special messages from the synod and bishop katherine finegan

Bishop Katherine Finegan’s June/July Message…..

“In all the travels of the Israelites, whenever the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, they would set out; but if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out – until the day it lifted.  So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel during all their travels”  ~Exodus 40: 36-38 Dear Partners in Ministry, Are we there yet?  Any parent will tell you that they have heard this question called from the back seat of the vehicle any number of times, and not only on the longer car rides.  Parents learn pretty quickly to prepare their children for the extended trip; gathering toys, games, and books, a favorite pillow, movies, whatever they can find to keep the children busy for the duration of the journey.  Because without a sense of time or distance, children need to be given context, or other cues as in, “We will not arrive before supper time” or “We will be there before dark.”  Such preparation helps the children be more resilient to the demands of travel.  Knowing they will be in the car for awhile helps them settle in for a longer journey.

I wonder, if the Israelites had been more prepared for their wilderness wanderings, if that would have helped.  The book of Exodus is full of accusations of being a “stiff necked people” as they complain about the conditions of their journey and never getting an answer to their incessant question (which isn’t actually recorded, but may as well have been) “Are we there yet?” The Israelites didn’t arrive for 40 years.  And while the actual question is not explicitly recorded, what we do have is a record of their disobedience, their complaining and doubts, the challenges of leadership, the lack of acceptable food and water, the weariness of the journey, and how people had trouble getting along.  And yet, in the midst of all of this, all the griping and angst, the overwhelming witness of the book of Exodus and what is interwoven throughout this journey story, is the immediate, close, and faithful presence of God. 
God travels with the Israelites, guides them, even feeds them.  During this journey, the Israelites enjoy a relationship of intimacy and care with God, unequalled anywhere else in the whole history of salvation.  I think of Charles Dickens’ words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.  It was worst because the people struggled and suffered.  There was uncertainty.  There was pain and death.  But it was also the best of times as God’s presence was visibly and palpably with them.  Despite all the complaining, never before or since were the people of God so utterly dependent upon God’s care and guidance. Their trust was out of necessity, but it was trust well placed.
Our religious tradition is thick with wilderness stories and analogies.  Wilderness times are marked by uncertainty and pain even as they are synonymous with complete dependence on God, and a deepening of that relationship, borne of desperation yes, but do we not cling to God all the more fiercely when our need is greater?  The season of Lent is often likened to a wilderness time.  Or the journey of grief. Or a time of healing from an illness, or any other time of trial and tribulation. 
The Israelites wandered in the wilderness 40 years.  Jesus was tempted in the wilderness 40 days. I suggest that this time of pandemic is also a wilderness time and a journey that is blessed with trust and dependence on God.  Like any wilderness story, our current time is marked with uncertainty.  And as people of faith, we are blessed to once again and always depend upon the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus to sustain and guide us, weary travelers that we are. Because the difficult truth is, we are not going to “arrive” for some time.  We would do well to prepare ourselves and our children, our congregation members and our neighbors, to understand what it will mean to learn to live with this new virus until a vaccine is readily available, or until 60% to 70% of the population is immune.
Such preparation creates resiliency.  And we will need to be resilient to the demands of this journey else we start to gripe and complain and not get along well with each other.  The lifting of government restrictions does not mean that the virus is no longer a threat.  Nor does it mean that life, and worship, can return to pre-pandemic rhythms.  Even as we are legally allowed to gather in groups of less than 10 and then less than 50, we and those we love are still at risk and precautions must be taken to protect the most vulnerable among us.  Watch for the cues:  We will arrive when widespread testing is available, when tracking is possible, and ultimately, when there is a vaccine.  
Like the Israelites, we do not have a map.  Like the Israelites, our arrival time is still far off.  And like the Israelites, we will arrive a different people than when our journey began. But we are a resilient people, striving for patience and faithfulness in these wilderness days.  Know that God travels with us, guiding us, sustaining us in our weariness. 
Again, I ask you to seek out the blessing that is in these days.  God is ever present, ever faithful, and will bring us to that day when there is an answer to the question, “Are we there yet?”.  For now, the answer is no, not even close.  Settle in for a longer journey.  But we’ll get there, and we’ll get there together.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Katherine Finegan


