Editor’s note: Synod communicators were asked to share a highlight from their assemblies. What made a difference to participants? What was the most important part of the assembly? Responses received by press time are included here. When provided, there is a Web address for more information. Additional reports will appear in August.

Arkansas-Oklahoma, May 4-6, Tulsa, Okla. The theme was “Building Bridges—Racism, Diversity and Justice.” The assembly kicked off with a blues/gospel worship with local musicians. Keynote speakers were Judith Roberts, ELCA program director for racial justice, and Cindy Nance, a professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law, Fayetteville. Workshops were focused on the theme, including a field trip to the John Hope Franklin Park and Reconciliation Center, where participants learned more about the 1921 Tulsa Massacre (formerly known as the Tulsa Race Riot) and Tulsa’s Black Wall Street. —Laura Bunch

Eastern Washington-Idaho, April 27-29, Yakima, Wash. Churchwide representatives were Victoria Flood, director for Mission Support, and Ron Glusenkamp, director of the Campaign for the ELCA-—both addressed the assembly with grace, humor and care. Glusenkamp also led the assembly in a fantastic Bible study. The assembly passed a resolution to accept St. Paul Lutheran Church, Ontario, Ore., as a synod member. It also passed a memorial requesting Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton to express concern to Thrivent about restrictions concerning where Choice Dollars (a charitable grant program) are directed. —Cathy Steiner

Metropolitan New York, May 11-12, Long Island, N.Y. Meeting under the theme “Building Bridges,” participants celebrated the diversity within the synod by committing to keep growing as an evangelizing community that builds bridges between races, ecumenical and interreligious communions, and different communities. Guests from the ELCA AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy and Opportunities) program taught participants how much more we can do for our immigrant brothers and sisters in need. During the closing eucharist, the assembly declared itself a sanctuary and welcoming synod. —Roberto Lara

Minneapolis Area, May 4-5, Ramsey, Minn. Under the theme “I Will Pour out My Spirit,” Archbishop Panti Filibus Musa, archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria (a companion synod) and president of the Lutheran World Federation, declared: “Our relationship should be a cherished one.” Voting members overwhelmingly supported resolutions concerning the prevention of gun violence and affirmation of the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women. The bishop’s report included guidelines for new “ministry imagination grants” made possible through the sale of congregational property. —Bob Hulteen

New Jersey, May 11–12, New Brunswick, N.J. Gathering under the theme “Grace Abounds,” voting members adopted resolutions related to gun violence and undocumented immigrants. A memorial lifting up the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women was also adopted. “The Bishop’s Challenge: Changing the World One Cow at a Time” was introduced to challenge all synod congregations to grow in awareness, generosity, service and advocacy in response to hunger through ELCA World Hunger. The synod’s LoveStruck team led a time of spiritual reflection to raise awareness about how racism operates in our culture and institutions, using Scripture, faith and various images to expose assumptions about race and its systemic nature. LoveStruck, a youth leadership training program, is an invitation to talk with one another about God, race, racism, community and diversity while creating safe, respectful, open, loving, spaces for conversation. —LuAnn M. Barnes

North/West Lower Michigan, May 20-22, Lansing, Mich. Centered around the theme “Signs of the Spirit,” the synod welcomed Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton as keynote speaker. In her sermon and assembly address, Eaton reflected on the Spirit being bigger than the church and urged the assembly to live as if they truly believed in the resurrection. Synod members shared the “signs of the Spirit” they see in their congregations and ministries, and collected offerings for disability ministries and disaster relief. —Chelsey Saterlee

Northeastern Minnesota, May 4-6, Brainerd, Minn. Voting members, guests and visitors enjoyed a weekend of spiritual renewal, theological education and workshop opportunities. Participants wore red on May 5, the National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Prairie Rose Seminole, ELCA program director for American Indian Alaska Native ministries, gave a powerful message regarding the Doctrine of Discovery and its legacy of trauma on native people. —Tammy Segel-Crilly

Northern Great Lakes, May 20-22, Marquette, Mich. The theme, “Equipping the Saints for Ministry,” guided and challenged attendees to reflect on their individual and collective ministries. Several “tool times” for ministry were shared. Linda Bobbit, ELCA representative and project coordinator of the Congregational Vitality Project, was fascinated by the iron ore docks in Marquette. She used the docks, roads and Lake Superior as analogies for ministry, asking, “Are you the road along the lake that could be crushed by the waves; the ore dock, which can be weakened but not crushed; or life-giving water that moves and changes, guided by the Holy Spirit?” —Sue Shallow

Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana, April 27-28, Temple, Texas. Bible study led by Mandy Brobst-Renaud, pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church, Malone, Texas, was a highlight. Breakout sessions were held on ecumenism, mission development and leadership development, particularly with youth and young adults. San Mateo, Waco, was welcomed as a new mission. Bishop Erik Gronberg made the synod’s Fund for Leaders a focus of the assembly, with two scholarships given and a special offering of more than $24,000 received. Videos will be uploaded to YouTube. —Jason O’Neal

Pacifica Synod, May 18-19, Palm Desert, Calif. With the theme of “Go & Tell: Giving Voice to Faith, Justice & Blessing,” the assembly heard stories and were invited to share their own of how God is at work in each of our lives. Keynotes were presented by rostered ministers from the synod. Voting members approved a resolution to encourage study of the ELCA’s draft of the social statement on women and justice. The assembly approved a memorial titled “Towards Open and Healthy Articulation of Human Sexuality.” –Terri Robertson

