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                                                                                             December 2014
                         The Virginia 
Bringing you news of the Virginia Synod since 1921.

Annual Day for 

All People set for Jan. 20


           The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy has scheduled its annual Day for All People, an ecumenical advocacy day in the General Assembly, for Tuesday, Jan. 20, extending from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Greater Richmond Convention Center, 403 North Third Street, Richmond.

            The day of fellowship, education and advocacy will start with a welcome address and policy briefings, followed by meetings with senators and delegates and sitting in on committee hearings and floor sessions, Lunch will be at the Convention Center with  an afternoon speaker.

            Space is limited and online registration is required by Jan. 16. Scholarships may be available upon request. Parking is available at the Convention Center for $6 and transportation will be available to and from the General Assembly Building for those unable to make the walk.

In This Issue
Annual Day for All People
Lutherans in the news
Bishop Eaton's column
Who came to the Thanksgiving feast?
58th Chrismon Tree goes up in Danville
College poll shows strong consumer sentiment
"Finders, Keepers" at Lost and Found
Hanstedt honored
Blue Grass Mass
St. John's saints remembered
Task group tackles childhood hunger problem


Lutherans in the news


           St. Michael, Blacksburg, is putting a new twist on an old tradition by launching an Advent Calendar online. Scripture passages or each day were selected and artists from the congregation interpreted the verses with their artistic talents.  All 25 images were combined with the verses to create a calendar with 25 doors that can be opened. Pastor John Wertz said it is "a simple, powerful way to share the story of Jesus with the world around you."

            St. Michael, along with other New River Valley Lutheran churches and Christ the King, Richmond, has shipped over 200 Christmas shoe boxes to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

            At St. Stephen, Williamsburg, the 1956 Society is half-way to its goal of pledging $1.2 million for the Endowment Fund by 2016, the 60th anniversary of the congregation. Members of the society have pledged to the fund, including provisions in wills and trusts. The fund is to be used for outreach and ministry of the congregation.

            At St. Andrew, Portsmouth, over $700 has been raised in a Walk to End Alzheimer's.  A Caregiver's Support Group dealing with Alzheimer's and dementia met on Nov. 11 to discuss the impact the holidays will have on a family's life.

            The Blue Ridge Choral Society is seeking singers who will participate in a performance of "Mary, Mother of Jesus," to be presented Saturday, March 21 at 3 p.m. at Trinity Ecumenical Parish, Moneta, and Cave Spring Baptist Church, Roanoke County on Sunday, March 22, at 3 p.m..The oratorio was composed by Aaron Garber and the libretto was by Bishop Emeritus Richard Bansemer. Rehearsals are held at College Lutheran, Salem, on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. Persons interested in singing may contact Garber at 540-761-6263 or

            Carols by Candlelight is a musical event featuring Roanoke Chamber Brass,a festival chorus, soloists and a handbell choir, directed by Steven Lawrence,  at St.Mark's. Roanoke, on Sunday, Dec. 21, at 5 p.m. Proceeds will benefit CHIP of Roanoke Valley.

            One of several Blue Christmas services across the Synod will be held on Sunday, Dec. 21, at 5 p.m. at the Chapel at the Village at Orchard Ridge, Winchester. The service is designed for those who have experienced loss of any kind which can make the

holidays difficult.  The Holden Evening Prayer service will be used.

            At Bethel, Winchester, a Global Christmas program will provide an opportunity to purchase such items as books and school supplies, meals, clothing and livestock, needed by the congregation's mission partners in India, Tanzania and the Philippines.

            At St. Paul's Hampton, Sonja McGiboney will make holiday-themed portraits for food donations. A portrait session lasting 20 minutes costs $50 but $1 is reduced for each can of food contributed. A gift of 50 cans will provide a free portrait.

            In a Noah's Ark Animal Workshop at Mount Calvary, Mt. Jackson, each child chose an animal to hand-stuff, adding a voice or other sound.

