The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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September 18, 2013

ELCA assessing needs in flood-affected parts of Colorado, New Mexico

Following a record-breaking rainfall September 2013 that produced flooding in 15 Colorado counties, the ELCA and its partner affiliates are working to assess the immediate and long-term needs of people and communities affected.

According to reports, at least 6 people have died and more than 700 hundred people are unaccounted for primarily in Boulder and Larimer counties.

In a report from James Horan of Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains -- an affiliate of Lutheran Disaster Response, the disaster response ministry of the ELCA -- nearly 12,000 residents have evacuated with "many evacuation orders still standing or new orders issued or reissued," he said.

The flood affected a 4,500 square mile area. While a "major disaster declaration was made for Adams, Boulder, Larimer (Fort Collins) and Weld (Greeley) counties," said Horan, "eleven additional countries are significally affected." He said Colorado state officials have requested that the federal declaration be expanded to include these additional counties.

As immediate and long-term needs continue to be assessed, Lutheran Disaster Response and its partners will work to provide assistance to flood-affected communities.

The property of Atonement Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Boulder, Colo., sustained extensive damage to the sanctuary, which will require the removal of pews, flooring and parts of the ceiling.

Even in the midst of their own situation, members are showing the community that "the church is there for them," said Chad Kohlmeyer, pastor of Atonement. He said nearly 40 members of Atonement have been working with residents to help with water mitigation.

"I am so amazed and impressed by the members of all ages who have rallied around our community. The spirit and attitude in our church has been so uplifting," said Kohlmeyer.

"Beyond the sheer destruction caused by the floodwaters, several wastewater systems and treatment plants were compromised leading to serious concerns about contamination, not only for residents, but also agricultural land that was inundated," reported Horan. He said it is estimated that 60,000 cattle are stranded.

Horan also reported that some major state highway bridges are completely destroyed, which may produce lengthy detours for motorists and will cause significant economic disruptions.

In New Mexico, the flooding has impacted most of the state, but no deaths have been reported and fewer than 100 homes have been damaged.

Daniel Rift, director of the ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal, has invited prayers for the people of Colorado and other areas impacted by the storms. Financial gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response will be used (100 percent) to help disaster survivors clean-up, rebuild and recover, he said.

Congregations and individuals can give to Lutheran Disaster Response, which provides assistance to survivors of natural disasters and humanitarian crises throughout the world. This support is carried out, both domestically and internationally, in coordination with local affiliates -- social ministry organizations, agencies, partners and international companion churches -- located in the disaster-affected communities. 

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July 12, 2013

ELCA Church Council approves another seminary, university merger

The ELCA Church Council approved July 11 a merger between Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif., and California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, Calif. Between churchwide assemblies, the Church Council serves as the ELCA board of directors.

The merger is the result of conversations among university and seminary representatives who agreed that the two schools can best serve the ELCA's work of theological education by the seminary becoming part of the university.

"We believe that our integrity is well protected in the agreements that we've sent to you," Phyllis B. Anderson, president of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, told the council via teleconference.

In recent years representatives of the ELCA's eight seminaries have been working with one another and other partners to organize their educational and administrative work in ways that advance a wide-reaching and sustainable theological education network that meets the leadership needs of a "church in mission." In this work, the ELCA's 26 colleges and universities have emerged as important partners.

A merger of an ELCA seminary and university occurred for the first time in 2011 between Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, N.C., and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, S.C.

In his report to the council, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson reported on the approval of the first eight members of an ELCA Theological Education Advisory Council. The denomination is committed to addressing in a holistic way issues on theological education, leadership development, candidacy, call and rostered leaders.

