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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The "new" Lutheran church at 20

Twenty years ago I watched bishops pour three pitchers of water into a large bowl as the life streams of three churches flowed together to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That water came from rivers whose waters carried Swedes, Germans, Norwegians, Finns and several other nationalities into the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.

The water in that bowl at the ELCA Constituting Convention was clear and sparkling, representing the font of God’s baptismal grace that would create, nourish and sustain the “new” Lutheran church.

God’s grace has indeed flowed from that font for the past 20 years as the members of the ELCA have worshiped God, proclaimed the gospel, shared one another’s joys and sorrows, and served the world in thousands of ways.

In those 20 years, the ELCA has expanded its ecumenical commitments remarkably, forging closer ties with both Protestant and Roman Catholic church bodies. Its educational institutions and social service agencies have brought Lutheran scholarship into the academic world and loving care to people in need. Millions of people in thousands of parishes have had their vision of the church expanded as we moved out of ethnic enclaves into a more inclusive fellowship of baptized Christians.

While the water of baptism remains clear and sparkling, the seas we sail in our daily lives together are sometimes dark and stormy. Not all ELCA members have been happy with our ecumenical commitments or with the ways we have engaged the world and its challenges.

At 20 years of age, the ELCA is a young adult. It is “grown-up” but not yet mature. Moving out of the homes where we were raised, we aren’t always sure what to take with us or what to leave behind. One brother complains that we are dishonoring our parents, though a favorite aunt cheers us on in our new life. That’s the way it is in families: generations rarely understand each other—at first.

When the ELCA Churchwide Assembly convened in Chicago this August, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and grandparents sang and prayed and ate together like families do when they gather on special occasions. We also argued a little, and worried that some parts of the family were drifting away.

I often think of that huge font of clear water that symbolized our “new” Lutheran church at our constituting convention. I wish more people had seen it and experienced the joy and optimism of that day.

I like to imagine the water from that bowl making its way into the baptismal fonts of the more than 10,400 ELCA congregations. It bothers me that some only watch from afar and never dip their hands into that water as those of us who were there in 1987 did. We seem to have some family members who want to stay away from our picnics and anniversaries.

But good families grow together more often than they fall apart. Because the ELCA is founded in the waters of baptism—waters that flowed into that bowl 20 years ago—I believe God intends it to be a good family.


Comments

Sonia

Sonia

Posted at 8:10 am (U.S. Eastern) 8/29/2007

Well put, Chuck. I too remember so well the emotionally charged moment of the waters flowing together in Columbus, Ohio, at the Constituting Convention. It's an image that sticks. And, yes, we were so full of hope then.

May we continue in hopefulness even as we go through the growing pains that come with maturity.

Thanks for your good insights.

Frank

Frank

Posted at 10:10 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/30/2007

You paint a pretty glowing picture of the ELCA's first 20 years, and God certainly has done much good within and through this church.  However, the fact that the ELCA has lost half a million members in these two decades (most of this loss coming in the second decade) suggests that we are facing some critical issues.

I can't help but wonder how much of this loss is the result of focusing more on ecumenism and homosexuality than on making disciples of all people.  I can't help but wonder how much of this loss is the result of divisive decisions that have been made at assemblies such as this last one. 

p c Foreman

p c Foreman

Posted at 11:00 pm (U.S. Eastern) 8/30/2007

I have great hope that the technological advances happening all around us can empowered us to do outreach as never before while, at the same time, keeping the flock informed and involved.  May we pray to learn how to use these tools to the best advantage for the glory of God.  May we continue to reach out to all knowing we are all able to be saved by the Grace of God.

Charles Austin

Charles Austin

Posted at 4:00 am (U.S. Eastern) 8/31/2007

Frank wonders how much of the loss in membership in the ELCA is because of "divisive decisions" at ELCA Assemblies. So do I. But we don't really know, and we do know a lot of other things - decline in family size, failure to evangelize efficiently - that contribute to the loss.

John

John

Posted at 10:47 am (U.S. Eastern) 8/31/2007

We should not be concentrating on our loses but on our gains and what we have together. We sould look on our relationships with other churchs as gain. We should be not be looking at anyones particular sin but at the fact that we have ALL sinned and yet we have been saved by our One Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has given us all a great gift! For to live is loss by to die is gain in our Lord!

Audrey

Audrey

Posted at 4:25 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/4/2007

I too stood in tears in Columbus, Ohio in 1987 as the ELCA was born and baptized with those 3 pitchers of water poured into that bowl.   And I have been an unabashed advocate for the ELCA and The Lutheran Magazine ever since!      It happened again on August 8 in Chicago as nearly 100 robed pastors poured pitchers of water into a large bowl at the Goodsoil.org Celebration of the Vigil of Pentecost during the churchwide assembly, with nearly 700 gay and lesbian and straight ally Lutherans celebrating the Anticipation of the Spirit's Movement in the ELCA!     Many of us had jumped head first into that font of grace in 1987 and have been trying for 20 years to make disciples by using the gifts of ALL of God's children, free from  the fears and fundamentalisms which have prohibited many from finding the joy I found at that service!   "Is this heaven?" someone asked me as we shared the peace, to which I replied, "No, this is the ELCA." 

Jason Bense

Jason Bense

Posted at 6:31 pm (U.S. Eastern) 9/5/2007

Let's ask family members who are absent from the reunion why they are not gathering around the banquet table and invite them to join the celebration!



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