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Synods continue discussions of evangelism, sexuality and global needs

Synod assemblies continued to meet in early summer for discussions and votes related to evangelism, the church's position on homosexuality and the needs of the world's most vulnerable populations. Many assemblies also discussed the increasing challenges of maintaining mission support levels.

Focus on evangelism

The Southeastern, Northwest Synod of Wisconsin, Central/Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois, Southwestern Pennsylvania and Grand Canyon synods urged the 2003 Churchwide Assembly to approve the proposed evangelism strategy.

The Central States, Metropolitan Chicago and Southeastern Iowa synods asked the Churchwide Assembly to communicate the church's need for continuing anti-racism education in the evangelism strategy. Similarly, the South Dakota Synod asked its council to urge the ELCA Church Council to include in the strategy a "strong commitment to ending racism and becoming a more multicultural church."

Talking about sexuality

Most assemblies held and encouraged informal discussions of human sexuality issues, and several considered related resolutions.

The Southeastern and Northeastern Iowa synods affirmed the process of the ELCA Sexuality Studies. The Northeastern Iowa, North Carolina and Virginia synods encouraged congregations to participate in the studie. The Virginia Synod tabled until 2004 a resolution opposing the blessing of same-sex relationships.

The Northeastern Iowa Synod also asked the ELCA Task Force on Human Sexuality to ensure "the integrity of the process of study and discernment so that it is grounded in Scripture and that all voices will be heard." It specifically cited voices that "based on their study of Scripture and reason ... are asking the church to allow for the blessing of committed same-gender relationships and ordination of gay and lesbian persons in such relationships" and from "A Pastoral Statement of Conviction and Concern," presented last year at an American Lutheran Publicity Bureau conference in Kansas City, Mo.

The ALPB statement describes sexual intercourse as "part of the vocation of marriage and misused in any other context." It also speaks against ordination of gay and lesbian clergy and asks the church to provide "sensitive pastoral care for homosexual persons."

The Central/Southern Illinois Synod asked the Churchwide Assembly to affirm that "neither the Scriptures nor the Lutheran Confessions grant any authorization to the church to recognize as divinely approved any relationship other than the marriage of one man and one woman for the full expression of human sexuality," and to therefore adopt no changes to church teaching or practice. The synod postponed indefinitely a resolution to ask the Churchwide Assembly to declare a six-year moratorium on the study of sexuality issues and reallocate funding for sexuality studies to evangelism.

The East-Central Synod of Wisconsin urged the ELCA to not make any changes to Vision and Expectations, the document that sets standards for ELCA rostered ministers. But the Grand Canyon Synod defeated a resolution asking for no changes.

The North Carolina, Lower Susquehanna and South Dakota assemblies narrowly passed resolutions that affirmed traditional marriage conventions and family structures and that said sexual intercourse should take place only between a man and a woman within the marriage covenant. For some voting members, the resolution reflected what they saw as an important voice in the ELCA study process. Others felt it represented the voice of Scripture and tradition and should be the only one taught.

The Allegheny Synod urged the ELCA to "maintain, at least for the duration of the study period, the present policies of the church regarding ordination and marriage" as articulated by Vision and Expectations, which calls gay and lesbian ministers to "abstain from homosexual relations," and the ELCA Conference of Bishops' October 1993 statement that they didn't approve of same-sex blessings "as an official action of this church's ministry."

The Allegheny, Southwestern Pennsylvania and Lower Susquehanna synods asked the Churchwide Assembly to delay considering the ordination of people in committed same-sex relationships and the approval of blessing same-gender unions until after a Churchwide Assembly acts on a social statement on human sexuality. The West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod asked that creation of a specific plan and timeline for the decision on rostering clergy in same-sex relationships be delayed until a social statement on human sexuality is completed and approved.

The Allegheny Synod and the East-Central Synod of Wisconsin requested that a majority vote from two-thirds of ELCA synods be required to ratify Churchwide Assembly decisions related to sexuality. The Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod asked that any amendment to the ELCA constitution be ratified by three-fourths of ELCA synods at their assemblies. And the Southwestern Minnesota Synod urged Churchwide Assembly voting members to recommend that the ELCA amend its constitution to allow synods or a majority of ELCA congregations to ratify any ecumenical agreements or changes to ministry standards. Similar resolutions failed at the Upper Susquehanna, Northwestern Ohio and South Dakota assemblies.

