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Synod assemblies' actions are wide-ranging

Hunger, poverty, sexuality, immigration and social issues top concerns

Set for a great feast, an oversized
Set for a great feast, an oversized banquet table is the visual centerpiece as St. Paul Area Synod voting members explore the assembly theme “Living the Vision: With Room at the Table,” based on Luke 14:12-23. Bishop Peter Rogness suggested the table would be most sumptuously filled if everyone is invited, with “no conditions.”

As synod assemblies concluded in June, some continued to react to resolutions passed by an October 2005 special meeting of the Metropolitan New York Synod. Those resolutions asked for restraint in discipline as leaders navigate candidacy and discipline processes after the 2005 Churchwide Assembly votes on sexuality. That assembly rejected ordination exceptions for gay and lesbian ministers.

The St. Paul Area, Sierra Pacific, Southeastern Iowa and Metropolitan Washington, D.C., synods encouraged such “restraint” in the administration of policies that apply to gay and lesbian rostered leaders. The Grand Canyon Synod declared it would take a neutral stance on the issue and not subject to discipline those congregations choosing to call an otherwise qualified person who is in a same-sex relationship.

Metropolitan Washington, D.C., also asked the 2007 Churchwide Assembly to remove from ELCA governing documents language that bars people in active same-sex unions from ordained ministry.

But Central-Southern Illinois and Allegheny asked the 2007 assembly to ensure that discipline and standards for rostered leaders are maintained and implemented “in a consistent and fair manner across the church.”

Northwest Washington resolved to hold four forums from 2006 to 2007 to help congregations and pastors discern ways to provide pastoral care to gays and lesbians in light of the 2005 Churchwide Assembly decisions.

Southeastern Iowa asked its congregations and institutions to study and discuss statements of welcome for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities “in order to be designated as Reconciling in Christ.”

Ending hunger and poverty

Northern Illinois, South Carolina, Northeastern Iowa and Southeastern Iowa asked congregations and others to make ending hunger a core conviction or central to ministry and mission. Some of those synods, as well as Nebraska, Southwestern Minnesota and North/West Lower Michigan, specifically asked members to increase their giving to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal.

Northwestern Pennsylvania, Delaware-Maryland, Southwestern Pennsylvania, Upper Susquehanna, Lower Susquehanna and Metropolitan Washington, D.C., supported a Hunger-Free Communities Act that was first introduced in Congress in 2005 to eliminate hunger in the U.S. by 2015.

The Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod endorsed the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger and asked congregations and members to participate in a 2006 statewide summit on hunger.

Northern Illinois voting members resolved to continue praying, giving and volunteering to support people affected by the Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Pacifica, South Dakota and Northwestern Ohio encouraged congregations to write letters to elected representatives on behalf of hungry people, with Northwestern Ohio asking congregations to become covenant members of Bread for the World.

The Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, Northwest Washington and Metropolitan Washington, D.C., synods urged congregations and members to join the ONE campaign to make poverty history.

Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast and Southwestern Minnesota urged members to participate in Thrivent Builds and Habitat for Humanity to reduce poverty housing worldwide. And Northwest Washington committed to working with ecclesial and civil partners to end homelessness.

Southeastern Iowa encouraged congregations and members to ask elected representatives to use public funds in ways that benefit vulnerable people: “the poor, children, the elderly and those with mental or physical challenges.”

Social concerns

The death penalty was an issue at several assemblies. Southwestern Pennsylvania asked members to advocate for a moratorium on the death penalty. LaCrosse Area and Greater Milwaukee Area passed resolutions opposing the death penalty and its proposed reinstatement in Wisconsin. LaCrosse Area voting members asked congregations and members to study the ELCA social statement on the death penalty before voting in a November referendum.

South Dakota asked the 2007 Churchwide Assembly to direct ELCA Church in Society to develop a social statement on criminal justice in the U.S. In a separate resolution, they asked their bishop to communicate their concerns related to “impending executions” in South Dakota.

The Indiana-Kentucky Synod referred to its church and society committee a resolution that criticizes the willingness of state legislatures to add revenue through lotteries and casinos, while “reducing or denying health-care assistance” for some residents and underfunding pension plans for public employees. The resolution encouraged the committee to consider developing a study resource.

