REPORT OF THE BISHOP | 2023 SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOD ASSEMBLY
By The Rev. Michele Fischer
Bishop Ginny Aebischer began her report to this year’s Synod assembly by telling about a recent picture she had seen on the maternity floor at Lexington Medical Center.
The picture was a composite mural, meaning that it uses the pictures of the over 4000 babies born at Lexington Medical Center to create a picture of one healthy, happy baby.
Bishop Ginny shared that the mural also has a tool to help families find their child’s picture within the larger picture so that the children can look and say “I can see myself in this picture!”
This mural caused her to wonder what a composite mural of the ministries of this synod and member congregations would look like. Would we see Jesus? Her prayer for us, as a synod and as congregations and believers within the synod, is that we would see Jesus alive in our midst as we love, learn and serve as Jesus’s disciples.
Bishop Ginny took a few minutes to point out some of the many “snapshots” of our ministries together that would make up this imagined composite mural of Jesus:
- Pictures from a spiritual pilgrimage in April with brothers and sisters from Tennessee, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Led by the Southeastern Synod, the group explored the history of the Civil Rights Movement with stops in Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma.
- Pictures from the Synod’s Inclusiveness Network’s book study on The Color of Compromise. This challenging book brings difficult questions and robust conversation on racism around us.
- Images of the work of the Synod Council and Staff in developing a new mission statement and core values for our synod moving forward.
- Portraits of our candidacy committee, working with candidates for ministry, and headshots of Zach Lindler and Ben Bernstein, who have received full scholarships from the ELCA Fund for leaders for their seminary education.
- A group photo of the delegation of South Carolinians who served as voting members to the August 2022 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, and additional headshots of our brothers who will be serving on the church council for the ELCA, Pastor Leroy Cannon and Ethan Miller-Perez, one of our “Youth-rens.” Pastor Cannon was the first black man ordained in the South Carolina Synod and Ethan is a rising senior at Mauldin High School.
- Headshots of Deacon Dallas Shealy, Executive Director of the SC Lutheran Retreat Centers, and Dr. Susan McArver, from the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, who were selected as 2 of the 35 members of the Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church.
- Our mural would be incomplete without pictures of our missionaries and friends in our companion synods in the Evangelical Church of Japan, The Lutheran Church of Colombia, and the Southwest Diocese of the Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
- We would have pictures from the multiple locations where Lutheran Services of the Carolinas are working with refugees and helping those who struggle with addiction.
- Pictures of our first call pastors, gathering at Lutheridge for sharing, support and supplemental education, and new and experienced pastors, gathered to listen to authors like Diana Butler Bass at the annual Bishop’s Convocation.
- Pictures of youth and young adults, including our campus ministries across the synod.
- Pictures of churches celebrating anniversaries.
All of these pictures — and more — help our communities and those around us to see Jesus each and every day!
REPORT FROM CHURCHWIDE WITH JUDITH ROBERTS | 2023 SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOD ASSEMBLY
By The Rev. Rebecca Wicker
ELCA Representative Judith E.B. Roberts challenged us to consider, “Where is the church reaching out to welcome others from the outside into the center of our work?” This is happening in many and various ways across the entire church and South Carolina Synod is taking part in that work. Since the start of the ELCA, a commitment has been in place to welcome diversity. While we have not made the progress we’d hoped to see in the last 35 years, we are taking time this year as a church to recalibrate, refocus, and reset toward our goal of being an intentionally inclusive and diverse community of faith. This work will happen intensely in the ELCA Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church. This commission, comprised of 35 representatives across the ELCA, includes our very own Deacon Dallas Shealy and Dr. Susan McArver.
The work of the ELCA over the past year, which the South Carolina Synod supports with our Mission Support dollars, has been to engage others who walk different paths from us and bring their gifts and voices to the center so that we may see Christ at work in the world. This happens through work such as ELCA Fund for Leaders, Young Adults in Global Mission, the work of accompaniment with our ELCA Missionaries, our new mission starts both across the ELCA and SC Synod, and International Women Leaders. Our support of the ELCA helps us to see Christ at work in varied and wonderful ways.
