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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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June 10, 2013

Thrivent to serve more Christians

Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a 111-year-old fraternal benefit society with 2.5 million members, said June 7 that it would begin offering its financial services to a wider Christian audience. The move was approved unanimously by Thrivent’s board in May 2012, and by 72 percent of nearly 425,000 Thrivent members voting this spring. The vote was conducted and certified by Election America, a third-party election services company. 

Brad Hewitt, president and CEO of Thrivent, said the vote to revise the organization’s articles of incorporation will allow it “to strengthen our mission of helping more Christians be wise with money and live generously. Working together, we’ll be able to serve more people, meet more needs and strengthen more Christian communities.” Changes will be gradual, he said, but “our commitment to serving Lutherans and strengthening the Lutheran community remains as strong as ever. We value our Lutheran members and our heritage and that will never change.”

Thrivent CEO Brad Hewitt said the organization won’t change its name, but will use “Thrivent” in communications with other Christians and tailor some of the language around stewardship to make other Christian groups “feel welcome.” While current financial advisers will continue to work with Lutherans, Thrivent plans to recruit people who understand the stewardship culture of other Christians, he said.  

Hewitt said Thrivent “wrestled with” whether differences between the stewardship views of Lutherans and other Christians would be surmountable. Their research found that “for people who value the biblical principles of stewardship there is remarkable consistency with what they’re challenged with,” he said, adding that many Christians struggle with the views of “two wide spectrums in Christianity today: that everyone should be poor, and that God’s sole purpose is to make you rich. Neither one of those is particularly biblical.”

Hewitt said a “big part of the conversation” has been about how widening Thrivent’s outreach will help current members. Some members have asked if Thrivent products could be extended to their children and grandchildren who are “not necessarily going to Lutheran churches,” he added. “We’re not doing this because we have to. We’re strong, stable and doing well. This is just looking [forward and seeing] that the nature of church and denominations is changing.”

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April 11, 2013

Wisconsin synod continues to express grief

An April 11 letter posted on the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin website said its leaders and members “continue to express sorrow and sympathy for the family of Maureen Mengelt, who died April 7 when she was struck by the vehicle of Bishop Bruce Burnside, who was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide while intoxicated.”

The statement was signed by Eric Peterson, synod vice president, and Blake Rohrer, assistant to the bishop.

“We pray that God will comfort the Mengelt family — especially Maureen’s husband, Kevin, and her children, Megan, Andrew and Allyson — and surround them with peace and grace,” the statement continued. “We ask for prayers for all those left to grieve the death of one of God's dear children. Our sadness for the untimely death of Maureen Mengelt is too great to be adequately expressed.”

According to the statement, Burnside was released on bond and entered an inpatient treatment facility April 11. The synod council confirmed temporary appointment of Rohrer as acting bishop until an interim is appointed.

“Please continue to pray for all those affected by this unfortunate tragedy,” the letter said. “We live in the trust that nothing can separate us from God’s love, and we pray that God’s love will sustain us all today, and in the days ahead.”

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January 3, 2013

Leadership resignations follow seminary deficit

As Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., reported a $4 million funding shortfall for 2012, Luther's chief financial officer, Don Lewis, and its president, Richard Bliese, resigned last November and December, respectively. Both had served since 2005.

The board of directors named an interim president, Rick Foss, and an interim chief financial officer, William Frame. Foss, who took over Jan. 1, was previously the seminary's director of contextual learning. Before that, Foss served as bishop of Eastern North Dakota Synod. Frame's previous positions include chief financial officer for Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash., and president of Augsburg College, Minneapolis.

Revenue down $4 million in 2012

As of the June 30, 2012, end of its fiscal year, Luther had $23 million in income, which was "$4 million less in revenue than we had in expenses," said seminary board chair James Lindus. "That included depreciation, asbestos [remediation costs], maintenance [costs for] aging buildings, an investment performance that was lower than we'd hoped and a less-than-ideal expense management."

Seminary leaders are asking " 'How did we get here?' so we don't do it again," Foss said, adding: "We're absolutely sure that the things that didn't go well weren't because someone didn't mean well. Rick [Bliese] brought all kinds of good things here."

The resignation decisions were made "after prayerful deliberation" and the board is working "to restore confidence," Lindus said. "[Frame] has given us a realistic [financial] picture. ... We're thinking we'll have a balanced budget next year." Working with faculty and staff, the seminary's four-person transition team — consisting of Foss, Frame, academic dean Roland Martinson and former Pacific Lutheran University president Loren Anderson—has already put into place new financial controls and management systems and is implementing a plan to strengthen the seminary's finances.

