s life and work for the sake of the Gospel, mutually encouraging each other in the faith. Medical and dental missions have taken place, several Tanzanian choir visits have occurred, a youth delegation from our Synod visited the ELCT in 2017, and our Bishops have visited each other’s Diocese/Synod. https://nglsynod.org/companion-synod/
CONFERENCES and RETREATS
An incomplete list of the conference, retreats and events our synod has organized and sponsored in the past (and will do so again in the future):
Professional Leader’s Retreat: A conference for rostered leaders to gather and further their formation and education (past keynote speakers were Bishop Craig Satterlee of the Northwest Lower Michigan Synod and a leading professor preaching; Dr. Anna Madsen, director of the OMG Center for Theological Conversation; and our Presiding Bishop, the Revered Elizabeth Eaton).
Walking Together: This event takes place once every fall in each of our 8 conferences and includes time for leadership training, to address current concerns, equip you for the future and offers the blessing of being church with other congregations in your area.
Marked! Confirmation Events: A chance for confirmation students from all around our Synod to meet, get to know each other, worship and learn together. Held in different congregations around our Synod each February.
Leaving a Legacy: Cynthia Halvorson, our ELCA regional gift planner, frequently holds workshops and meets with congregation councils to help them start and maintain their own endowment funds. She also helps congregational members with planned gifts, estates, and leaving behind a Christian legacy.
Dry Bones Retreats: Sponsored by the Transformational Ministry Team of the Synod. These two-day intensive workshops help congregations name the challenges, consider the possibilities, and work together on plans to move the congregation forward into the future.
Fall Theological Conference: Held every other year at the end of September, rostered leaders, their spouses and families gather on Mackinac Island for a time of education and renewal. Past presenters include Bishop Bill Gohl of the Delaware-Maryland Synod (our domestic sister Synod).
Using the money congregations send through mission support, as well as outside grants, our Synod funds the following ministries and programs:
National Youth Gathering: Grants were made available to congregations who were planning to attend the National Youth Gathering in order to defray the costs associated with this amazing, life-changing event.
World Hunger: Every year our Synod collects a substantial offering that goes directly to helping combat the epidemic that is hunger in our world. This year’s Assembly offering totaled over $41,000!!
Endowment Ministry: The Synod Endowment Funds consist of an Unrestricted Fund and several Restricted Funds. The Unrestricted Fund distributes a minimum of 5% of the market value of its invested assets each year. Some of the ministries supported includes:
Pastor’s Debt Reduction: New rostered leaders come out of seminary with enormous debt burden, and our Synod uses some of its endowment money to help pay down that debt.
Lay School for Mission: The Lay Schools are free to students because our synod funds them itself with help from the endowment fund.
Campus Ministry Support: Bay College in Escanaba and Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie receive financial support to help maintain a Christian presence on their campuses.
Synod Programs: Stewardship programs, including the Mission Interpreter’s Initiative, Leadership Support ministries, evangelism programs, and Companion Synod ministries have all received support from the General Endowment Fund.
The Restricted Endowment Funds of the Synod provide assistance in these areas:
Seminarian Support: Our Synod is a leader in the ELCA for providing financial support to students in seminary who have come from our Synod.
Pastor’s Debt Reduction and Tanzania Projects: The Bishop Thomas and Luanne Skrenes Fund for Ministry established in 2017 will provide support for a variety of ministries in our Companion Synod, the Eastern and Coastal Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. In addition, a portion of the distribution from this fund will help finance the grants to new rostered leaders with seminary debt.
Our Synod partners with the following institutions to support and expand their ministries:
Finlandia University – an ELCA university located in Hancock, MI
Lutheran Campus Ministry
- Northern Michigan University in Marquette, MI
- Michigan Tech University in Houghton, MI
- Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, MI
- Bay College in Escanaba, MI
Northland Lutheran Retirement Community– in Marinette, WI
Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan
ELCA Seminaries in Region 5
- Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) – lstc.edu
- Wartburg Seminary – Dubuque, IA – wartburgseminary.edu
Lutheran Office of Public Policy in WI– www.loppw.org
Lutheran Outdoor Ministry- www.lomnetwork.org
Wisconsin Council of Churches –firstname.lastname@example.org
IN ADDITION, 48%OF ALL MONEY RECEIVED BY OUR SYNOD THROUGH MISSION SUPPORT IS PASSED ON TO SUPPORT THE WORK OF THE WIDER CHURCH.
This means our synod accomplishes all these ministries with only half of the money congregations make available for regional ministry and support, in addition to any grants it receives.
Well Yes, But What Does Our Synod Do “For Us”?
This question about the relationship between “the synod” and a congregation is based on a misinterpretation of what our synod is. Our synod is not an outside service we contract with to receive something in return. It’s not a business we hire to provide goods and services.
We are our synod. The word “synod” itself is a Greek word that means “walk together / on the same path”, which by definition implies a shared relationship. Our synod is a network of congregations who have banded together to do more together than we can apart. These relationships are the heart of what it means to be synod, to be walking together.
A better question than “What has the synod done for us?” is “What has our synod done in our name?” Few congregations could raise over $41,000 for World Hunger; but together, we as a synod can. Few congregations are equipped to undergo radical transformation on their own; but together, we as a synod can help our congregations through that process. Few congregations are truly prepared to have tough conversations around being inclusive and welcoming, but we as a synod can train a team to facilitate those conversations with the rest of us. Not every congregation can afford to install hands-free handicap accessible doors in their building; but together, we as a synod can raise money and make it available to those congregations.
Christians have known since the founding of the church that we are stronger and better in community with others than we are on our own. In the ELCA, synods are one of the ways in which we express that. We are synod. We are walking together. We rely on each other, and we support each other, so that together, we can continue to live into our baptismal callings as disciples of Jesus Christ.
(Thank you to Pastor Ken Ranos, Faith Lutheran Church, Three Lakes, WI for writing much of this article in Faith’s September 2017 newsletter.)