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ELCA presiding bishop offers ‘State of the ELCA’

7/24/2014 1:00:00 PM

            CHARLOTTE, N.C. (ELCA) – The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), said part of the reason why women now serve as ordained pastors in the ELCA "is because of the work done by Women of the ELCA and predecessor church bodies."

            Reporting on the "State of the ELCA" to the more than 360 delegates of the Ninth Triennial Convention of Women of the ELCA, which met at the Charlotte Convention Center here July 24, Eaton expressed her gratitude for Women of the ELCA, who "worked tirelessly" for the ordination of women. "I need to say thank you for the work that you and your sisters have done."
            The convention took place July 22-24 and precedes the Ninth Triennial Gathering of Women of the ELCA, July 24-27. About 2,000 women from across this church are gathering under the theme "of many generations."
            In her conversation with delegates, Eaton thanked the ELCA women's organization for its many financial contributions, particularly support to ELCA missionaries serving in partnership with Lutheran companion churches overseas, the ELCA Malaria Campaign and more.
            "Women of the Lutheran church from our predecessor bodies and Women of the ELCA have supported, for a couple of centuries, missionaries so that the good news of Jesus Christ might be heard and experienced and felt (among) people all over the world."
            "And you didn't stop there," said Eaton. "To date (Women of the ELCA) has contributed over $84,000 to the ELCA Malaria Campaign" – a five-year campaign in which ELCA members have joined with companion Lutheran congregations and partners in 13 African countries to prevent and treat malaria, educate communities about the disease and more. To date, the campaign has raised more than $12 million of its goal of $15 million by 2015.
            "You are actually saving lives of people you might never meet but who are actually your brothers and sisters in Christ, all children of God," she said.
            The ELCA presiding bishop shared four emphases in which she is organizing the work of the ELCA churchwide organization, based in Chicago, and is inviting the 65 ELCA synod bishops, pastors, members and others across this church to embrace: We are church. We are Lutheran. We are church together. We are church for the sake of the world.
            "At the heart of what we do together as church is worship. And at the heart of our worship is the crucified, risen Christ," she said. "There are probably lots of nongovernmental organizations, corporations and charitable organizations who can be far more effective, do more work and have far more resources than we do, but all we have – and because of this we have everything – is Jesus. Can we claim that? Can we lean into that? Can we be used by this good and gracious God, who loved us so much that he would rather die than lose a single one of us?"
            "I think (and) not in any sort of a boastful way, but with humility but unapologetically, if we are very clear about who we are, it makes it more possible for us to engage in meaningful relationships and dialogue with other people," said Eaton. "I think it's important for us to recover some of the great themes of who we are as Lutheran Christians and use that – raise that voice, not only in our ecumenical conversations, but also in religious conversations and conversations in the public square, in secular conversations."
            Eaton noted that ELCA members can serve as "a model for the rest of our neighbors about how it is possible for people of goodwill and deep convictions to disagree on extremely important issues but still see Christ in the other and not separate one from the other."
            Of her four emphases, Eaton shared that "we are church together has proven to be so far the most difficult aspect of my eight months, three weeks and three days" in her call as presiding bishop and "before my seven years as a synodical bishop and even parish pastor." She challenged delegates to help members of their congregations understand that "when we are baptized, we become part of the body of Christ."
            When "you return to your congregations, how can you infect them with the disease of understanding – a happy disease – that we're stronger together than we are apart? And it's not just the individual, local congregation, but we have agencies and institutions, colleges, universities" and more.
            An important way that understanding "plays out right now" is among the work of ELCA congregations and Lutheran social service agencies "who are dealing with already 50,000 undocumented, unaccompanied minors fleeing terrible poverty and gang violence in their countries. Some of these children in detention are 3 years old. They come with their names either written or sewn onto their clothes.
            "Not a single one of us could take care of that crisis ourselves, but together we can. And we are hoping to work in those communities who feel so overwhelmed by this wave of people coming … we need to pray for them as well. That's how we are as church together, and we are church for the sake of the world."
            Eaton also highlighted Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA – a five-year campaign seeking to raise $198 million in support of new and expanded ELCA churchwide ministries.
            Among the campaign priorities, "We are already asking our companion synods to send candidates (to the United States) to be trained in our seminaries and our colleges and, overwhelmingly, they select men. Part of this campaign now is going to be dedicated to (asking companion synods) to identify women leaders in their churches not only for seminary education, which is important, but for undergraduate education, because we know that women have the greatest impact in their communities. Partnering with them is a way that we are a global church."
            "Another priority" is that "we will be raising funds to start new congregations. Half of our new starts are among people of color or whose primary language is not English or people (experiencing) poverty. We haven't moved the needle much on becoming an inclusive church and a diverse church, but we're intentional about this," said Eaton, who also noted that another campaign priority is to support the ELCA Fund for Leaders, "a critical right now."
            Jennifer Michael, the outgoing president of Women of the ELCA's executive board, is an ELCA Fund for Leaders scholarship recipient attending Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, one of eight ELCA seminaries.
            "We are a church stronger together than we are apart," Eaton said in her concluding comments. "So what can we do individually, as congregations and as this church to engage in those basic spiritual disciplines of prayer, silence, Scripture study, giving, doing works of justice, and corporate worship? What can we do? I want you to be folks who agitate your families," she said. "What can we do to help people see that this is not some gimmick or some 'kumbaya' sort of thing? It is just basically what Christians have done for two millennia, and that we need to recover this in an intentional way in our church in order that we might make space for the Holy Spirit to breathe into us. Then, we can start to make plans."
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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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