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FT. LAUDERDALE, FL (SZS) On August 25-31, the Slovak Zion Synod gathered in Assembly for enrichment and essential business aboard the Carnival Magic, originating in Ft. Lauderdale with scheduled ports of call in Half Moon Cay, Grand Turk, and Amber Cove, Dominican Republic before returning home.

The theme of this year’s assembly was: “A Century of Resilience and God’s Blessings.” This year’s theme highlighted the celebration of the Synod’s centennial jubilee, which was formally kicked off at this assembly and will be celebrated throughout the Synod in congregations and at special events, concluding at the Synod Assembly of 2020.

The Slovak Zion Synod was originally established in 1919 in Braddock, PA by immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe and families of congregations whose antecedents were Slovak. We are one of the 65 synods that make up the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and are the only non-geographic synod in the denomination. Our present identity has expanded beyond our ethnic origins to include the unique ministries and mission to which God has called us and equipped us; thus, we are firmly rooted in mission and outreach, with special attention to leadership development and relationships with those who lived under oppression behind the former Iron Curtain.

Bishop Wilma S. Kucharek kicked off this theme as she addressed the assembly in her sermon during the opening service of Holy Communion. The readings of the communion service retold the inspiring story of how God decided to shrink the size of Gideon’s army so that they ended up with less than 1% of the original fighting force; and then God delivered a huge victory. “. . . God’s presence and blessings are not dependent on how many people are gathered in Christ’s name; God promises to be wherever 2 or 3 are gathered, which is enough for God to do mighty things and use us to make a difference,” Bishop Kucharek preached. “The 72 disciples were sent out 2 by 2, not only so they wouldn’t go alone, but because God is able to make a difference even when there’s only 2 in the group; Elisha showed the widow that her meager amount of oil could be multiplied abundantly, sold, and save her sons from slavery and debtor bondage; Jesus could feed the multitude with only 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed them so abundantly, they could still have 12(!) baskets of leftovers. . . .” As she continued to enumerate similar examples in the biblical text, the bishop made it clear: “The point God is making for us is that it’s not about us; it’s not about what we can do; but it’s about what God can do, even through us.”

In the Bishop’s Report, Bishop Kucharek continued the theme of the abundance of God’s blessings and the resilience of our ancestors in faith to be nimble in their response to God’s call; she cited how we have been resilient in the past, reviewed God’s work through us since the last assembly, and called us to continue to respond in Christ’s name as opportunities arise in the future.

In addition to the Bishop’s Report, reports received by the assembly included the Report of the ELCA, the Report of the Ecumenical & International Relations Committee, the Treasurer’s Report, and a report from the Communications Desk. Other actions included elections to positions on the Discipline Committee and Consultation Committee, and approval for the 2020 Budget. Conference meetings were also convened and new Deans were elected in the Eastern and Western Conferences of the Synod.

Videos included reflections from prominent voices of clergy and lay leaders from around the synod reflecting on our identity and mission as a synod. Other videos included a greeting from the new General Bishop Ivan Elko in Slovakia, a video address from Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, and a video reflection from Samuel Pecka, a Student Immersion Program participant of 2018, recalling his experiences in our program and how formative it has been on his life.

Enrichment at this synod assembly included a presentation and reflection on how we as God’s people are called to be both a blessing and an offering. Spiritual enrichment in the form of song, devotional reflections, and opportunities to join in prayer joined Evening Prayer, a Service of Healing and Anointing, and a celebration of the Eucharist. Lighter moments included humorous reflections of ministry and outtakes from video production.

The Synod Assembly recognized with gratitude: those celebrating milestone ordination anniversaries, including the Rev. Marjorie Keiter, the Rev. Jennifer Oakes, the Rev. Kathleen Mills, and the Rev. Thomas S. Drobena; those who hosted seminarians from Central and Eastern Europe; and congregations for their mission support (benevolence) to the synod and wider church. Bishop Kucharek was honored and recognized by the Assembly for her past and ongoing work for our Slovak Zion Synod, which conferred upon her the Servus Dei Award, the highest honor the assembly can give an individual, which has become even more prestigious given the 100th Anniversary occasion on which it was bestowed.

Our itinerary provided us with the ability to attend to this enrichment assembly with its plenary sessions of enrichment themes and offerings, assembly reports, and essential business of the synod; we are grateful we could reflect on how we are building the ministry and mission of our church, while seeking to be mindfully resilient and a conduit of God’s blessings to others. In addition, when not in session, this year’s assembly continued to provide ample opportunities for fellowship and ministry sharing with other assembly participants whether on the ship or off during port days.

Voting members and guests shared how, while in port, they were further inspired on how they could respond to the needs of a wider world; assembly participants also experienced the need to be resilient and adaptive when impending Hurricane Dorian caused a change in schedule and port call from the Dominican Republic to Nassau, the Bahamas, a location whose needs have now become more personally concrete for our assembly participants. Fellowship with those from other congregations provided opportunities to share the joys and challenges of responding to Christ’s call upon us, as well as share best ministry practices and life in our various congregations.