Welcome, and thank you for visiting Schuylkill Mission District online. We hope that our website highlights the wide variety of latest news, churches information and worship times, fellowship and service opportunities available. Please feel free to read more about our site.
The Schuylkill Mission District Council meets frequently to discuss and plan ministry programming to better assist the congregations of our Mission District. Our goal is to provide events and resources to uplift youth and family ministry, spirituality, evangelism, and maintain our connection with our Synod and the ELCA.
This Week's Prayer
Eternal and all-merciful God, with all the angels and all the saints we laud your majesty and might. By the resurrection of your Son, show yourself to us and inspire us to follow Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. AMEN
Schuylkill Mission District
Future Meeting Dates
Schuylkill Mission District Leaders, Pastors and SALMs Meeting
Wed., May 11, 2022 at 10:00 am
June 28, 2022 at 6:00 pm
Latest District News
“This is just out from Bishop DeForest. It is a long read but explains well, movement within our synod, that is very hopeful in offering opportunities to bring vitality to churches.” We are the church together. So please take time to read this! Catch the excitement and overview to help understand the larger picture and how we fit together.”
REPORT OF THE BISHOP, May 2022
Then Jesus began to say to them… “When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.” [Mark 13:7-8]
The advice given here by Jesus – ‘do not be alarmed’ – seems to be written for us and these times we live in. From May 2021 through May 2022, the global pandemic of Covid-19 still had a grievous impact on our lives and our life together as synod. Then, starting in February, the Russian invasion of Ukraine filled our screens and our prayers, as we all were heartbroken and horrified by the violence, destruction and loss of life – but also moved and heartened by the courage and tenacity of the Ukrainian people. In both circumstances, it has been inspiring to see the strong responses of people from across our synod. Many congregations have taken such great care as we slowly and safely emerge from pandemic restrictions – ready to return to them should the situation change. And many of our worshipping communities have risen up and worked together to support humanitarian aid for Ukraine. They stand ready to support and receive refugees, and are in deep prayer for all involved – week after week, in regular Sunday worship as well as holding special services and vigils.
Increasingly as well, I have seen a resilience, a readiness for action, and a willingness to partner that has been the work of the Spirit, bearing much fruit in hearts, homes and churches across Northeastern PA, even through this drear and difficult pandemic season. We are coming to understand, now more than ever, that we are indeed STRONGER TOGETHER. And that combining our strengths and relying fully on our Source of all strength – our Almighty God – is our best way forward.
That WAY is the way of Jesus. And we continue to describe it here in NEPS as a “three-lane highway” – three VITAL SIGN GOALS that we as synod are traveling towards, with Jesus leading the way – in truth, and for life – moving and lifting us toward his new and everlasting life.
Here’s an update on all three Goals:
This Vital Sign Goal was the centerpiece of our 2021 Synod Assembly in June and our “Ministry Laboratory” or “Min-Lab” in August. Congregations across the synod continue to focus on this nationwide renewal movement grounded in being and acting as a Jesus-centered community that is committed to engaging and retaining people of all ages, especially those 15-29 years.
A big step forward – in April, Stacey Burke assumed the new role as our Synod’s GROWING YOUNG COORDINATOR. She is deeply committed and excited to bring together congregations, youth leaders, and leaders of all kinds, to coordinate ideas, strategies and the common values and mission we share in this work. She will focus the next several months on learning and listening, especially to youth, young adults and young families. She will also work closely with me, with Pastor Lauren Applegate, and the Youth, Young Adult and Families Ministry Team, to bring resources together for these efforts – including support from the ELCA and our ecumenical partners (Episcopal, UCC, Presbyterian, Moravian, United Methodist).
I believe that every congregation in our synod is called to play an important and meaningful role in this GY work – even if you don’t have a lot of youth in worship or involved in your church life. We’re all Growing Younger, together.
This Vital Sign Goal declares two realities: that our synod is already filled with God-given strengths; and when we combine those strengths, we can go further, faster and longer, bringing more along and having more to share. Over the next five years, we will be striving to:
Help our leaders and congregations identify their strengths;
Help link leaders and congregations together to share and multiply those strengths;
By 2026 – every pastor, deacon, and congregation with the will to do so, will be engaged in some kind of active, vital, sustainable ministry partnership.