While declining enrollment is a concern, Lindus said the "5 percent decrease in overall enrollment, which is reflected across U.S. seminaries," was less of a factor in the shortfall.

Taking a 'reality-based road'

Though down from a $76.8 million endowment value as of June 30, 2011, "we still have a $70 million endowment and $100 million in assets," Lindus said, emphasizing that the seminary is financially secure. "But key for us is the question: 'How are we going to make theological education sustainable for our students and faithful to the church so we have a long, bright future?'"

For now, Foss said the seminary is taking "a reality-based road to hope," avoiding the ditches of "wishful thinking" and "panic and doom-saying" on either side. Foss said he's cognizant that fear over finances "can carry the temptation of turning inward and [doing] things that are not our best selves." To help prevent that, "we're being as clear as possible about our communication. Many good things are happening at Luther. We have some work to do, but we'll be fine."

Lindus said Luther hopes to begin a presidential search this May. 

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November 5, 2012

Portico Benefit Services approves annuity increases for 2013

Meeting Nov. 2-4 in Minneapolis, Portico Benefit Services' board of trustees approved a 1.1 percent annuity increase for members receiving ELCA participating annuity payments and a 5.6 percent interest-crediting rate for members with bridge accounts. Both increases will take effect in January 2013, and were calculated based upon the funded ratio of the ELCA Participating Annuity Investment Fund as of Sept. 30, 2012.

Portico Benefit Services (formerly the ELCA Board of Pensions) provides health, retirement, disability, survivor benefits and related services for some 50,000 active and retired ELCA pastors, rostered laity, lay employees and their families.

Jeffrey Thiemann, an ELCA pastor who serves as Portico president and CEO, said that for members, "the health of the fund to provide income for life and the ability to increase annuity payments are both important."

"We recognize that the past three years of annuity decreases have been difficult for our members who are in this fund," Thiemann added. "Favorable market conditions and the funded ratio above 100 percent allowed us to provide an increase to annuity payments and the interest-crediting rate."

Dividend-eligible annuity payments will remain at their 2012 level, and a lump-sum cash dividend of 12 percent will be paid out in January 2013.

Portico asks members with questions to please contact its service center by calling 800-352-2876 or 612-333-7651 or sending an email to mail@PorticoBenefits.org.

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November 2, 2012

ELCA response to Sandy will continue 'until the work is done,' says ELCA Presiding Bishop

After Sandy and related storms struck in late October, Lutheran Disaster Response immediately began efforts to help the millions affected.

In Cuba and Haiti, LDR is providing food, water and shelter amid severe flooding, mudslides and cholera outbreaks. According to Evangelical Lutheran Church in Haiti president Joseph Livenson Lauvanus, Haiti's major rivers have flooded and thousands have been forced to evacuate. "Most of the tent cities are flooded and the people have nowhere to go," he said. 

Along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, LDR is working with synods, social service agencies and other partners to meet immediate and long-term needs—especially in hard-hit areas of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

With that aid and care has come reassurance. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said in an Oct. 31 video message that Lutherans will "stay until the work is done. That is the ELCA's commitment."

Metropolitan New York Synod Bishop Robert Rimbo reminded members in a pastoral letter that on the Sunday before the storm hit, "many of our churches prayed Psalm 46 [that] says in glorious words and images, 'We are not alone.' "

LDR director Michael Stadie said, "Our hearts go out to everyone impacted. The greatest need right now is for financial gifts." 

Care amid complications

Many Lutheran partners said communication difficulties, electrical outages, flooded roads, downed trees and gasoline shortages complicated early relief efforts.

Trinity Lower East Side Lutheran Parish of Manhattan saw basement flooding impact its feeding program when it was most needed. In Spinnerstown, Pa., St. John Lutheran Church's roof was severely damaged. (Reports from congregations are still coming in. Updates will be posted here and on the Lutheran Disaster Response website.)

"In New Jersey, the eastern shore areas were decimated," said Peg Bucci, senior vice president of housing and community services for Lutheran Social Ministries of New Jersey. The agency's children's home and a women's shelter in Jersey City had to be evacuated, senior housing ministries lost power, and some meals and therapy programs were discontinued, she said.

"We're looking forward to helping people get back into their homes, get food and fill out applications for FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency]," Bucci said. 

Ruth Lewis, the organization's marketing and communications director, expressed some of the frustrations: "It wasn't just people's homes that were devastated, but their homes and their livelihoods. Right now, many of the people who want to help are also without power and without food. ... We have to take this one step at a time. But if there's a silver lining, it's that people responded very well to advisories to take precautions, which saved a lot of lives and heartache."