KEYNOTES | 2023 SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOD ASSEMBLY
Throughout the assembly, we heard stories from across our Synod and synodical partners about where God is at work and where we see Jesus in those around us. Within the assembly theme, there were four lenses through which we reflected – I See Jesus: in unexpected places, in those that look, talk, act, and believe differently than me, in our spaces, and in our community.
All those gathered were inspired and encouraged to DIG DEEP and REFLECT on where we SEE JESUS in our congregations in both the likely and unlikely spaces.
SERVICE OF HOLY COMMUNION | 2023 SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOD ASSEMBLY
By The Rev. Shannon Mullen
Evening worship at beautiful historic Ebenezer Lutheran Church came at the end of an inspiring first day of Synod Assembly. This service is always an occasion for worshippers to see Jesus and to reconnect with friends in Christ, which is always a great joy.
The sanctuary was filled with beautiful music from the magnificent pipe organ, the Assembly’s mass choir, and the handbell choir. And the presence of God could be felt in the lifting of hundreds of Lutheran voices in unity as we sang familiar and beloved hymns together.
Bishop Virginia Aebischer shared a moving sermon on the theme of seeing Jesus. She told a humorous story of when she led her youth group astray on a retreat weekend and ended up lost on the border of South Carolina and Georgia. When the local residents where she ended up lost could not agree on the best way for her group to get to their destination, Camp Kinard, one of the strangers volunteered to lead her caravan of church members in his own car and drove many miles out of his way to do so. This reminded worshippers that Jesus so often can be seen in kindness of those who join us on the journey, sometimes in unexpected ways.
Bishop Ginny reflected on the story of Jesus meeting disciples on the road to Emmaus. Still not yet comprehending the Good News of the resurrection, these disciples were caught in despair and hopelessness and did not see that it was Jesus who was walking with them. Their assumptions in the wake of the crucifixion, their expectations which arose from that traumatic experience, and their focus on their own pain blinded them to the reality that God was with them. But in the presence of Jesus, in his retelling the story of God’s love from scripture, and in the breaking of the bread at their table, their hearts were filled as the Holy Spirit opened their eyes to see it was Jesus who was on the journey with them, filling them with hope and joy.
Worshippers saw Jesus as hundreds of disciples from across the Synod lined up to receive gifts of grace in the elements of Holy Communions, and in the faces of those who placed these gifts into their hands, saying, “The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.”
Worship closed with a final raising of joyful voices, singing together “A Mighty Fortress,” a favorite Lutheran hymn written by Martin Luther himself. Using an alternate translation of the original German hymn text brought fresh insight into the powerful words. When worship leaders offered the sending commission, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord,” the congregation responded to this charge with a triumphant shout: “Thanks be to God!”
CHRIST BE OUR LIGHT – A SERVICE OF REFLECTION AND REMEMBRANCE | 2023 SYNOD ASSEMBLY
By The Rev. Christopher Girardeau
Christ, our light, is always present with us in life and in death. During our Friday evening worship, we celebrated the ever-present life of Christ and the light of Christ in SC Synod leaders who have passed into the Church triumphant. It was a warming, calming worship service in which we heard that Christ is our light at all times and places—that “for love, God wraps and embraces us” (Julian of Norwich).
The Rev. Michael Price and the Rev. Joanna Gragg, along with a host of rostered leaders, guided us in liturgy, scripture, centering prayer, and the hymn “Christ Be Our Light.” Throughout the worship service, we gradually invited more light into the room through candles on our tables.
The good news of the evening worship with the necrology report is that Christ’s intimate presence is with us in life, death, and resurrection. We continue to give thanks for the life and witness of those listed in the necrology report.
