The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America



• The Lutheran Church-­Missouri Synod grew by 94 congregations in 2003, the most in the last 15 years. More than half the new congregations represent nonwhite ethnic groups, the denomination said. The Florida-Georgia District had the highest number with 14. And most were started by existing congregations rather than by denominational administrators.

• The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania consecrated Mindaugas Sabutis, 28, as bishop in June. His election required a change in church statutes, which said candidates for bishop should have advanced theological attainment and have served the church not less than 10 years. The previous bishop, Jonas V. Kalvanas, 54, died in April 2003, after serving 19 years.

• The ELCA is part of a coalition of Christian and Jewish groups that urged Congress to overhaul the welfare program and stop keeping it alive with temporary extensions. Ten mainline Protestant churches were joined by anti-hunger groups, Jewish organizations and a Roman Catholic social justice group to urge a five-year reauthorization of the 1996 welfare law. "Congress is denying the states the certainty of funding and clarity of program direction that they need to operate their programs most effectively," said a July 13 letter to senators.

• In July at the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Gunnar Staalsett, the Church of Norway's bishop of Oslo, called for interfaith cooperation to rethink ethical issues given the record number of almost 40 million worldwide infected with HIV/AIDS. Controversy exists over the ABC program ("Abstinence, Be faithful, use Condoms"). But Staalsett said it's time to quit viewing condom use as wrong. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said abstinence and marital fidelity are more effective. Ugandan Bishop Canon Gideon Byamugisha disagreed, saying 61 percent of HIV-infected African women have been in monogamous relationships. "They are faithful but still infected," he said.

• Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, joined celebrations to mark 118 years of Lutheran mission in Papua New Guinea. He visited the two LWF member churches and Lutheran historical sites July 2-12. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea joined the LWF in 1976, is headquartered in Lae, and has 815,000 members. The Gutnius Lutheran Church-Papua New Guinea, with 138,000 members, joined the LWF in 1979 and is based in Wabag. As part of the celebrations, Noko presided at the baptism of 45 children and young adults and the confirmation of 20 adults.

• A feared "doomsday scenario" with the Episcopal Church's budget hasn't materialized, and income is running about $384,000 over projections, the church's treasurer, N. Kurt Barnes, told denominational leaders. In February, the church's Executive Council approved a $40 million budget for 2004 that included $4 million in cutbacks as a handful of conservative dioceses said they wouldn't send money in protest of last year's election of V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire.

• Anglican leaders met in June to discuss how to heal divisions surrounding last year's election and consecration of openly gay Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The leaders are part of the Lambeth Commission headed by Irish Archbishop Robin Eames. A final report is expected in October. Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said in a statement that the delegation tried to give a "full and accurate picture" of the divisions by representing the "breadth of views and the depth of feeling" across factions. Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh also met with the commission as moderator of the conservative Anglican Communion Network, which opposed Robinson's election.

• Pope John Paul II welcomed the leader of the world's 250 million Orthodox Christians to the Vatican June 29 with an appeal for a "leap forward" in relations between the long-divided Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I called it the "responsibility and the duty" of both churches to seek unity without losing hope. The pope acknowledged that the memory of such events as the 13th century sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade still impedes unity.

• More than 5,000 Reformed and Lutheran Christians gathered June 29 in the Dutch city of Utrecht for a national rally to mark the merger of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Netherlands Reformed Church and the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. The new Protestant Church in the Netherlands is the second largest denomination in the country, with more than 2 million baptized members. The Roman Catholic Church there has 5 million members.

• The White House is downplaying a report that President Bush asked Vatican officials to encourage U.S. bishops to take a more active role in promoting their shared social agenda. The independent weekly National Catholic Reporter reported that Bush sought the bishops' help in pushing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages. Bush reportedly made the request June 4 during a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, secretary of state to the Vatican. The president's trip to Rome came as Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the first Roman Catholic presidential nominee from a major party since John F. Kennedy in 1960, faced questions on his differences with Rome, most notably over abortion.

• The first Roman Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy, the Archdiocese of Portland, is gambling that U.S. courts will be loath to interfere with the intimate workings of church operations. Judges hearing bankruptcy cases routinely take intrusive steps to protect creditors. Archbishop John Vlazny said July 6 that the archdiocese is filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because it can't afford to pay settlements in clergy sex abuse-related lawsuits. He said the move was "not an effort to avoid responsibility." Judges will have to weigh church canon law and the First Amendment protection of free exercise of religion against bankruptcy statutes.