"The triage has barely begun," said ELCA Church Council member Christine Connell, executive director for agency advancement at Lutheran Social Services of New York. "We're gearing up to help people with case management. We don't want to tell anyone, 'No,' but please check the [Lutheran Disaster Response] website to see when we will be ready for volunteers."

Added Ron Drews, LSSNY president and CEO, "We're deep in communication with both the ELCA and (the Lutheran Church–)Missouri Synod side of our pan-Lutheran ministry, using the model we used for 9/11."

At the ELCA-affiliated Lutheran Medical Center, part of Brooklyn-based Lutheran Health Care, staff "went the extra mile as caregivers" despite their own losses in the storm, said Don Stiger, an ELCA pastor and the center's senior vice president for mission and spiritual care. Staff held a Nov. 1 interfaith prayer service after a Lutheran Health Care nurse lost two children, ages 2 and 4, to drowning on Staten Island. 

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April 30, 2012

D. Jensen Seyenkulo, churchwide staff, elected bishop, Lutheran Church in Liberia

D. Jensen Seyenkulo, ELCA program director for disability ministries and support of rostered leaders in Congregational and Synodical Mission, was elected bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia April 28. Seyenkulo won 59.62 percent of the vote on the first ballot. His installation will take place Sunday, July 1, at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, Monrovia, Liberia.

Seyenkulo, a pastor of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, and Dick Thompson, a Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod pastor, founded the Kuwaa Mission. A venture of ELCA and LCMS congregations and the Liberian church, the mission provides wells and clean water for the Kuwaa area of Liberia.

"I think the Lutheran Church in Liberia has a lot of potential," Seyenkulo told those gathered for the church's convention. "Our future is bright because of the wealth of young people we have who are so strongly committed to the ministry. ... We have a lot to offer for the building of our own faith and the faith of those who yet do not know our Lord Jesus Christ. There is joy in Christ! You sense that joy when our traditional people sing."

Jensen Seyenkulo
Jensen Seyenkulo teaches a course at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Seyenkulo has worked at the ELCA churchwide offices since 2005. Previously he served the ELCA as pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church, Chicago, and as an interim at several Chicago-area congregations, including Bethany, Lemont, Ill. His calls in Liberia include pastor of Bong Mine Parish (1982-1984) and the Gbarnga Parish (1987-1991). He was also an instructor at the Gbarnga School of Theology (1987-1991).

Seyenkulo earned a master's of theology degree from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., in 1987. He earned another master's of theology in 1995 and a doctorate from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago in 1999. His bachelor of divinity degree came from the Gbarnga School of Theology. While at that seminary, Seyenkulo was chosen by the Lutheran World Federation to spend one year representing the continent of Africa at the Lutheran seminary in São Leopoldo, Brazil.

Seyenkulo currently serves on the candidacy committee of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod and on the board of Currents, a theological journal published by LSTC in cooperation with Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif. He has taught in both the synod's Diakonia program and the ELCA's Theological Education for Emerging Ministries program.

Seyenkulo and his wife, Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, co-wrote the 2010-11 Lutheran Woman Today (now Gather) Bible study, "Unity in the Midst of Diversity." An ELCA pastor, she serves Trinity Lutheran Church, Park Forest, Ill. 

Trinity Lutheran Church, friends and well-wishers will hold a service of celebration Saturday, June 9 at 1 p.m.

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January 26, 2012

Illustrator Chris Raschka wins a second Caldecott Medal

Illustrator Chris Raschka has done it again. Won the Caldecott Medal, that is. For the unfamiliar, that is the annual award for the top U.S. picture book artist, given by the Association of Library Service to Children/American Library Association.

Raschka, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, N.Y., is a graduate of St. Olaf, Northfield, Minn., one of the ELCA’s 26 colleges and universities.

Raschka won the 2012 Caldecott for A Ball for Daisy, a wordless book that even the youngest children can “read” to themselves or others. He’s the past recipient of the 2006 Caldecott for The Hello, Goodbye Window, as well as the Ezra Jack Keats Award and several New York Times Best Illustrated Book Awards.

He’s written and illustrated more than 40 children’s books. He even had time to create original art for an Easter story ("Down a long road," April 2009) in The Little Lutheran and The Little Christian magazines, publications for children aged 2 to 7, produced by the staff of The Lutheran.

In a February 2008 interview with The Lutheran magazine, Raschka said the key to successfully writing a book is to talk with—not down to—readers. Click here for the full text.

