From December 13-18, 2022, the Slovak Zion Synod gathered in Assembly aboard the Norwegian Getaway, embarking from New York, NY with two days scheduled in Bermuda as the main port of call for the voyage before returning home.
The theme of this year’s assembly was: Emmanuel: God With Us. The theme built on the ELCA 2022 Churchwide Assembly theme of Dwelling in the Word and was based on the biblical texts in John (1:14) and Matthew (1:23) that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and “they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Assembly worship, enrichment, and reports integrated advent themes of preparation and joyful anticipation of the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem and into our lives and ministries, by reflecting upon the ways that Emmanuel has been with us since our last assembly, dwells among us in our lives and ministries today, and promises to be with us in the future as we do the work of Christ and anticipate what God calls us to do next in our lives and ministries.
In addition to the main theme of this assembly, the assembly continued to integrate the underlying themes of previous years, including the importance of the various kinds of wellness for the healthy witness and mission of the church. Enrichment was woven throughout the assembly in the form of edifying presentations, song, worship and spiritual reflection, and light-hearted illustrations.
Conversations with voting members and guests revealed how they were inspired by ways they could respond to the needs of a wider world; fellowship with those from other congregations provided opportunities to share with each other joys and challenges, best ministry practices, and life in their various congregations.
Bishop Wilma S. Kucharek inaugurated our assembly theme as she addressed the assembly in her sermon during the opening service of Holy Communion. Synod Vice-president Jerry Owen served as assisting minister, and members of the assembly served as readers, worship leaders, and in other capacities.
Among the most notable acts of business conducted during this year’s plenary sessions was the re-election of our Bishop, the Rev. Wilma S. Kucharek, on the first ballot, with a historic unanimous vote. Other elections included Mr. Jerry Owen who was re-elected to serve as Vice-President, Ms. Sheila Welch who was elected as Treasurer, and the Rev. Marjorie Keiter who was elected Secretary. The lengths of these terms are six years for Bishop and four years for the other executive officers.
The Bishop’s Report highlighted the ways in which synod ministries were adapted and augmented to respond to the challenges presented during the Covid-19 pandemic. Bishop Kucharek pointed out that the variety of creative responses in our synod and among our congregations during challenging times were signs of Emmanuel’s presence among us and of our faithful response to the mission of Christ. The bishop noted that, during the pandemic, our more frequent online contact with each other and sharing of ministry practices has deepened relationships. The bishop also reminded us that in her ministry as bishop, whether domestically or internationally, during times of celebration such church anniversaries, times of transition or challenge in congregations and leadership, or times of consultation, she does that ministry with Emmanuel and the synod and its members present with her. Bishop Kucharek commended the synod for responding to the needs of others in the face of our own challenges, citing especially the sending of $21,500. to aid congregations and ministries in Slovakia tending to the needs of Ukrainian refugees. The bishop also commended the synod for our faithfulness in completing our parochial reports, as she shared that, in spite of the pandemic, our Synod attained the distinction of 100% congregational participation for the years 2019, 2020, and 2021.
The Rev. Dr. Thomas S. Drobena reported on the work of the Ecumenical and International Relations Committee since our last assembly. His report on ministries among our companion churches in Central and Eastern Europe cited events and anniversaries in which the synod participated in Slovakia, Serbia, and Romania, most notably centennials of the Evangelical Theological Seminary at Comenius University in Bratislava, the Slovak Lutheran Church in Serbia, of the birth of the first woman ordained in the Lutheran Church in Slovakia, and a bicentennial of the Slovak Lutheran Church in Romania. It was also noted that two of our synod-supported PhD students have now completed their studies and, due to the lifting of Covid travel restrictions, we are now back on track to resume hosting seminarians from Central and Eastern Europe this coming summer 2023. In addition, our synod has provided lectures and conferences at the seminary in Bratislava and, in addition to aid for refugees from Ukraine, supported the addition of additional building space for the Agape nursing home in Sväty Jur.
