The family reunion that is the Churchwide Assembly
When I was young, my parents would take us back to the old family farm for Thanksgiving.
We’d meet relatives we rarely saw otherwise and hear tales of times past. We’d eat way too much. We’d stay up late, talking.
My adolescent self would chafe at rules created before I was born. I’d get upset at the fact that the women cooked and cleaned up after the meal, while the men watched football. The women talked in the kitchen, and the men talked as they watched television.
Sometimes the talk was serious: what to do about the relative who was declining into dementia, or the prices of various necessities. At other times, the conversation turned to joy. And always, we were surrounded by stories of who we were and what had made our family that way.
In many ways, the old family reunion reminds me of the ELCA’s churchwide assemblies.
Some people get upset because of the legislative aspect of the Churchwide Assembly; people are especially prone to get upset if they don’t agree with legislation that the assembly passes.
Some people don’t understand why we need an assembly to speak for the whole ELCA. Some people reject the worldliness of some of the resolutions.
Some people get upset at the cost of a Churchwide Assembly, and it can be hard to argue that point. This year the assembly is being held in Orlando, Fla., August 15-19, and it costs a great deal to transport everyone there.
Even with a special discount, the housing will be expensive for all those people. Add to that the cost of food and all the incidentals.
If you’re like me, you have an inner 19-year-old who says, "Boy, we could feed a lot of poor people with all the money that we spend on the Churchwide Assembly."
Is the assembly important?
So, why do it?
If we believe in a national body that has a somewhat unified identity, then it’s important to come together to celebrate that identity.
Still, you might argue that we could do so in cheaper ways. Maybe it would be better to just send the bishops from each synod. Maybe we could do something electronically. Maybe we could meet every five years instead of every two.
Psychologists, however, will tell us that there’s something of value in a face-to-face meeting. It’s much harder to demonize those who disagree with you if you’re staring right at them. It’s easier to have an honest conversation.
There’s value in being together where participants can pray and participate in Bible study. The whole Churchwide Assembly will celebrate the Eucharist every day. As Lutherans, we can understand the importance of that opportunity.
And then there’s the value of being together, communing together, seeing and hearing our diversity. There’s the value in all that the participants will learn about what the ELCA, both at the local level and the national and global levels, is doing.
Support for the leadership
Hopefully our leadership will be affirmed by meeting together as one body. I cannot imagine how lonely it must be for those at the top of the ELCA.
As an individual Lutheran, I have the luxury of saying, "Well, I’m not responsible for this. I’m not in charge of that." I hope that Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, and others who serve in high places, feel a sense of love and appreciation as this church gathers.
I hope that they have moments when they say, "Ah, yes, this is why we do what we do. I remember now." I hope that the leadership leaves Orlando feeling affirmed, rejuvenated and strengthened for the tasks to come.
I hope that for all of us, actually, even those of us who won’t be in Orlando. As people gather for the 2011 Churchwide Assembly, let’s resolve to pray for them. We know that they’ll be praying for us. And we know that great things happen when Christians invite the Spirit to come.
Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college teacher and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative writing classes for the last 20 years.