NGLS Anti-Racism Resources
We have a new page on the Northern Great Lakes Synod website dedicated to anti-racism.  Numerous resources will help you engage through suggestions of books, movies, podcasts and more!  In her letter to the synod entitled, “What You CAN Do,” Bishop Finegan said, “Read the books, watch the videos, hear the stories. 
Listen well.”  Please check back often for updates and additional resources.
Lifelong Faith Formation The Northern Great Lakes Synod is launching a new series of classes for adults who want to increase their knowledge and understanding of the Bible, church history, Lutheran Theology, world religions, and more.  The new program, “Lifelong Faith Formation,” evolved from the synod’s Lay School for Mission.  In these challenging and uncertain times, the Synod is offering the program online this fall. 
While discussions through computer screens are not ideal, online learning presents an opportunity to connect people from across the synod — people who share a love of learning and have discovered that adult studies help them to grow in faith.  Please visit our website for more information!
June 9, 2020
Dear Friends in Christ,
During the first seven weeks of the pandemic, March 16-May 3, no less than 537,663 lbs. of food was distributed to the UP through Feeding America-West Michigan’s food bank. This represents a 48.2% increase from the same time in 2019.  Meanwhile, the food bank’s resources are diminished as retailer donations plummet due to high consumer demand at grocery stores.
We are truly in crisis mode here in the Upper Peninsula. 
Thankfully, the Davenport Foundation, the Hoover Foundation/Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, Reynolds Foundation and Superior Health Foundations have generously provided a $50,000 matching grant to help fund food distribution in the Upper Peninsula.  Our goal is to raise $50,000 which then becomes $100,000 which will be used to provide 25 mobile pantries delivered throughout the Upper Peninsula.  While I know our communities in Northern Wisconsin are also being impacted, this grant is restricted to Upper Peninsula distributions. 
The Northern Great Lakes Synod joins our Episcopal, Methodist, Roman Catholic, and Jewish friends, as well as the Unitarian Universalists of Houghton, to support those who have fallen through the cracks because of the COVID-19 crisis. 
Your generous gift today will double the help given to the many food insecure neighbors during this current crisis. Will you help feed your neighbors?
You can give electronically here or send a check made payable to “Feeding America West Michigan” with “U.P. Mobiles” in the subject line.  Please mail checks to the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Michigan, 131 East Ridge St., Marquette, MI 49855. 
Thank you for your generosity as we all unite together in our campaign feed the hungry.
Yours in Christ,
Katherine Finegan
Bishop of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
If you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” ~Philippians 1:8-11  

              Dear People of the Northern Great Lakes Synod, Thank you for all that you have been doing to stay connected, to keep ministry in motion, and to bolster up one another in these days that make us weary.  Your pastors and leaders have been flooded with the demand for decisions as we all do our best to move forward in faith.  People have embraced alternative ways to worship, to stay connected, and to be church together when we cannot assemble.  We have witnessed heroic efforts and I am grateful for the many creative ways that congregations, pastors, and leaders have met the new challenges. I think at first, we thought this would only take weeks.  Then, as scientific facts and data became known, we realized, with a sinking feeling, that this is going to take months into years.  Please read the report from Dr. Michael Osterholm and CIDRAP here.  This virus demands that we take it seriously if we are to protect the many who are at high risk in our congregations, possibly including your pastor.  And the more we face the realities of our current situation, the more resilient we will be to the changes and challenges to come. In the last few days, we have seen the Safer at Home government policies in Michigan and Wisconsin allow for the possibility of in-person worship.  However, just because we can worship in groups, however small, does not mean we should.  Nor does it mean we will be returning to worship as before the pandemic.  Please review Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s guidelines here. Consider that the very activities that are integral to worship in the assembly also effectively transmit the virus.  Currently we are only in the beginning of Phase 1, which means less than 10 people, face masks, at least 6 feet apart, and no singing.  It may well be that the worship experience, in addition to carrying a certain amount of risk, will be so much less than what we want it to be that the online experience, or at home devotions, is preferable.  I offer you the following as guidelines for a phased re-entry to in-person worship in the Northern Great Lakes Synod:

  1. I strongly encourage you to wait for in person worship until Phase 2.  Phase 2 is marked by the ability to gather 50 or less.  As bars, businesses, and restaurants open, we may well see a spike in cases.  Given that transmission happens even from those who have no symptoms, the risk to people in worship only increases.
  2. If a congregation chooses to worship with less than 10, then all precautions need to be observed:
    1. Everyone wears a face mask.  Provide one for those who need it.  The mask is for your neighbor’s sake.  It will not protect you, but it does afford some protection to your neighbor from you.
    2. At least 6 feet of separation between family groups and/or individuals.
    3. No singing or wind instruments.  Click here for more. 
    4. No more than 10 people in an indoor space.
    5. Strategize the use of and movement through shared spaces:  hallways, entryways, restrooms.
    6. Strategize how to sanitize everything, minimize building usage, no hymnals or passing the offering plate etc. See guidelines.
    7. Drive-in worship with loudspeakers or a transmitter is a very promising alternative.  People can sing and fully participate, but they MUST remain in their cars.  Honk the horn to share the peace 😊
  3. Holy Communion continues to present challenges.  Pastors and leaders are in discernment and conversation about what is fundamental to our sacramental theology and what practices can/should/or should not be put in place during the pandemic.  The nature of our polity allows for  congregational and pastoral autonomy as some congregations experiment with solutions.  However, I remain hopeful that the Church will find some agreement and uniformity as to what upholds and honors our sacramental theology and what threatens or undermines it.  The blessing is we are once again asking with renewed interest the very Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” 

There is wisdom in moving slowly.  For now, Councils can consider the following:

