ELCA NEWS SERVICE
December 4, 2009
Some ELCA Congregations Increase Mission Support While Others Cut Funds
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- When Sally Gregory Kohlstedt spoke at Holy Trinity's stewardship breakfast last month, she didn't expect the response her announcement generated. Kohlstedt told fellow members of the Minneapolis congregation that despite the congregation's own budget challenges, the financial stewardship committee would recommend the congregation increase its 2010 giving to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
"I gave the background for our decision, and to my astonishment, there was spontaneous applause to that decision," Kohlstedt said in an interview with the ELCA News Service.
Since August a few ELCA congregations have reduced or cut off giving to fund ELCA ministries, domestic and global. They've done so as a response to the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly's directive to change ministry policies, creating the possibility for people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as clergy and professional lay workers. That directive has caused some disagreement in the ELCA.
Kohlstedt, professor and director of the History of Science and Technology Program, University of Minnesota, said the committee talked about its giving and competing challenges in the congregation -- the need for a new boiler, plans for a rainwater diversion/rain garden project. But despite the financial challenges, she said it seemed like the wrong time to reduce mission support, especially with reports of ELCA congregations redirecting funds or possibly leaving the denomination.
Also, Holy Trinity has a long history of outreach in the community and in the wider church, Kohlstedt said. Social justice outreach is a key reason why she is a member. For example, members help prepare and serve food to people in need; the congregation maintains affordable housing for people with special needs and for seniors; a Swahili congregation uses Holy Trinity's building for services; and it maintains relationships with churches in Central America and Africa.
In the committee discussion, Kohlstedt said she told members that "'given what we are as a congregation, I think it's important that we do the opposite. Even if it's a modest increase, we should do it.'"
Holy Trinity's total benevolence, including gifts to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal, support for local and other ministries, and mission support is nearly $112,000, said the Rev. Jay Carlson, pastor. Of that, the congregation gives $88,000 to support the church's mission through the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod and the ELCA churchwide organization. It's the $88,000 the congregation plans to increase in 2010.
The proposed increase is an endorsement of the assembly's decisions and its declaration of finding ways to live together despite differences, Carlson said in an interview. The congregation also wants to do its part to offset reduced giving from others, he said.
"Certainly we're addressing some (local) issues. We have some concern about how we'll meet those needs," Carlson said. "But I was really impressed with the faithfulness and generosity of the committee. Even in challenging times, it's really important to be generous in our giving."
In Fargo, N.D., the Rev. Ronald Bock, senior pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, and Dr. Joel Kangas, a local dentist and member, gave interviews to a television news crew about their congregation. They wanted people in the Fargo-Moorhead area to know their congregation is open to everyone. They wanted to say that St. John "seeks to encourage, reflect and grow community in Christ" -- as its mission statement says.
They also wanted residents to know there's another side to the news reports they've been reading and hearing about in Fargo in the past month. At least three other large ELCA congregations in town have declared they will redirect mission support funds away from the ELCA: Hope Lutheran Church, First Lutheran Church and Pontoppidan Lutheran Church.
But don't count St. John among them. The congregation intends to increase its giving to the ELCA. Why? Because members have always had a "high view" of mission support, Bock said in an interview. And it was painful when the congregation had to reduce its giving a few years ago to meet mortgage costs, he said. Since then, they've been working their way back up.
For 2010 Bock said St. John's budget proposal will likely be about $510,000. Overall benevolence, which includes mission support, could be set at $48,000. If so, that would represent an increase of $13,000 over 2009.
That doesn't mean that all of the congregation's 1,100 baptized members agree with the assembly's decisions, Bock said. Members have many opinions. But what binds them together is not whether they always agree -- it is that have been called by Christ in baptism to be together, Bock said.
"We're hanging together. That's what the church ought to be about," he said.
Bock said the ELCA's three "expressions" -- congregations, synods and the churchwide organization -- are vital to St. John's ministries. "We're a part of all of this. It doesn't take much courage or faith to walk away when things get hard, but it does take faith and courage to stay when things do get that way," he said.
Bock told of one member who spoke with him, and said he was "really upset" with the assembly's decisions. But he told the pastor he wouldn't leave the congregation or reduce his giving. "He said, 'who do I write to to tell them I'm upset?'" Bock said.
"That's what it means to be the church," Bock said.
"I don't want this issue to define us or to separate us," Kangas said. "St. John has a rich and fairly long history of really supporting mission, and sending on a fair amount of support to the synod. That's one of the reasons why I joined."
Kangas believes that ELCA leaders and members should give the ELCA some time, and not make hasty or emotional decisions in response to the decision to changes ministry policies.
"If we think we go to church, and we're always going to be comfortable, then something's wrong," Kangas said. "Sometimes we need a little discomfort to shake us up, have some conversation and see what this faith stuff is all about."
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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