Director of Evangelical Mission Report to the West Virginia — Western Maryland Synod2

From where does the Director of Evangelical Mission (D.E.M.) come?

The position of the D.E.M. is supported through your mission support to the ELCA. In order to coordinate the partnership between the ELCA’s churchwide ministries and the 65 synods of this church, Directors for Evangelical Mission serve in positions shared by both of these expressions of this church. They are fully churchwide staff who are fully embraced by synods. My position in the Synod is 0.5FTE.

What is the role of the Director of Evangelical Mission?

As your Director of Evangelical Mission, I serve under the guidance of the Bishop. The 4 areas of focus include, but are not limited to:

  • Mission development or “new starts”
  • Congregational renewal or “redevelopment”
  • Mission Support and stewardship
  • Missional vision and planning for the synod

Following are some of the duties I have performed for the synod:

Clergy Continuing Education Committee — Working with 3 other pastors we plan the continuing education events for the synod clergy. Rostered leaders are required to complete 50 hours of continuing education each year. The team consists of Pastor Kevin Mackey, Pastor Sally Bartling, and Pastor Ben Erzkus. In 2021, Pastor Erzkus replaced Pastor Ryan Haycock and Pastor Bartling replaced Pastor Daniel Warntz. We work alongside the Bishop who serves in an advisory capacity.

We began to make plans for our first in-person event since COVID-19 in the fall of 2021. We reached out to Sister Carol Riley with the WV Institute for Spirituality and asked if she could lead a workshop looking at the topic of grief. Plans were made to hold the event at St, John XXIII Pastoral Retreat Center in Charleston. In December, 2021, cases of Omicron (or was it Delta) began to spike. The decision was made by the team to offer con ed as a hybrid event. Those who wanted to attend in person were welcome to do so and others could join in via Zoom. Sister Riley decided to lead the workshop remotely. The hybrid experience went well.

The committee is currently working on planning an in-person fall event in November with Bishop Craig Satterlee as the presenter. As of the date of this Synod Assembly, the location will be Cacapon State Park.

Working with the Synod Lay Worship Leader committee, we are hoping to partner with neighboring synods in providing educational opportunities for our SLWLs.

Stewardship — I am available to help congregations with all stewardship issues including assisting with Fall stewardship drives.

The synod would not exist without your faithful stewardship. Your mission support dollars not only make important ministries on the Synod territory possible, they also support ELCA ministries on national and global levels.

Your commitment to the church over the last 2 years has been commendable. During a time of uncertainty, most congregations continued to receive offerings at levels comparable to pre-COVID times. Several congregations saw their offerings rise. Thank you!

Worship leadership — I continue to travel around the synod leading worship as requested. This is one of the favorite parts of my job. Our Synod territory is beautiful. As I traverse the mountains and valleys of our Synod, I always find myself in awe of the scenery. Our little segment of God’s creation is truly a masterpiece.

Another aspect of worship leadership from which I benefit are the relationships I make as I visit your congregations. The folks in our churches are welcoming and gracious. I appreciate our ministry together.

Visioning — As congregations look to their future, I work with them on visioning and asset mapping. I have enjoyed working with the folks at St. John’s in Red House, MD; Cross of Grace which is currently meeting in Teays Valley, WV; and Christ Lutheran in Vienna, WV. I look forward to working with other congregations as we seek new ways to share God’s Good News with our neighbors inviting them into a relationship with Christ.

Exciting things are happening in our Synod. Recently, Shepherd of the Hills and St. John Meadow Mountain have agreed to worshiping together this summer. The Shepherd of the Hills congregation (Pastor Rick Egvedt) rent space from the Catholic church in the Deep Creek area. During the summer months, they have to move their worship time. St. John has a pastoral vacancy and a building. The two congregations came together for Easter worship and SOTH proposed the summer arrangement since Easter went so well. The details were ironed out and an agreement was reached and the two will worship together from Memorial Day Weekend through Labor Day Weekend.

We currently have 17 pastoral vacancies around the synod. We are in a time where there are exciting new possibilities for congregations to come together to share worship leadership. These changes aren’t easy but they are necessary for many of our smaller congregations if they hope to continue as a worshiping community.

Racial Justice Team — This team has not been active recently. We were saddened to lose a member of the team, Pastor Scott Robinson. Pastor Scott was a fierce racial justice warrior.

Congregational Vitality — An important responsibility of the DEM is to relate to congregations in areas concerning vitality. I participated in a 4 month focus group on synodical vitality with Dr. Dave Daubert.

A part of congregational vitality is the Holy Innovations Grant. This is a 2-year grant through which the Mountain Lutheran Parish secured two years of funding to explore relationships with Snowshoe Resort in Pocahontas Co. and the Episcopal church in that area. One of the focus points of the grant was working with the immigrant workers at Snowshoe. Changes in immigration policy on a national level and COVID-19 shifted the focus of the grant several times. We were blessed to work with Vicar Hillary and Vicar Evan Christianson over the 2-year period.

Another responsibility that falls under Congregational Vitality was my appointment to the Imperiled Congregations Committee. The committee was tasked with coming up with a formula to help identify congregations that may become unstable to the point of needing intervention. Synod Council is concerned that congregations may reach a point of closing thus leaving property that is the responsibility of the Synod but which the Synod cannot afford to care for and may not able to sell. Committee member, Alice, created an intake form through which the Synod can gather information that may help it to identify imperiled congregations. The Allegheny Synod shared a formula with us that will assist with data analysis. Please hear this…the purpose of this is not to close congregations. The purpose is to identify imperiled congregations in advance so that help can be provided by the Synod Council so the Synod doesn’t find itself in a financial situation with property it cannot afford. The intention behind the creation of this committee is timely intervention.

In conclusion, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as your Director of Evangelical Mission. I am grateful to Bishop Riegel for our partnership in serving the congregations of the WV-W MD Synod.

Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Sherri Schafer
Director of Evangelical Mission


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