ELCA Church Council considers new mission funding approach and more

4/15/2015 4:00:00 PM

            CHICAGO (ELCA) – The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) took action on proposals designed to examine and explore new opportunities to fund the mission of this church. The council also considered proposals on the formation of a single ELCA lay roster and more when it met here April 9-12, 2015. The council serves as the ELCA's board of directors.

            ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton appointed in late 2013 a "Mission Support Think Tank" to address this church's financial resources, particularly the decline in Mission Support — income from congregations shared with the ELCA's 65 synods and churchwide organization. The council received a report from the think tank, which included recommendations presented to the council through its budget and finance committee.
            In a presentation of the report to the council, the Rev. Stephen S. Talmage, bishop of the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod and a member of the think tank, said, "There is a need for radically reimagining mission funding in the church. (While) there is always resistance for change, we need to give ourselves permission for doing something different." Acknowledging some of the ways in which ELCA leaders, pastors and members garner, steward and invest the financial resources of this church, Talmage said, "There are things happening that give hope."
            The think tank is comprised of a synod bishop from each of the ELCA's nine regions. In respect to the think tank's recommendations, the council moved to:
+ thank Eaton for initiating the think tank and receive with gratitude the think tank's report and recommendations; affirm Eaton's intent of convening a team to generate recommendations to "sharpen our priorities as a church" and bring clarity about "what this church will do and will not do in order to serve God's mission more faithfully and effectively;" and affirm the need to explore new methods of Mission Support for the benefit of the whole church.

+ report in a manner that expresses thanksgiving for all gifts received and acknowledge that "uniform percentage guidelines" for Mission Support are no longer appropriate for all synods. In consultation with the ELCA Conference of Bishops and Office of the Presiding Bishop, the council approved the development of a process that will result in synod-specific percentage goals for each synod no later than its April 2018 meeting. The council's budget and finance committee will monitor this process with a goal of recommending benchmarks and guidelines for synods. In this action, the council also called on support from the ELCA churchwide organization.

+ endorse the principle that multiple streams of income may be used to provide mission funding and instruct churchwide units and offices to draft a revised constitutional provision to reflect the use of multiple sources of income. The document is to be reviewed for possible amendments to the ELCA Constitutions, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions by the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

+ request that churchwide organization staff assess current and prospective resources to assist congregations and synods in the development of multiple streams of income; develop a plan to equip rostered leaders to advocate for a renewed commitment to Mission Support; and provide at least an annual progress report to the council's budget and finance committee.

+ affirm a three-year experiment, beginning in 2016, with five synods to form a "learning community" to see if retaining the new and renewing ELCA grants for ministries and the total compensation for directors of evangelical mission will produce an increase in Mission Support and more effective management and oversight; provide updates to the council and request that the ELCA Office of the Treasurer provide financial analysis related to the experiment.

+ affirm a pilot project of the ELCA Mission Investment Fund to establish a financial services organization.

+ acknowledge the efforts of synods to deepen and strengthen relationships; encourage synod bishops and synod councils to discuss with congregations the financial implications of "how we are church together" and invite the ELCA Conference of Bishops, the council and its budget and finance committee to consider further Mission Support experiments.

            In a separate action, the council approved a revised 2015 fiscal-year current fund spending authorization of $69,323,020 and a revised 2015 fiscal-year ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $20,600,000.
            The council also acknowledged decisions from some of the ELCA's 65 synods to increase, maintain and/or decrease the percentage of sharing of 2015 and 2016 Mission Support plans, and it thanked synod bishops and leaders "as they strive to be faithful to shared commitments within the ELCA, and to direct synod and churchwide staff, including directors for evangelical mission, to deepen their partnership in efforts to strengthen financial support" for this church.
            In other business, the council voted to move forward on unifying the ELCA's three lay rosters – associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers – but delay consideration of the entrance rite and related issues, a recommendation offered by the ELCA Conference of Bishops. Currently, associates in ministry are commissioned; deaconesses and diaconal ministers are consecrated. A decision will need to be made about the appropriate entrance rite for the unified roster. The council will consider a proposal on the formation of a single ELCA roster during its November 2015 meeting, and it will consider a proposal on the appropriate entrance rite and related issues during its fall 2018 meeting.
            In her report to the council, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton offered insights about the "holy work" taking place across the church. Having just returned from China, Eaton offered highlights of her trip, which included meeting with the Chinese Christian Council and the dedication of a church on Easter. Upon the request of the Yulong County Christian Council and the village head, the ELCA contributed a portion of the cost toward building this new church. "Parishioners walk two hours through the mountains to come to worship. The faithfulness of these folks is pretty remarkable," she said.
            The council received reports from other ELCA officers and, among other actions, it:
+ received an update on Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, which completed its first year with nearly $45 million raised. The amount represents 23 percent of the five-year, $198 million Jan. 31, 2019, goal
+ extended the time for the development of an ELCA social message on gender-based violence until the council's November 2015 meeting
+ affirmed the continued work on the document "Declaration on the Way" (to unity) between Lutherans and Roman Catholics
+ offered appreciation for the ongoing work related to welcoming migrants and refugees
+ declined to ask the nearly 10,000 ELCA congregations to end "confirmation" as a "ritualized right" of youth
+ affirmed the resolve by the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly that this church be encouraged to speak out as advocates for voting rights
+ re-elected the Rev. Stephen Bouman as executive director for ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission; the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla as executive director for ELCA Global Mission; and Christina Jackson-Skelton as the executive director for ELCA Mission Advancement
+ received greetings from ecumenical guests
+ received the ELCA Churchwide Organization Operational Plan Report for 2014
+ elected members to the ELCA Executive Committee and to the boards of Portico Benefit Services; Augsburg Fortress, Publishers; Mission Investment Fund; Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg; Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago; and Trinity Lutheran Seminary
+ gave "thanks to God" for the life and faithful service of the Rev. James R. Crumley, bishop of the former Lutheran Church in America, an ELCA predecessor church body.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.8 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.

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