During the past six years debate at many synod assemblies centered on ecumenical issues. But so far, this year's assemblies have covered a broad range of issues, from the church's position on homosexuality to its care for people in need.
Talking about sexuality
The New Jersey Synod resolved to become a Reconciling in Christ Synod, committing itself to an intentional welcome of gays and lesbians and their families.
The Montana and Northern Great Lakes synods were among many that dedicated assembly time to a discussion of homosexuality and the roles of gays and lesbians in the church. Northern Great Lakes voting members "expressed appreciation for this opportunity to talk together about matters that deeply affect how we live in community and practice faith in life," said Kim Beckmann, a pastor in Stambaugh, Mich. "We were graced to discover our ability to share as brothers and sisters the questions and experiences we have concerning gays and lesbians."
Added Bob Langseth, a retired pastor: "This time, [ELCA leaders] are asking us what we believe in order to assist the end results. For this, I'm grateful."
At the Southeast Michigan Synod and Pacifica Synod assemblies, voting members advocated that the congregational study process for the ELCA sexuality studies include resources and personnel from such sources as the ELCA Division for Church in Society, synod homosexuality study ministry teams, and gay and lesbian concerns task forces.
Voting concerns rise
After much debate, the Southeastern Minnesota Synod asked the ELCA Church Council to subject the recommendations of the ELCA's sexuality study and the subsequent determination of ELCA policy to a direct majority vote of ELCA congregations.
But the Pacifica Synod failed to pass (228-144) a resolution that would have memorialized the Churchwide Assembly to require, among other measures, that voting members base their actions on "all issues pertaining to the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex marriages," on the majority view of their congregation or synod.
The Montana Synod called for church policy changes voted on by the Churchwide Assembly to be ratified by voting members of ELCA synods.
The Northern Great Lakes Synod sent a memorial to the Churchwide Assembly asking for changes to ELCA governing documents that would allow licensed lay ministers "to vote at synod assembly as part of their office while under appointment."
Domestic, international needs
Synod assemblies called for greater care of needs in the United States and abroad. The New Jersey Synod called for expansion of the state's school breakfast program and designated Sept. 15, 2002, as a time of thanks for all who gave of themselves in the aftermath of Sept. 11.
Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod voting members approved a resolution supporting a state bill that upholds existing legal protection for victims of hate crimes and adds physical or mental disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and ancestry to the list of attributes protected by the law.
The South-Central Synod of Wisconsin asked the Church Council for the development of an ELCA social statement on prisons and corrections in the United States, including discussion of the church's role in prevention, victim restitution, and ministry to inmates and former inmates.
And the Pacifica and Florida-Bahamas synods asked their congregations and members to advocate for immigrant and refugee issues and to sponsor refugees. The Pacifica Synod called for "compassionate responses to refugees during a time when suspicion and hatred seem to be increasing."
The Southeast Michigan Synod asked its members to seek out and hear from all sides of the conflict in the Middle East and pray for peace. Voting members encouraged members to ask elected leaders to continue U.S. intervention toward a permanent plan for peace with justice between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Southeastern Minnesota and Northeastern Minnesota synods encouraged giving to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal, with the latter holding a silent auction of handmade quilts that raised more than $36,000 for the appeal.
The Southeastern Minnesota and North/West Lower Michigan synods passed resolutions of support for Stand With Africa.
In other action
Two synods voted on concerns related to Called to Common Mission, the ELCA's full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church. The Montana Synod passed a resolution of support for seminary graduates who seek ordination outside the historic episcopacy. And the Southeast Michigan assembly defeated a resolution to rescind CCM.
The South-Central Wisconsin and Florida-Bahamas synods asked congregations and members to pray for and encourage evangelism efforts in the ELCA, including the work of the ELCA's blue ribbon task force on evangelism.
The Southeast Michigan assembly passed a resolution confessing that the transatlantic slave trade was "a crime against all humanity." It asked the synod to "prayerfully consider support for reparations to African descendants of the transatlantic slave trade" and to pray for healing for descendants of victims and perpetrators, and the nation as a whole. Florida-Bahamas voting members called for the establishment of a "mission strategy for Black members" of the synod.
The North/West Lower Michigan Synod approved adding a line item in the synod budget to provide interim pastors with consistent compensation. A resolution to rename that synod "Michigan's Mitten Synod" was defeated.
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