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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Churchscan

• The ELCA’s 10,549 congregations reported a baptized membership of 4,850,776 in 2005, said ELCA Secretary Lowell Almen. That’s a drop of about 1.62 percent (79,653 members) over 2004. It reflects a loss of 208,436 members from congregational “roll cleaning” of inactive members, a decrease in the number of new members, the disbanding of 31 churches and withdrawal of 22 congregations with a combined 14,083 members, and removal of one 111-member church. Since 1990, when ELCA baptized membership was 5,240,739, church membership has decreased by about 390,000—249,101 of which occurred between 2002 and 2005, according to annual reports compiled by the Office of the Secretary. Almen said the membership decrease reflects a pattern reported by many U.S. church bodies. ELCA membership statistics since 1987 can be found at the ELCA Web site.

• More than 300 delegates attended the Lutheran Youth Organization convention in San Antonio July 9-12, acting on proposals that addressed such issues as Lutheran unity, prayer, peacemaking, advocacy, the ONE campaign to make poverty history, immigration, world hunger and the Darfur, Sudan, conflict. The LYO represents ELCA members who are high school-age and meets triennially during the ELCA Youth Gathering. The convention included worship, prayer, workshops, elections of officers and board members, and discussion about the organization’s future. For more information about the LYO resolutions, visit its Web site.

• Two ELCA congregations—Jordan New Life Community in Minneapolis and Maple Grove [Minn.] Lutheran—welcomed more than 400 high-school youth July 2-6 to help serve a north Minneapolis neighborhood through the Group Workcamp Program. Teams of five to six youth and an adult leader repaired and refurbished about 70 homes, helping elderly and/or economically disadvantaged families and others. The Minneapolis Foundation and private donors provided more than $20,000 to pay for half the cost of supplies and materials. Groups came from the greater Minneapolis area and nationwide to take part in the camp.

• On Sept. 21 the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago will inaugurate the Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice. LSTC has built relationships with Chicago’s Muslim community for more than two decades. The center will periodically offer speakers, conferences and workshops where the two faith communities can address issues of mutual concern. Its first conference, “Christians and Muslims Together: Owning Our Pasts—Visioning the Future” is Sept. 21-23. The seminary and center also are working with the ELCA to create a consultative panel similar to one on Jewish-Lutheran relations. In addition, the center plans to provide orientation programs for church workers and others who are moving to primarily Muslim countries. For more information, visit the seminary's Web site.

• Walter J. Vierling, 91, a retired ELCA pastor from Pearisburg, Va., died July 14 while attending “Power in the Spirit,” a conference sponsored by the Virginia Synod at Roanoke College, Salem, Va. His death was attributed to a carbon monoxide leak in a dormitory. Pressure that built up in a basement room over 24 hours forced carbon monoxide into the rest of the building through cracks and crevices, sending more than 100 people to Salem area hospitals for evaluation. “Power in the Spirit” organizers and members of the college community gathered for worship July 14 to remember Vierling and pray for those hurt in the incident. Vierling served as pastor of Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pearisburg, for 35 years.

New Jersey Synod Bishop E. Roy Riley Jr. testified July 19 before the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee about the outcomes of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. “Our concern [in the ELCA] was then and is now for welfare reform that truly operates to strengthen American family life and creates meaningful work opportunities, moving people from poverty to sustainable livelihood.” Riley presented a letter signed by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and leaders of five other Christian denominations, expressing concerns about welfare and poverty. The letter stated: “We are deeply concerned that this poverty continues to deepen among the poorest in our nation while the prosperity of those in the highest income levels continues to grow.” Riley concluded his testimony: “We can end poverty. We can do this together—government and faith communities together. But we must stay focused on the bottom line—those children [who live in poverty].”

• Paul Schmidt of Seward, Neb., left his more than $1.5-million estate to 12 city churches, a hospital and a social service agency. Most—including Faith and Grace Lutheran churches—received 7 percent, or slightly less than $100,000, in Schmidt’s will. Schmidt left 9 percent to the United Church of Christ congregation he attended. Grace plans to use the resources toward Christian education at Trinity Lutheran School and Nebraska Lutheran High School, both in Waco, Neb., and for its building fund. Faith will donate 10 percent of the gift to the ELCA for mission work and “prayerfully consider for the next month some ideas of how the money can best be used to serve other people,” said James A. Miller, pastor.

The Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) acquired Luther Institute, a pan-Lutheran organization in Washington, D.C., that is devoted to exploring faith and ethics in the public realm. As a founding member of the Washington Theological Consortium, Gettysburg maintained a long-term partnership with Luther Institute, offering seminarians Washington, D.C.-based programming and educational opportunities for more than 30 years. In April the institute began to seek partners when it lost long-term grant sources. The institute’s board voted June 27 to approve affiliation with Gettysburg “in order to enhance and leverage the reputation of both institutions.”

• At Windsor Heights Lutheran, Des Moines, Iowa, a vacation Bible school theme of “Mission: Possible,” which focused on its mission projects, became “Mission: Freedom From Hunger” for the congregation’s July Fourth parade float. The church used its float to solicit food donations for the Des Moines Area Religious Council’s Food Pantry. Before the parade, Windsor Heights communicated the need for donations through local church bulletins, press releases, door hangers and by word of mouth. Parishioners used four shopping carts to collect 924 food items from people throughout the parade route.

• As Colorado legislators met in July to debate immigration policy, Allan J. Bjornberg, bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod, issued a statement calling on the legislators to “resist the urge to caricature every immigrant as a projection of our fears” and to “let decency and the common good prevail.” His statement was endorsed by 12 other denominational and interfaith leaders in the state. The church leaders also asked legislators to “take into account the complexity of issues, the diversity of interests, and the relative justice of laws at the same time that it counters appeals rooted in hostility, racism, prejudice, indifference and simplistic solutions.”


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