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Synod elects first gay, American Indian bishop

Assemblies debate rights, fossil fuels, peace in the Holy Land

At its May assembly, the Southwest California Synod elected R. Guy Erwin, the ELCA's first synod bishop who is gay and in a partnered relationship. An active member of the Osage Indian Nation, he is also the first American Indian to serve as bishop.

Erwin played down his election as the ELCA's first openly gay bishop but acknowledged his very "existence" was a symbol for broader acceptance.

"The work of a bishop in our church is to lift up the church's message of grace and peace in the wider society, to administer the church's work in our area, and to teach and preach," Erwin said in an email to CNN. "In this regard, the sexual orientation of the bishop may not be very important."

In May, four other synods also elected new bishops, while six were re-elected (see "Elected Bishops").

Of the synods reporting in by presstime, resolutions brought before the assemblies dealt with the ELCA Malaria Campaign, rights for same-sex couples and their families, fossil fuels, nonviolence, the Holy Land and more.

Rocky Mountain, May 2-4, Colorado Springs, Colo. • Affirmed Peace Not Walls as the means by which the ELCA implements its strategy for engagement in the Holy Land conflict; asked for study of the Kairos Palestine document (issued by Palestinian Christians as a word of hope and a challenge for churches to work for the end of Israeli occupation); sought an evaluation of developing investment screens and positive social investment to implement policies in Peace Not Walls. • Encouraged fostering a climate of good physical, emotional and spiritual health for rostered leaders and church professionals. • Urged congregations to provide rostered leaders and church professionals one paid day a month for dedicated prayer and meditation.

kate christianson
Kate Christianson, a member of Grace Lutheran, Winchester, Wis., and Gary Froseth, pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Wausau, Wis., assemble hygiene kits during the East-Central Synod of Wisconsin Assembly. The kits, along with 120 work boots participants collected, will assist released inmates as they reintegrate into the community. The assembly met May 17-18 in Green Bay, Wis.

Arkansas-Oklahoma, May 2-4, Tulsa, Okla. • Heard the story of the "talents," with its bishop distributing checks to congregations to see how they could increase the "talents." Congregations are to bring stories and videos of their efforts to the 2014 assembly. • Celebrated the ELCA's 25th anniversary with its current bishop, Mike Girlinghouse, and retired bishops, Bob Studtmann and Floyd Schoenhals, speaking at its banquet.

Sierra Pacific, May 2-4, San Jose, Calif. • Recommended study of the Kairos Palestine document and advocacy for a just and peaceful solution in the Holy Land. • Urged support for the ELCA Malaria Campaign. • Affirmed the moral imperative to reduce violence, death and injury caused by guns; asked the Churchwide Assembly to divest funds away from organizations involved in the manufacture, sale or distribution of guns and ammunition. • Promoted increased donations of healthy food to pantries and establishment of community gardens. • Asked the Churchwide Assembly to call for legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. • Invited conversations regarding ways the church can advocate for equal protections for same-gender couples and their families. • Backed the Uniting American Families Act, which would give binational same-sex couples the same immigration rights afforded to heterosexual couples. • Asked the Churchwide Assembly to urge all branches of government to recognize the freedom to marry for all people; sought further conversations on this topic.

Pacifica Synod, May 2-4, San Diego • Continued its involvement in the ELCA Malaria Campaign beyond its $250,000 goal. • Established a task force to study increased cooperation with the Southwest California Synod, including a possible merger. • Memorialized the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to promote a culture of nonviolence through education and advocacy for background checks for all gun sales "regardless of point of origin" and "improved mental illness and domestic violence services." • Requested that the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopt the proposed social statement on criminal justice, "The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries".

Southeastern Pennsylvania, May 3-4, Telford, Pa. • Learned that the synod's youth-led malaria campaign exceeded its goal by more than $20,000. With time left in the school year, more than $120,000 had been raised.

Northeastern Minnesota, May 3-5, Grand Rapids, Minn. • Encouraged its congregations and members to support and develop partnerships with Lutheran Campus Ministry.

