I had the privilege of attending our Churchwide Assembly held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin August 5-10. This assembly is held every 3 years in different locations throughout the country. A total of 927 voting members, both Pastors and Lay persons, participated from 65 Synods. As a voting member, one is not a delegate representing others, but rather an individual member of the ELCA, participating and voting as the Holy Spirit moves him/her. Twenty individuals from our Eastern ND Synod churches, including our Bishop Terry Brandt, attended. I was an alternate lay person from our Prairie Rose Conference, not expecting to go, but someone else could not attend, so I was fortunate to go.
The Assembly agenda was very busy throughout the week and included daily worship services, plenary sessions, Bible studies, speakers from our Church Council, our Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, leaders of other church bodies, and the many participants who were able to debate and vote on the proposed faith statements, memorials, and budgets.
We elected Bishop Eaton for a second 6-year term and a new Church Secretary, Sue Rothmeyer, for a 6-year term. I have to say that I was very impressed with Bishop Eaton for her down to earth approach to her work, her civil and fair manner dealing with all church members, her deep roots of faith in the Gospel, and her sense of humor that really made the meetings a joy. Lots of singing, prayers, and communion were part of our daily worship services.
The following is a summary of the primary actions that were voted into some form of declaration, study, or constitutional change or addition for the ELCA Church. I adopted language for some of the information below from the ELCA website. If you wish to study this information in more depth, and I encourage everyone to do so, please go to the website for that. There are videos and documents that will help you see and understand what it means to be ELCA across our country and in the world.
A. We approved the social statement “Faith, Women, and Justice”. This document with its implementing resolutions was a result of a five-year study. It deals with patriarchy and sexism as sins, gender-based violence, workplace discrimination, and economic inequality.
B. We approved a three-year budget for Church operations and a World Hunger spending authorization.
C. We adopted a Strategy Towards Authentic Diversity in the ELCA. This includes goals for racial diversity and inclusiveness in the Church. As an aside, I was surprised at the amount of diversity of age, race, ethnicity, and gender of the participants. Looks a lot different than our rural churches in North Dakota. All these brothers and sisters in Christ are deeply involved and excited to be a part of the ELCA as leaders and lay members.
D. We presented a Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent. This means that we are pledging serious action to address our bias towards people of color, in this case with African Americans. I was amazed at the number of men and women pastors and leaders we already have in the more metropolitan areas who are African Americans.
E. We adopted 26 memorials from Synods, the Church Council, and study groups on topics ranging from gun violence to engagement in the Holy Land and gender identity to seminary tuition.
F. We adopted a memorial that affirms the ELCA’s long standing commitment to migrants and refugees and declares the ELCA a sanctuary church body. This particular memorial is creating much discussion in our communities, as it did at the Assembly, and it will be important for our Congregations and members to actually work on what it means to live out our faith in this politicized world. Being a sanctuary church is not a political stand, but rather is to be viewed and practiced as Jesus calls us to do in the Gospel. This memorial does not encourage any illegal activities, despite the misinformation that is attacking this decision. I encourage anyone with doubts to go to the ELCA website and download a copy of the declaration. If you need help, I can get you a copy.
G. One very important memorial that we adopted calls for the development of a social statement and social message on the relationship of the Church and State. There is confusion and ambivalence among church members about our church (and other church bodies having the same question) about being social active about issues in our world today. This becomes difficult as so many issues that our Christian faith calls us to practice have become very politicized and divisive.
H. We adopted a memorial to encourage all Synods and Congregations to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the ELCA’s ordination of Women, the 40th Anniversary of the ordination of Women of color, and the 10th Anniversary of the ELCA’s decision to remove barriers to the ordination for people in same gender relationships. We had a celebration banquet of the above that included recognition of a 104-year-old pastor. Think about what we would do if we did not have women serving as pastors in the ELCA. Thank God for their faithful service.
I. We adopted a memorial to support the vision and goals of the Poor People’s Campaign that align with the ELCA’s social teachings.
J. We adopted several amendments to the Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the ELCA.
K. We adopted a resolution that committed the ELCA to support the World Council of Churches “Thursdays in Black” campaign towards world with rape and violence.
L. We adopted a resolution to commemorate June 17th as repentance for the shooting event on June 17, 2015, when a member of an ELCA church shot and killed 9 people during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, SC.
M. Adopted a resolution to condemn white supremacy and calling all ELCA congregations to engage in a study of the structures and rhetoric that empowers and fuels racism and white supremacy and to take to heart the teachings of Scriptures, so that we may all be better equipped to speak boldly about the equal dignity of all persons in the eyes of God. Again, this has become a very politicized topic, but one that speaks volumes about the fears of changes in this country that prompt some people to adopt extreme measures to counter changes. Interestingly, my grandparents experienced some of these same views as German people during and after World War II. As did the Japanese, Italians, and Chinese immigrants.
N. Celebrated the end of Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA voted on during the 2013 Churchwide Assembly to raise $198 million to help sustain and grow ministries of the Church. In actuality, a total of $250 million was raised!
O. We elected new members to serve on the ELCA Church Council, churchwide committees and boards. Another observation: we often think of our Church’s Administration in Chicago as a bunch of out of touch people from large cities and the coasts, when in fact, I observed the current members area very ordinary diverse group of individuals including farmers, teachers, pastors, lawyers, homemakers, and retired people representing all regions of the country.
In summary, our ELCA is a very healthy and involved church body in our country, being 3.5 million strong, making it one of the largest Christian churches in the US. We are known as the church of God’s Work Our Hands.
Constitutional and policy changes or additions need to be updated by every church and synod; however, nothing is forced upon individual churches. We are given lots of latitude to use the intent of the policies and statements of the church governing body as guidance for ourselves, moving forward.
So how do we navigate in this world, where many things have been politicized and it is hard to speak up as Christians, when we see unjust things happening. This is a hard time. All of us have our opinions and need to have discussions and deliberations around the topics of immigration, diversity, racisms, violence against others, and interfaith relations, including our Muslim brothers and sisters. These discussions need to be guided by the Gospel and what God wants for us, as we live out our faith, in Love for our God and our neighbor. I, for one, look forward to having more study, discussion, and deliberation in our Parish, about these topics along with the important and more immediate deliberations and decisions we need to make about staffing, program, and budgets for Tri-County Ministry.