By The Rev. Lisa Isenhower
First-Call ministers from across the Southeast recently traveled to Lutheridge in Arden, North Carolina, for the Region 9 Stewardship Gathering, held on February 6-8, 2023. The gathering, which is usually held once every three years, had been postponed twice due to COVID-19 restrictions, so it was with great joy that planners, presenters, and participants gathered at Lutheridge this year.
The gathering balanced presentations from stewardship leaders from across the ELCA with opportunities for fellowship and small-group discussion. Most of our Region 9 bishops were present, although some were unable to attend. A few sessions had to be rearranged at the last minute since several participants were kept away by illness or called away by family emergency. Still, the gathering’s leaders were able to adapt presentations quickly to cover the topics that had been planned.
First-Call ministers from the South Carolina Synod planned and led the opening worship service around the theme of God’s abundance. Rev. Christopher Girardeau (pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church in Lancaster, SC) and Rev. Christopher Shealy (pastor of Mt. Hebron Lutheran Church in Batesburg-Leesville, SC) provided musical leadership. Assistant to the Bishop Rick Carter preached for this camp-style worship service as worshipers remembered their baptisms and received Holy Communion.
Participants in the gathering found the experience helpful and enriching. As Rev. Emily Mooneyhan, pastor of Mount Pleasant Lutheran Church and Saluda Presbyterian Church in Saluda, SC said, “I have greatly valued the opportunity to get away from my ministry context to retreat with my ministry colleagues in a format that is structured and practical.”
Rev. Christina Johnson, pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church in North Myrtle Beach, noted that much of what she learned really resonated with her experience in ministry. “The struggle is real,” she said, “to redirect [people] from membership to discipleship.” She especially appreciated the shared stories of presenters at the gathering. As she noted, “Personal stories are very powerful.”
Several participants felt that they were given a better vocabulary for talking about stewardship in their congregations. Rev. Steven Gallego, pastor of Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Florence, SC, said the gathering helped him to “refocus” how he approaches stewardship. “It helps me in directing their attention to seeing everything we have as a gift. What we give to is not just the church building. Instead, you are giving to a mission, which is to further the kingdom of God.”
Rev. Christopher Shealy found a helpful overlap between how a family might use a budget and how a congregation might use a budget. He described making a family budget as determining “what’s important, choosing priorities, and then figuring out how you’re going to accomplish that.” Stewardship is “making a connection with the congregation” around the idea of ministry priorities. As he said, “the spending plan is about what’s important” for the congregation’s ministries.
The gathering covered more than financial stewardship, however. Participants were encouraged to think about how they steward all their resources—time and talent as well as treasure. Self-care is an important part of living as a faithful steward. Rev. Carl Taylor, associate pastor at Living Springs Lutheran Church in Columbia, sees stewardship as a way of life. “Are you living generously into God’s ministry?” he asks.