The North Carolina Synod directed its council to request that the Church Council ask the Division for Outreach to rescind a September 2002 board action establishing an "acknowledged relationship" with Lutherans Concerned/North America. It called the action "premature and pre-emptive in light of the current sexuality study under way."

Both the Southeastern and Delaware-Maryland synods want the Conference of Bishops to "offer a special message of pastoral care and concern to youth and adults in our church who may be wrestling with these issues of self-understanding, by affirming the principles of God's unconditional love" and to encourage pastors to provide care and support for people struggling with how to integrate their Christian faith and their sexuality. Judith Moller, pastor of St. John Church Lutheran Church, Thurmont, Md., said, "What we're talking about here is not policy, but about proclaiming God's unconditional love for all people. ... That's one place on which we can all agree."

The Metropolitan Chicago assembly voted to lead a one-day synodwide workshop on welcoming gay and lesbian people before its 2004 assembly.

The Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod rejected "therapies that seek to change one's sexual orientation" and directed the ELCA presiding bishop to express "pastoral care and concern" to those "wrestling with issues of self-understanding." The synod also adopted a resolution that stated it is aware pastors and congregations may decide to bless committed same-sex relationships or not, according to "their understanding of Scripture, tradition, and the building of the Spirit."

Robert Holum, a pastor of Luther Place Memorial, Washington, D.C., said the resolution "was to acknowledge you can be in communion with each other in both approaches." But Richard Graham, a pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, College Park, Md., said the resolution was "a blessing of our walking away from this debate to a certain extent. ... I know people are afraid that continued conversation and debate will divide our church, but in a way this resolution is already the product of a church that is divided."

Historic episcopate

The Southwestern Minnesota Synod urged its voting members at the Churchwide Assembly to propose amendments to the ELCA constitution and bylaws that would "freely permit those seeking ordination as pastors or installation as bishops to do so with or without the participation of bishops in Episcopal succession and [give these options] equal standing in the life of the ELCA." Similar resolutions failed in the North Carolina, Upstate New York, Western North Dakota, Northwest of Wisconsin, Nebraska, Southwest Californi and South Dakota synods. The Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod deferred similar action until next year.

The New England Synod asked for an amendment to the ELCA bylaw exception to the historic episcopate requirements of Called to Common Mission, the ELCA's full communion agreement with the Episcoapl Church, so it would expire Jan. 1, 2008.

Governance issues

The Southwestern Minnesota Synod wants the ELCA constitution amended to allow each synod to elect one person to represent it on the ELCA Church Council.

The Northwest Synod of Wisconsin asked that the ELCA constitution be amended to include term limits of no more than two consecutive six-year terms for the ELCA presiding bishop, vice president, secretary and treasurer.

Mission support

Many synods discussed shortfalls in mission support due to the economic downturn. A North Carolina resolution reminded its congregations of their 2003 promise to provide mission support for synod agencies, institutions and other ministries. It also asked for an additional mission support offering from each congregation.

The Grand Canyon Synod voted to re-establish its commitment to churchwide benevolence and challenged congregations to grow in stewardship to expand synodwide ministries.

The Southwest California Synod passed a 2004 budget with a lower mission support commitment to the churchwide office, but committed to increasing the amount for fiscal year 2005.

Domestic issues

The North Carolina Synod urged its congregations to support living wage ordinances in their communities.

Stating that food taxation contributes to hunger, the South Dakota Synod asked congregations to encourage the state legislature to end the sales tax on food.

The New England Synod encouraged congregations and other entities to "prayerfully consider providing employee benefits" such as pension, health coverage and survivor and disability insurance to lay workers who work 20 or more hours a week.

The Nebraska Synod asked congregations to call on "leaders who control budgets" for elder care "to be courageous during difficult times and accept the challenge to properly care for our brothers and sisters who are no longer able to be independent and provide for their own care."

Noting that 60 percent to 70 percent of all prisoners in Wisconsin suffer from alcohol or drug dependencies, the Greater Milwaukee Area Synod gave its support to the Treatment Instead of Prison legislation and enlisted community and congregational support.

