"I have come to this Churchwide Assembly more hopeful and grateful for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America than I have ever been." So began my report to the 2011 Churchwide Assembly. The reason is clear and was evident throughout the assembly: we are a church clear about who we are and about our engagement in God's mission for the life of the world ("Churchwide Assembly looks to future").
I am hopeful because we are a church called to discern what the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ mean for the world and our life together. The assembly theme, "Freed in Christ to Serve," is grounded in the good news that in Christ we have been freed from the power of sin, death and evil and freed for lives of service.
Videos shown at the assembly portrayed what it means to "live Lutheran." In a culture and world where lines constantly are being drawn to divide, exclude and demean, to "live Lutheran" means to embody the ministry of reconciliation God entrusted to us.
I am hopeful because we are a church that belongs to Christ. We believe God calls each of us by name. The assembly's actions said, "There is a place for you here" to those often isolated or forgotten.
Following thoughtful and respectful debate, the overwhelming adoption of the social statement "Genetics, Faith and Responsibility" affirmed that we stand together at the intersection of faith and life, discerning what it means to live responsibly in a complex and rapidly changing world.
I am hopeful because we are a church called to do God's work in the world, restoring and reconciling community. We are a church known for rolling up our sleeves, solving problems and getting to work for the world. After the resounding affirmation of the ELCA Malaria Campaign, generous pledges and offerings signaled to our partner churches in Africa that we can do this — together!
We are people who gather together to achieve things on a scale and scope we simply could never do as a single congregation or as synods. The assembly welcomed a report of ELCA World Hunger, the signature program of this church with our partner churches. Throughout the world we respond to famine, engage in relief and development, and advocate for policies and priorities that reduce poverty.
We sent communion vessels used in assembly worship to congregations in Cullman, Ala.; Joplin, Mo.; and Minot, N.D., as a reminder that when one part of the body suffers, we all suffer together. We also were reminded of ELCA Disaster Response throughout the world and our commitment to remain in Haiti and Japan until the work is done.
I am hopeful because we are a church whose unity is in Jesus who gathers us around word and water, wine and bread. Worship was at the center of each day with Bible study among small groups of prayer partners.
The recommendations of the Living Into the Future Together (LIFT) Task Force to strengthen the life and ministry throughout the ELCA were endorsed overwhelmingly. We committed to beginning new congregations and to supporting each ELCA congregation's growth in evangelical witness and deeper engagement in their mission context.
Because our unity is in Christ, we are defined first by our relatedness to others. The assembly welcomed greetings from Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation; George W.C. Walker Sr., senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church; and Sayyid M. Sayeed of the Islamic Society of North America.
I am hopeful because we are a church that shares a living, daring confidence in God's grace. I heard testimonies to faith throughout the week, including from one young voting member. She stopped me, tears in her eyes, to say she had come to Orlando, Fla., wondering if she was a Christian. She said, "Bishop, I am leaving with my faith so much deeper. Thank you."
In the assembly's opening sermon on the angel Gabriel's announcement to Mary, I asked if we — like Mary — are ready to be moved by the presence of the Spirit. By Friday the answer given by voting members was a resounding "yes!" What a cause for gratitude and hope!
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