ELCA presiding bishop says church is 'always being made new'

10/18/2012 12:00:00 AM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- As the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
(ELCA) prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2013 under the
theme "Always being made new," ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said
the theme embodies far more than the anniversary in his report to the ELCA
Conference of Bishops, which met here Oct. 4-9.
     The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of this church
that includes 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and secretary. The
Rev. Jessica R. Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod, chairs the
     In his report, Hanson said the theme reflects how the 4.2 million-
member church is a church deeply rooted in Scripture. "If we lose our deep
rootedness in Scripture, in the Lutheran Confessions, in the church and in
Christ, we will lose confidence in the Holy Spirit. We will lose faith,"
he said.
     In his visits to ELCA congregations this fall, the presiding bishop
said he has met many members who continue to "witness their faith in Jesus
Christ." As the ELCA embarks on its anniversary, Hanson said he will
continue giving recognition and appreciation to the countless numbers of
ELCA members who continue to "share the love of Jesus" with others
and "who care about the future of this church."
     "We also have the opportunity and responsibility to ask, what does it
mean to be deeply rooted in Christ and always being made new as we live in
communities of increasing religious pluralism?" Hanson said. "With the
recent increase in anti-Muslim incidents, the deadly shooting at the Sikh
temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and demonstrations and violence in the Middle
East, we all need to be asking, what is a faithful, Lutheran evangelical
witness in such a context? How in such a context are we going to give
account of the hope that is within us?"
     Hanson told the conference that he is "convinced that the primary
antidote to fear and the increasing acts of violence, hatred and turning
our backs to our neighbors is our resolve (that) each one of us, every
ELCA congregation, whenever possible, be engaged and sustained in
conversation with people of other religions."
     Such dialogue, said the presiding bishop, "begins with each
attentively listening to the faith and the witness of the other."
Sharing "our deep rootedness and our respective religious communities is
only the beginning," he said. "We need to ask, how will this new
relationship free us and engage one another to build a community of trust,
hospitality, hope and justice? How shall we lead together as a people and
as a church of evangelical leaders that is deeply rooted and always being
made new?"
     ELCA congregations are committed to being in a process of "renewal
and that begins with worship," and to planting new congregations "in all
kinds of new ways and new contexts," said Hanson, adding that the ELCA has
343 ministries now under development, with 30 percent of them among new
immigrants, those who live in poverty, those who are homeless and others
in rural areas and suburbs.
     The conference also received a report from David Swartling, ELCA
secretary, who announced that he would not seek another term as secretary
at the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. In an earlier communication sent to
the Conference of Bishops, Hanson indicated his willingness to be
available for another term.
     In a written statement Swartling said, "Service as an officer of this
church and the opportunities to work with Presiding Bishop Hanson, the
ELCA Church Council and the Conference of Bishops, and dedicated
colleagues in the churchwide organization -- especially the staff in the
Office of the Secretary -- have been enormously rewarding experiences and
ones that I always will cherish and recall with satisfaction and
fondness," said Swartling in a written statement.
     The Rev. Linda Norman, ELCA treasurer, told the conference that the
ELCA churchwide organization had an income in excess of expense of $3.2
million in current operating funds for the seven-month period ending Aug.
31, 2012, a favorable variance of $0.4 million from August 2011 and
favorable to the period budget by $6.1 million.
     Financial contributions from congregations for the work of synods and
the churchwide organization in the form of Mission Support for the first
seven months in 2012 was $27.3 million, a decrease of $0.4 million or 1.3
percent from the previous year. Calling Mission Support the "lifeblood" of
churchwide ministries, Norman said Mission Support income was favorable to
the revised budget by $0.3 million or 0.1 percent. "This performance to
budget is positive indication that the churchwide organization can
anticipate fully funding the commitments in the spending plan."
     The annual Mission Support budget for 2012 is $48.8 million. Mission
Support increased in 27 of the ELCA's 65 synods, an improvement from the
19 in the 2011 seven-month level.
     The Rev. Duane Pederson, bishop of the ELCA Northwest Synod of
Wisconsin, led discussions among synod bishops on a proposal for ELCA
Mission Support. The proposal recommended changes in the process of
consultation and decision-making when setting synod Mission Support goals
and also proposed making available to synods an optional system for
providing banking, accounting and reporting on Mission Support and
designated revenue through the Mission Investment Fund.