• Intense cold weather and snowstorms caused extensive damage in the Andean area of Peru in July, affecting 160,000 people. Recent flooding and drought in the affected areas have made the situation worse. The coldest peaks of winter usually occur in August and September, so many fear a heightened emergency. Inhabitants of the affected areas are poor peasants who live from their llama and alpaca herds and subsistence farms, existing in small groups in precarious conditions. Action by Churches Together is working through several member groups in Peru and with its member, Lutheran World Relief.

• The Chinese government is waging an organized war on Buddhism in Tibet, says the nonprofit International Campaign for Tibet. A report details the destruction of monasteries and the work of government-controlled groups of monks that regulate funding of each monastery, decide which monks can live there and monitor activity to make sure it conforms to party doctrine. But Sun Weide, a spokesman in the Chinese Embassy, said the 46,000 monks and nuns and more than 1,700 Buddhist sites in Tibet are evidence China permits religious freedom. Included in the report is a translation of rules for monks and nuns issued by the municipal government in Lhasa that says �implanting religious ideas in the heads of minors younger than 16 must be stringently prevented.� This point is especially important to Buddhists because the earlier a monk begins his education, the more knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, said John Ackerly, president of the pro-Tibet group.

• Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican's prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, downplayed talk that U.S. Roman Catholic bishops ignored his recommendations to deny communion to politicians who support abortion. The U.S. bishops emphasized teaching and persuasion in dealing with dissenting politicians. They also said bishops could �legitimately make different judgments� about how to handle politicians. In a July 9 letter to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, Ratzinger said U.S. bishops and Rome are on the same page.

• AIDA organizations, such as the Lutheran World Federation, the Mennonite Central Committee and International Christian Committee, called on Israel to accept the International Court of Justice�s advisory opinion on the construction of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The Association of International Development Agencies, an umbrella organization for more than 50 nongovernmental groups, welcomes the ruling and believes Israel would show it�s out of step with world opinion if it fails to follow the court�s opinion.

• Action by Churches Together is working with local agencies to help residents of Nicaragua, Nepal and the Philippines because of tropical storms and torrential rains. Typhoon Mindulle entered the Philippines June 28 and left several dead or injured. Damage to crops and infrastructure is estimated at more than $13 million. Five tropical storms in Nicaragua killed at least 25 and affected around 15,000 others. Torrential rains in Nepal in July killed 47 people and displaced tens of thousands of families.

• Catholicos-Patriarch Ilia II, head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, expressed willingness to resume collaboration with the World Council of Churches. The 3-million member church withdrew its membership in 1997 after criticism of WCC orientations, citing internal opposition to ecumenical relations. Some sections of the church continue to oppose ecumenical contacts.

• In Finland, 250 roadside churches kept their doors open for travelers this summer. They provided worship resources and space for silent prayer and reflection. The idea is said to originate in a German priest�s frustration over his church�s surroundings being littered by tourists. Instead of setting up prohibitory signs, the parish opened the church doors. The experience reached the Nordic countries and has spread to Estonia.

• At its General Assembly in June, the conservative Presbyterian Church in America adopted a statement urging North American governments to ensure that marriage is defined as exclusively between one man and one woman. The denomination elected as moderator J. Ligon Duncan III, a pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Miss. The assembly also adopted a pastoral letter that calls racism sinful because it involves a failure to love as Christ has loved.�

• In a pastoral response to the nation's first and only civil unions law, Episcopalians in Vermont unveiled liturgical rites that gay couples can use in the state's 48 Episcopal churches. The worship guidelines, which look and sound like liturgies used for heterosexual weddings, are believed to be the first anywhere in the Anglican Communion that convey church blessings on gay civil partnerships. The rites are expected to become official in 2006.

• Leaders of the Massachusetts Roman Catholic Church called on members to voice their profound disappointment with lawmakers who didn't vote to ban gay marriage earlier this year and to praise those who did. The Massachusetts Legislature narrowly approved in March putting a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage on the ballot in 2006. The next legislature must also approve the measure before it goes to voters.


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February issue


Embracing diversity