  1. Talk with your insurance carrier.  Where and how is the church liable?  Are your premiums up to date?
  2. Strategize building use and cleaning.  Review the guideline links to help think through the details.
  3. Envision the future as best you can.  What will worship with 10 or less look like?  Rotating attendance? Is it better to wait? What about worship with 50? Online options?  Phone trees? Reaching those at home? Those without internet?
  4. Stay informed.  Seek out reports from reliable, scientific sources. 
New resources, ideas, and information will be posted to the Synod website as they are available.  This letter in no way tells you everything you need to know to prepare for in-person worship.  Please read carefully the resources that are linked.  As God guides us through these days, my prayer is that we are gifted with patient resilience, or as St. Paul writes, “…that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best.”  The Holy Spirit, the great encourager, the one who reminds us of all that Jesus said and did, walks with us, guides us, and will see us through these days of change and becoming. Yours in Christ, Bishop Katherine Finegan

June 5, 2020 from Bishop Katherine Finegan…..


They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” ~Jeremiah 8:11   Dear People of the Northern Great Lakes Synod, It was one of the many times in 2019 that I was staying at a hotel for in-person meetings.  I got on the elevator and pushed the button for the lobby, and I saw a gentleman walking purposefully down the hall toward the elevator I was in.  He could see that I saw him coming, and as the doors to the elevator were closing, I fumbled to find the button that would hold the doors open.  The doors were almost all the way closed, but I pushed the button in time to have them open again just as the man reached the elevator threshold.  I watched as his brown face brightened into a wide friendly smile and I realized with aching clarity that he was pleasantly surprised… surprised that I had held the door for him, surprised that he had been extended this simple courtesy, perhaps even surprised, that a white woman, alone on an elevator, had not been afraid to hold the door for him.  How many times, I wondered, had this man had the doors closed to him that my holding them open had been a surprise?  How many times had the color of his skin been perceived as threatening?  How many times had simple courtesy been denied him?

In these last days and weeks, the news has reported horrible stories of not just courtesies denied to people of color, but lives taken away: a woman asleep in her own apartment is shot dead in her bed (Breonna Taylor), a young man out for a jog is gunned down (Ahmaud Arbery), and George Floyd is arrested, restrained, and killed as he begs for his life and cries out for his mother.  At no other time in my memory have white people been more vocal with the questions, “What is wrong with the world?!?! and What can I do?” 
I had new awareness of the way our United States is experienced differently by people of color after yet another story of a young African American man who gets pulled over for some minor infraction only to end up dead.  As the mother of three 20-something young men, I have the same hopes and fears for them that any other mother has for her children, except that I have not had the worry that my sons will get shot and killed during a traffic stop.   
It is a reality that parents of color have to “have the talk” with their children.  They are instructed, not just to follow the law, not just to be respectful, but to actually be prepared to be the calm and non-anxious presence in the face of prejudice and fear that seems to be looking for an excuse to escalate the tension and might just get them killed. 
So, what is wrong with our world?  And what can you and I and the church do? We begin with a fearless inventory of our own thoughts, feelings, and discomfort with issues of race.  We begin with a willingness to listen deeply and with compassion.  We begin by putting the temptation to defensiveness aside and adopt an attitude of learning.  The dangers of white supremacist ideology are real.  Such attitudes continue to influence bank loans, education, public funding, housing, immigration policies and more. 
We need to be aware, and more than just aware, but actively call out what is destructive to ourselves and our neighbors.  Hear the word of the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah, we cannot treat this wound carelessly.  We cannot pretend there is peace for all when there is only peace for some.  This is not justice.  This is not obedience to Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.  People are in pain, and you and I and us together CAN do something about it.  While we collectively can make a difference, dismantling racism and the systems that perpetuate it begins as a personal and individual journey of discovery and repentance. 
I know my own journey has gathered momentum in these past days.  I suggest a first step is prayer, and a petition to the Holy Spirit of Christ to open eyes, ears, and hearts to God’s will for all of creation and for all the people for whom Jesus died.  A next step: check out the resources on our website.  Read the books, watch the videos, hear the stories.  Listen well. If you are not yet ready for that, simply begin in your own imagination. 
You’ve seen the video, the images of Mr. George Floyd, laying on the pavement, his neck under the knee of the arresting officer.  Now imagine your son, your husband, your father, your brother, your loved one in the place and posture of George Floyd in his final 8 minutes of life.  Maybe it’s not fair, or in poor taste, for me to ask you to do that.  But I suspect that until this pain is everyone’s pain, until this fear is everyone’s fear, not much will change.  And that disturbing, heartbreaking image of your loved one in that position of danger and vulnerability will become a catalyst for transformation.
Do not treat this wound, the wound of racism and white supremist ideology, carelessly.  Now is the time for each of us to take another step to understand more deeply the pain that others are feeling and experiencing.  Do not be afraid.  The Holy Spirit will guide your journey that begins and continues as you take the next step.
Yours in Christ,
Bishop Katherine Finegan