To reach these goals, two synod staff will offer primary support: Pastor Mike Bennethum, our Director of Evangelical Mission; and Pastor Rachael Dietz, our Executive Associate for Leadership. We will also be working with these three OUTSIDE PARTNERS:
Our ELCA churchwide partners and their practical and inspirational workshops for clergy and lay leaders, called “Congregational Vitality Workshops.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, these semi-annual Congregational Vitality Workshops have occurred online without cost to participants, making these training events accessible to more of our congregations. Over 20 congregations have signed up for these sessions so far in 2022, and are seeing strong results.
Pastor Douglas Hill, who is helping congregations and pastors across the ELCA to identify and build on their strengths, and form new and stronger partnerships across their communities – not just to survive, but to thrive and spread new life in Christ. In February Pastor Doug helped us launch our first “Gaining Strength Cohort” – including 11 pastors from across the synod – in an 18-month process of growth, mutual support, skill development, and spiritual enrichment, all of which they will share with their congregations and with other colleagues and communities in NEPS.
We are also in conversation with the “Center for Congregational Health” (www.healthychurch.org) who has resources and expertise to help us develop customized “mission, vision and values” workshops, especially for congregations in transition or without the resources to call a fulltime pastor.
All of these goals and partnerships are meant to help us understand our strengths and make our Lutheran witness stronger and more sustainable for decades to come, so we can be more resilient and ready for challenges and new opportunities to love God’s people, care for God’s creation, and spread the Good News of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, for the eternal life of all the world. Speaking of that Good News…
GOING BEYOND DEATH TO LIFE
This Vital Sign Goal ties us to the very grounding of our Christian witness, and mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Firm in this belief, we can live life fully and share ourselves completely, since in Christ “we live and move and have our being.” [Acts 17:28] In boldness, we can face our fears and even death itself. It only makes sense, then, that this work would be guided by a person trained as both a chaplain and as a diagnostic theologian – someone gifted in both spirituality and data interpretation – Deacon Travis Woodfield, our synod’s Director of Congregational Legacy and Purpose.
With this Vital Sign Goal, we hope to help every congregation work out a plan for a faithful, lasting legacy – whether they are 20 years old, or 200. For smaller congregations especially, we also want to help them find the right partners for vital, sustainable ministry – not just for convenience or survival, but because they share some common purpose or potential. And should a congregation be moving towards ending, we want to help them diagnose their situation and make the most faithful decisions for themselves and for their community. By the end of 2023, we want to be ready to deploy “legacy and purpose teams,” made up of retired clergy and other expert outside partners, to walk alongside those congregations in this important work, guiding them in spiritual and practical matters.
One outstanding OUTSIDE PARTNER we are talking with, to help us in this work, is an organization called “Partners for Sacred Places” (www.sacredplaces.org). This non-denominational group provides valuable expertise to advise congregational councils and pastors on how to renovate, repurpose, share, and even to make decisions on when and how to eventually sell their property and physical assets. We hope to partner with PSP to provide consistent, compassionate, and faithful processes across the synod.
A FEW MORE BIG IDEAS
Supporting and connecting across all three Vital Sign Goals – these additional ideas are bubbling up from congregations and mission districts across the synod:
Revisit the Synod Authorized Lay Minister (SALM) program. This program and process once made it possible to identify, train and deploy qualified lay persons, who were in congregations doing vital ministry, but located in places where it was hard to find or sustain a fulltime pastor. Those SALMs were assigned only to one place for a limited time, and given permission by the Bishop to carry out many of the responsibilities of a pastor – including the sacraments. Though we still have some faithful SALMs serving in NEPS, the program generating new SALMs was suspended several years ago, having become too difficult to run and supervise. The time has come to reconsider new versions of this idea, for this new time and place. We already have one version in a pilot program – called the “Pastoral Care Provider Program” – which we can now consider for greater expansion. There are other new models to consider, working well in several synods.
We can also now engage with new partners, willing to help us train and manage the training and supervisory process, including:
Many willing and experienced retired pastors and deacons;
The United Lutheran Seminary, which is ready to commit time and resources to help us to develop especially, the Lutheran components of education and formation;
The Moravian Seminary, which has been a valued training partner for us in the past, snf who is ready to deepen that partnership in ways customized for us;
And a new partner, called “Neighborhood Seminary,” an online learning environment, which we’ve just learned about from our partnership with Pastor Doug Hill (see above).
