ELCA NEWS SERVICE
August 27, 2009
ELCA Churchwide Organization Begins Revising Its Ministry Policies
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) directed that ministry policies be revised to eliminate prohibitions against partnered gay and lesbian members serving as lay and ordained leaders of the church.
When the policy documents have been revised, congregations will have the option of calling a person in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationship, but they will not be required to do so, said the Rev. Stanley N. Olson, executive director, ELCA Vocation and Education.
The assembly also directed that the policies "recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church should not call or roster" people in committed same-gender relationships.
"The drafting process begins," Olson said. "The proposals will be reviewed by the Conference of Bishops of this church and then given to the Church Council, which has the authority and the responsibility to make the changes."
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, met Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people participated, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly was "God's work. Our hands."
Existing ministry policies remain in effect until the Church Council approves amended policies. The council serves as the legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies. Its next meeting will be here Nov. 13-15.
The ELCA maintains one roster for ordained ministers and three rosters for lay ministers: associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers.
Various ELCA documents currently guide those responsible for candidacy, call and discipline processes regarding the church's rosters.
+ "Vision and Expectations" says that ordained, consecrated and commissioned ministers who are "homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."
+ "Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline" says, "Practicing homosexual persons are precluded from the ordained ministry of this church."
Olson said the ministry policy revisions will have to explain a phrase used in assembly actions: "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships." The explanation can then be used as part of the standards for people entering the candidacy process, already in the candidacy process, already on an ELCA roster, previously removed from an ELCA roster, or in other situations, including leaders in other Christian denominations who seek placement on an ELCA roster, he said.
"Because these situations are diverse, there are many factors to consider," Olson said. "As is always true in this church, decisions are individually made on the basis of churchwide policy."
"Staff and others will begin working soon on the mandated changes and expect to have some of the necessary recommendations ready in time for the November meeting of the Church Council," Olson said. Some more detailed matters may not be possible to address by November.
Olson stressed that the assembly's actions do not change the way the ELCA makes decisions about its leaders. "Congregations will still call their own pastors. Bishops still have specific responsibilities. Synod candidacy committees still have the same responsibilities they have always had," he said.
"What has changed is that the pool of potential church leaders now includes those gay and lesbian members who are in partnered relationships," Olson said. "It's a change that will affect congregations only to the extent that they wish it to affect them. They will still call their own pastors."
A separate action of the assembly committed the ELCA "to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."
"If (congregations) choose to find ways to recognize these same-gender relationships, they are now free to do so. There will not be a liturgy, a blessing developed for the whole church nor any other standard way of recognizing these, but congregations now do have that possibility as a part of their own ministries," he said.
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Information about the 2009 Churchwide Assembly is at http://www.ELCA.org/assembly on the ELCA Web site.
Answers to frequently asked questions about the 2009 Churchwide Assembly actions regarding human sexuality are at http://www.ELCA.org/faithfuljourney/faq on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or email@example.com
ELCA News Blog: http://www.elca.org/news/blog