As we prepare for Friday evening’s Synod Assembly during this season of Pentecost, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit who draws us to the promise of new life in the Crucified and Risen Jesus. And this promise grounds us in the truth that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. Neither church conflict. Nor COVID-19. Nor political strife. Nor racial discord. Nor death. God is God, and we are God’s people. And God’s love for us endures forever.
2021 is the Year of Generosity, and our focus is on Funding the Mission. God has a mission, and God’s mission has a church, and God’s church is full of generous people who have abundant gifts and resources; gifts and resources that we are called to share. In the Book of Acts, Jesus reminds us that, “…It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35c). Generosity is at the heart of following Jesus.
One of my favorite Bible verses related to generosity is recorded in the Sermon on Mount. The Bible verse is Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. This powerful verse reminds us that the spiritual practice of generosity can transform our hearts and lives, and at the same time, renew our communities. By practicing generosity, we are given the opportunity to partner with God to renew all things. This partnership is at the heart of the Northwestern Ohio Synod’s mission: Sent by the Crucified and Risen Jesus to Make Disciples, Equip Leaders, Strengthen Parishes, and Nurture New Communities for the Renewal of Northwestern Ohio and the World. We have experienced abundant generosity in the Northwestern Ohio Synod, which has moved us forward in our mission.
This past Spring, we were blessed to offer our second round of Imagining Renewal Microgrants. In May, we gathered at Middlegrounds Metropark for a morning Pentecost service followed by an outdoor picnic to award 36 microgrants to a wide array of parishes and community organizations. These Microgrants, ranging from $500-$2000 were awarded across our synod, and included: 22 rural projects, 12 urban projects, and 3 suburban projects. We look forward to making the Imagining Renewal Microgrants an annual project, with a third round of awards in 2022.
One example of an Imagining Renewal Microgrant in action was led by Diakonia graduate Jacinda Jones. Jacinda combined her love of summertime at the campground with her passion for sharing Jesus with children. On Saturday mornings from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Jacinda engaged the children at her campground who were restlessly awaiting the opening of the pool. Children were welcomed into a time of games and craft projects around Bible stories and faith-filled fun. As relationships grew, so too did the weekly gathering. We are grateful for the new community that Jacinda nurtured through the Imagining Renewal Microgrant initiative.
The global pandemic has had a profound effect on our parishes and communities. People we dearly love became sick. Some recovered, and others died. We are clearly not out of the woods yet. From April 2020 through May of 2021, our synod received $45,500 in COVID relief grants from the ELCA and ELCA World Hunger. 100% of these funds were distributed to those within our synod who were most affected by the pandemic: prisons, preschools, feeding ministries, social ministry organizations, and places experiencing poverty.
One example of a COVID Relief Grant in action is through the remarkable work of Cindy’s Corner. During a global pandemic this life changing ministry quickly expanded from one to three locations. Cindy’s Corner currently serves the communities surrounding St. Lucas, St. John’s, and St. Paul’s in Toledo. In addition to offering meals and a place for fellowship, special outdoor gathering spaces are providing beautiful and safe spaces for folks experiencing homelessness. The many volunteers at Cindy’s Corner are sharing the good news that every person is a reflection of the image of God and being a good neighbor means treating every person with dignity and love.
Which brings us to a new opportunity we have for the Renewal of the World. At the end of 2020, we were blessed with very successful Year End campaign. We set a goal to raise $52,020 and ended up receiving just under $85,000. Those funds are being used for the new Innovator Learning Academy, and the excess funds will help us with the next group of innovators we are planning to empower in a 2021-2023 cohort. This was a very successful Year End Ask, which leads me to believe that we can do it again. Only this time it will not be for the renewal of Northwest Ohio, but for the renewal of the world.
The Northwestern Ohio Synod has been richly blessed this year, and I’d love for us to end 2021 the Year of Generosity by giving back to the greater church, for the renewal of the world. We are in conversation with Lutheran Disaster Response, an incredible organization that provides substantial relief and resources to those who are struggling from COVID-19, political crises, and natural disasters. In 2020, Lutheran Disaster Response was active in 46 states and territories in the United States, and in 53 countries around the world, including in the lives of our global companions in Mexico, Serbia, and Tanzania. To learn more about Lutheran Disaster Response please click here.
As we have been given much, I truly believe that we can give back generously. The Council of the Northwestern Ohio Synod is encouraging us to partner with Lutheran Disaster Response and endeavor to raise at least $100,000 for our brothers and sisters in the United States and around the world. This Year End Ask will begin October 1 and take us through the end of the year. In this Year of Generosity would you and your parish partner with us, with Lutheran Disaster Response, and with God, for the renewal of the world?
Let us pray, Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to seek reward, except that of knowing that I do your will. Amen. (Prayer for Generosity by St. Ignatius Loyola)