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Holy Land, equal rights, violence top debates

As synod assemblies came to a close in June, discussions focused on advocacy for peace in the Middle East, just and fair immigration policies, equal rights for same-gender couples and their families, gun violence and adequate health-care for seminarians.

Six synods elected new bishops, and seven bishops were re-elected.

Greater Milwaukee, May 30-June 1, Pewaukee, Wis. • Affirmed Peace Not Walls as the means by which the ELCA implements its strategy for engagement in the Holy Land (www.elca.org/justice); encouraged members to study the Kairos Palestine document (issued by Palestinian Christians as a call to action to bring about the end of Israeli occupation); memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to commit to socially responsible economic practices in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; declared this year one of "Accompaniment with the People of the Holy Land" by promoting the 24th of each month as a day of prayer and solidarity. • Asked the 2013 Churchwide Assembly to call upon Congress to pass legislation that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity while providing for religious exemptions.

Delaware-Maryland, May 30-June 1, Ocean City, Md. • Sought adequate and affordable health insurance coverage for ELCA seminarians, along with health advocates for students facing major medical expenses. • Created a "PossABILITY Sunday" in May, encouraging congregations and special ministries to offer a worship service that highlights the issues of people with disabilities.


Metropolitan New York, May 31-June 1, Tarrytown, N.Y. • Called for conversations among ELCA congregations, rostered leaders and the Conference of Bishops to explore how best to minister to same-gender couples and their families. • Urged the Churchwide Assembly to advocate for anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual or gender identity before Congress and to encourage synods "not to do business with companies known to discriminate." • Asked the Churchwide Assembly to call on government leaders to support the Uniting American Families Act (a bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 to permit permanent partners of U.S. citizens and of lawful permanent residents to obtain permanent resident status) or to reintroduce it if immigration reform is passed without the act or its equivalent.

New Jersey, June 6-8, East Brunswick, N.J. • Advocated for reform of the criminal justice system; promoted restorative justice programs and other alternate strategies; committed to the support and care of those incarcerated and those transitioning to re-entry; supported the ELCA's proposed social statement on criminal justice titled "The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries" (www.elca.org/socialstatements). • Backed the Uniting American Families Act. • Resolved to advocate for an end to employment discrimination based on sexual or gender identity. • Affirmed anti-gun violence action by advocating for closing gaps in the background check systems; prohibiting large capacity ammunition magazines; and encouraging common sense, comprehensive legislative approaches to gun violence. • Promoted understanding and compassion for immigrant communities via increased discussion and education on immigration reform movements; asked the Churchwide Assembly to call upon Congress to create fair, nondiscriminatory immigration practices.


Central/Southern Illinois, June 6-8, Springfield, Ill. • Celebrated the launch of "Pedal for a Purpose," a 282-mile bike ride across Illinois June 23-27 to raise funds for Lutheran Social Services of Illinois; $2,700 was received at the assembly.


Upstate New York, June 7-8, Rochester, N.Y. • Endorsed the Uniting American Families Act. • Supported legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual or gender identity. • Proclaimed the message of hope through a talk series titled "Imagining Mission," led by four mission leaders who encouraged more than 130 participants to share their faith stories.

Lower Susquehanna, June 6-8, Grantham, Pa. • Affirmed the five principles for comprehensive immigration reform presented by Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, requesting that the ELCA contact lawmakers about supporting "meaningful immigration reform" based on those principles. • Encouraged a peaceful and just resolution to the conflicts in Israel and Palestine by calling for specific action on the part of Congress, including a clear plan to facilitate a return to the negotiating table a U.S.-backed proposal for a final-status agreement that would end the occupation and create a two-state solution, and provide incentives to help the governments of Israel and Palestine act to address the abuse of human rights and international law.


Allegheny, June 6-8, Altoona, Pa. • Requested that the Churchwide Assembly direct the ELCA's eight seminaries to "explore the possibilities of partnering with Portico Benefit Services to extend their health-care ministry by developing more affordable, adequate insurance coverage" for seminarians.


Western North Dakota, June 7-8, Minot, N.D. • Internalized the national gun debate by responding to the requirements of North Dakota House Bill 1283 and establishing "Gun Free Zones," prohibiting individuals from carrying concealed weapons within synod churches.


Northwestern Minnesota, June 7-9, Moorhead, Minn. • Endorsed the Uniting American Families Act. • Supported all legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual or gender identity. • Celebrated surpassing the halfway point of the ELCA Malaria Campaign in the synod, raising $160,137.51 thus far.

Southwestern Minnesota, June 7-9, St. Peter, Minn. • Championed the spirit of the ELCA social statement "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" by asking the Churchwide Assembly to call upon Congress to pass legislation prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual or gender identity, and by extending ministry, comfort and support to same-gender couples and their families. • Called for conversation on ministering to same-gender couples and their families. • Encouraged immigration reform and offered prayer for those experiencing injustice in the current system.