COTTON PATCH GOSPEL | 2023 SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOD ASSEMBLY
By The Rev. Rebecca Wicker
“The world may be going to pot, but the story is crowned in glory.” This is the framework we are promised at the opening of The Cotton Patch Gospel, a musical that takes the gospel account from Matthew and places it in modern day Gainesville Georgia. At this year’s assembly, the 525 Players of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Columbia shared four scenes from this poignant re-telling.
The story opens with the nativity, but not with the familiar manger scene with sheep and shepherds that we draw towards at Christmas. Rather, Mary and Joseph find themselves on the road to Atlanta for an income tax audit from the IRS. But before they can make it, they find themselves at the Dixie Delite Motor Lodge with Mary in full labor. With no room at the lodge, Mary and Joseph must settle for an old trailer out back. This story may look like a humorous retelling on the surface, The Cotton Patch Gospel challenges us to wonder, “where will the story go next?”
The scenes that follow bring us to take a new look at the parable of the Good Samaritan. We see an insurance salesman left for dead by the side of the road. He’s picked up by a trucker only after being passed by a ‘prominent southern religious leader’ and a tour bus carrying a gospel choir on the way to record their next album. Following this scene, we see Jesus clearing the temple (in this case, a church office and a religious bookstore). While we may yet again find the retelling amusing, this brings up the question, “where would Jesus show up today?” More importantly, would we think to look at these out of the way places as sites where Jesus can be found?
In the fourth and final scene shared by the 525 Players, we find Jesus at a restaurant dining with his followers in a final supper. They hardly understand when Jesus hands them a biscuit with the instructions, “Bite this. This is my body.” However, later that evening when Judas (aka Judd) makes his way over, there’s an unfortunately relatable part of the story: betrayal. In a park behind the unnamed restaurant, Judd turns on his teacher, his friend. While we may look at the scenes that play out and find Gainesville or Atlanta to be wild places for the Son of God to show up, isn’t that the point? After all, Nazareth of Galilee was just as absurd a place for the Messiah to emerge. The Cotton Patch Gospel tells the story again with holy imagination and demonstrates how Jesus can meet us in relatable everyday life. We only need to keep our eyes open.
ELECTIONS | 2023 SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOD ASSEMBLY
By The Rev. Lisa Isenhower
The 2023 SC Synod Assembly approved a number of amendments to the SC Synod Constitution as well as a number of provisions that were approved by the 2022 Churchwide Assembly.
The assembly also approved retaining 2 copies of the official minutes of the 2022 SC Synod Assembly, to be placed in the archives.
The following persons were elected to Synod Council: Cindy Davis, Eastern Area Lay Woman; Jeffrey Stringer, Northern Area Lay Man; Randy Fellers, Lay Man at Large; Beth Trump, Lay Woman At Large; Joyce Rose-Harris, Lay Woman, Person of Color/Language Other Than English; Rachel Hoffman, Synod Council Rostered Minister At Large; Carl Taylor, Rostered Minister, Central Area; Hunter Prest, Youth At Large.
Rev. Wayne Kannaday was elected to serve on the Consultation Committee.
Ron Walrath and Susan McArver were elected to the Mission Endowment Fund Grant Committee as Lay Man and Lay Woman respectively.
Sydnie Taylor was elected to serve on the board of the South Carolina Lutheran Retreat Centers as a Lay Woman, and the assembly ratified the Rev. Jason Lee’s election to the board of NovusWay.
A RESOLUTION ON LIVING INTO THE UNITY OF THE BODY OF CHRIST | 2023 SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOD ASSEMBLY
By The Rev. Lisa isenhower
The 2023 South Carolina Synod Assembly received a resolution on Living into the unity of the body of Christ. The resolution asked that the people and congregations of the synod enter a one-year period of intentional Bible study and discernment concerning the nature of the body of Christ, the nature of the three expressions of the ELCA (churchwide, synod, congregation), and the relationship between the body of Christ and our three expressions “for the purpose of doing God’s work in the world and proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.”
The resolution, submitted by the Reverend Bobby Morris and the Reverend Arden Hallman, calls for the bishop’s office to provide resources to conferences and congregations to facilitate this intentional one-year study. Reflections and conversations from the studies are to be shared at the 2024 SC Synod Assembly.
The resolution, recommended to the assembly for approval by Ms. Linda Shealy, chair of reference and counsel, was made in the light of the ample scriptural evidence that Christian unity is God’s desire for the church.
Rev. Bobby Morris stated that the church has “… been dealing with differences … since Acts chapter 10. We’ve never agreed about everything, and that’s not a bad thing. The problem is when that divides us. One of the issues that we’re up against is that there is money to be made when the flames of division are fanned. We can fan flames too, but we can fan flames of unity. Unity in the body of Christ. What better way than immersion in our sacred scriptures? Let’s talk about our differences and our unity in the midst of those differences and do so with scripture and the Holy Spirit as our guide.”
Rev. Arden Hallman agreed with Rev. Morris, saying that he gets “…tired of seeing folks use scripture to drive us apart rather than bring us together. In the last 30 years we made a big mistake when we decided that we did not want to be controversial…I think probably because we were afraid. If we don’t deal with the kind of stuff people want and need us to talk about, then we are missing what that man from Galilee was talking about.”
One member of the assembly expressed concerns about whether there was a specific agenda with issues that will become the focus of study. Another stated that he was troubled by some of the language of the discussion. He found the mention of disaffiliation “triggering.”
Andrew Boozer, a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Pomaria, spoke emotionally about the damage that disaffiliation has done to his congregation. He noted that the last time he spoke to the assembly was when St. Paul’s church burned. As difficult as that time was, he said that “For the last two years, our church has burned from within, from the pews. During the past year, we took two disaffiliation votes, both passed. Synod council voted not to allow the disaffiliation.” Boozer spoke in favor of the resolution, noting that “I didn’t think [disaffiliation] could happen at St. Paul, but it did. And it happened without a single, intentional, Biblical discussion. The news given from member to member was given from cable news or social media, despite the efforts of the bishop’s office. I wholeheartedly approve this resolution. Take this resolution to heart as rostered leaders. Have these hard conversations.”
The resolution was approved, 254 to 49.
A RESPONSE TO THE 2022 RESOLUTION ON THE DEATH PENALTY | 2023 SOUTH CAROLINA SYNOD ASSEMBLY
By The Rev. Lisa Isenhower
The 2022 SynodAssembly passed a resolution called “Resolution on a Faithful Approach tothe Death Penalty in South Carolina.” The resolution called for the SynodCouncil and the Criminal Justice Task Force to lead the synod in study ofcriminal justice and the death penalty in order to equip congregations toaddress criminal justice issues in general and the death penalty in particularby engaging our state legislators.
The original taskforce included Pr. Reggie Cruse (chair), Pr. Fred Klinker, Dr. Dennis Lambriesof Newberry College, Mr. Bill Kendig, Pr. Don Costlow, Pr. Beth Costlow, andPr. Emily Hartmann. Pr. Michael Price was invited to attend on behalf ofReference and Counsel and became a member of the task force. After theresignation of Mr. Kendig and Prs. Costlow, Pr. Jason Schafer joined the taskforce. Synod Director of Communications Neal Fischer and United Methodistminister Pr. Hillary Taylor have also contributed significantly to the work of the task force.
The task forcepresented its response to the resolution at the 2023 Synod Assembly, in theform of a brief video. (The longer video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIJLdirIdbM) The video references the 1991 ELCA Social Statement “The Death Penalty: AnIssue for Moral Deliberation,” which (like all ELCA Social Statements) is ateaching document, intended to be informative rather than prescriptive. Thisvideo offers a biblical perspective on the death penalty and ample food forthought for anyone interested in learning more about our church’s stance on thedeath penalty.