Rocky Mountain, May 3-5, Westminster, Colo. Meeting under the theme of “For the Life of the World,” the assembly opened with Tink Tinker from the Osage Nation welcoming participants to the land they gathered on and inviting the assembly into a deeper repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, professor of theological and social ethics from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, Calif., offered new frameworks for entering into hard conversations, reminding the assembly that “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ isn’t just a commandment but first a promise.” —Erin Power

Saint Paul Area Synod, May 18-19, Mahtomedi, Minn. This year’s theme, “We Are Lutheran: Restless & Resolute,” invited young adult speakers to talk about their life in the church, with topics ranging from multicultural identity, living with disability, and being called to global service and advocacy. Young adults also led small group discussion around questions that the church is embracing in the 21st century—questions that make us restless as a church body, but that we need to be resolute in seeking answers for. – Chloe Ahlf

Southeast Michigan, May 11-12, Detroit. The theme “Stay Woke,” based on 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, focused attention on African American urban issues and immigration issues. Detroit Free Press columnist and author Rochelle Riley addressed the assembly, alongside Albert Starr Jr., ELCA director of ethnic specific ministries. A “Cross & Creation” tour of the city provided participants with a different view of neighborhoods often misrepresented or ignored by the media. A modified Thomas Mass included prayer and anointing stations, as well as tools to address letters to elected officials advocating for DACA (Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals) and the Dreamers. —Robin J. McCants

Southeastern Iowa, May 18-19, Coralville, Iowa. Voting members and guests gathered under the theme “The Water and The Witness,” joined by guests Mikka McCracken,  director of planning and engagement with ELCA World Hunger, and Julian Gordy, bishop of the Southeastern Synod. Congregations and individuals gave more than $56,000 in offerings for water-related projects as the culmination of the synod’s “The Water and The Witness” bucket project. Guests also participated in an interactive learning center that included advocacy for causes, prayer stations, artistic expression and active learning. —Valerie Harlynn

Southeastern Minnesota, May 4-5, 2018, Mankato, Minn. The theme was “Celebrating Our Global Congregation.” Special guests were in attendance from the synod’s global companions—the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia. Churchwide representative Benyam Kassahun, program director for Southern Africa, shared powerful and inspiring updates from the church’s companions in South Sudan. A special highlight for attendees was the “Women of the Global South” panel conversation.  —Emily Carson

Southeastern Pennsylvania, May 4-5, Telford, Pa. With the theme “Come, Holy Spirit!” the assembly elected its fifth bishop (page 41) and honored retiring Bishop Claire Schenot Burkat. Looking back at her 12 years in office, Burkat said, “My life and my call have been new every day. Never have I woken on any morning not aware of the call of this vocation of word and sacrament. And we as the church have been called as well.” The assembly referred a memorial recognizing the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the ELCA to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. —Robert Fischer

Southwestern Texas, May 5-6, San Marcos, Texas. Under the theme “Seeds of Hope: Beyond All Imagination,” the assembly thanked Bishop Ray Tiemann for 18 years of service with a special banquet. Volunteers made 400 prayer shawls that adorned the plenary space. The Spirit blessed these shawls as they were used throughout the bishop’s election process when a song and prayer preceded each ballot. They were later taken by voting members as gifts or for agencies to share. The assembly offering of $76,594.55 supported the Campaign for the ELCA’s focus of Fund for Leaders. —Julie Rowe 

Bishop elections

Elected: Patricia A. Davenport as bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, effective Aug. 1.

When: May 5, on the fourth ballot, with 331 votes. Julie DeWerth, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, King of Prussia, Pa., received 89 votes.

Bio: Director for evangelical mission and assistant to the synod bishop. Served Spirit & Truth Worship Center in Yeadon, Pa. Earned degrees from Community College of Philadelphia and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (now United Lutheran Seminary).

Replaces: Claire S. Burkat, who will retire July 31.


Elected: Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld as bishop of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, effective July 1.

When: May 6, on the fifth ballot with 254 votes. Steve Kottke, an assistant to the synod bishop, received 150 votes.

Bio: Served Lutheran congregations in Wisconsin—Cross and St. Peter, Milwaukee; Good Shepherd, Waukesha; Gethsemane, Brookfield; Cross, Burlington; Grace, Kenosha; and St. Paul, Beloit. Earned degrees from Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., and Chicago Theological Seminary.

Replaces: Mary Froiland, who will serve next as a pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church, North St. Paul, Minn.  —Vicki Hanrahan


Elected: Susan J. Briner as bishop of the Southwestern Texas Synod, effective Sept. 1.

When: May 6 on the fifth ballot with 175 votes. Paul R. Ziese, pastor of MacArthur Park Lutheran Church, San Antonio, received 157 votes.

Bio: Bishop’s associate of the synod. Served St. Luke Lutheran Church, Summerville, S.C. Earned degrees from Duke University, Durham, N.C., and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C.

Replaces: Ray Tiemann, who will retire Aug. 31.


Re-elected: James Gonia as bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod, on the first ballot, receiving 321 of 391 votes cast.

Re-elected: Ann Svennungsen as bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod on the second ballot with 337 votes. Jeffrey P. Nehrbass, pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, received 50 votes.

Re-elected: Shelley Wickstrom as bishop of the Alaska Synod on the first ballot with 68 votes (63 were needed for election).


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