This assembly report was prepared by Charles Austin, Elizabeth Hunter, Kathleen Kastilahn, Daniel J. Lehmann, Julie B. Sevig and Sonia C. Solomonson.
Even before the festive banquet celebrating the past 20 years of the ELCA began, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson was looking ahead—to 2012.
That’s the year Hanson held out in his assembly report as a goal for increased evangelism, Bible study and stewardship.
“Friends, is it too much to hope that by the ELCA’s 25th anniversary in 2012 half of ELCA congregations will have at least one trained evangelist?” Hanson asked the assembly. He hopes each leader—at the assembly and throughout the church—has a mentor, “each of us teaching and learning what it means to be a follower of Jesus,” he said.
In his nearly one-hour report, Hanson elaborated on his hopes for a “sent” church.
Part of being a sent church is knowing and sharing the sacred story, Hanson said, citing the “Book of Faith” initiative ("ELCA commits to deeper engagement with the Bible") as a tool to study Scripture in the coming years.
In addition to knowing the stories of Scripture, Hanson asked leaders to tell the story of the church.
As many as 70 percent of ELCA members don’t know they belong to a church body beyond their congregation, he said. Hanson challenged leaders to reverse the trend of declining membership and worship attendance.
Hanson said he hopes that by 2012 the ELCA doubles the number of members who are people of color or whose primary language is other than English.
“This church’s failure to become multicultural in our increasingly diverse society means we are not heeding God’s call to be a ‘sent church,’ ” he said.
Other areas of growth he cited for 2012:
• Fund the mission of the denomination so its charities and ministries don’t compete with one another.
• Foster interdependence among the expressions of the church: congregations, synods and churchwide, but also seminaries, colleges and universities, social and program ministries, and other Lutheran bodies and shared ministries.
• Continue to build bridges with those of other religious traditions, including full-communion conversations with the United Methodist Church and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and continued conversations with the Roman Catholic Church for unity at the Lord’s table.
• Tell the truth about the larger questions of life, including issues related to the environment, consumptive living, war, violence and poverty.
Using images from John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, Hanson called on leaders to be pontiffs (bridge-builders), prophets (truth-tellers) and poets (engaging in the larger questions of life).
Hanson concluded by saying he often finds a statement from the late Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero to be his source of humility and courage:
“It helps now and then to step back and take the long view. The kingdom of God is not only beyond our efforts, it is beyond our vision. We accomplish in a lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is the Lord’s work. … We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it very well. … We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Added Hanson: “What a gracious word of promise and hope!”
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers