Help us celebrate the the inspirational stories in every synod! See our list of 2023 Advocacy Honorees below!
Megan E. Will, Esq., of Somerset, Pennsylvania, attended Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania where she majored in Political Science and Spanish. While at Susquehanna, she studied abroad in Heredia, Costa Rica and was a Big Sister through the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program of Central Susquehanna Valley. She graduated from Susquehanna University in 2009 with honors and was awarded Volunteer of the Year for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Central Susquehanna Valley.
Upon graduating from Susquehanna, she attended Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She won the Pro Bono Award for public service and the Distinction in Clinical Work for the Criminal Advocacy Clinic.
Upon graduating from Duquesne in June 2012, she took the Pennsylvania Bar Exam in July and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in October. She immediately opened the doors to her own practice in Somerset, Pennsylvania. In December 2021, she was hired as the first female Solicitor for the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.
When God called her to be an attorney. He did not say, “but Megan, you can only be an attorney for those on the right side of the law.” He told her to go minister to His people, those charged with crimes, those that are the victims of crimes, and all those in between. It is imperative that we, as Lutherans called to a life of advocacy, push society to begin seeing the Bradleys, convicted of killing his own child, and the Myrons, a victim of a broken refugee system, as God’s children and not as the “criminals” or “immigrants.” We need to continue advocating so that Bradley, Myron, and many more of God’s children have their rights preserved.
More importantly, we need to continue advocating so that all of God’s children know they have someone on their side and someone they can turn to in their time of need. After all, isn’t that what God is for us?
As a majority of Megan’s practice, she specifically represents at-risk children, many of whom had to be removed from abusive or neglectful homes. It is these children that she so proudly represents who bring her the most joy in her practice, especially when it comes to Gotcha Day or adoption day.
Megan was fortunate enough to have a family and a support system who encouraged her to chase her dreams and all she ever wants is to foster that in another human being. She is honored to be a part of this celebration and would like to thank Bishop Paula Schmitt for the nomination.
Lower Susquehanna Synod
“The object of Jesus’ command is always the same: to evoke wholehearted faith, to make us love God and our neighbor with all our heart and soul.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Our family home was 1437 Market Street, Harrisburg. To our right was St. Francis Roman Catholic rectory, church and school. To our left was the Singer family. They were Jewish.This was the start of living my faith ecumenically. Our mother’s favorite Bible verse and how she lived her life was the “Greatest Commandments” – to love God and neighbor. For our mother the Bible was a book of love and hospitality. Everyone was welcome- no exceptions. We attended Allison Elementary School where we were the minority. In junior and senior high school. our student body reflected America’s racial mix.Then it was 1968. “For such a time as this”.
In our Women of the ELCA’s Purpose Statement are the words,” we are called to discipleship…to promote healing and wholeness in the church, the society and the world.” Another ”for such a time as this” moment was 1997. It was retiring from teaching. It was going to Chicago for the start of years of training and advocacy for racial justice. It was my first experience with LAMPa. We visited community groups about Good Schools PA. It was about quality education and fair school funding.
My advocacy focus is racial and criminal justice. It also includes women and voting issues. LAMPa, Pa Council of Churches and FCNL, Friends Committee on National Legislation are my three advocacy groups. They are joined by Women of the ELCA, Christian Churches United Board (Prison Action and Race and Unity Action committees), President of Harrisburg’s Church Women United and chair of World Day of Prayer committee.
In Ecclesiastes there’s “A time for every purpose under heaven….” Here are some Advocacy times:
*Coming back from Chicago’s anti- racism training, not everyone wanted to talk. Joining UCC and then our synod’s Church in Society Committee. We got to 50-50 reaction after a 2 day training session. Now we’re a model for Racism training. There are blogs, book discussions and action.
*Attending a Budget Rally on the Capitol steps. There was a wooden prayer bench. It was an ecumenical time of prayer, advocacy, and a commitment to fasting.
*Bringing a diverse group from the East and West Shore for a CCU “Chat & Chew”. Our last Zoom session in 2022, we had a panel discussion on “What we choose to teach and not teach our children”.
