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Synod reports: Assemblies discuss evangelism, poverty and sexuality

Synod assemblies meeting this spring focused on a broad range of issues from evangelism and care for the poor to the church's position on homosexuality. Some synods took actions supporting the proposed churchwide evangelism strategy to come before the 2003 Churchwide Assembly in August.

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod affirmed the objectives of the evangelism strategy. Both the Arkansas-Oklahoma and Montana synods asked the 2003 Churchwide Assembly to approve the strategy. The two memorials included a request for regional evangelism staff, adjustments to the churchwide budget that would make the strategy "a reality," and a restructure of churchwide offices "for a strong evangelism presence whose primary purpose will be to develop mentoring networks to enable ELCA congregations, agencies and institutions to become more intentional about the ways in which they share they gospel of Jesus Christ with others."

Hoping to give congregations a leg up in reaching out to ELCA members new to their neighborhood, the Southwestern Washington Synod asked the Churchwide Assembly to create a "means by which pastors and congregations of the ELCA can forward to a central location the new addresses with zip codes of members of their congregations that have moved to new locations."

And the Alaska Synod requested that the Churchwide Assembly include wording in the evangelism strategy that says the church will respond to racism with the gospel, healing and reconciliation, and commit the church to continuing anti-racism education and becoming a more multicultural church.

Sexuality discussed; few votes

At most synod assemblies meeting in April and May, voting members gathered in small groups for conversation about issues around homosexuality.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod supported the "process and timeline" of the ELCA sexuality studies, which include the issues of blessings of same-sex unions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people in committed same-sex relationships. The synod urged its congregations to participate in the study, mandated by the 2001 Churchwide Assembly.

The ELCA presently has no provision for blessing same-sex unions and expects its pastors to remain celibate outside of a heterosexual married relationship. The Rocky Mountain, Montana, Northwest Washington and Indiana-Kentucky synods defeated or tabled resolutions related to affirming the church's current policy on these issues.

The Rocky Mountain Synod called for its congregations to devote time for participation in the ELCA Studies on Sexuality as well as "other voices." It asked synod staff to develop and implement an action plan to support congregations as they engage in potentially difficult discussions.

Despite extensive debate, New Jersey Synod voting members defeated a resolution to remove its name from a list of Reconciling in Christ organizations or groups listed by Lutherans Concerned North America as welcoming gays and lesbians.

Concern for the vulnerable

Several synods took actions that expressed concern for poor and vulnerable populations in the United States and globally.

The South-Central Synod of Wisconsin asked its congregations and leaders to urge Wisconsin's congressional delegation to work for reauthorization of federal child nutrition programs in 2003. The synod also committed itself to educating members about and helping them advocate for the needs of elderly people.

Expressing similar concern for care of elderly and poor people at a time of state budget cuts, the Minneapolis Area Synod directed its bishop and council to make related "public statements during the 2003 legislative session." It also encouraged congregations to "build members' capacity to speak for those without a voice by contacting [government representatives] as well as the media."

New Jersey voters affirmed the synod's commitment to serve and advocate for people living in poverty in the state. Among other things, the resolution called congregations to increase giving to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal, "find new and creative ways to listen to" people living in poverty in their communities and "extend, develop or participate in at least one new outreach or service ministry on behalf of people living in poverty."

The South-Central Synod of Wisconsin asked the 2003 Churchwide Assembly to urge ELCA bishops, pastors, lay leaders and members to call upon Congress and the White House to provide resources and direction for the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program to increase refugee admissions, protect civil liberties of all people regardless of citizenship and reform the asylum and detention process so it treats unaccompanied children fairly and compassionately. The memorial also encouraged synod congregations to sponsor a refugee family.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod asked members to urge lawmakers "to support actions which help Israel and the emerging Palestinian state to achieve security and protection of human rights, while providing for economic, social and infrastructure development in areas of need." The resolution also asked congregations to continue sending gifts for Palestine relief and development through the World Hunger Appeal.

The Northwest Washington Synod committed its congregations to participate in "All Our Children," a Lutheran World Relief-supported ecumenical effort to raise $1 million for health-care supplies for Iraq.

The Southeastern Minnesota Synod asked its members to consider writing to congressional representatives to ask that U.S. foreign aid to Colombia emphasize social and economic assistance for that country's people and include funding for a peace process.

To support the World Hunger Appeal, the Northeastern Minnesota Synod gathered quarters and held a silent auction of quilts that collected nearly $40,000.

Ecumenical agreements

Four synods took actions related to ELCA ecumenical agreements. The Southeastern Minnesota Synod directed its council to forward to the ELCA Church Council a resolution asking for amendments to the ELCA constitution and bylaws that would "freely permit those seeking ordination or installation as pastor or bishops to do so with or without the participation of bishops in Episcopal succession and that these options shall have equal standing in the life of the ELCA." Similar actions failed in the Minneapolis Area, Montana and Southwestern Washington synods, but voting members at the Minneapolis Area and Montana assemblies requested a congregational or synod ratification process for any ecumenical agreement or change to the ELCA's ministry standards.

Other actions, highlights:

• The Pacifica Synod wove a yearlong emphasis of moral deliberation into its assembly, addressing seven concerns: Israel and Palestine, international debt relief, war and peace, homosexuality, the ELCA economic life statement, hunger and immigration. "[The] assembly did not make decisions with resolutions this year, nor was it divided with debates and majority votes," said Bishop Murray D. Finck. "Instead it sought more common understanding through intentional and well-orchestrated moral deliberations. ... This allowed each person to speak and listen, as well as begin to comprehend the understandings, convictions, interpretations and life experiences of others."

Added Gordon Peterson, the assistant to the bishop for reconciliation and discipleship, "This year it was more important to the life of this community of faith to be in conversation about some of the most difficult challenges that face both the church and the world today."

• The St. Paul Area Synod also decided to discuss issues such as poverty, affordable housing, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and working for peace in Colombia--topics that would normally be submitted as resolutions.

• The Minneapolis Area Synod asked the 2003 Churchwide Assembly "to begin the process to amend the ELCA constitution to provide for the direct election of a Church Council member by each of the 65 synods." Currently, the Church Council is elected at the Churchwide Assembly.

• Voting members at the Oregon Synod assembly extended gratitude for the late Timothy F. Lull's "wisdom, scholarship, humor and friendship." Lull was president of Pacific Lutheran Seminary, Berkeley, Calif. (see pages 6, 52, 58).

• The Northeastern Pennsylvania, Southeastern Minnesota and Alaska synods opposed legislation in their states that would expand legalized gambling.

• The Eastern North Dakota Synod asked the 2003 Churchwide Assembly to affirm the availability of a six-year parenting/family leave option for people on the ELCA rosters who request "on leave from call" status.

• The Rocky Mountain Synod asked the Churchwide Assembly to develop a social statement on prisons that defines the church's role in prevention programs, victim restitution, and inmate restoration and aftercare.

• Under its theme, "For the Healing of the World," the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin assembly donated 28 pints of blood to the American Red Cross and brought 1,316 hospice kits and midwife kits to give to Global Health Ministries, Minneapolis.

• The Western Iowa Synod heard a presentation on HIV/AIDS from Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania Presiding Bishop Samson Mushemba, who is raising his granddaughter, Happiness, an AIDS orphan.

• The Northern Great Lakes Synod asked the Churchwide Assembly to require increased equity for church worker pensions.

• The North/West Lower Michigan Synod resolved that by 2010, each seminarian from the synod will receive $10,000 toward living expenses.

• The Southwest Texas and Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana synods did not meet for business.


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