South-Central of Wisconsin, May 4-5, Middleton, Wis. • Postponed its bishop's election to fall 2013. • Endorsed Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service's "Stand for Welcome Sunday," encouraging congregations to designate a Sunday to explore immigration issues. • Declared July 2013-June 2014 for raising awareness of Alzheimer's disease, dementia and other related cognitive health challenges. • Called for conversations throughout the ELCA on ministering to same-gender couples and their families and advocating for their equal protection under the law. • Supported legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. • Backed the Uniting American Families Act.

tree
At the Rocky Mountain Synod Assembly, a 24-foot "tree of life" was created to anchor the theme, "Deeply Rooted, Bearing Fruit." Congregations submitted pieces of bark with words of how people are "deeply rooted" and leaves with words of how they are "bearing fruit." The tree was bare when participants arrived, but later came to life when the leaves were added.

Florida-Bahamas, May 4-6, Lake Buena Vista, Fla. • Supported the Uniting American Families Act. • Defeated a resolution calling for legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Southwestern Texas, May 4-5, Corpus Christi, Texas • Called on congregations and partner ministries to offer preventative programs addressing bullying, harassment and other related violence. • Asked the Churchwide Assembly to call on Congress to pass legislation to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity while providing for "religious exemptions." • Supported the Uniting American Families Act. • Memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to urge members to call on their lawmakers to commit to facilitating a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. • Advocated for compassionate, just and wise immigration legislation.

Northern Great Lakes, May 16-18, Marquette, Mich. • Resolved to participate in a study on economic justice and learn how economic policies impact the working poor in the synod and beyond; challenged members, congregations and pastors to make one change in discretionary spending to assist the working poor and alleviate poverty. • Celebrated the ELCA's 25th anniversary through mission moments featuring historical slides that were tied in with the present.

Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, May 16-18, Navasota, Texas • Met in conjunction with a Glocal Mission Gathering for worship, workshops and sharing around global and local mission. A Global Festival fellowship event celebrated cultures, foods and activities from around the world.

Northwestern Ohio, May 17-18, Bowling Green, Ohio • Committed to helping those who are living with mental illness and their families. • Called for mission with and among people living in poverty through prayer, intentional study, direct service ministries, financial giving and education. • Opened the assembly with a "Gentle Service" designed for people and families living with autism, hearing and visual challenges, mental illness, etc.

St. Paul Area, May 17-18, Burnsville, Minn. • Sought conversations throughout the ELCA on ministering to same-gender couples and their families and advocating for their equal protection under the law. • Urged support and advocacy for legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. • Supported the Uniting American Families Act. • Affirmed Peace Not Walls as the means by which the ELCA implements its strategy for engagement in the Holy Land conflict.

Southeast Michigan, May 17-18, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. • Recommended that the ELCA "explore and implement social economic investment screens that pertain specifically to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and companies that profit from the Israeli occupation," and provide information regarding such companies so ELCA members can make informed, selective purchasing decisions. • Celebrated the ELCA's 25th anniversary by highlighting models of ministry, with nine faith communities sharing stories of ecumenical partnerships, the power of youth, the gift of music and more.

Oregon, May 17-19, Sunriver, Ore. • Sent a request to the Churchwide Assembly that by May 1, 2014, all ELCA congregations, organizations and investment corporations "publish a list of the values of all fossil fuel stock and bond holdings ..., cease any new investments in fossil fuel companies ..., ensure that within five years directly held or commingled assets in fossil fuels are removed from portfolios related to the ELCA, and with the exception of congregations, release quarterly updates, available to the public, detailing progress toward divestment." • Called upon the ELCA to recommit to the Peace Not Walls strategy for engagement in the Holy Land.

Northwest Washington, May 17-19, Everett, Wash. • Requested recommendations from the ELCA's corporate social responsibility team about divesting from fossil fuel companies. • Affirmed Peace Not Walls; called for study of the Kairos Palestine document and a commitment to socially responsible economic practices pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. • Called for conversations about ministering to same-gender couples and their families. • Supported legislation prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. • Backed the Uniting American Families Act.