*Working to pass the Safe Harbor Bill- it funds rehabilitation services for human trafficking victims.
*Being a part of the Criminal Justice Ministry Committee. It is my sister, Chaplain Sadie Pounder’s Project to advocate for churches to become involved. We wrote The T.O.S.S. – Take One Small Step brochure and created the Basket of Love project. We fill a laundry basket with home and personal care items for returning citizens.
It’s time to AdvoCaTe. It’s time to “make some noise”.
Sharing Life was the idea of Pastor Jon Brinjar, the former pastor of St Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church and Sue Krasley, who was a nurse at Allentown State Hospital until its closure. Sue, a member of St Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church, was concerned about individuals losing relationships that were forged at the state hospital. At the time, Pastor Brindjar graciously and enthusiastically afforded us the opportunity to begin a mission by opening the doors of the church for a monthly gathering.
A committee was formed to explore the possibility of having a monthly fellowship. And so, the small committee, including Pastor Brinjar, began to meet monthly to plan future activities for individuals formerly served at Allentown State Hospital. The committee then decided to include individuals who received mental health services throughout the community. From there, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities as well as any interested persons joined the group. From there, we have expanded our mission to include monthly craft days led by St. Mark’s talented artists Brenda and Charlie Orbin and a knitting and crocheting group led by Mary Lessick, Joyce Smith and Doris Glaessmann.
Throughout the years the echo and sentiment of Pastor Brindjar’s mantra can still be heard, “Stay Calm and Carry On.” Since that time and due to the success of our mission we have adopted another mantra, “Fishes and Loaves,” as we often find ourselves serving upwards of 120 individuals each month. Because of St. Mark’s willingness to take a risk and open their doors and hearts, our mission isn’t just about serving individuals lunch but more importantly offering individuals acceptance, an opportunity to form new friendships and a “welcome” to our faith-based community. All activities and luncheons are free to participants and are funded lovingly by our mighty committee members, St. Mark parishioners and generous community donors
Pat is the present President of the NWPA Synodical Women’s Organization, Women of the ELCA. She is the secretary for her W/ELCA unit at Luther Memorial in Erie, PA. Pat is the coordinator for the Lily Project; organizing gift bags for women undergoing sexual assault exams in hospitals throughout NWPA, the SOAP Project; addressing Human Trafficking issues in the hotel industry and she coordinates the BOTL program; Busing on the Lookout through Truckers Against Trafficking.
Human Trafficking is not something I have ever experienced personally in my life. And when people ask me why I am so involved in something that has nothing to do with me, my only answer is that I am called to do this. In 2018, a fellow W/ELCA friend said she just heard a great presentation by a woman named Theresa Flores who is a survivor, counselor, and advocate for Anti-Human Trafficking. She developed a program called SOAP, Saving Our Adolescents from Prostitution. Mary Alice was sure we should get involved and buy thousands of bars of soap with labels to spread around NWPA. Before I opened my mouth, the Holy Spirit jumped on my shoulder and said ‘SURE.”
Five years later we have distributed over 12,000 bars of soap labeled with the Human Trafficking hotline number to over 60 hotels in NWPA, restrooms along the interstate, in convenience stores, airports, and bus stations. Since then we have partnered with Truckers Against Trafficking and distributed over 20 training packets of information for district school bus drivers. School bus drivers are in a unique position to be seeing the same children every day, seeing who picks them up at the stop, who has a new tattoo on their neck, who has a new phone that no one is allowed to have the number for, who has brand new Ugg boots when the family surely does not have the means, bus drivers may hear conversations about quotas for the weekend.
It is time for Pennsylvania to take some definitive steps to stop this heinous crime against our children, to legislate requirements for the hotel industry to be vigilant in their efforts to stop the child sex trafficking that happens on their property, to alert the public to accessible help, and offer the help that survivors need to become whole.
When I do a presentation, I always end it with the quote from the Talmud, the Jewish Book of Law:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now,
Walk humbly, now,
Love Mercy, now,
You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.
