Later ELCA Assemblies Address Hunger, Stewardship, Sexuality

8/13/2004 12:00:00 AM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Voting members attending synod assemblies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in late spring and early summer addressed a variety of churchwide and local concerns, speaking most frequently in resolutions related to domestic and world hunger, stewardship and funding, and the ELCA Studies on Sexuality.  
     The 5-million-member ELCA is organized into 65 synods, each headed by a bishop.  Synod assemblies concluded June 27.  
     The ELCA Department for Synodical Relations compiles assembly reports from ELCA churchwide representatives.  The reports include resolutions and memorials, which are resolutions addressed to the churchwide assembly.  The department had received nearly all of the reports by Aug. 2.
     Other topics addressed by the synods were marriage, term limits for churchwide officers, lay presidency, Middle East concerns, gambling, violence in schools, HIV/AIDS education and Lutheran-Jewish relations.

ELCA Hunger Appeal, Program Get Affirmations
     The Central States Synod assembly encouraged congregations to give at least $6 per member to the Hunger Appeal and appoint a congregational hunger advocate. The Northern Illinois Synod encouraged congregations to increase giving to the appeal by 5 percent annually.  It also asked that progress in World Hunger Appeal giving be reported to the synod assembly.  The Southwestern Washington Synod assembly adopted a goal to increase world hunger gifts by 10 percent this year, and another 10 percent next year.  The Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly encouraged congregations to work toward a goal of $25 million in churchwide gifts to the World Hunger Appeal.  (Total gifts to the appeal were $18 million in fiscal 2003.)  The Lower Susquehanna Synod assembly established a goal of more than doubling gifts to the Hunger Appeal.  The Nebraska Synod assembly encouraged congregations to recruit 10 percent of their baptized members to electronically transfer $10 per month to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal; it also established a world hunger committee.
     The Southeastern Iowa Synod assembly called for action to end hunger as "a core conviction" of the ELCA and directed its synod council to forward the resolution to the ELCA Church Council for consideration in the strategic planning process.  The Pacifica Synod encouraged congregations to adopt the principle of "status confessionis," which means alleviation of hunger as a matter of faith.  The resolution said the principle is "a tactic in bringing an end to hunger in the world."  The Florida-Bahamas Synod strengthened its commitment to the World Hunger Appeal in light of the appeal's 30th anniversary this year.
     The Northern Great Lakes Synod assembly raised $10,000 in quarters for hunger programs at its assembly; the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin assembly raised $53,505 through June for hunger programs.

Synod Assemblies Address Giving, Stewardship
     The Greater Milwaukee Synod, which already leads all of the 65 synods of the church in the percentage of mission-support funds it shares with churchwide ministries, agreed to share 62 percent of its income with the churchwide organization in fiscal 2005, an increase of 1 percent.  
     The Rev. Paul Stumme-Diers, Greater Milwaukee synod bishop, said in his report "this is a time to demonstrate leadership and counter pessimism."  By increasing mission support, the assembly's action would be "a sign that we are not captured by fear but are moving ahead in confidence.  We have a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership."  
     The Central States Synod assembly adopted a resolution with stewardship suggestions for congregations and asked for development of a plan to grow in "shared stewardship" through churchwide mission support.   Congregations of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod were encouraged to make the "ministry of stewardship" a high priority and develop four-year stewardship plans.
     The Northern Illinois Synod said it would seek $200,000 in gifts by July 2005 to help congregations purchase property and build.  The ELCA Mission Investment Fund agreed to put in $50,000 for the first $100,000 raised by the Northern Illinois Synod Capital Development Fund, the resolution said.
     In the partnership with the ELCA Fund for Leaders in Mission, the Northeastern Iowa Synod agreed to create a synod endowment fund to help first-call pastors who come to the synod and have student loans to repay.  Congregations were encouraged to take up special offerings to help fund the endowment.

Sexuality Studies Addressed by Many Assemblies
     Generally, resolutions and memorials addressing the studies encouraged congregations to participate by using churchwide study materials, called for the church to maintain present policies or asked that the churchwide assembly adopt policy changes with a two-thirds vote or seek congregational ratification of any changes.  
     The 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly mandated the study process in preparation for decisions the 2005 assembly is to make on whether or not people in committed homosexual relationships should be ordained and whether or not the ELCA should develop a rite for blessing of committed same-gender relationships.  In addition, a task force assigned to the studies is to develop a proposed social statement on human sexuality for the assembly to consider in 2007.
     Current ELCA policy expects professional ministers to refrain from all sexual relations outside marriage.  The church has no official policy on blessing same-gender relationships, but in 1993 the ELCA Conference of Bishops stated it does not approve of such ceremonies.  The Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church.
     The Northern Illinois Synod assembly encouraged congregations to engage in the study process and declared that "the unity we share at the font and around the table cannot be broken by our differing perspectives on human sexuality."  The Northeastern Iowa Synod assembly and Florida-Bahamas Synod adopted similar resolutions.
     The Allegheny Synod assembly asked the ELCA Church Council to adopt churchwide assembly rules that would specify that a two-thirds vote would be needed to adopt recommendations that may come from the studies' task force.  The Upper Susquehanna Synod adopted a similar proposal on recommendations that relate to ordination; it also asked for a delay on adopting any policy changes related to ordination until after the social statement is acted upon, expected in 2007.
     The South Carolina Synod assembly affirmed "current policy" of the ELCA on ordination, and called for an increase in funds for a synod task force to promote "inclusivity of all."     
     Resolutions related to the sexuality studies failed at some assemblies.  A proposal that the ELCA churchwide assembly receive the task force report, "take no vote" and encourage more conversation on the issues was defeated by the Minneapolis Area Synod assembly.  Proposals to prohibit people who practice or promote homosexual behavior from being on the ELCA clergy roster, and to stop discussion in the church on the issues and reject ordination or consecration of gay or lesbian people in active homosexual relationships were defeated at the Central States Synod assembly.  And the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod assembly defeated a proposal that affirmed current ELCA policy on same-gender relationships and ordination standards, and a proposal that confirmed and upheld that "the only sexual relationship acceptable to God is in the marriage of one man and one woman."

Synod Assemblies Address Host of Churchwide, Local Matters
     + Marriage: In its 1996 "Message on Sexuality: Some Common Convictions," the ELCA Church Council said "marriage is a lifelong covenant of faithfulness between a man and a woman."  The ELCA Studies on Sexuality is expected to address whether the church should have a policy on same-gender blessings.
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