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Marking the 200th Anniversary of the South Carolina Synod

Hello. I am Susan McArver, and I am Professor of Church History at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to an event that will be taking place in our synod over the next year.

On January 14, 2024, we will mark the 200th anniversary of the founding of the South Carolina Synod. The South Carolina Synod is one of the oldest synods in the ELCA, and observing our anniversary gives us an opportunity to look back at our history – in order to propel us more hopefully into God’s future.

Before January 14, 1824, all Lutherans throughout the Southeast belonged to just one Synod: the Synod of “North Carolina and Adjacent States,” as it was called. Basically, that included all Lutheran churches from Virginia all the way down the Eastern Seaboard.

But on January 14, 1824, four pastors who served in the state of South Carolina, along with two candidates for ordination, and five lay men, met together at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, now in Irmo, to form an independent Synod of their own – the Synod of SOUTH Carolina – and Adjacent States . . . The meeting was opened with “singing and prayer,” exactly as we open our Synod Assemblies today, 200 years later. They elected the Rev. Godfrey Dreher as the first President of the Synod until the next meeting – what we today would call a bishop.

The Synod was small: it reported the presence of just 24 Lutheran churches in South Carolina (and 6 of them were vacant). There were 2 in Georgia and only about 1700 members in the whole territory. The Synod expressed great concern about the shortage of qualified pastors and “lamented” that while “the harvest is plenteous, the laborers are few.”

The stated reason for the formation of the new synod was that it simply took too long to travel all the way to North Carolina once a year to hold synodical meetings, and the Minutes record that the separation was a “friendly” one.

The real story, however, for the synod’s formation is a bit more complicated than that, a backstory told in documents that did not make it into the “official” Minutes.

Over the next year, we will have an opportunity to hear more about many such stories in our history, both the triumphs and the tragedies, as we consider what these stories can teach us today. The official kickoff of the anniversary year will take place at the Synod Assembly on June 8th, 2024, and will culminate at the Assembly in June of 2025. The Synod Council has appointed an Anniversary Planning Team, and you will be hearing from them over the next few months.

So we invite you to stay tuned for stories that remind us both of how much things have changed – and about how much has remained the same – as we observe this important anniversary year and ask where God is calling us now, 200 years later.

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ELCA South Carolina Synod
1003 Richland Street
Columbia, SC 29201
Telephone 803-765-0590
Fax 803-252-5558

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