North/West Lower Michigan, May 19-21, Lansing, Mich. • Voted to stand in solidarity with those who have mental illness and find ways to minister to them through prayer, discernment and advocacy. • Encouraged its members to ask their elected officials to explore "ways and means, including comprehensive background checks, to lessen and limit gun violence" in the U.S. • Memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to adopt the proposed social statement on criminal justice; encouraged its members to explore ministries that reach out to those affected by crime. • Renewed its commitment to creating an anti-racist, multicultural church.

North Carolina, May 30-June1, Hickory, N.C. • Set a goal of $250,000 for contributions to the ELCA Malaria Campaign. • Agreed to communicate to their elected officials support for "just, compassionate, comprehensive immigration legislation with a path to citizenship."

Southwest California, May 30-June 1, Glendale, Calif. • Sought accompaniment, awareness-raising and advocacy for people of the Holy Land, and socially responsible economic practices that pertain to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. • Supported legislation that would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. • Advocated for the Uniting American Families Act. • Urged congregations to offer and support anti-bullying education in their youth programs, public schools and communities; encouraged members to contact elected officials to support "responsible control of deadly weapons, background checks for all gun sales, greater action toward issues of mental health and domestic violence ...."

Metropolitan Chicago, May 31- June 1, Tinley Park, Ill. • Urged congregations and individuals to join Christians worldwide in a prayer vigil for the Middle East on the 24th of each month. • Affirmed the Peace Not Walls campaign; memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to commit to socially responsible economic practices by encouraging members to invest in Palestinian economic endeavors and avoid products and services from companies that benefit from or support Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory. • Called for conversations about ministering to same-gender couples and their families. • Commended the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America for changing policy that excluded gay youth from participation; encouraged it to re-examine policy banning homosexual people in leadership roles. • Established a bishop's advisory group to serve as a resource for individuals, congregations and communities who seek ways to "transform the culture of violence and substance abuse."

West Virginia-Western Maryland, May 31-June 1, Morgantown, W.Va. • Addressed the issue of health insurance for ELCA seminarians, calling for adequate and affordable coverage and that no seminarian incur medical expenses totaling more than $1,500 a year.

Minneapolis Area, May 31-June 1, Prior Lake, Minn. • Supported legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. • Called for conversations about ministering to same-gender couples and their families.

Southeastern Iowa, May 31-June 1, West Des Moines, Iowa • Affirmed the Peace Not Walls campaign; memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to request that the churchwide organization provide information to ELCA members regarding companies that profit from actions that are in conflict with the campaign. • Heard from David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, who encouraged them to take on the issue of hunger as part of living out a Christian life through advocacy.

Southeastern, May 31-June 2, Chattanooga, Tenn. • Established a task force to encourage faithful stewardship of energy by the synod, congregations, administrative offices and members. • Encouraged congregations to become intentional in welcoming people of all cultures. • Contacted friends and family during Mark S. Hanson's sermon, telling them "You are a new creation in Christ" — a challenge by the ELCA presiding bishop to share the good news that we are "Always being made new."

Montana, May 31-June 2, Great Falls, Mont. • Affirmed support for members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land; asked its congregations to study the issues, work for justice, and call on their elected leaders to hold hearings on whether Israel's use of U.S. financial aid violates the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and Arms Export Control Act. • Asked the Churchwide Assembly to direct Congregational and Synodical Mission to consult with ELCA seminaries and Portico Benefit Services to offer adequate and affordable health insurance coverage for seminarians.

Nebraska, May 31-June 2, Kearney, Neb.• Requested that Midland University, Fremont, Neb., include a seat on its board for its bishop, with voice and vote, and involve the synod in other advisory boards. The college removed synod representation in its governance structure in 2012.

South Carolina, June 2-4, Charleston, S.C. • Ordained the synod's first African-American, Jackie Utley, who is serving Ascension Lutheran Church, Columbia, S.C. • Donned matching red T-shirts on the second day of the assembly to filter into the city for 17 "Live Discipleship Experiences," options for learning, growth, enjoyment and service. M


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