            An annual Turkey Trot Run/Walk at Madison was held on Thanksgiving morning for the benefit of Loaves and Fishes, a ministry of Hebron Lutheran and Madison Presbyterian Church.

            The Eastern office of the Bishop is moving to First Lutheran, Norfolk, 1302 Colley Ave.  Lenae Osmondson, administrative assistant, operates the office.

The telephone number will not change.

             Retired Pastor Ken Ruppar, a retired lieutenant colonel, joined Hardy Josephson and Joel McKuen, Epiphany, Richmond, to play in a Veterans Day golf tournament to raise$16,660 for the Virginia Families of the Wounded Fund. The fund assists families of wounded service members, primarily with costs incurred when the member is a patient at the Richmond Veterans Administration Hospital. Some families need help with food and lodging expenses.


Cross is true gift of Christmas

        by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton

With Jesus we have peace,

we have hope,

we are loved,

    and not just at holiday.


             I remember this jarring image: It was the Christmas Eve candlelight service at my home congregation. A banner depicting Mary and Jesus in the manger had been hung from the ceiling at the front of the nave completely obscuring the large suspended cross. I had seen that banner on Sunday mornings, but on this Christmas Eve in the semidarkness something else appeared. A spotlight that illumined the cross now shown on the banner with the effect of making the outline of the cross appear as the background of the Christmas scene.

       The cross on Christmas? I didn't want the crucified Christ casting a shadow on the Christ child. Christmas is about angels and shepherds and the babe, lying in a manger, not betrayal and death. I didn't like it.

      Christmas can be such a fraught season. It is forced to carry so much emotional freight. We must be merry. We must be filled with good cheer. We must be home surrounded by family. We must turn our lives into the happy endings of every TV Christmas special. There is a certain drivenness to get everything done, to get everything perfect by the stroke of midnight on Dec. 24.

      Secular culture reflects this. A Christmas Carol and How the Grinch Stole Christmas are stories of redemption. The song "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and the film Home Alone are filled with wistful longing. I remember a M*A*S*H episode where the doctors in the operating room turned the clock back to 11:59 p.m. on the 24th so a young soldier's death wouldn't be recorded on Christmas.

      But what are we longing for?

      Certainly we want peace in our homes and in the world. We want love and a place to belong. We want life and the end of all the deadly things in the world that bring death and destruction. We want reconciliation. We want rest. We want hope. We want the assurance that all of this means something. We want to know that someone cares. And so we try to accomplish all of those things and squeeze it all into the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. No wonder we can find ourselves exhausted and empty on Dec. 26. The mall scene the day after Christmas-returning broken toys and ill-fitting or unwanted sweaters, the picked-over look of marked down Christmas decorations and wrapping paper-is the retail version of the reality of a broken world that doesn't know peace or love or hope. Except ....

      The hope of Christmas is fulfilled on Good Friday. The cross is part of Christmas. "Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross be borne for me, for you; hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary" (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 296). All of our Christmas glorias are realized in Jesus' glorification on the cross. We have peace. We have hope. We are loved. And not just at Christmas.

      The cross is the Christmas gift. Through it God reconciles and heals. Through it God's love is made known and in God's love we are known and have our home. And it is a gift. We don't have to spend our energy and time hoping to attract the gift or the Giver by making everything right by Christmas. If we aren't physically at home, if our lives have not turned into the happy endings of TV Christmas specials, if we are estranged from family, if we are not merry, even if we should die, this gift of life has come to us.

      Let's be gentle with ourselves and each other this Advent and Christmas. Let's not fret about imperfect lives and incomplete holiday preparations. We won't ever get it completely right. That's God's work. It is the best gift exchange ever. Martin Luther wrote: "Is not this a beautiful, glorious exchange, by which Christ, who is wholly innocent and holy, not only takes upon himself another's sin, that is, my sin and guilt, but also clothes and adorns me, who am nothing but sin, with his own innocence and purity? And then besides dies the shameful death of the cross for my sake ... that I may live with him eternally" (Luther's Works, Vol. 51).