In other business the council:

  • Elected Marit Bakken, Black River Falls, Wis., to the council for a term ending in 2015. Bakken is a student at Augsburg College in Minneapolis.
  • Recommended that 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly (meeting Aug. 12-17 in Pittsburgh) consider the "Book of Faith" initiative as a continuing emphasis and priority for the church. The 2007 assembly established the initiative to encourage deeper engagement with the Bible.
  • Received an update on development of the ELCA churchwide organization strategic plan for 2014-2016.
  • Received an update from Jeffrey D. Thiemann, president and CEO of Portico Benefits Services -- the ELCA's healthcare provider. This spring Portico representatives attended 52 of the 65 ELCA synods' 2013 assemblies in order to assist with transition and rollout of new plans in anticipation of the Healthcare Reform Act. 

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April 8, 2013

ELCA offers prayers for family, friends of pedestrian killed in Wisconsin

Members of the ELCA are extending prayers for the family and friends of a pedestrian killed April 7 in Sun Prairie, Wis., and for Bruce H. Burnside, bishop of the ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin. Reports indicate that Burnside's vehicle hit the pedestrian. He was arrested and taken into custody.

"We offer our prayers for the woman who lost her life in this tragedy. Nothing can undo this terrible accident. Our hope is for God's comfort for the survivors," said Jessica R. Crist, chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops and bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said: "At a time of such deep sorrow for the family and friends of the woman who died, for the members of the ELCA South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, for Bishop Burnside and his family and for the wider community, we are held in the promise that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, and we are joined in our prayers for all who suffer."

In a statement from the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, leaders and members expressed their sorrow "and dismay in sympathy for the victim and for her family. We ask for prayers for the victim's family and for everyone affected by this situation.

"In this difficult time, when words are challenging to find, we trust in the presence of the Holy Spirit to be with us, and in God's abiding love to sustain us."

Prayer resources are available on the synod's website.

The South-Central Synod of Wisconsin is comprised of 145 congregations in 13 counties in south-central Wisconsin. 

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February 8, 2013

Lutheran church in Ethiopia severs relationship with ELCA

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is severing its relationship with the ELCA, the Church of Sweden and "those churches who have openly accepted same-sex marriage." All three churches named are member churches of the Lutheran World Federation, a worldwide communion of churches.

Meeting Jan. 27-Feb. 2 in Addis Ababa, the church's general assembly ratified the church council's July 2012 vote for "all Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus departments and institutions (at every level) to implement this decision."

Minutes from the July 2012 council meeting state that members of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus "will not receive Holy Communion from the leadership and pastors of the (ELCA and the Church of Sweden)" and "the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus will not distribute communion to these churches."

The minutes went on to say that "representatives of these churches at national level or leaders at every level would not be invited to preach or speak at the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus congregations or other gatherings. They should not be invited for any spiritual ministries of this church."

Ethiopian church leaders "at every level will not visit the synods, dioceses, congregations and national offices of churches that have accepted this practice without proper permission from the head office of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus."

Five ELCA synods -- Northwest Washington, Southwest California, Pacifica, LaCrosse Area and Southeastern -- have international companion relationships with the Ethiopian church.

ELCA leaders 'very saddened'

Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission, said the ELCA is "very saddened by this decision. ...The ELCA and its predecessor church bodies have been walking with the people of Ethiopia for more than 50 years, and our sister church, the Church of Sweden, for more than 150 years. In this journey, we have learned from one another, we have deepened and extended the bonds of fellowship and partnership in the gospel."

Malpica Padilla said the while the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is "closing the door to this partnership," the ELCA and the Church of Sweden "are not locking the doors from our side. It is open for when you decide it is time to resume this journey together. It is my hope that in the near future, we will again walk together in Christian love. We will do this not because of doctrinal agreements or consensus, but because the gospel compels us to do so."

Malpica Padilla said the ELCA has consistently kept its Lutheran companion churches informed about the ELCA's process that led to the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly decisions, which included the adoption of a social statement on human sexuality.

"We shared the study documents and invited their input," he said. "When decisions were made, we wrote to (leaders of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus) expressing our commitment to not impose our actions and to respect the policy and practice of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus in the assignment of mission personnel."

ELCA presiding bishop Mark S. Hanson called the actions of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus "deeply troubling."

