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Deployed Deans: A New Staffing Vision for the Sierra Pacific Synod

The Sierra Pacific Synod currently finds itself in a time of transition, with an Interim Bishop (Rev. Claire Burkat) and a pending Bishop’s election in 2023. Additionally – with the resignation of Director of Evangelical Mission/Assistant to the Bishop Rev. Tita Valeriano – our synod is understaffed to current need and those staff who remain are significantly overstretched. Nonetheless, pastoral transitions and call processes continue apace.


Because of the obvious and significant need for additional staff hours across our synod during this interim time, Bishop Burkat has recommended the temporary engagement of our nine Conference Deans as part-time deployed staff of the Sierra Pacific Synod. It is hoped that this move will facilitate better pastoral care of our rostered leaders throughout the synod and will ensure that congregations in transition receive significantly more support than is currently available.


This is envisioned to be an eighteen-month-long stop-gap solution to our current staffing void, with the understanding that it MAY provide a new model for synodical ministry among us as we transition into a new bishop’s administration in 2023/24.

The Conference Dean shall support collaborative ministry within the Conference, and serve as principal liaison from the conference to the Office of the Bishop. The Conference Dean shall represent the Office of the Bishop within their conference in order to enhance ministry, equip leaders, expand service, and extend communication among our congregations, as well as our rostered leaders. The Conference Dean will represent conference concerns within the Committee of Deans.


The Dean will work closely with the Bishop, the synod staff and with the Committee of Deans to carry out an array of duties, primarily focusing on mobility and seasons of transition amongst Rostered Leaders in their Conference. This will include:

  • Regularly gathering Rostered Leaders in their Conference and facilitating regular Conference Assemblies.

  • Supporting call processes with congregations including leave-taking of a Pastor, support of the Interim Pastor, reviewing the Ministry Site Profile with the call committee, and consultation with synod staff on the placement of a new Rostered Minister.

  • Providing pastoral care and visitation of rostered leaders within the conference on a regular basis.

The intention of these Conference Deans is to serve as a first-point-of-contact for matters relating to leaders and congregations in their given Conference. We intend to foster more frequent and personal communication with individuals as the Deans will represent the Office of the Bishop. We expect the Conference Deans to be instrumental in installations, welcoming new rostered leaders, and wishing Godspeed to those who leave the conference.

The current Conference Deans in place have agreed to serve as part-time deployed staff in this capacity for the next 18-months and were instrumental in the formation of this vision. Conference 2, the Bridges Conference, and Conference 7, the Mt. Diablo Conference, will host elections for a new Conference Deans at their Fall Conference Gatherings and the newly elected Deans at these Gatherings will live into this new role.

As of today, your Conference Deans are:

  • Conference 1: Rev. Ben Colahan, Faith Lutheran Church in Chico, CA

  • Conference 2: Rev. Ned O’Donnell, Trinity Lutheran Church and East Bay Lutheran Parish in Oakland, CA (elections for a new Conference Dean to be held on Sunday, Oct. 9th)

  • Conference 3: Rev. Gabi Schroeder, Advent Lutheran Church in Citrus Heights, CA

  • Conference 4: Interim Rev. Christian Schweter, Peace Lutheran Church in Grass Valley, CA (serving as sabbatical substitute for Rev. Charlane Lines until Oct. 1st)

  • Conference 5: Rev. John Kuehner, Unity Lutheran Church in South San Francisco, CA

  • Conference 6: Rev. Cristina Beauchemin, New Creation Lutheran Church in San Jose, CA

  • Conference 7: Interim Rev. John Valentine, Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church in Orinda, CA (elections for a new Conference Dean to be held on Sunday, Sept. 25th)

  • Conference 8: Rev. Mark Price, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lodi, CA

  • Conference 9: Rev. Jodi Golden-Lund, Trinity Lutheran Church in Porterville, CA

Additionally, the Council of Deans and Office of the Bishop will add a 10th Dean to the team - a Dean of Interims! Appointed by the Synod Council they will be attentive to the interim ministry of congregations in our synod. This dean will work collaboratively with Conference Deans and the Office of the Bishop on congregation transitions and the work of pastors who serve in interim ministry. We hope to announce this 10th Dean in the coming months.

As we live into the ever-changing ministry of the Sierra Pacific Synod, we look forward to implementing this new vision in each of our Conferences. We’re grateful for the work of the current Conference Deans in building this vision and being instrumental in carrying it out for the very first time.

We pray for Conference 2 and Conference 7 as they discern who might serve as the next Conference Dean, and lift up all of our current Conference Deans in prayer as they enter this new season.

If you are interested in seeing a full job description of a Conference Dean, we encourage you to email your Dean. Their email addresses can be found on our website here: https://www.spselca.net/synod-conferences

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