Good Christian friends, rejoice!


A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the ELCA. Her email address This column originally appeared in the December issue of The Lutheran. Reprinted with permission.


Who came to the Thanksgiving feast?   

       by Pastor Joanna Stallings


In my office is a lovely library desk that came from my grandmother's house. It has all kinds of carvings made out of tiger maple and walnut. The marble top is substantial in weight and beauty.  As a child I remember dusting all the curlicues. It's a beautiful piece that serves a practical purpose in my office; it holds the junk I am working on.  The table has been around long enough to show wear. There is water damage, a cracked drawer and a few places where the veneer is bubbling up.

            As I consider this table, it is a lot like the tables that we will set for tomorrow's feast; flawed.  A favorite trivet will cover the place where the surface has been scorched. The table leg that the family dog gnawed when it was a puppy will be placed in the darkest shadow where no one can see the imperfection.

            My table is like the people who will gather for the feast tomorrow; imperfect.  Uncle Raymond will drink too much, cousin Sue will come, but she will be a silent spectator, imprisoned behind a wall of depression. Awkward Trevor will be tolerated, but that is not the same as warmly embraced. Some people won't be invited; their daughter loves another woman or the unkempt, smelly or worse, homeless.

            For all the efforts to set a pretty table, prepare favorite dishes, and create a festive atmosphere, the veneer of cheerfulness may be brittle especially for those who miss someone who has died, whose health is fragile, or is exhausted by a fruitless job search. 

            I'm not trying to be a Debbie Downer. I simply want to recognize what lurks under the surface for many and to remind us all to respond with tenderness for others and for ourselves. 

            Tomorrow we gather in gratitude to acknowledge the abundance of life and to thank God who sustains us. May all our get-togethers be blessed whether they are rocky or delightfully raucous.

  (Pastor Joanna Stallings wrote this Bread for the Journey column at Luther Memorial, Blacksburg, before Thanksgiving.)


58th Chrismon Tree goes up in Danville

Installing the Chrismons tree at Ascension, Danville


 Dear Virginia Lutherans,

'Twas the first week of Advent and all through the church

All the people were scurrying, and getting to work.

The Tree needed trimming and decorating with care,

For soon the story of Jesus it's ornaments would share...


This year the 58th Chrismons Tree is being decorated and made ready to help the people of Ascension Lutheran in Danville share their faith with visitors and members alike. The tree will be dedicated and lit on December 7th during the worship services, and beginning that night the congregation will host open visiting hours daily until Christmas.

            Chrismons began at Ascension in Danville through the creativity of Frances Kipps Spencer and the congregation of Ascension in 1957. Through the years the ministry has grown to be a global tradition of sharing faith by using the ornaments to serve as visual aids in telling the story of Jesus birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

 Chrismon ornaments are found on every continent, across denominations, culture, and language. Each one, in some way tells about Jesus and God's love for us, through the symbols, colors, and materials used in its making. Every year, people invent new Chrismons, and send them to us to put on the tree. Every year we expand our ability to connect with people who have not heard about God or Jesus, because people all over the world continue this ministry. Chrismons are not just Ascension's ministry, or even a Lutheran ministry, they are a global Christian ministry of evangelism.

            If you are interested in seeing the tree at Ascension, or bringing a group to visit, see our website,, or check us out on facebook, Ascension Lutheran Danville. You can also call Heather Vipperman at (434) 792-5795, and make an appointment to view the tree during non-visiting hours. If you are interested in attending a Chrismons workshop or want to purchase the pattern books the website can direct you to these things as well.

            I pray you all have a Happy Advent and a Merry Christmas.

In Christ,

Pastor Meredith Williams


College poll shows strong consumer sentiment



           Strong consumer sentiment in Virginia amid reports of higher incomes and lower prices, despite a projected budget shortfall, set the stage for a strong holiday shopping seasons, according to a Roanoke College poll conducted by the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. The mid-November poll contacted 613 Virginia residents.

