The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


'Historic episcopate' divides synods

Most assmeblies vote for fellowship with Episcopalians

Votes of assemblies held so far reveal that ELCA synods generally favor a deepening relationship with the Episcopal Church, but they are divided on the best way to go forward.

Most of the synods voted on one of two proposals for a relationship with the Episcopal Church. The denomination has put forth "Called to Common Mission," which calls for full communion with the Episcopal Church — something Lutherans have with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ and the Reformed Church in America.

Opponents of CCM offered an alternative, the "Mahtomedi Resolution" — named for the Minnesota town where they gathered. This calls for a closer relationship with Episcopalians but doesn't require the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to adopt the Episcopal belief in the "historic episcopate" — a succession of bishops as a sign of unity back to the earliest days of the Christian church. (See also, page 46.)

Accepting the historic episcopate "might be selling our Lutheran birthright," Paul Sorcek, pastor of Advent Lutheran Church, Richboro, Pa., told voting members of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. He favored the Mahtomedi proposal.

Speaking against Mahtomedi at the same assembly, Larry Smoose, pastor of Reformation Lutheran Church, Media, Pa., and a member of the ELCA Church Council, said, "The Episcopal Church has a wall [in the requirement of the historic episcopate]. They can't take it away. But they can lower it, and we can step over it as Lutherans. We are not making this the essence of the church."

Deep divisions

The synods' actions reveal deep divisions. Five synods recommended passage of CCM, and one defeated a motion to recommend. Nine assemblies recommended the Mahtomedi Resolution, yet it failed in six synods and one tabled it.

The votes of some assemblies don't provide a clear indication on the issue. For example, although some synods rejected the Mahtomedi Resolution, three did not take a corresponding vote favoring CCM.

Similarly, the Northwestern Ohio Synod rejected a motion to seek provisions in CCM to accommodate those who object to the historic episcopate, such as making it a "local option" of ELCA synods. But it did not vote to recommend or reject either proposal.

CCM was the favored option in straw polls conducted by two synods. In the Southern Ohio Synod, 59 percent of voting members favored CCM (30 percent the Mahtomedi Resolution and 11 percent no preference), but it passed a resolution calling for its members to vote their consciences at Churchwide Assembly. The Northeastern Ohio Synod straw poll showed 282 members affirming CCM, 74 not affirming and one abstaining.

CCM votes

The resolution in favor of CCM was nearly unanimous in the Southeastern Synod, where an estimated 520 voted yes with a show of hands, and an estimated 20 voted against. The synod took the action after rejecting the Mahtomedi Resolution by an estimated count of 20 in favor and 520 against.

Other votes on the resolution to recommend CCM's passage were:

Passed: Rocky Mountain Synod — approved in a show-of-hands vote after the Mahtomedi Resolution was defeated.

Passed: Oregon Synod — 202 yes, 86 no, 8 abstentions, after defeating the Mahtomedi Resolution.

Passed: Southeastern Iowa Synod — 218 yes, 142 no, 1 abstention.

Passed: Southern California (West) Synod — 162 yes, 144 no, and 15 abstentions.

Failed: Northern Great Lakes Synod — 129 yes, 145 no.

Mahtomedi votes

The Mahtomedi Resolution got its most resounding passage in the Eastern North Dakota Synod, which voted 459-21 to recommend it. Six abstained. The resolution was the only action item on the agenda.

Other votes on a motion to recommend Mahtomedi were:

Passed: Northwest Synod of Wisconsin — 274 yes, 84 no, 1 abstention.

Passed: Western North Dakota Synod — 255 yes, 50 no.

Passed: Northeastern Minnesota Synod — 256 yes, 97 no.

Passed: Southwestern Washington Synod — 104 yes, 77 no, 11 abstentions.

Passed: Pacifica Synod — 219 yes, 110 no.

Passed: St. Paul Area Synod — 224 yes, 155 no, after defeating a motion to support CCM.

Passed: Western Iowa Synod — 242 yes, 117 no, 7 abstentions.

Passed: Southeastern Minnesota — 257 yes, 97 no.

Failed: North/West Lower Michigan Synod — estimated one quarter yes, three quarters no.

Failed: Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod — 234 yes, 302 no.

Failed: Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod — 88 yes, 210 no.

Tabled: Arkansas/Oklahoma Synod.

Hunger & debt

Several resolutions bound for the Churchwide Assembly next month received widespread support from the synods. They included:

* ELCA World Hunger Appeal. In saluting the World Hunger Appeal on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, synods resolved to help it double its annual budget from $12 million to $25 million over five years. The synods include the Northeastern Pennsylvania, Oregon, North/West Lower Michigan, Southern Ohio, Southeastern Iowa, Pacifica, Northwest of Wisconsin.

One synod found a creative way to express support for the hunger appeal. The Northeastern Minnesota Synod urged voting members to fill empty film containers with quarters and bring them to the assembly. It generated 826 pounds of quarters (worth $16,687) and also raised $6,550 by auctioning 103 quilts.

* Jubilee 2000. Many developing nations are trapped under a mountain of debt to banks and institutions of the first world (see page 38). Synods that called for a reduction or canceling of the debt include the Northeastern Minnesota, Eastern North Dakota, St. Paul Area, Southern Ohio and Northwest of Wisconsin. In addition to supporting the Jubilee 2000 movement, the Pacifica Synod also established its own Year of Jubilee — June 1, 1999 to May 31, 2000 — to assist four of its congregations with debt reduction.

Gay and lesbian issues

Several synods addressed the issues of homosexuality in church life.

* The Northeastern Pennsylvania and Southern California (West) synods requested the ELCA Division for Congregational Ministries to develop study materials for congregations on gay and lesbian issues.

* The St. Paul Area Synod declared itself a "Reconciling in Christ" synod, thus extending an open welcome to gays and lesbians.

* The Northeastern Minnesota Synod defeated a motion that asked the Churchwide Assembly to prohibit pastors from officiating at "same-sex commitment ceremonies" and to discourage congregations from hosting the ceremonies.




Posted at 6:36 pm (U.S. Eastern) 5/18/2009

The historic episcopate dates back to the very early Christian Church and is a sign of our connection to them. It offers sincere spiritual continuity and a sense of True Christian unity and understanding by connecting us together spiritually as well as reminding us of the early church, the great councils and the reasons we are Christian. Several Lutheran branches recognize this including the Swedish Lutheran Church which has always maintained the historic episcopate based on these principles. Martin Luther himself was a priest ordained by bishops in this succession. By adopting the CCM the ELCA has not compromised their Lutheran 'birthright', they have in effect actually enhanced and enriched it.

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