ELCA NEWS SERVICE
November 13, 2009
ELCA Presiding Bishop Addresses Leadership, Financial Issues
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- In a wide-ranging report Nov. 13 to the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop called for "strong leadership" from council members. At the same time, he addressed a proposed 10 percent cut in the churchwide organization's 2010 current fund spending plan which, if approved, will reduce funding for ministries and eliminate several staff positions.
"I can say with all confidence that this church has never in my nine years as presiding bishop needed the strong leadership of the Church Council as much as we need leadership from you now," he told the council.
"These have been very painful days in this organization," he told the council. The presiding bishop reported that "over 40 people" were informed that their jobs may be eliminated by council action to reduce the budget this weekend.
Some of the people who have been informed about their jobs have been with the ELCA since it was founded in 1988. Most have been "amazingly gracious" in receiving the news.
Hanson attributed the need for the budget reduction to 30-year downward trends in giving that have affected all denominations, the struggling U.S. economy and the actions of some ELCA congregations to withhold or redirect mission support funds.
Some congregations have decided to withhold funds to register their disagreement with the actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The assembly, which met Aug. 17-23 in Minneapolis, adopted proposals to change ELCA ministry policies. One change makes it possible for Lutherans in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA associates in ministry, clergy, deaconesses and diaconal ministers.
The proposed budget reductions impact "personnel, programs and (ecumenical and global) partners," Hanson said. "However one analyzes the contributing factors, the consequences are the same: Mission is diminished. Unity is strained. Lives are impacted. And faith is tested."
He added that churchwide organization is not recalling missionaries or cutting seminary grants, and will sustain or increase its commitment to establish new congregations.
Hanson cited portions of Roman 5 in his report, saying he often refers to that chapter in challenging situations. In particular, he noted a portion of verse 5: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." Hanson said he is concerned that because of differences that exist among some leaders and members on ministry policies, people are retreating into "like-minded enclaves to reinforce the strength of their convictions and the clarity that those not in the room are wrong."
"The Holy Spirit poured out upon us, calls us, moves us toward one another in times such as these rather than into retreat and withdrawal into like-minded enclaves," he said.
Hanson also noted that there are people in the church who are rejoicing about the ministry policy decisions "because new possibilities are open for ministry."
Based on "leader to leader" conversations, the presiding bishop said ELCA global companion churches are not necessarily distancing themselves from the ELCA because of the ministry policy decisions. For example, Hanson said at the recent Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Council meeting near Geneva, Switzerland, he spoke with leaders of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus and the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Both said their churches don't agree with the ELCA decisions, Hanson said, but indicated they don't plan to step away from the ELCA. Instead, the church leaders said there must be deeper conversation, he said.
Hanson is president of the LWF and chairs the LWF Council.
Note: This report was revised Nov. 14, 2009.
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