Faith formation has been an emphasis of the Virginia Synod for decades. When Dwayne Westermann joined the Synod staff in the 1970s, he understood that, to know what teenagers really need, you must ask them. He began gathering a group of young people before each youth event to plan not only the theme but also skits that illustrated the biblical message of the event. The small group model introduced by Pastor Westermann gave teens the space to talk about their faith with their peers in an intentional Christian community.
With the creation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Bishop Richard Bansemer was elected in 1988 to lead the new Virginia Synod. When he began, he faced the decision of hiring two new assistants to the bishop. “I had to be very careful who I picked and what we could accomplish, so I went after Pastor Jim Mauney to be our youth person,” said Bishop Bansemer. Pastor Mauney led the youth ministry program until he was elected Bishop in 1999, at which point he passed the torch to Pastor Chip Gunsten, and then later to Pastor Dave Delaney.
Our Virginia Synod continues to excel in youth ministry with six annual youth events and year-round leadership opportunities. Both the planning group process and the small group/large group model earn the Virginia Synod a reputation of having one of the best youth ministry programs in the ELCA.
While youth ministry is an important part of our Synod, Christian faith formation is vital in every phase of life. As our programs for adolescents have been strengthened over the years, so too have opportunities for adults. Power in the Spirit (PITS) was created in 1986 as a three-day summer event when leaders from across Virginia come together to learn and worship. This annual event, held at Roanoke College, is still popular today as a place to learn, worship, and grow spiritually in intentional community.
For those who want to dive deeper into Scripture and theological works, the Ambassadors Community for Theological Study (ACTS) program is an adult education course series that was started in 2000 by the Rev. Jean Bozeman. ACTS allows participants to hear from teachers of the Church, and then continue to learn in a small group setting.
Most recently parents, grandparents, and caregivers of young children are learning how to talk about their faith in the home through our Roots and Wings program, which provides monthly and weekly Christian education materials through the congregations of the Virginia Synod.
No matter the age or season of life, faith formation is at the center of our lives in the Virginia Synod!