Synod Staff

Meet the staff at North Carolina Synod ELCA.


Tim Smith

Bishop of the North Carolina Synod

Born 1960 in Lenoir, NC, Tim graduated high school in Salisbury, NC, in 1978. He played JV basketball under Coach Roy Williams and was musical director of the Clef Hangers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, graduating in 1982. He then attended Gettysburg Seminary, including a semester in Washington, DC at Catholic University and an internship at The American Church in Berlin, and graduated in 1986. He received a D.Min degree from Drew University in 1992 and served three parishes—St. Paul-Startown (Newton, NC), Grace (Boone, NC), and Redeemer (Atlanta, GA)—before becoming bishop. Tim is married to Wendy Weisner Smith and they have three grown children and five young grandchildren.

He is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill (M.A.), Gettysburg Seminary (M.Div.), and Drew University (DMin.). His ministry experiences include supervising 22 full-year interns, serving as Appalachian State University campus pastor, and being a featured preacher for Day 1 radio broadcast (formerly “The Protestant Hour”).

Bishop Smith and his wife, Wendy, have three grown children: Matthew and his wife, Keri; Isaac and his wife, Lauren; and Ruth and her husband, Tommy. They also enjoy spending as much time as possible with their three grandsons and one granddaughter.

Carissa Abraham

Associate Program Director for Children Youth & Family Ministries and Justice & Community Impact Teams

Carissa supports Children, Youth & Family Ministries and Social Justice teams throughout the synod. Carissa is a committed peacemaker, advocate, and dreamer striving to practice compassionate curiosity for Christ, humanity, and the cosmos. She is passionate about sharing ideas in meaningful ways to move together toward love. Carissa enjoys strategic thought facilitation that helps develop diverse, future-oriented visions and plans which transform systems to operate with equity and justice for everyone.

The Rev. Matt Canniff-Kesecker

Youth Ministry Leadership Coordinator

Matt is pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Greensboro, NC, where he has served since 2018. Additionally, he shares 1/4 of his work time with the wider synod providing leadership and support to children, youth, and family ministers. Matt’s youth ministry experience comes from serving with Lutheridge Camp and Youth Encounter ministry teams, and ELCA congregations in Charleston, SC, Sarasota, FL, and Minneapolis, MN before graduating from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, SC. Matt and his wife Aubrey met as camp counselors, and now have two daughters: Nora (2015) and Ada (2018). Their family enjoys making pizza and being outside together.

Stephanie Burke

Regional Gift Planner

As the ELCA Foundation’s Regional Gift Planner for the Carolinas, Stephanie meets with congregations and individuals from across North and South Carolina for two purposes: to help churches grow their Culture of Generosity and to assist members in crafting a Legacy Plan that supports their loved ones AND tells their faith story far into the future. Born and raised as a Lutheran in the Carolinas, she has spent more than 30 years serving the ELCA at congregational, synodical, and national levels. Supported by the NC and SC Synods and affiliated partners, her services are available at absolutely no obligation. 

The Rev. Danielle DeNise

Director for Evangelical Mission

Pastor Danielle is an Ohio girl (Go Buckeyes!) that moved south as quick as she could to enjoy the sunshine. She is a graduate of American University and Duke Divinity School. She is married to Michael and they have two small kiddos - Moses and Olive. Our family loves the beach and baking. Danielle enjoys reading and loves chai lattes.

Michael DeNise

Finance & Administration

Michael joined the synod staff in June, 2016. Prior to joining the staff, he worked for YMCAs in both Virginia and North Carolina in multiple positions through his eight years with the YMCA, from assistant program director to executive director. His background in non-profit management helps him be a resource for many different issues relating to both congregations and rostered ministers. Michael is married to Pastor Danielle Kosanovich DeNise and together they have two children: Moses (2017) and Olive (2018).

Catherine Fink

Communications and Resources

A native of South Carolina, Catherine spent many of her growing up years at Southern Seminary where her dad, Dr. Carl Ficken, taught. She graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne in '88 and has stayed in NC ever since! She and her husband, Dwayne, met when they were both counselors at Lutheridge and have a grown son, Jacob. She loves stories in whatever form they come—music, books, or movies—as well as traveling to new places.

Sarah Greene

Bishop's Administrator

Sarah is originally from Hickory and graduated from Lenoir-Rhyne in 2016. She worked in retail, a mailroom, a history museum, and a medical office before joining the synod staff. Sarah met her fiancé, Evin, when she came to the Rowan Museum after they'd already closed and he gave her a tour anyway. She enjoys crocheting, traveling, history, and making cemetery floral arrangements.

