ELCA NEWS SERVICE
March 7, 2010
ELCA Presiding Bishop Responds to Members in Second Town Hall Forum
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), responded to a variety of questions about the economy, ecumenism, evangelism, youth and young adult ministries, decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly and more at a "Town Hall Forum" here March 7. This was the second in a series of online forums hosted by Hanson.
He responded to 18 questions from a studio audience and members of the church watching online. Carlos Peña, ELCA vice president, Galveston, Texas, introduced Hanson and posed questions from viewers.
ELCA Communication Services, which managed the forum along with ELCA Information Technology staff and others, reported the online video player for the forum was launched 2,296 times, fewer than the 3,148 launched for the forum Hanson hosted Dec. 6, 2009. Members were encouraged to watch in groups this time.
Hanson said he has been thinking about conversations across the ELCA regarding the decisions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. That assembly approved proposals that would create the possibility for Lutherans in committed, publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders.
Hanson said some of the conversations are joyful over the decisions of the ELCA, while others are confused, "wondering what is going on and what did we do; and some conversations are hard, expressing opposition and wondering about future participation."
"I hope our conversations today -- about our identity as a church body, where God is calling us to be engaged in mission and what is called for from us -- will be in the context of that discussion and that central proclamation of faith that we are grounded in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for the life of the world," he said.
Hanson said that while it seems "we're shining the beam" on those congregations in the process of leaving the denomination, "I would invite all to also shine the light on those congregations that see in these decisions new opportunities for ministry in many ways."
An online participant asked Hanson for guidance to pastors who feel "betrayed" by the leadership of the church that "pushed through an agenda that lacks consensus in the wider church."
"My experience ... from 2001 when the assembly called for this discussion and the formation of a social statement on human sexuality, is that leaders throughout this church in congregational settings, synods and churchwide, have sought to be very faithful to the task given us to create a social statement (and) make sure that the creation of that statement was a participatory process for eight years, respectful of differences," he said. While chairing the churchwide assembly, Hanson said his call "was not to manipulate, advocate or intimidate, it was to make sure that the assembly was in a context of worship, prayer and holy conversation and thoughtful deliberation and decision-making."
Hanson asked congregations in conflict over the assembly actions to "pause, take time for deeper engagement with Scripture."
"This is a particularly heavy time to be called into leadership in ministry, not just in those places where there is tension around actions relevant to human sexuality. We face challenges as a church that come to us because of the economic downturn. We are an aging, predominately white church in a very diverse mission context," said Hanson.
An online viewer asked about the progress of the ELCA's "Book of Faith" -- an initiative for Lutherans to read and discuss the Bible.
"The great thing about the initiative is its grassroots. It was born out of a congregation in North Carolina," said Hanson. "I am very excited and deeply committed that this initiative will be a mark for which this church is known and will shape our life into the future," he said.
A member of the audience, who identified herself as a seminarian, asked about current needs of the church. "What I would like us to do is to continue taking the lead of our eight seminaries to prepare pastors to be evangelical, missional leaders, some of whom will plant new congregations," Hanson said.
He said Lutherans are committed to reducing the stigma of HIV and AIDS and are "major participants in the world" surrounding HIV and AIDS ministries.
One studio-audience member asked about the ELCA's original commitment to be a church with at least 10 percent of its membership being people of color. Hanson said the ELCA is still a church that is "97 percent white." He said he wished the ELCA was as agitated about becoming multicultural as it is over human sexuality matters.
He said the ELCA has committed that "in every synod we will plant or renew one congregation that is … a reflection of our ethnic ministry strategies."
In response to a question about the ELCA's relationship with the Roman Catholic Church, Hanson said Pope Benedict XVI told him last month that international dialogue will continue with the Lutherans. He said the pope will preach this month at a Lutheran church in Rome.
The ELCA's many relationships with ecumenical partners are a direct result of churchwide assembly action in 1991. "I am so appreciative that the ELCA early in our formation in 1991 made a statement of commitment on ecumenism," he said.
In response to a question about the economic downturn's effects on the ELCA, Hanson said the ELCA is committed to maintaining a staff person for evangelical mission in every synod because the church is depending on congregations to be "vital centers for evangelical witness and service." When staff and program funding is reduced, it is a challenge that people don't get the idea the church has reduced its commitment to specific ministries, he said.
He said the ELCA is working now on a social statement about genetics. A draft of the statement is to be released March 18. Hanson encouraged members to study the draft, respond to it and use it as a teaching tool.
The final question in the forum was about the role of young people in the ELCA. Hanson said young adults express "a longing to experience the grace of God being lavishly washed over them." They want to be part of a church that is making a difference in the world, he said.
"I hang out on campuses (and) campus ministries as often as I can," Hanson said. "When I come away, I come away renewed in my confident hope that God is at work in this church."
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or firstname.lastname@example.org