The “emergent ministry” outreach in Portland, Ore., dubbed The Leaven Project, has two leaders: Melissa Reed, a mission pastor, and Wendy Hall, a community organizer. Both are young adults, as is the focus of the outreach.
This young-adult oriented ministry is supported and housed by Redeemer Lutheran Church, a vital urban congregation with a dwindling membership, as an investment in the future. The Oregon Synod and the ELCA participate in this ministry through financial and consulting support.
The effort is part of a citywide church-based community organization. It helps its growing membership develop a sense of community by making a difference in the world around them and gives them a profound sense of spiritual depth.
While some participants speak the name of Jesus with abiding faith, others would never have been caught near an institutional church until their encounter with The Leaven Project. Prayers, personal witness and testimony about their lives coupled with the lighting of candles gave liturgical rhythm and connection to a community tethered to the narrative of Jesus and the church of the ages.
It has been a hard couple of years for the ELCA, from congregations, to synods, to churchwide offices in Chicago. A few hundred of the 10,300 congregations have left the ELCA since the 2009 Churchwide Assembly changed the denomination's policy to allow gay and lesbian pastors in committed relationships to serve on its roster. And the rift continues to divide congregations and synods.
Exacerbated by the economy and these conflicts, mission support dollars to congregations and the wider mission of the church continue to decrease. And now ELCA World Hunger, long impervious to swings in mission support, is also facing lower levels of contributions. For two years cutbacks in staffing and programming by the national expression of the ELCA, culminating in a reduction of 65 people this past October, has seen an attrition of about one-third overall in the workforce.
Synods, campus ministries, congregations and all institutions of the ELCA have been similarly challenged.
These difficulties are mirrored by almost all other denominations as well, especially the "mainline" Protestant denominations. Dwindling economic support and membership trends seem to tell the same story. Some suggest denominations as we have known them are coming to the end of their life cycle. Nearly all of the largest Christian denominations in this country are declining in membership. This has been going on for some time. A few see the ELCA as having run the course of its own demographic.
We've gone from building education wings for the boomer babies to a situation where most synods report a third to half of their congregations are "at risk" of not being able to afford full-time pastors. Unable to expand beyond our Germanic and Nordic niche, we are seen to be fading away.
Denominations are viewed as an anachronism from a former time when Christendom rose before the sun, when denominational loyalty could be assumed, when the surrounding culture supported the churchgoing of the next generations (released time, blue laws and the like).
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© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers