Listen, God Is Calling!: Highlights from the 2024 Gulf Coast Synod Assembly

May 27, 2024

By Bishop Michael Rinehart

“For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” ~ Romans 11:29

The 2024 Gulf Coast Synod Assembly was held for the second consecutive year at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in The Woodlands, Texas, May 17-18, 2024. Over 200 were registered, with about 10% participating online. Our deans served as chaplains. Lord of Life musician Dan Fenn and some of his team served as musicians.

Thursday night, a sudden storm arose with 100mph winds, making a mess of downtown Houston and knocking out power for a million people in the greater Houston area. A tornado touched down in Cypress damaging homes and electrical towers. This threw a pall on the assembly and also resulted in the absence of United Methodist Bishop Cynthia Harvey, who was due to speak but was unable to travel as she was without electricity and had damage to her home. A week later the death toll was eight people, the most recent due to carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

The next morning some needed to stay home, so numbers were lower than expected, but still, nearly 90% of those registered were in attendance. Opening Eucharist was an anticipatory celebration of the Feast of Pentecost, with Pastor Ele Clay preaching. Pastor José Luis Escalera was installed as Bishop’s Associate for Mission (DEM). Although reports of damage were just beginning to trickle in, prayers were said for all who were impacted by the storm.

Throughout the assembly, various speakers shared how they had heard and responded to God’s call in their lives: pastors, deacons, the bishop, congregations and the baptized. We heard from Deacon David Hope-Tringali, Deacon Courtney Webb about hospital chaplains, Bill Mintz about Houston Free Wheels, Jasmine Fiscal, Deacon-candidate Kinnon Falk about the Kindred Kitchen food ministry, and Pastor Chon Pugh.

Learning lunches were held both days. Some of the topics included: our companion synods, the Lutheran Churches of Peru and of the Central African Republic, Rural and Small Town Ministry, Discerning your Call, Generosity, Youth & Family Ministry, Lutherhill, The Order of Lutheran Franciscans, the Live On Endowment Fund, The Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest, The Ministry of Deacons, Acts of Wisdom in Africa, and Ministry as Council Leaders.

Our Churchwide Representative was ELCA Vice President Imran Siddiqui, who, prior to his election, served as Vice President of the Southeastern Synod. He shared about the work we are doing together as a church and brought greetings from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.

People were elected for Synod Council and Churchwide Assembly. Nominees were selected for the ELCA Church Council. Although we ended in the black, the Council proposed a slightly smaller and more conservative budget. A favorable external audit, presented by Synod Treasurer Paul Antolik, was adopted. Some non-controversial constitutional edits were approved.

Lutherhill Outdoor Ministries held its corporation meeting, sharing exciting news about ministry there and the new retreat center under construction. The Youth Ministry Team reported back as directed in last year’s resolution, calling on them to review the state of youth ministry in the synod and offer concrete recommendations. Among those recommendations were collecting and curating current youth ministry resources on our website, developing a monthly publication and/or a monthly Zoom, also made available on the website, a leadership training event for middle school students, a youth ministry training event for adults, and an ongoing youth ministry team. Although this team’s mission was simply to report back, many of them are interested in continuing on. This work will take a lot of people, so others were invited to take part if some or all of these are to be implemented.

Central African Republic team co-chairs Véronique Eberhardt and Carolyn Jacobs presented on the 100th Anniversary of the Lutheran church in the CAR. Véronique used pictures to help people understand the dire situation of poverty and conflict, and the life-saving work being done there. Reports and testimonies were punctuated with much singing.

Bishop Mike shared that worship attendance had grown. A remarkable number of people are in candidacy, including six deacons. Bishop’s Associate Tracey Breashears Schultz shared that 18 call processes were completed in the last year. 2025 Compensation Guidelines were approved. Those new to the synod were acknowledged and those who had passed away were remembered. Bishop’s Associate José Luis Escalera shared about campus ministry and mission developments and redevelopments. No congregations have disaffiliated the last few years, but three closed over the last year, and three new congregations were planted and are growing. Bishop Mike also shared that he would not be letting his name move forward for a fourth term in next year’s bishop’s election. Synod Vice President Robert Rivera outlined a thoughtful process for electing our next bishop.

Pastor Alvin Luedke, former treasurer Tom Wildrick and former Bishop’s Associate for Mission Chris Markert were honored for their service. Pastor Luedke (who taught at Luther Seminary and now serves as pastor at St. Paul of Rehburg in Burton, Texas) has served as synod statistician for 33 years, with three bishops!

The assembly was uplifting and enjoyable. There was much prayer and singing. The reviews are still rolling in, but so far very positive. 97.2% said it was a positive experience. 50% rated it as “Excellent.” No one rated it as “poor” or “terrible.” Two of the questions from the evaluations are posted below.

At the end we revealed the date and location of next year’s assembly by singing O When the Saints and throwing Mardi Gras beads. Join us next year at the Hilton Riverside Hotel in New Orleans, May 16-17, 2025 for assembly and a bishop’s election.


Survey: Was the synod assembly a positive experience for you?

Survey: What is your overall rating of the event?