Bishop Paul Egensteiner has a lot of ground to cover.
He was installed last month and for the next six years will lead the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Metropolitan New York Synod, which has more than 190 congregations and 16,000 weekly worshippers in 14 counties who do so in more than a dozen languages.
Nassau and Suffolk counties are home to 59 of those congregations. This week Egensteiner, 62, who is from Queens and has served in churches in Westchester County and Staten Island, is visiting Long Island to familiarize himself with the leaders and members of those congregations. He spoke to Newsday about his plans:
Q: What is your vision for the synod?
The church is not only diverse geographically, it’s diverse in just about any way you could think of … in terms of the sizes of the congregations, in terms of their economic background, ethnicity, you name it. And so my goal is for us to find ways that we could work together, appreciate one another and make a really good witness in our territory for what it means to be church in this day and age.
Q: The synod is involved in many social issues. What work is there left to be done?
Our church is very active with helping refugees from all over the world … with serving the homeless and the hungry and the poor. Part of my vision is to be more proactive with people who are victims of the opioid crisis, and Pastor Eric Olsen in our congregation in Plainview is very active about that. LGBTQIA+ rights and protections is a big concern for us, as is what is happening to the middle class with access to health care. We try to pick and choose so we don’t spread ourselves too thin, but these are real priorities. Whenever people hurt we want to try and help and be transformative for them.
Q: How does the church engage in that advocacy and assistance within a climate where those issues are being politicized?
Our members are from the most conservative to the most liberal, but we have that one focus. No matter who is affected by any of these issues, they are children of God and our first call is to reach out to them with the love of God and offer assistance. So we try to stay out of the political tension that is so prevalent in our world and focus on identity, both ours and the people we are trying to serve.
Q: What does your vision mean for local congregations, such as those on Long Island?
I came up with my vision, and local congregations will take that and say, 'How does that apply to our area?' and adapt it … The gift that we have is that we care enough about people and we’re willing to help in whatever ways we can that feel right for us, and that that can be different, but the goal is the same.
Long Island Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Metropolitan New York Synod
Nassau County / 35
Suffolk County / 24
Congregation farthest west: Cedarhurst
Congregation farthest east: Amagansett
Congregation farthest south: Long Beach
Congregation farthest north: Greenport