Synod Staff

Meet the staff at North Carolina Synod ELCA.

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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

she/her

Support for the 2023 LYO Assembly
704-633-4861 cabraham@nclutheran.org

Carissa works with and supports the LYO Board as they plan for and accomplish the 2023 LYO Assembly, held February 23-25, 2023.

Stephanie Burke

she/her

Regional Gift Planner
704-293-9436 Stephanie.Burke@elca.org

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. 

Sarah Greene Burleson

she/her

Bishop's Administrator
704-633-4861 sgreene@nclutheran.org

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. Matt Canniff-Kesecker

he/him

Youth Ministry Leadership Coordinator
704-633-4861 mattck@nclutheran.org

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.

The Rev. Danielle DeNise

she/her

Director for Evangelical Mission
704-680-9554 ddenise@nclutheran.org

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

he/him

Finance & Administration
704-680-9562 mdenise@nclutheran.org

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).

Michael Dickson

he/his

Coordinator for Social Justice and Advocacy Ministries
704-680-9553 mdickson@nclutheran.org

Michael Dickson is an approved candidate for ordination awaiting his first call. He works half-time for the synod serving as a liaison and resource for congregations engaging issues of justice and advocacy. He is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill (2014) and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary (2021), but has also been formed by his time learning from Lutherans in Palestine, along the U.S.-Mexico border, and at Camp Agapé in the woods of North Carolina. Michael is passionate about accompaniment, the work of reconciliation, and our call to be a public church. He is excited to share, preach, and listen alongside congregations across the state as we contemplate how God is calling us into the world.

The Rev. Sara Ilderton

she/her

Assistant to the Bishop | Candidacy & Boundaries
704-680-9556 silderton@nclutheran.org

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.

Catherine Fink

she/her

Communications and Resources
704-680-9574 cfink@nclutheran.org

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.

The Rev. CeCee Mills

she/her

Assistant to the Bishop | Call Process
704-680-9563 cmills@nclutheran.org

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

she/her

Faith+Finances+Freedom Staff Assistant
704-680-9568 cmocko@nclutheran.org

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

he/him

Faith+Finances+Freedom Program Director
704-680-9568 jmocko@nclutheran.org

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

Angel Owens

she/her

Communications and Digital Strategies
704-680-9552 aowens@nclutheran.org

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

she/her

Office Administrator and Supply Coordinator
704-680-9564 dryan@nclutheran.org

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

he/him

FFF Resource Director
919-801-8256 davidsloop@aol.com

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

she/her

Synod-sponsored pastor to rostered ministers and their families
704-633-4861 brendiksmith@gmail.com

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

she/her

Heilig Resource Center Assistant
704-680-9573 esmith@nclutheran.org

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

he/him

Assistant to the Bishop | Campus Ministry, Deans
704-680-9558 ptonnesen@nclutheran.org

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.

The Rev. Sara Yoos

she/her

Children's Ministry Coordinator
704-633-4861 syoos@nclutheran.org

Pastor Sara is program director of Lutheridge, a position she shares with her husband, Pastor Drew Yoos. Her part-time work will be focused on children's ministry across the synod.