            Short-term inflation expectations fell to 2.7 percent, likely caused by lower gas prices. The Virginia Index of Consumer Sentiment, highest since the index began three years ago, was essentially unchanged from August..The state index of 86 was slightly less than the national figure of 89.4.

            Virginians said they were better off financially than a year ago and business conditions have strengthened. Close to half said it is a good time to buy large durable goods, due to improved income and low product prices. However, the nation as a whole is more positive about current conditions than the state and the gap is growing, the Institute said. Yet a preliminary national measure of expectations said Virginians are more optimistic about the future of the economy than the nation as a whole.

            Although the stock market has been volatile recently, record highs increase household wealth and low gas prices leave more money in consumers' pockets, resulting in a positive outlook, according to the Index.


Prayer concern for PNG Lutherans

     by Diane Giessler, chairperson, Companion Synod Committee

           It is the time of the year when many pastors and their families in the New Guinea Islands (NGI) District of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea are nearing their term of pastoral work in their present congregations. They will be posted to another congregation, maybe within the NGI District or they may be traveling great distances to their reassignment. We lift them up in prayer and ask for easy transitions as they adjust to their new situations, including the children who leave their familiar schools and friends. May God provide protection and comfort to these faithful servant


God plays "Finders, Keepers" at Lost and Found

     by Kayla Fuller


Three of the Planning Group for Lost & Found were (from left) Emily Weeks, Turner Barger and Karl Gabb.

"Finder, Keepers"-usually a childish phrase-was used by a group of middle school students to talk about how God's love is seen in Luke 15. 

         Lost and Found, the Virginia Synod youth event for 7th and 8th graders, was held Nov 21-23 at Eagle Eyrie Baptist Convention Center near Lynchburg. Three hundred youth from 49 congregations participated at the event. .

Miranda Venablle and Madeleine Etheridge had a good time at the Eagle Eyrie event.

"Our theme this year was 'Finders Keepers' because when you get lost or drawn away from God, he will find you and he always wants to keep you," explained Emily Weeks, a member from First Lutheran Church in Norfolk and an 8th grader on this year's planning team.

Emily was joined by two other 8th graders on the planning group, Turner Barger from Epiphany Lutheran in Richmond and Karl Gabb from First Lutheran in Norfolk. For months before the event, the three 8th graders met with Dave Delany, the director for youth and young adult ministries and assistant to the Bishop. The students planned the theme, helped design the bright coral-colored t-shirts, and wrote skits that would help tell the parables of the lost sheep, lost coin and prodigal son from Luke 15.

Bryan "Hep" Hepner and Tori Smith acted as the planning group advisors and helped the 8th graders prepare to get up on stage in front of 300 people.

            During the weekend the crowd broke out in laughter during every planning group skit. Turner's character was the sheep who had wandered away from his master after he saw a Twizzler tree (yes, Twizzlers, as in the red licorice candy). Emily used two large hula hoops to dress up as a coin who had been dropped into a well. The part of the stubborn prodigal son was played by Karl.

"The reason the skits go over so well is because the kids brainstorm the ideas. Who knows better than they do?" said Pastor Anne Jones who acted as the event chaplain. After each skit was performed Pastor Jones stood in front of the crowd and offered ways that these stories could relate to the lives of middle schoolers. Pastor Jones' Saturday night sermon was filled with messages of how God relentlessly pursues each of us.

 "We live in such a throw away culture where people are popular one day and then they are cast aside the next day," Jones said. "To hear that there is someone, God, who will never throw you away, where you will always have the same status, that is huge in this culture."

An offering taken on Saturday night will be used to bring one student from our partner synod in Papua New Guinea to the National Youth Gathering in Detroit. Over $1000 was collected.