The South Dakota Synod asked the Churchwide Assembly to request the Division for Church in Society develop an social statement on gambling for consideration by the 2007 Churchwide Assembly. The North Carolina Synod asked tits bishop and the executive director of the synod advocacy office to communicate to the state government the synod's continuing opposition to the state lottery.

Diversity awareness

Three synods called for greater anti-racism or divirsity efforts. The Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod called for a team to conduct synodwide anti-racism workshops. The Greater Milwaukee Area Synod asked its congregations to raise awareness of cross-cultural and diversity issues and designate at least one Sunday a year to cross-cultural awareness. And the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod requested that the Churchwide Assembly intentionally work against racism within congregations and synods. The latter synod also resolved to hold a synodwide Muslim-Christian forum to facilitate dialogue between the two faiths.

International concerns

The Sierra Pacific Synod encouraged congregations to educate members about the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and contribute at least $5 per confirmed member. Voting members also voiced support for the cancellation of "$200 billion dollars of debt, held mostly by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, [that] continues to burden the most impoverished nations, contributing to the deaths of 18,000 children each day."

The Nebraska Synod resolved to "increase awareness of the plight of Christians in southern Sudan," and urge elected officials to support the Sudan Peace Act signed into law by President Bush in October 2002.

The Metropolitan New York Synod asked members to pray for Iraqi people and those in the U.S. armed services. It also asked members to support "the rights of citizens to speak against any unjust conduct of war," and "create board coalitions to enact values of justice and concern for the least powerful and teach a vision of wholeness and interdependence in God's creation."

The Northern Illinois Synod urged the Churchwide Assembly to ask President Bush and other national leaders "insofar as possible, to pursue a course of nonviolence in overcoming tyranny and terrorism."

The Northwest Synod of Wisconsin asked congregations and members to pray for the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan, give generous gifts to the World Hunger Appeal and International Disaster Response and ask their elected officials to support adequate U.S. aid to those countries.

The La Crosse Area Synod voiced support for the World Hunger Appeal and Stand With Africa, a campaign to help African churches and communities withstand HIV/AIDS, banish hunger and build peace.

Voting members at the Southern Ohio Synod assembly heard Nehemia Bomani of the East of Lake Victoria Diocese, bishop of their companion synod, discuss the importance of Lutheran global involvement and its impact in Africa. The synod also voted to participate in the "Million Dollar Challenge" to support the World Hunger Appeal and Stand With Africa and to, where possible, designate a "hunger contact person" to be in contact with its hunger task force.

The North Carolina Synod recommended to the ELCA Church Council that the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs, Washington, D.C., develop strategies to address an Israeli court's decision to cancel a 30-year agreement to exempt Augusta Victoria, a Lutheran World Federation hospital in Jerusalem, from payroll taxes.

Other actions:


• The Metropolitan New York and Southwestern Pennsylvania assemblies asked the Churchwide Assembly to urge ELCA clergy and lay leaders to advocate for "compassion and justice for refugees and asylum-seekers," resettle refugee families, and reach out to vulnerable immigrants.

• The South Carolina Synod asked the Division for Ministry to standardize the quality of preparation for rostered lay leaders.

• The Southwest California Synod asked the ELCA Churchwide Assembly to adopt a policy stating that donation or organs and tissues is an appropriate means of contributing to the health of the human family.

• The Southeast Michigan urged all its congregations to elect at least one high school youth to serve as a voting member on church council.


Elections

Elected: Jon V. Anderson, 43, as bishop of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, effective Aug. 1.

When: June 14, on the fourth ballot, 462-302 over Lawrence Wohlrabe, synod minister.
Bio: Pastor of Christ the King, New Ulm, Minn. Also served Atonement, St. Cloud, Minn., and Kinsmen, Houston. Graduate of St. Olaf College, Northfield, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul, both Minn.
Replaces: Stan Olson, who became executive director of the Division for Ministry in October 2002, and interim bishop Paul A. Ranum.

Re-elected: Leonard H. Bolick, bishop of the North Carolina Synod, June 5, on the first ballot, with 471 votes.
Re-elected: Gregory Pile, bishop of the Allegheny Synod, June 13, on the first ballot, with 211 votes.
Re-elected: Ralph W. Dunkin, bishop of the West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod, June 6, on the first ballot, with 105 votes.

 


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