ELCA bishops discuss mission funding, candidates for ministry

3/10/2014 12:00:00 AM

            CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has begun a new conversation about how the denomination funds its various ministries and expressions, particularly in a climate where giving patterns have changed. 
            "We know that people are very faithful, but the way they give has changed," according to the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop.
            At her direction, she invited the Conference to explore a way in which this church "might do mission funding" in the context of "how we understand ourselves as being church together."
            The Conference, which met here Feb. 26-March 4, is an advisory body of the ELCA that includes 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and secretary. In recent months a group of nine synod bishops took up the topic of mission funding, following previous committees and groups tasked with examining the topic.
            "Now it's our turn to think together," Eaton told the Conference.
            "In the midst of this conversation, we need to keep focus on our primary vision -- our core values in this church," said the Rev. Marcus C. Lohrmann, bishop of the ELCA Northwestern Ohio Synod. "What is God saying to us? We best embody Christ when we work together," he said, adding that "a core value is (understanding) that God gives us what we need. Which structures best support what we are called to do at this place and time?"
            Prior to their conversation, the Conference received a report from the Rev. Linda Norman, ELCA treasurer. She shared that the ELCA churchwide organization had operating revenue in excess of expenses of $2.9 million in current operating funds for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, 2014, a favorable variance of $2.9 million to the period budget and unfavorable by $4.1 million compared to the year ended Jan. 31, 2013.
            Income from congregations shared with the ELCA's 65 synods and churchwide organization -- known as Mission Support -- for 2013 was $48.8 million, a decrease of $1.1 million or 2.2 percent compared to the prior year. Mission Support income was unfavorable to the revised budget by $0.6 million or 1.3 percent.
            Norman said that the churchwide organization's "attention to Mission Support is as much about strengthening our shared capacity to be about the mission and ministry of the church as it is about monitoring financial health."
            Approximately 70 percent of the ELCA churchwide organization's revenue is garnered through Mission Support, which has been on a decline since 2008.
            In other giving for 2013, ELCA World Hunger received $18.7 million, and the ELCA Malaria Campaign received gifts of $4.4 million with a total campaign revenue to date of $11 million toward its 2015 goal of $15 million. ELCA members also contributed $10 million for Lutheran Disaster Response including $2.1 million to support tornado recovery efforts in the United States, and $2.4 million to support recovery efforts for the Pacific Typhoon.
            The ELCA's first comprehensive campaign -- Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA -- officially began Feb. 1, 2014. Approved by the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh, the goal of the five-year campaign is to raise nearly $200 million to support congregational renewal and the planting of new congregations; form and support new lay, ordained and global leaders for mission; encourage and form lay youth and young adult leaders; support this church's disability ministry; bolster the ELCA's commitment to walk with global companion churches in shared witness; and expand efforts to address poverty and hunger.
            In other business, the conference discussed the efficiency of the ELCA call process, whereby synods engage with their congregations and others in placing candidates for rostered ministries. "Our assignment process is, as I understand, a spiritual discernment process," said the Rev. Jon V. Anderson, bishop of the ELCA Southwestern Minnesota Synod.
            The Conference also held a conversation about LGBTQ candidates pursing a call to rostered leadership and invited the participation of representatives from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and Reconciling Works -- organizations whose mission is to advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Lutherans.
            The Rev. Mark W. Holmerud, bishop of the ELCA Sierra Pacific Synod, shared with the Conference that "since 2009, we've been walking with congregations and navigating policies and practices with congregations" to help them discern what kind of pastoral leader is right for them. "It has been a really amazing journey in our synod," he said.
            Emily Eastwood, executive director of Reconciling Works, described her organization's work with LGBT candidates whose eligibility may expire "because no congregation has yet called them."
            The Rev. Gary M. Wollersheim, bishop of the ELCA Northern Illinois Synod, shared with the conference that he has found it helpful to introduce future pastors to potential congregations through supply preaching.
            In other business, the Conference:
+ Welcomed guests from The Episcopal Church to explore opportunities for shared ministry. The Episcopal Church is one of the ELCA's six full communion partners. "ELCA bishops value our ecumenical partnerships and appreciated the opportunity to highlight some of them at our meeting," said the Rev. Jessica R. Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod and chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops. The Rev. Stacy Sauls, chief operating officer and former bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Lexington, addressed the Conference March 3.

+ Received a report from ELCA Secretary Chris Boerger, who updated the Conference on the roster manual and addressed questions about roster status. Boerger also discussed the transition to a three-year cycle for churchwide assemblies and the impact on the schedule for churchwide officer elections. He also told the Conference his office would review the process for synod bishop elections, noting that the process differs across this church's 65 synods.

+ Received an update from Portico Health Benefits on the 2013 open enrollment results, which showed a decline of about 3 percent in members who left because of the new government health care exchanges. A 10 percent decrease was anticipated. New initiatives in 2014 include the introduction of long-term-care insurance, with a 60-day sign-up period beginning in June.

+ Held a conversation on Eucharistic hospitality or "open table." According to the Rev. Michael L. Burk, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Iowa Synod, the bishops concurred that "it's time to encourage congregations to study and talk about the Use of the Means of Grace" stemming from an action of the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly designed to establish a process to review current documents concerning administration of the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with about 4  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.

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