Throughout the weekend, the 7th and 8th graders are always given several opportunities to verbally process what they were hearing through conversations with their peers. "After small group it's easier to understand symbolic stories and relate them to God and my faith." said Madeleine Etheridge, an 8th grader from Gloria Dei.

Each small group is led by an adult volunteer. Many of the leaders of these small groups are college students or young adult that have experienced this event for themselves. Dave Delaney says that oftentimes, coming back to Lost and Found as a small group leader becomes part of the faith formation story of the young adults in the Virginia Synod.

This is true of Alex Cox, a member of Our Saviour Lutheran in Christiansburg, who just graduated from Floyd County High School and calls herself one of her youth leader's "perfect attendance angels." She has been coming to Virginia Synod youth events for the last 8 years. Lost and Found 2014 was the first event where she was able to come back as a small group leader. "I really enjoyed being part of the event," she said. "I wanted to give back to the community that gave so much to me. I think I like being a leader more than a youth participant."

Lost and Found also provides an opportunity for vocational discernment. During the two hours of free time in the afternoon, college students and young adults gathered together to talk with Chris Bowen, chaplain of Roanoke College. Bowen had the young leaders break into small groups and talk about where their passions intersected with their talents.

For others, like Joseph Yucha, discernment didn't come directly from conversations, but indirectly through working with the kids and seeing pastors from around the Synod participate in the event. "Coming to these youth events and watching people like Pastor James Armentrout and Pastor David Derrick being in skits up on stage showed me that not all pastors are stuffy guys in collars," said Yucha, who is in his 3rd year of seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

            No matter who you ask, the sentiment is clear. Lost and found is not only a great time to learn more about God and your personal faith, it's a time to experience the joyful life that Jesus was talking about in John 10:10.

"We get to have a lot of fun, we don't just sit around and do nothing; we are active 24/7," said Miranda Venable, an 8th grader from Gloria Dei. At every turn students are doing something new and exciting like building a balloon tower, playing Moose Spaz, singing "Your Everlasting Love" (aka the Bounce song), or sitting down to have a conversation about what God means to them.Every activity is intended to point participants towards God and help them understand, particularly through this theme, God's unfailing love.

"The God who created us and formed us, the God that came to us in Jesus Christ and promises that absolutely nothing can separate us from his love, that God has found you in the waters of baptism and that God will keep you in his Grace," said Pastor Jones during her sermon.  "We belong to God and that is something worth celebrating."


Dr. Paul Hanstedt honored for teaching at Roanoke



Dr. Paul Hanstedt, English professor at Roanoke College for 18 years and a member of Bethany Lutheran, Lexington, has been named Virginia Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement and Support of Education. He was selected from nearly 400 top professors in the United States.

This is the first time a Roanoke faculty member has been selected for the award, said Dr. Richard Smith, vice president and dean of the college. The award recognizes the most outstanding instructors---those who excel in teaching and positively influence the lives and careers of undergraduate teaching and mentoring.

Hanstedt has received many awards in his academic career. He received the State Council of Higher Education's Outstanding Faculty Awards in 2013, the Roanoke College Innovation Award for collaboration in general education reform, the Dean's Council Exemplary Teaching Award in 2000 and the college's SGA Faculty Leadership Award in 1999. He went to Hong Kong as a Fulbright Scholar in 2009, helping more than a dozen Asian universities transform from a British model to a four-year American model.

Maxey, Mike

Roanoke President Michael Maxey said Hanstedt "truly cares about his students and about the craft of teaching. He's a passionate advocate for the liberal arts and general education." He was a leader in the college's revision of its general education program, serving as director of general education. He also consults with many colleges and universities about curricular matters.

When he received the Council of Higher Education Award last year, Hanstedt said, "I want students to push themselves, to learn about the subject, but also top learn about who they area, about what they value, about what drives them. Every day I'm in the class room I'm reminded that working with them as they make that discovery is an honor."

Hanstedt, author of many articles and two books, is a graduate of Luther College. He earned a master's degree from Iowa State University and a doctorate from Ohio State University and he's a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He lives at Lexington and his wife works in Charlottesville.