Continue Enhancing our Communications. Under the leadership of Pastor Lauren Wolfe Blatt, Director of Communications, our redesigned website premiered this spring, with a fresh look meant to be welcoming to the outside world, especially pastors and deacons considering a move to our synod. Websites are always in need of new content and continuous improvement, so we invite comments and suggestions.
But being STRONGER TOGETHER also calls us all to be better connected and willing to play our part in sharing and managing information and ideas, while being careful of confidentiality and privacy. We are in the process of rolling out a much-improved database system, called “Realm,” which will soon be accessible by password to pastors, deacons, and selected congregational office staff and key leaders in congregations. Eric Gombert, our Director of Operations, is spearheading this work, along with Laurie Christman, Leadership Support Coordinator; and Debbie Skinner, Mission Support Coordinator.
Over the next year, we also hope to conduct a communications audit, to determine how we can streamline our process and better serve and connect with each other cross the synod. The Synod Council is also pursuing the creation of a robust crisis communication plan to address emergencies and both our internal and external contacts.
Become the Best Place for Deacons in the ELCA. We already have a dynamic group of strong and Spirit-led Deacons serving a variety of essential and exciting roles here in NEPS. At the same time, many of us here and across the church don’t fully understand what these “Ministers of Word and Service” are called to do, especially when considered alongside our other roster, the Ministers of Word and Sacrament, or Pastors. Deacons can certainly serve in congregations; but many others serve in hospitals, agencies, institutions, universities, non-profit organizations, and even for-profit corporations.
But as God leads us to seek and find more connections and partnerships across our synod – what if Deacons were to play a leading role in encouraging and empowering those connections? Let’s say, a group of 6 congregations were interested in building and sharing a prison ministry. A Minister of Word and Service – a Deacon – with specialized training in Prison Ministry could be called to come in and help those congregations establish that mission. Perhaps they are called for a year, or three years – or perhaps to a permanent call, where they continue to build that ministry and engage the baptized members in that work.
Deacons can be “free agents” in this way – shared by several congregations, or working across the Synod in what’s called a “Synod call” – working in a way that isn’t as tied down to one location; and that allows the Pastors in the synod to focus on what they are called to do: Word and Sacrament ministry in congregations. This Big Idea could be the “glue” that helps us reach out to people across the synod, in new places and in new ways; and attract and deploy more of these ordained Ministers of Word and Service from across the church to serve God in NEPA.
THE FINAL WORD – AND THE BIGGER PICTURE
Where can this all lead? Today, we are 249 congregations, with three synod authorized worshipping communities, bringing together over 118,000 baptized members. The data projections all show, these two numbers getting smaller. In five years – by the end of 2026 – what might this Synod look like? I believe God is calling us to have new eyes to see, new ears to hear. If we work together, if we focus on the way of Jesus – I believe God is leading us towards becoming a closer-knit synod of interconnected, vitalized, sustainable WORSHIPPING COMMUNITIES, made up of congregations who share their pastors, deacons, and other support staff; who lift up and empower more lay persons to play major roles; and who are working on ministries and missions that make a real difference in people’s lives.
At this very moment, this is already happening, for sure, in a number of places. We already have a significant number of congregations working together in ways that can be truly described as “interconnected, vitalized, sustainable worshipping communities.” What might be the total number of such communities be, here in the year 2022 – is it 40? Or 50? Or 60?
What if, by 2026, we doubled that number? To 120 such worshipping communities? Interwoven webs of congregations, ready to be resilient and relevant, into the next century and beyond.
Is it possible? Can we do it? “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” [Mark 10:27]
If God wills it – and y’all are willing – I’m ready to go! “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” [Philippians 4:17]
In Christ, we are STRONGER TOGETHER!
Schuylkill Mission District Council
Pastor Linda Bonfiglio
Associate of the Bishop:
Pastor Kathleen Ash-Flashner
WELCA Schuylkill District
The next WELCA-Schuylkill Cluster Meeting will be tentatively held in Spring 2022 (after Easter April 17 to May 2022, depending on the host church)