Southeastern Minnesota, June 7-8, Rochester, Minn. • Demonstrated a passion to care for creation by requiring congregations to complete an environmental audit and to provide places to study the care for creation. • Established a task force to discern how congregations can provide sustainable, stable financial support for the campus ministries in Winona and Makato, Minn., and publicly confirm campus ministry as a crucial part of the church's ministry to and with young adults.


Northeastern Iowa, June 7-9, Decorah, Iowa • Committed to reducing acts of violence by opening dialogues and resources among congregation members interested in effectively lessening violence. • Recommended that congregations and other ministries maintain the current level of health benefits for rostered and lay workers, encouraging that they choose the ELCA health plan option in 2014 that most closely resembles current ELCA primary health coverage.

Bishop Bill Gafkjen
Bishop Bill Gafkjen of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod stands before "Bound Together." Linda Witte Henke created the tapestry by weaving strips of fabric from synod congregations through panels of poultry netting.

Indiana-Kentucky, June 7-9, Fort Wayne, Ind. • Dedicated to living out the ELCA's social statement "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" by encouraging discussion on how to respond to the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender neighbors. • Offered support to a churchwide effort to call for a peaceful and just solution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine; urged ELCA members, congregations, synods and agencies to call on Congress to outline specific steps in an attempt to work toward such a resolution.


Southern Ohio, June 6-8, Springfield, Ohio • Held a "SynodFest," where all its members were invited to come together to celebrate, worship, learn, share, serve and take care of synod business. The theme was "Global Mission & Partnership."


South Dakota, June 7-8, Sioux Falls, S.D. • Established a goal of $200,000 to build 25 roofs for churches of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Cameroon in celebration of the 25th anniversary of its companion synod relationship with the African church body.


Central States, June 6-9, Overland Park, Kan. • Supported the Uniting American Families Act.


New England, June 7-9, Springfield, Mass. • Rededicated the synod to praying and working for peace, calling for conversations about violence, vengeance, reconciliation and peace; memorialized the ELCA to do the same. • Advocated for just social and economic practice in the journey to discover a solution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine; promoted a call for a two-state solution; dedicated one Sunday per year to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land through worship, prayer and education. • Urged that the ELCA divest itself from fossil fuel corporations and called upon Congress to place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.


Virginia Synod, June 7-9, Salem, Va. • Postponed indefinitely a resolution calling for action on gun violence. • Referred to a synod council committee a resolution that requested advocacy for the restriction of the sale of military-style assault weapons and for mandatory background checks on gun buyers. • Encouraged congregations to reach out in support to those living in isolation as people who are called to "love and care for our neighbor in body, mind and soul, including the fullness of mental health."


Southwestern Pennsylvania, June 13-15, California, Pa. • Affirmed Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service's five principles for comprehensive immigration reform. • Called for the passage of legislation prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual or gender identity. • Supported the Uniting American Families Act. • Memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to request that all synods inform their congregations about the location of their county jails, private for-profit prisons or any other detention facilities that hold immigration detainees, and to encourage congregations to engage in visitation programs to these facilities and create community support programs for those granted alternatives to detention.


Grand Canyon, June 14-15, Mesa, Ariz. • Changed its constitution to open the way for giving voice and vote at its assemblies to ordained ministers from the ELCA's full communion partners.


Northern Illinois, June 14-15, Rock Island, Ill. • Furthered the movement toward improved mental health by requesting that congregations discuss the ELCA Church Council's social message on "The Body of Christ and Mental Illness," and by calling upon Congress to provide adequate funding for comprehensive mental health care. • Defeated a resolution on gun violence.



Northeastern Pennsylvania, June 14-15, Wilkes-Barre, Pa. • Called upon the Churchwide Assembly to offer vocal and public support for the Uniting American Families Act. • Sought an end to employment discrimination on the basis of gender or sexuality, and for immigration reform. • Called for conversations about ministering to same-gender couples and their families. • Embodied the scriptural promise that "blessed are the peacemakers" by advocating for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine through negotiations toward a two-state solution. • Affirmed Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service's five principles for comprehensive immigration reform.


Upper Susquehanna, June 14-15, Selinsgrove, Pa. • Endorsed the "The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries" as a social statement of the ELCA in accordance with policies and procedures for addressing social concerns. The Churchwide Assembly will vote on the proposed social statement at its August meeting. • Asked the Churchwide Assembly to encourage members and leaders to call on lawmakers to commit to facilitating a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.


Metropolitan Washington, D.C., June 21-22, Lansdown, Va. • Asked that the ELCA be directed to develop and implement social-criteria investment screens that pertain to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. • Called for conversation about ministering to same-gender couples and their families. • Supported legislation prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. • Backed the Uniting American Families Act. • Memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to develop an "investment screen for civilian firearms" to be used by those responsible for investing church funds and by Portico Benefit Services as it develops criteria for the ELCA Retirement Social Purpose Funds. • Asked the Churchwide Assembly to designate June 22, 2014, as Refugee Sunday in recognition of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service's 75 years of welcoming migrants and refugees.


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