Blue Grass Mass at Prince of Peace, Basye 


Pictured: Pastor Jim Baseler (center), warms up with Dennis Scott (left) and Norman Racey (right)

Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Basye, invited its community to a special "Bluegrass Mass" on the evening of Wednesday, November 19. Pastor Jim Baseler, dean of the Central Valley Conference, was joined by Dennis Scott and Norman Racey in leading the music.

Years ago, Baseler and fellow VA Synod pastors Terry Edwards and Jeff Marble created the bluegrass liturgy when they set the traditional words of the mass to popular bluegrass songs such as "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." 

After the service, congregants stayed in the sanctuary to keep singing more songs. In addition to inviting neighbors, friends, and family to the service, Prince of Peace also invited neighboring addiction ministry Shenandoah Valley Teen Challenge.

Residents of the program were warmly received, and the offering for the evening was designated to the Teen Challenge ministry. David Drebes, pastor of Prince of Peace, is working with Baseler on formatting the bluegrass liturgy for wider distribution.


Lutheran Sen. John Watkins to retire next year



            Sen. John Watkins, a Republican state senator from Midlothian and one of only three Lutherans in the General Assembly, has announced that he will retire next year after serving 16 years in the House and 16 years in the Senate. He is 67 and a member of Christ the King Lutheran, Richmond.

            Other Lutherans in the legislature are Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat from Roanoke, and Jill Holtsman Vogel, Winchester, a Republican.

            Watkins, owner of a nursery, is a Virginia Tech graduate, chair of the Senate Commission on Unemployment Compensation and the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Board and a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission (JLARC).

            The Richmond Times-Dispatch said Watkins, a moderate senator, is "known for his gentlemanly manner and conscientious floor speeches." The senator's advice for legislators who would follow him, "Be more receptive to differences of opinion because our country and our state are getting more diverse." He and his wife, Kathryn, have three sons and three grandchildren

St. John's saints are remembered



The names of saints were visible for all to see on All Saint's Sunday at St. John's, Winchester. With the dearly departed lovingly remembered in bright colors, the Rev. Sonya Williams-Giersch proudly wore a pair of stoles that each of her parish churches had personally adorned in remembrance of their loved ones. The idea was one which the pastor had brought with her to the parish and this particular stole was a gift from a friend.


Task group tackles childhood hunger problem

     by Eric Carlson


In November, the Virginia Synod initiated a Task Group chartered to work toward ending childhood hunger in Virginia.  Drawing on resources from throughout the Commonwealth, the Task Group held its initial meeting at Peace Lutheran in Charlottesville, and has begun planning planning a campaign that will start in Lent of 2015 and continue through the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017... and beyond.

 The Task Group's Vision:

            We answer God's call to love our neighbors by developing an enduring, sustainable, and coordinated effort to end childhood hunger both through advocacy and action, bringing together people and organizations from all faith traditions to increase our collective capability and capacity for overcoming childhood hunger in the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

Expect to hear more from this group in the months ahead! 

Contact for more information.


 (Eric Carlson of Resurrection, Fredericksburg, is chairman of the new task group.)


New pastors study communications

     by Mindy S. Reynolds, 

          synodical minister for healthy leadership and wellness

First call people talk about communications.

     "Communicating in an Age of Anxiety" was the educational theme and focus of conversation for this year's Annual Retreat for First Call Theological Education. 

            During a time of beautiful autumn weather in the Shenandoah Valley, 26 first call rostered leaders and ministry partners gathered November 10-11 at Massanetta Springs Camp and Conference Center near Harrisonburg for a time of worship, fellowship, and learning.
            Attendees participated in large group educational presentations and small group discussions facilitated by the Revs. Shelby DePriest, Faith, Fort Valley, and Paul Aebischer, Portico Benefit Services representative for Regions 4 and 9. 




Editor:  George Kegley   
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