ITASCA — The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met Feb. 28–March 4 at the Eaglewood Resort in Itasca, Ill. The conference, an advisory body of the ELCA, comprises 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and the secretary.
The Rev. Tracie L. Bartholomew, bishop of the ELCA New Jersey Synod and chair of the conference, opened the meeting with a land acknowledgement. "We are gathered on the traditional unceded homelands of the Council of the Three Fires: the Ojibwa, Odawa and Potawatomi Nations. Many other tribes such as the Miami, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Sac and Fox also called this area home. The region has long been a center for Indigenous people to gather, trade and maintain kinship ties. Today one of the largest urban American Indian communities in the United States resides in Chicago. Members of this community continue to contribute to the life of this city and to celebrate their heritage, practice traditions and care for the land and waterways."
In key business the conference:
- Voted to commend to the ELCA Church Council a "Proposal for Exchangeability of the Diaconate," endorsed by the Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee. Through the proposal, the ELCA and The Episcopal Church (TEC) recognize each other's deacons as authentic and provides for the possibility of interchangeability for occasional ministry or extended service. This proposal became possible as an interpretation of "Called to Common Mission" (CCM) — the full communion agreement between the two churches — after the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly confirmed ordination as the entrance rite for rostered ministers of Word and Service. To implement this proposal, TEC is undertaking a process similar to that of the ELCA. The Church Council will consider the proposal at its spring meeting.
- Approved a letter from the conference to Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey requesting his assistance to reverse the U.S. government's current economic and international sanctions against Cuba and to initiate a pathway toward normalizing diplomatic relations. The conference's action is based on the ELCA social policy resolution "Advocacy with the U.S. government – Aid to Cuba" that was adopted by the 1995 Churchwide Assembly.
- Received an update on the nominations process for the Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church, called for in the memorial "Restructure the Governance of the ELCA" that was adopted by the 2022 Churchwide Assembly.
- Engaged in conversation around Holy Communion practices as called for in the memorial "Holy Communion Practices in Unusual Circumstances and Pandemic Times," approved by the 2022 Churchwide Assembly.
In other business, the conference:
- Received a report from the Rev. Amy Reumann, senior director of ELCA Witness in Society, addressing advocacy efforts and ELCA bishops' "ready benches." Created by the Office of the Presiding Bishop in 2007, the ready benches keep bishops informed on public policy issues; facilitate opportunities for bishops to speak with members of Congress and testify before Congress; support bishops in responding to and writing for the public media on policy issues; and advise the presiding bishop on social issues.
- Engaged in conversation and training on the intersectionality of racial justice and gender justice, led by Jennifer DeLeon, director for ELCA Racial Justice Ministries, and Mary Streufert, director for ELCA Gender Justice and Women's Empowerment. Small-group discussions centered on such resources as "Racial and Gender Justice Definitions" and "Racial and Gender Justice Values and Directives."
- Received a report from the task force addressing the disciplinary concerns of leaders of color, presented by Judith Roberts, senior director for ELCA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and co-convener of the task force, and the Rev. Paul Erickson, bishop of the ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod and a task force member. The creation of this task force was recommended in the strategy toward authentic diversity adopted by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. The task force is expected to make recommendations regarding the current process for discipline, consider a process for community healing and grief, and make recommendations for an office to receive complaints of harassment and discrimination. The Conference of Bishops received the draft report and will continue to be in consultation regarding the proposed recommendations.
- Received an update on Mission Support, the financial offering from congregations that is shared with synods and the churchwide organization. Victoria Flood, senior director of Mission Support, emphasized that, although overall dollar amounts are decreasing, a strong relationship and commitment to funding the ministries shared through synods and the churchwide organization remains. Nearly half of the 65 synods share 45% or more of the Mission Support they receive from congregations to support churchwide ministries, while the average percentage from congregations has been relatively stable for the past decade at just over 5% of regular offerings shared with synods.
- Discussed sign-on letters issued by the conference, focusing on when and how letters are developed and how best to amplify the conference's collective voice.
- Welcomed Imran Siddiqui, the new ELCA vice president elected by the 2022 Churchwide Assembly. In his remarks to the conference, Siddiqui praised lay leadership in the ELCA.
- Received reports from the ELCA presiding bishop, secretary and treasurer and updates from the conference's various committees and from home areas of the churchwide organization.
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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 3 million members in more than 8,700 worshiping communities 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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