ELCA NEWS SERVICE
August 21, 2009
ELCA Presiding Bishop Comments on Decisions Regarding Ministry Policies
MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- With debates closed and decisions made, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States has voted to allow Lutherans in same-gender relationships to serve as pastors of congregations and serve in other professional leadership roles. This will result in a change in current ministry policies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which require that professional leaders abstain from "homosexual sexual relationships."
At an Aug. 21 news conference the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, spoke about voting members who are rejoicing over decisions made to change ministry policies and those who did not support the decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."
Hanson expressed gratitude for the manner in which the church has engaged the topic of human sexuality for the past eight years.
He said the assembly continued the conversation about human sexuality "with deep and heartfelt respect for the view of the other, engagement with Scripture and the tradition, listening to the faith stories and experiences of one another, and in prayer for seeking the discernment of the spirit."
Mindful of those voting members who spoke and voted in opposition of changing policies, Hanson said he hopes that they will remain committed to the conversation.
"I am always concerned when I hear any indication of either congregations or clergy or both wondering about whether they can continue to be part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in light of these decisions," he said. "Included in my concern is even a deeper concern for those who are at that point tonight. Are you willing to stay engaged with us in the conversation about how you can, with integrity, stay in this church body so that we might respect your bound conscience?"
The Rev. Stanley N. Olson, executive director, ELCA Vocation and Education, shared some next steps on how the denomination will proceed in modifying ministry policies.
"We will now need to begin to draft the language that will put into those policies the decisions the assembly has made. That language must be drafted in full respect to the kinds of disagreement that have been articulated, the joys and sorrows that are reflected in these conversations," he said.
Olson said the church has several policy documents "to assure that we have the kind of leaders that we need, speak to the processes by which we prepare and approve people for leadership, and the process by which folks are called into particular places of ministry."
"This is not simply rules and procedures for implementing something new. We have these policies because we are committed to having the kind of leaders who will serve the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who will respect this church and other churches, and who will have the world in view. We see the qualities, skills and the commitments that will make that possible," Olson said.
The Rev. Kaari M. Reierson, associate director for studies, ELCA Church in Society, said the experience of the assembly mirrors that of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, particularly "the sorrow of disagreement, the concern for each other and the church, and the sharing of deeply held concerns that are by now familiar to us all."
The task force developed the report and recommendations on ministry policies considered by the assembly.
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Information about the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly can be found at http://www.elca.org/assembly on the Web.
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