The Rev. Sara Ilderton

Assistant to the Bishop | Candidacy & Boundaries

Sara graduated from seminary (LTSS) as a second-career student in 1999. (Prior to seminary she earned an MS in Exercise Physiology and worked in that field for several years.) Before serving on the bishop's staff, she served as pastor in three congregations: Prince of Peace, Stuart, FL; Nativity, Arden, NC; and St. Luke's, Charlotte, NC. Sara met her husband, Cliff, while they were both on staff at Lutheridge. Currently, they live in Charlotte with their two teenage children and various and sundry animals. While serving on the bishop's staff was never something she imagined doing, it has been—and continues to be—one of the great privileges of her life.

The Rev. CeCee Mills

Assistant to the Bishop | Call Process

Ordained on March 20, 2004, CeCee has served in the Virginia and North Carolina Synods. She currently lives in the city of her birth, Greensboro, NC with her only child, Joshua Mills. She completed her seminary studies at the Lutheran Theological Center in Atlanta which at the time was an extension of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia. She is a certified coach, Ventures Stewardship facilitator, Healthy Congregations facilitator, and Bowens Family Systems Theory enthusiast/student. She also participates as a facilitator and activist in social and racial justice efforts.

Caroline Mocko

Faith+Finances+Freedom Staff Assistant

Caroline serves as Program Assistant for Faith, Finances, Freedom/The Lifeline Fund and works to process grant applications from rostered ministers across five different synods. She feels blessed to work part-time in the synod, doing research and aiding in grant writing for a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. to help pastors relieve debt.

The Rev. John Mocko

Faith+Finances+Freedom Program Director

John is a retired pastor living in Florida and directing the Lifeline Fund which involves five synods in Region 9.

Angel Owens

Communications and Digital Strategies

Angel graduated from UNCG in 2016, where she studied Religion and Communication. Prior to joining staff in 2022, she served as the Communications Specialist at St. John's, Salisbury. Angel is passionate about social justice, advocacy, and story-telling. She loves reading, hiking, and board games.

Diane Ryan

Office Administrator and Supply Coordinator

A life-long Southern girl born and raised in North Carolina, Diane is married with two sons—Jason & Richie (deceased 2017)—six grandchildren—Alexis, Alex (deceased 2019), Caleb (deceased 2021), Alyssa, Jake, and Rebecca—and two great-grandsons—Maverick & Levi. She loves getting together with family and extended family for Friday Pizza night, her family's weekly pie night at my mom's, and going to yard sales with her sister. Diane says, "Although I have faced trials in life, my faith and positive outlook on life stay strong. I am usually full of energy and look forward to greeting and helping everyone who enters or calls the synod office."

The Rev. David Sloop

FFF Resource Director

Pastor David is retired and lives in Raleigh with his wife Sally. They are privileged to have 8 grandchildren, all living in NC. He's been involved in the Lifeline Fund since 2017, and in 2019 became Lifeline's part time Resource Director. Pastor David delights in visiting others on behalf of Lifeline, especially as it enables them to assist our servant leaders carrying educational debt. He enjoys golf, wood working and hanging with family and friends. The Sloops are members of Abiding Savior, Durham.

The Rev. Brenda Smith

Synod-sponsored pastor to rostered ministers and their families

The Rev. Brenda Smith, member of the ELCA's Prayer Team, is now serving as synod-sponsored pastor to rostered ministers and their families. She is available to provide prayer and pastoral care to NC Synod rostered ministers and their families. Sessions with Pastor Smith are confidential and not shared with synod staff. Schedule sessions by email.

Elizabeth Smith

Heilig Resource Center Assistant

Retired from the State of North Carolina, Elizabeth has worked on synod staff since 2013. A member of Calvary, Spencer, she is a wife, step-mom, and proud grandma. She has a passion for work with the election process. She believes everyone should have the chance to vote and she works each year during the election times to make this happen. Also, she supports the Salvation Army and all they do for those in need.

The Rev. Phil Tonnesen

Assistant to the Bishop | Campus Ministry, Deans

Phil grew up at Grace, Raleigh, and met his wife, Deb, while attending Lenoir-Rhyne. Following his graduation from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in 1993, he served in a team ministry at Cross and Crown, Matthews. Phil and Deb live on Lake Hickory and have three adult children. Together they enjoy traveling, boating, and hiking.

Holly Zemke

Administrative Assistant for Evangelical Mission

Holly is a mother of two, step-mom of three, grandmother of six, and is called to be a voice of change in the righteous war on systemic racism. She's a member of St. John's, Salisbury, since 1993. Holly was customer and product marketing in first her career and now is blessed to be part of the NC Synod staff. She loves quilt history, quilts, and quilt-making.

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