     Pederson asked the conference to consider how the proposal would
affect this church's "core stewardship values." Developed by a task force
at the request of the ELCA Church Council in response to an action of the
2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the proposal was an outcome of the task
force's charge to offer a pattern or a set of patterns that would allow
synods to receive and share financial resources to support the whole
ministry of this church, and to include recommendations for renewed,
sustainable financial support for the mission and ministries of the ELCA
(including funding for theological education). Recommendations for growing
financial support were part of the written report of the task force to the
     Although the advice of the conference was to not move ahead with the
recommendations, Pederson said, "It's been fruitful work inasmuch as for
the first time how we receive and distribute mission funding in this
church has been talked about by the entire Conference of Bishops. That is
helpful, and the (discussion) has provided clarity where some commitments
and values lay in the way we support the mission financially and how, at
this point, there isn't a clear path forward." Pederson noted that the
result of the decision to not make changes would be that "we continue with
the 55-45 percent (churchwide organization and synodical sharing)
framework of mission funding."
     In other business, the conference:
+ Received written reports on the progress of an ELCA social message on
mental illness, a social statement on criminal justice, and a social
statement on justice for women. It also received a report from an ELCA
task force charged with addressing how this church approaches social
concerns. From the task force, the conference considered two
recommendations: to initiate a process of formal exploration of a
particular social concern before a decision is made about the most
appropriate way(s) of addressing that concern; and, if this exploratory
process results in a recommendation to respond to a social concern, the
task force recommends that a draft "not proceed to the state of developing
a proposed social statement" without the approval of 25 of the 65 ELCA
synods. This vote is to authorize the continuation of the process, not a
vote for or against the content of the draft. The conference endorsed the
first and declined the second task force recommendation.
+ Requested that the Church Council establish a task force charged with
reviewing this church's governance document to address how the ELCA
can "affirm and strengthen its self-understanding" as a member of The
Lutheran World Federation. A report and recommendations are expected to be
presented to the conference and council in time for possible consideration
at the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
+ Received "Patterns of Synodical Life that Effectively Support
Congregational Missional Vitality," a paper written by Dr. Kenn Inskeep,
which includes a possible action plan surrounding mission vitality
strategies for congregations, synods and the church as a whole.
     The Rev. Jessica Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod and chair of
the conference, said the conference welcomed five new synod bishops. "That
was a real joy and reminder that we continue to evolve and change as a
church and as a conference," she said.
     "At our meeting we dealt with many large, heavy and important topics,
and we are, like the rest of the church, all over the map in terms of our
approach of the topics, our response to the topics and what we're going to
do about them," said Crist. "But throughout we were able to maintain good,
civil conversation. I think among the very helpful conversations were the
ones on the mission funding task force, the issue of lay presidency and
the implications in terms of our governing process, ecumenical
relationships, and how things have changed since we've first addressed
these way back 10 to 15 years ago. The landscape has changed quite a bit."
     Crist added that the conference also met with ELCA seminary
presidents for "thoughtful discussions about how we might do candidacy
more effectively for the future."
     Bishop Denis Madden, chair of the ecumenical committee, U.S.
Conference of Catholic Bishops, delivered a greeting to the ELCA
Conference of Bishops. He said there are many opportunities for Lutherans
and Catholics to engage one another and offered some "pastoral
suggestions." He affirmed the current round of dialogues between Lutherans
and Catholics, which are focused on the ministry of teachings. The
dialogues "are very important and need to continue" although there will
be "challenging contemporary issues that face us, but we can handle it
together." In anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation to
be acknowledged in 2017, Madden said, "Should we not do something together
(that) points the way for future unity?"
     Madden thanked those at the conference for their hospitality and
said, "It was wonderful to be with you. There is more that unites us than
what divides us."
     Madden received a standing ovation from the conference and, in a
follow-up letter to Madden, Hanson expressed his appreciation and gave
thanks "for the historic nature" of the dialogues between the ELCA and the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, noting the significance of these
dialogues for the future.
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United
States, with 4.2 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the
50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work.
Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in
Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's
roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@ELCA.org
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