The Rev. Matt Staniz
Pastor Matt Staniz (he/him) is the lead pastor of Saint Luke Lutheran Church in Devon, PA, where he has served since 2011. Over the past 14 years, he has become a leading faith-based voice for the ONE Campaign, a grassroots campaign to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. His activism includes sharing stories of ELCA global missions in Africa with members of Congress during frequent meetings on Capitol Hill and in local communities. He engages members of his congregation in advocacy and has worked to equip and inspire participation across the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, his local interfaith community, and among ONE volunteers globally. Before attending Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (MDiv, 2004), Pastor Matt carried out anti-poverty and hunger work and served as director of an ecumenical youth ministry serving communities in Lancaster and Schuylkill counties. Pastor Matt is a native of Pittsburgh and a 1993 graduate of Messiah University (BA, Sociology).
The Rev. JJ Lynn
I did not intend or seek to enter into public advocacy. I was simply working to organize a congregation around the care of one of our families experiencing a crisis. Turns out the crisis stemmed from an injustice wrought by a system that stood in opposition to our faith values of family and care of the person.
During our wedding liturgy in Evangelical Lutheran Worship we pray that those who God has joined together be separated by no one. Our congregational family was being separated by immigration status and this stood in opposition to the tenets of our faith. This journey lead us as a congregation to provide direct support through a variety of service measures, as well as accompaniment through legal proceedings and hearings. Our entrance into public advocacy took on the form of letter writing, meeting with advocacy organizations, officials, and attorneys, all in an effort of learning the magnitude of the obstacles faced for this family. This culminated with a community education event with national and local organizations focusing on education so that we could maintain our work of advocacy.
As a pastoral leader this journey has provided an understanding of the need to be dually focused. One needs to be focused on learning about and identifying the systems that lack care and respect of the person, and do not seek the fulfillment of the person. The other focus being to be prepared to walk alongside those that are suffering from systems larger than all of us. All this while seeking to be present and attempting to be an agent of change.
This journey has also led me into a deeper prayer life. The answers to suffering from systems of oppression are apparently not simply implemented, due to the separation of our will from God’s will. I’ve learned that being more deeply rooted in the grace of the God who has always accompanied the suffering is necessary to be able to walk these paths of advocacy.
Finally this journey has given me a deep gratitude to all who do this work of advocacy day in and day out so that those of us who suddenly find ourselves in the wilderness have siblings in God to cling to for information, support, and sustenance.
Upper Susquehanna Synod
The Rev. John Yost
I have had the opportunity and fortune to have served congregations in the Southwestern Pennsylvania, Upper Susquehanna, and West Virginia-Western Maryland Synods of the ELCA. In these various locations, pastoring brought me to the forefront of numerous economic and social justice concerns such as food insecurity, need for adequate and safe housing, and rising utility and health care costs.
Attentive to Jesus’ summons to his followers to the two-fold call to love God and neighbor as well as his counsel that he “desires mercy, not sacrifice,” I committed to address such justice concerns at the congregational and synodical levels. Instrumental to these causes included the formation of food and clothing banks at the congregational level (Hope’s Haven at Christ’s United Lutheran Church in Millmont, PA) as well as participation in task forces and committees at the synodical level attending to matters of communal and personal care and support, connecting the dots between the ‘care of the soul’ and meeting the material and economic needs of all God’s children.
A few years ago, I received training in Immigration Law to become an advocate support to and for asylum seekers and those seeking legal immigration. The laws addressing immigration and subsequent enforcement were changing rapidly, all of which caused huge delays for proper hearings as well as indiscriminate and unjust handling of enforcement procedures with an increased focus on deportation. The presence of Covid-19 and subsequent shutdowns added tremendously to my availability to work in this area of advocacy and support to asylum and immigrant families.
Even though I am now retired, I continue to seek and find opportunities to extend ways o provide merciful care to those who habitually find themselves in the turbulent and circling waters of lack that often promote a sense of uncertainty that can foster despair and hopelessness — to be an agent of mercy in a world that grows hostile in many corners.