• In the aftermath of a Myanmar cyclone that struck the Southeast Asian country May 3, the ELCA sent an initial $100,000 through Church World Service. Lutheran World Relief sent $100,000 through Action by Churches Together. At the end of May, U.N. and other estimates placed the number of homeless at 1 million, those dead or missing at more than 130,000, and the severely affected at 2.4 million. While one ELCA partner, the Upper Myanmar Evangelical Lutheran Church, reported no damage to its churches, another compainon, the Myanmar Council of Churches, did report damage. Lutheran-supported aid in the country includes emergency food, drinking water, shelter, medicine, shelter visits through Action By Churches Together by local medical teams and students trained in psychosocial care, as well as aid coordination by Lutheran World Federation staff in the region.
• More Americans read and own Bibles than Europeans, according to a study of Bible reading by the Vatican
. Americans were also most likely to read the Bible themselves instead of getting its contents from preachers. Researchers interviewed 13,000 people in the U.S. and eight European countries, finding that three in four Americans read at least one passage of Scripture in the previous year. When quizzed about Bible contents and authorship, 17 percent of Americans answered all questions correctly, compared to 20 percent of Poles and 7 percent of Russians.
• Wesley Kigasung, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea
, 57, died May 14. A charismatic leader and former seminary head, Kigasung was known for uniting a diverse nation of different tribes. Church and national flags were flown at half-mast. Thousands gathered for a state funeral May 20 in Port Moresby, followed by a church funeral May 24 in Lae. The church’s general secretary, Isaac Teo, said Kigasung “had a heart for his people,” regularly visiting, walking and eating with congregations, even in remote areas, “never once considering his status.” Kigasung, head bishop since 1998, had a doctorate from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
• Only 5 percent of Americans tithe (give 10 percent of their income to religious congregations and charitable groups), according to a new poll by George Barna
. Echoing those numbers, Empty Tomb
—a ministry that studies church finances—reports that congregants of U.S. churches now give an average of 2.58 percent of their income to their churches, down from 3.11 percent in 1968.
• The Internal Revenue Service
found that the United Church of Christ
, an ELCA
full communion partner, did not violate tax laws by allowing presidential candidate Barack Obama to speak at a church synod in 2007. “The activity about which we had concern did not constitute an intervention or participation in a political campaign,” said a May 21 letter from the IRS
to church leaders. Under U.S. tax law, churches risk losing their tax exempt status if they engage in partisan politics. IRS
officials said Obama was invited to address the church’s general synod in May 2006, well before he announced his presidential candidacy in February 2007, and that UCC
legal counsel advised Obama’s campaign that he must speak about faith in public life, not his candidacy. In related news, Wiley Drake, a Baptist pastor from California who had endorsed Republican
presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said he, too, had been cleared by the IRS
• Responding to rising food prices for the world’s poor, ELCA International Disaster Response
and the ELCA World Hunger Appeal
sent a combined $100,000 in May to companion churches and partners to help provide food and undergird development work in rural areas. “Given predictions that food prices will continue to rise, we are particularly concerned about those who are the most vulnerable, including those who live on a dollar or less each day, those who are refugees, and those like AIDS orphans who are dependent on others to provide food and shelter,” said Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission
• In April, Tom Barnett, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone
, told those gathered for the Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod
assembly that half of his church’s membership is people under age 30. He encouraged the assembly, where attendees focused on “Disciple Life” and ways to retain young adults as church members. “We want to be a church that leads for others,” Barnett told the April 25 Longview News Journal
• Peter K. Shen, consultant on China with ELCA Global Mission
, visited southwest China May 19 to June 1 to assess how the ELCA
can best support partners there (Taiwan Lutheran Church
and Sichuan Christian Council) who are still reeling from a May 12 earthquake that devasted communities in the Sichuan Province. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission
, said plans may include ministry teams with ELCA volunteers to offer care and support for survivors. Shen said that in the city of Luzhou, local ELCA
partners—the Sichuan Seminary, a church and a hospital—are working to restore the water supply and health-care facilities.
• While some of the 11 U.S. Episcopal Church
seminaries are cutting core programs, Religion News Service
reported May 14 that others are expanding. With enrollment down 25 percent and hoping to stabilize finances, Episcopal Divinity School
, Cambridge, Mass., is selling seven buildings to Lesley University
for $33.5 million. In 2009, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary
in Evanston, Ill., will eliminate its residential master of divinity program and discontinue faculty contracts. Yet Nashotah
[Wisc.] House Theological Seminary
is adding degree programs and doubling enrollment to 108. Some observers say the sexuality issue leads some students to pick schools with a more conservative theology. Others say it relates not to theology but to the costs incurred due to geographic location. Seminarians incur more debt in pricey cities like New York; Berkeley, Calif.; and Cambridge, Mass., where tuition, books and living expenses can be $40,000 a year. In response, Episcopal Divinity School
now allows distance learners to earn a degree over five years, with four weeks a year spent on campus.