During the ELCA Conference of Bishops' spring meeting, I jested with one bishop after each business session that I was still looking for "the lead" — the most important issue of the gathering. After a few days of serious and purposeful discussions but still no striking item, a former bishop opined: "That's your lead. Things are settling down. They are going about the business of the church."
He wasn't suggesting all was rosy. Consultations with congregations taking votes to leave the ELCA continue, but at a greatly reduced pace. Financial concerns at the congregation, synod and churchwide level are still there, but contributions appear to have evened out. Critics still find fault with this or that action of the church — most of it subject to heartfelt differences, some just plain incorrect. Rather than being defined by others, ELCA leaders are focusing on mission that members can rally around.
The agenda of the Church Council's April meeting confirmed this shift. There were no pressing items to further reduce the staff and programs of the churchwide organization, no downwardly revised budgets. Yes, the work of the Living into the Future Together task force offered a host of recommended changes to the Church Council that acknowledge the ELCA's changed fortunes. But life isn't static. At all levels we still feel the lingering impact of the Great Recession, a general diminution of the importance of religious life in the U.S. and a church-dividing controversy. From government to business to private organizations, change is afoot because of the changing world in which we live.
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