Photograph by Julie Fletcher
Representatives from religious bodies who brought greetings to the Churchwide Assembly were a witness to "unity and diversity in what is shared both in our past and a vision of how we will move forward together," Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said.
All the guests congratulated the ELCA on its 25th anniversary.
Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, began by saying: "In honor of this auspicious occasion, I dyed my hair silver."
Continuing her good humor, she added, "I was just a little surprised at the theme you chose for this assembly, 'Always being made new.' My surprise can be summed up in this question: 'How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?' 'Change?'
"We human beings are a weird mix of both desiring and resisting change. Well, like it or not, my friends, the times and the church are a-changing. God is calling us to a new thing, a new way of being church. The hard part is that we don't know what this new thing is yet."
Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, brought greetings from the ELCA's full communion partners. "The body of Christ has seen too many divisions through its history, and fewer moves toward reunion," she said. "All Christians can give thanks for the initiative that brought formerly separate Lutheran bodies together in this country 25 years ago.
"The challenges that both our churches have experienced around the issues of inclusion of all human beings in recent years have reminded us that God is always at work. God is at work on us, within us and among us. Some have passed judgment on our smaller numbers as faithlessness, but it may actually be the way the Spirit prunes us for greater fruitfulness. If we can see ourselves standing at the foot of the cross, judgment will be far less important than our response." As Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and president of the Lutheran World Federation, took the stage, he thanked Hanson for being a "strong, prophetic voice for justice, disturbing many people who hate justice."
"You have lived through your own Reformation journey and seek to boldly respond to the challenges in different times and situations, both theologically and pastoraly," he told the church. "Your ministry of love is a living and strong witness affirming that the Reformation did not stop in the 16th century but continues through the Holy Spirit ...."
Younan said the LWF approaches the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in gratitude and with the continued message of salvation and healing to the world.
"The center of gravity for global Christianity is now in the global south, not in the global north ...," he said. "We need to explore as Lutheran churches together how the south can benefit the north and how the north can benefit the from the south with the gift of contextual spirituality."
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© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers