Over the course of the past year, the Eastern Synod Council has been working on developing a strategic plan to help guide the work of our boards, committees, related agencies and staff. At our March 2017 meeting the Synod Council will complete this task and share this plan with the wider synodical community shortly thereafter.
An important part of the process involved an environmental scan wherein many leaders across the Synod were consulted through interviews (one-on-one and group), an on-line survey, and in small group discussion. The topics were wide-ranging, and a combination of both qualitative and quantitative feedback was received. Participants identified a variety of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats they felt should be given careful consideration in charting a path forward. Some of these identified in a November 2016 preliminary report were as follows:
The Synod is praised for its support of the ELCIC and the effect that this has on helping the Synod community to feel connected to the wider church. The work of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary (WLS) and the Synod’s role in its achievements is also a source of pride for the synodical community.
The Synod does an excellent job of providing support for congregations, and lay and rostered leaders. Public policy, stewardship, and worship resources are particularly valued, as is the provision of workshops. Communications are an important aspect of this support.
Generally speaking, the Synod is seen to do a good job of ministry for youth and young adults. The delegation of decision-making to the Youth and Young Adult Committee is seen as both a strong tactical approach for this ministry, and also as a means of leadership development.
The Synod is criticized for being reluctant to make critical decisions. This relates primarily to stopping some ministries rather than let them drain resources, both financial and human.
Some in the community would like to see more support from the Synod on training and education. Some Ministry Area Teams feel that they have received excellent training, but others do not feel as positive about this.
While there is acknowledgement that the Synod does a good job of trying to match the right rostered leaders with the right ministries, many feel that the Synod and the community do not do a good job of identifying candidates for ministry.
It is well-recognized that not all existing congregations are going to continue to be viable going forward. There are opportunities for the Synod to provide assistance with the process by providing resources in the form of palliative care, and assistance with disposition of real estate and other assets.
As Ministry Areas are a relatively new means of doing ministry in the Synod, there is seen to be an opportunity to build further momentum in the places where they are doing well, and to assist those that are struggling to determine how they can or cannot be more effective in their contexts.
The demographic reality of the Synod is that new churches are not being formed. There are opportunities for the Synod to look at new forms of ministry … and developing other synodically recognized ministries.
The primary threat for the Synod is that there are insufficient funds to continue to financially support all of the existing programs. Difficult decisions must be made in order to safeguard the assets of the Synod for whatever the future church will be. At the same time, there is a risk of disengagement of members, particularly younger members, who don’t want to continue to “do church” in the same way that it has been done.
There is a significant risk of a drain on resources if assets are mismanaged in closing congregations. There are opportunity costs associated with assets being undervalued, underutilized, or used inappropriately.
These are but a sampling of some of the observations that your Synod Council has, and will, be reflecting upon as they think strategically about our life together and build an accompanying work plan to guide our efforts. I am grateful for the efforts of everyone who has supported this effort to date, particularly those of my fellow synodical officers and ELCIC Vice-Chairperson Sheila Hamilton who has helped guide and animate this process. I eagerly anticipate our forthcoming Synod Council meeting and look forward to sharing the results of our efforts with you!
Finally, I am grateful to serve a synodical community who is willing and eager to engage in this sort of critical self-reflection. Though challenges abound, our trust in the Spirit’s guidance continues to fuel an enduring hope that sustains and inspires. And as the angel said, we “fear not!”
Bishop Michael Pryse