The ELCA Report built on the challenges of ministry today by juxtaposing the Gutenberg printing press technology of Luther’s day with our current use of technology in ministry today. The Rev. Dr. Javier Goitía, the ELCA Churchwide representative, lifted up our synod’s participation in a variety of ministries in the synod, the ELCA, and globally as a faithful response to the mission we are all called to do. In addition, he shared words given to him by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton for the assembly, expressing her fond memories of time shared with us in previous years and her congratulations to our bishop on her re-election.
The Report of Synod Treasurer Sheila Welch shared the shift in expenditures since the last assembly; for example, how synod travel expenses were lower during the pandemic, while technology-related costs had increased. She noted that the increased giving from some congregations helped to offset the decreased giving from those experiencing financial challenges, and thanked all for their faithful giving and partnership in the ministries and mission we share as a synod.
The Communications Report highlighted the current expanded use of technology in our synod and the supportive work of the Communications Desk in getting congregations’ websites up and running. Enhancements to the Slovak Zion Synod app were explained, and goals to provide resources to congregations via the synod app were shared. It was noted that, in addition to synod news, a lectionary, a number of videos regarding the mission of our synod, as well as access to videos of the claymation series Davey and Goliath are available through the synod app. In addition to Presiding Bishop Eaton’s assembly video, the assembly experienced the use of video reports from several synod committees, which will also be available on the synod app in the future.
Enrichment sessions explored the biblical sources and significance of the O Antiphons, which are recognized by many from the hymn verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel. In addition, there was an enrichment session regarding the Slavic custom of the use of oblatky/oplatky during the solemn family Christmas Eve meal. Pastor Thomas J. Drobena shared the historical background and significance of this practice, joined by Pastor Eric Markovich, Pastor Rastislav Mičovsky, and Pastor Michal Mišina as they shared the variety of customs among the Slovaks both here in our congregations and in Central and Eastern Europe in making, distributing, and the use of these Christmas wafers.
The Assembly passed a resolution, presented by the Rev. Dr. Thomas S. Drobena and the Rev. Dr. Kathleen Mills, concerning the upcoming 1700th anniversary in 2025 of the Council of Nicaea, memorializing the next ELCA Churchwide Assembly “to acknowledge and celebrate this anniversary with thanksgiving to Almighty God who gives the Church its unity.” The resolution also directed the Synod Council to communicate to the ELCA Church Council its request that “in the interim, the Office of the Presiding Bishop arrange for the development of resources to assist congregations and synods in observing this anniversary, especially in ecumenical settings, and encourage study of the Nicene Creed and canons as an opportunity for deepening Lutheran identity and as an impetus to nourish ecumenical relationships between churches and congregations.” Discussion regarding this resolution included a willingness and consensus in the Slovak Zion Synod to facilitate the compilation of such a resource, in consultation with the presiding bishop’s office, to be made available to the whole church. Discussion also recognized a desire that full-communion partner churches and ELCA companion churches be made aware of these efforts and be invited to do similar work.
Our Synod Assembly affirmed our on-going commitment to encourage and pray for church vocations and the raising up of future leaders for ministry. We gave thanks that our prayers in this regard at the last assembly have resulted in an increase in our synod of new “home-grown” candidates for seminary.
Certificates were presented by the Bishop to those the Synod Assembly recognized with gratitude who have served in and built up Christ’s church and, since the last assembly, have celebrated milestone ordination anniversaries. In addition, the assembly acknowledged the Rev. Javier Goitia, our Churchwide representative, for his presence among us and his work in the ELCA overseeing the formation of future church leaders, an area dear to our hearts in the Slovak Zion Synod as we continue to provide for the education and formation of future pastors and leaders in Central and Eastern Europe. The assembly also recognized Joshua Drobena for his various efforts over these past years through the synod’s Communications Desk and in his work in synod event coordination.
The Assembly concluded with the Affirmation of Ministry at the Re-election of a Synodical Bishop, with the laying on of hands and prayer for Bishop Kucharek; this was followed by a Service of Blessing and Sending, in which those called to serve in the synod, their congregations, the ELCA, or in their communities, made commitments to assume the duties to which they have been called, be it through baptism, ordination, or election, and were blessed and sent out by our Bishop to serve in the name of Christ.