Eastern Washington-Idaho asked congregations to engage in moral deliberation and discussion of U.S. foreign and military policy, giving prayerful consideration to the draft “Kairos 2006” document.

North/West Lower Michigan passed a resolution opposing the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, a proposal on the state’s November ballot that would do away with affirmative action for state institutions.

Saying the state “already defines marriage as exclusively a man and woman relationship,” Southwestern Minnesota opposed amending the Minnesota Constitution to prohibit civil unions.

Health care

Health-care issues were concerns for at least eight assemblies.

Virginia Synod voting members resolved to advocate for “mercury-free stocks of vaccines and other pharmaceutical products” as a priority for pregnant women, infants and children, as well as for individuals to be given “the opportunity of informed consent” about mercury exposure through pharmaceutical products or vaccines.

The Metropolitan Chicago Synod called upon Bethany Hospital, an ELCA-affiliated Chicago health-care facility, to restore services that had been cut (see story, page 52).

Southeastern Iowa, Southwestern Washington and the Southeastern Synod asked the ELCA Church Council to correct “the departure from the rich historical tradition of Lutheran leadership in the field of chaplaincy, pastoral counseling and clinical pastoral education,” and reverse a dramatic decline from 1988, when 1,000 rostered ministers served such calls to 2005, when only 690 did so.

The Oregon Synod committed to seek ways all Oregonians can access basic health care and work to provide access to health care for all congregation and church employees.

North Carolina resolved to consult with the state health department and formulate guidelines for congregational life in the event of a flu pandemic.

Southwestern Minnesota went on record opposing the practice of partial birth abortion unless necessary to save the mother’s life.

Immigration

Northern Illinois and Southeastern Iowa called for conversation and information within congregations related to immigration issues, asking members to welcome immigrants in their communities and “advocate for immigration reform that reflects Christian and humane principles.” Similar resolutions passed in the Southeastern and North/West Lower Michigan synods. Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast voted to engage the synod and its churches with immigrant and refugee issues.

In a second resolution, Northern Illinois asked synod leaders, the ELCA presiding bishop, the ELCA Church Council and the 2007 Churchwide Assembly to support congregations’ ministries to undocumented people, recognize “that ministry could violate laws that do not conform to the standards outlined in Scripture and the Augsburg Confession,” and seek “creative ways” to provide such ministries legally.

The Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod and Southwestern Minnesota supported bipartisan efforts toward just immigration reform. Both declared opposition to legislation that “criminalizes those who do ministry with” illegal immigrants.

Environmental issues

The Oregon Synod asked either the 2007 Churchwide Assembly or the Church Council to develop a proactive strategy to reduce fossil fuel usage and energy consumption and educate members about global warming and stewardship of God’s creation.

North Carolina urged congregations and members to ask their elected representatives to maintain and enhance state and national air policies, while promoting lifestyle changes “to reverse the degradation of God’s creation.” A second resolution asked congregations to increase recycling efforts and share recycling ideas.

Global concerns

Metropolitan Washington, D.C., and Southeastern Iowa urged congregations to engage in prayer, education, advocacy, and relief efforts for people in Darfur, Sudan.

Virginia and Metropolitan Chicago asked congregations, synod leaders and others to support Palestinian Christians in ways that include prayer, projects and personal visits.

Indiana-Kentucky resolved to pass from congregation to congregation communion sets, paraments and other worship items from Lutheran churches in areas where Christians are persecuted.

Voting 82-71, West Virginia-Western Maryland asked the ELCA Church Council to condemn state-sponsored or sanctioned persecution of Christians, saying “it is the opinion of this synod that fruitful Christian-Islamic dialogue is not possible so long as Christians are executed, tortured, imprisoned and otherwise persecuted for the faith in Islamic states.”

Metropolitan New York asked the 2007 Churchwide Assembly to “take appropriate action where it finds that its corporate investments support the occupation of Palestinian lands or violence against innocent Israelis,” and encourage investments that support the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state. In a separate resolution, the synod committed to prayer, advocacy and interreligious cooperation toward peace in the Middle East.

Metropolitan Chicago asked for establishment of a synod working group on religious extremism from Christians, Muslims and Jews.

Language and leadership

Southwestern Pennsylvania asked its council to request the ELCA to affirm the name of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in worship and educational materials. That synod and the Allegheny Synod asked congregations using Evangelical Lutheran Worship to use “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” in cases where other options are indicated. Northwestern Ohio also asked that new ELCA worship resources retain the Trinitarian name for God as “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” whenever God’s name is invoked in explicitly Trinitarian terms.

Resolutions requesting that worship and/or educational materials give "intentional priority to the name of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit' failed in the Southeastern Synod and Indiana-Kentucky Synod.

Noting that the synod “currently ranks 60th out of the 65 synods ... in the placement of clergywomen,” the Grand Canyon called for a team to study gender justice and its callprocess.

The Northwest Synod of Wisconsin voted to establish by January 2007 a debt reduction fund for its rostered ministers in the first three years of their first call.

The Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod asked for new training strategies for rostered leaders who will serve in a multicultural church. It also asked for special contacts with Lutheran World Federation-affiliated congregations in South and Central America, as well as identification of synod congregations that could be training sites for multicultural candidates.

South Dakota voted to eliminate the category of “youth observer” and ask congregations to send youth ages 16 through 21 as full-fledged voting members to synod assemblies.

Evangelism and growth

South Carolina approved a plan for “growing God’s mission” in South Carolina, at a “time when 40 percent of the people living around us are not connected in a life-giving way with a faith community.” The synod noted that 75 percent of congregations show little growth and many growing areas in the state could support new or renewing congregations.

Southwestern Washington resolved to continue developing and promoting an appeal for “1,000 Mission Friends” who contribute $100 or more annually to start missions, renew congregations, support ethnic ministries and assist congregations with overwhelming debt burdens.

St. Paul Area launched “Crossing Bridges,” an appeal to raise $2 million for missions, ending poverty, new leaders and Lutheran ministry in Iringa, Tanzania.

Eastern Washington-Idaho asked congregations to commit to intentional study and transformation toward reclaiming the Great Commission as the defining vision for mission.

Oregon, Southwestern Minnesota and Northwest Washington encouraged congregations to teach first-fruit giving and tithing to help grow congregational offerings and mission support.

South Dakota voted to expand its 25-year-old Lutheran-Indian relations committee into a group for multicultural ministries that would help congregations become “inclusive of people of all ethnicities.”

Indiana-Kentucky referred to its college of deans a resolution that asks them and the bishop to find ways to identify “at risk” congregations with fewer than 100 members or a budget under $100,000, and to gather best practices from other ELCA synods and ecumenical partners.

Oregon and Northwest Washington adopted a Latino ministries strategy. Southwest California encouraged outreach and ministry among Korean people, who make up more than 16 percent of the Los Angeles County population.

Other highlights

• Resolutions to give thanks, gifts or celebration honoring100 years of Lutheran Campus Ministry were passed by Delaware-Maryland, Northern Illinois, Greater Milwaukee, Western North Dakota, Southwestern Minnesota,Central-Southern Illinois, Oregon, Northwestern Ohio, Southwest California, Central States, Allegheny, Northwest Washington, Indiana-Kentucky, Metropolitan Chicago, Southwestern Minnesota, Upper Susquehanna, Lower Susquehanna, Pacifica, Nebraska and Metropolitan Washington, D.C. And Eastern Washington-Idaho voted to pray for the synod’s three campus ministry sites and send student names through the ELCA Web site.

Northeastern Ohio recognized Marcus Miller for his 11 years as synod bishop. Miller resigned July 31 to become president of Lutheran Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C. Lee Miller, retired bishop of the Upstate New York Synod, will serve as interim bishop.

Slovak Zion held worship services that included a blessing of oil, anointing for healing and a reaffirmation of baptismal and ordination vows.

Upstate New York collected more than $27,000 for World Hunger.

Central States and Allegheny asked ELCA Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission to work with Augsburg Fortress in developing materials to support the use of the Natural Church Development tool in ELCA congregations.

• The Caribbean Synod did not meet in assembly this year.


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