"Our own statement on human sexuality acknowledges that the position held by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus is also held by members of the ELCA. We are not of one mind, but we are one in Christ, in faith and in baptism," Hanson said. Hanson said that the relationships between Lutherans in North America and in Ethiopia "has been sustained through periods of oppression, divisions within the Ethiopian church and in times of turmoil among Lutherans in North America. The action of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus church diminishes our capacity together to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to serve our neighbors and to care for the creation.

"As the ELCA, we are always standing ready to open the door of conversation for the sake of reconciliation and our shared commitment to proclamation and service. Reconciliation is not an option. It is given in Christ, and we stand ready to engage with the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus on what this gift of reconciliation might mean for us now."

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July 2, 2012

ELCA congregations face challenges after a week of natural disasters

After a week of natural disaster across the United States, the congregations and ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are now in the process of assessing damages and getting to work in the recovery process.

In Colorado, where four separate wildfires have consumed over 20,000 acres of land, pastor Julie Britsch of Christ the King Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Colorado Springs, had to evacuate along with 95 percent of her congregation.

"There's a road that goes all the way around [the church] in a horseshoe shape," Britsch said. "The fire came around the horseshoe and it's still burning on both sides."

As of now the church is still evacuated. Britsch said they were able to remove small things from the building like the computers, congregational records, and the congregation's charter.

"We've contacted almost all our members either through email or facebook or phone," Britsch said. "Everyone I spoke to was just so happy that everyone was safe and property is just property. It's the people that matter."

One family in the congregation did receive word that they'd lost their home. Britsch also said that pastor Keith Knoff who leads the nearby ELCA congregation Mount Cavalry Lutheran Church also lost his home to the fire.

There is still no word on when the congregation will be allowed to return to their buildings or homes. Britsch has made arrangements with Ascension Lutheran Church, another ELCA congregation in Colorado Springs, to hold services for her congregation this Sunday.

ELCA Disaster Response is in the area assessing the situation, determining needs and the appropriate response. They have begun helping working with other local services to evacuate several foster homes and to find alternative housing arrangements.

Sky Ranch Lutheran Camp, an outdoor ministry of the ELCA, is also under evacuation. The campers and staff were first moved to Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Co. ELCA Disaster Response has now disbursed funds to help Sky Ranch continue their ministry at Highlands Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center near Estes Park, Co.

Wildfires are also threatening parts of the ELCA Montana Synod. Pastor Amanda Liggett of Zion Lutheran Church in Roundup, Mont. said, "We're doing alright. Lots of people have lost a great deal in the last 24 hours, but no human lives as far as I know."

Several power poles have been destroyed near Broadus, Mont., leaving all of Powder River County without power.

ELCA Disaster Response is working with local partners to assist in the evacuation of two assisted living centers, one in Ashland, Mont. and one on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. In conjunction with St. John's Lutheran Ministries and Lutheran Social Services of Montana, it is helping to provide food, toiletries, and medical supplies.

In Duluth, Minn., record-breaking rainfall caused flash flooding when more than 7 inches of rain fell over the course of 48 hours. Flooding also destroyed roads and homes, and for days the city of Moose Lake was unreachable.

While a few ELCA congregations in the area were flooded, no buildings have sustained significant damage. Most of the destruction encountered so far has been to infrastructure, although one staff member of the ELCA Northeastern Minnesota Synod lost her home.

Two ELCA congregations, Hope Lutheran Church in Moose Lake and Grace Lutheran Church in McGregor, are serving as meeting places for people affected by the floods. Hope Lutheran is also planning to host Camp Noah starting Aug. 20. Camp Noah is a day camp program designed to help children deal with the effects of natural disasters.

In Florida, Tropical Storm Debbie also created sporadic flooding as many rivers crested over the flood stage. There were four fatalities in the state, but no report of ELCA congregations or members being affected.

ELCA Disaster Response has been working with Lutheran Services Florida to stay connected to congregations and to provide flood buckets in affected areas.
For more information, visit http://blogs.ELCA.org/disasterresponse. 

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February issue


Embracing diversity