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December 2, 2011

PLTS and CLU explore possible merger

California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary are exploring a proposed merger where PLTS would remain in Berkeley, Calif., as a full seminary of the ELCA. This fall, both schools' governing boards gave formal endorsement to the exploration process. A decision on whether and when to merge could come as soon as May 2012.

PLTS President Phyllis Anderson and CLU President Chris Kimball both say a merger would strengthen their Lutheran identity and service. They also agree that Columbia, S.C.-based Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary's merger with Lenoir-Rhyne University, Hickory, N.C., helped influence their proposal. "That's a model we're evaluating for ourselves," Anderson said. "In a challenging time for seminaries, we're looking for ways to secure our future as the Lutheran seminary in the West."

A merger could be a step on the path to increased enrollment, delivery of shared programs for the church and growth in fundraising capacity, she added.

"At colleges, most income comes from tuition, but at seminaries like ours only about 17 percent comes from tuition," Anderson said, emphasizing that fundraising needs would continue. In a down economy, the traditional sources of seminary revenue: endowments, individual donors, 11 synods and churchwide, are all "hurting so they have less to pass on," she said.

PLTS already "achieves economies of scale" through sharing a library, IT services and cross-registration with eight other seminaries in the 1,000-student strong Graduate Theological Union, Anderson said. "Merging with CLU would enable us to plan and deploy resources together to reach out in new ways to our Lutheran constituencies," she noted.

Though the proposal is in early stages, CLU faculty and staff are "interested and excited to see where [this] leads," Kimball said. "There's a sense of tremendous potential for [undergraduate and graduate] education, [a CLU] foothold in the Bay area and serving the church." In the West, ELCA schools "prepare students and pastors to serve where there aren't very many Lutherans," he said. "That affects your courses, internships, clarity of expectations, everything."

A merger could be a "game-changer" for CLU, Kimball said. "Seminaries have relationships and commitments to the ELCA that are very different from those of [ELCA] colleges," he explained. "For me, moving into that relationship is appealing and an opportunity to reflect on what a university of the church is." 

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November 8, 2011

Mission support update

Craig Settlage, ELCA director for mission support, said he sees signs of stronger mission support from congregations. "By the end of September, 19 ELCA synods had increased mission support shared with churchwide ministries over the previous September, while 46 synods had decreased mission support for that period," he told The Lutheran.

Congregations send mission support to synods, which on average share 49 percent (the range is 31 to 57 percent) with churchwide ministries. On average, synods receive 5 percent (the range is 3.1 to 10 percent, depending on the synod) of overall congregational giving as mission support. In any synod, Settlage said, there will be some congregations that for whatever reason give no mission support, while others give a generous 18 percent.

Where does that mission support go? "In 2011, mission support helped the ELCA plant 60 new congregations, begin renewal of 163 congregations, provide congregations with $2.5 million in grants, support 240 missionaries, fund mission projects in 90 countries, and continue support of ELCA colleges, seminaries and more," Settlage said.

But there is cause for concern given what is happening across U.S. denominations, Settlage said. "The trend is toward many congregations making more designated gifts to local ministries, companion synods or ELCA hunger efforts," he said. "Those efforts all deserve our support, but we need to take care to not lose our foundational support, which would diminish our capacity to plant new congregations, provide the infrastructure for hunger and disaster response, support global companions and more." 

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October 7, 2011

Lutheran peacemaker Leymah Gbowee wins Nobel Peace Prize

Leymah Gbowee, a Lutheran from Liberia, was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Oct. 7. The prize was jointly presented to three women: Gbowee; Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Africa's first elected female president; and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen "for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

Gbowee, a peacemaker, activist and mother of six, led an interreligious group of thousands of women to defy warlords, government officials and male relatives to carry their country out of a long, bloody civil war to peace and democracy in 2003. She is a member of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. Her home congregation, St. Peter Lutheran in Monrovia, was the site of a July 30, 1990, massacre of 600 people.

Over the years, Gbowee's name has cropped up repeatedly in articles and interviews in The Lutheran. In 2000, she was a social worker and trauma counselor, rehabilitating child soldiers for peace, economic self-sufficiency and, if they were willing, church participation. In 2003, she gathered Liberia's women to protest the fighting and bloodshed because "the future of our children is threatened." With the support of an international leadership scholarship from the ELCA, Gbowee studied peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Va., from 2006-2007. A review of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a documentary about her work, appeared in The Lutheran's January 2009 issue.

And in July, Gbowee spoke to the 2,000 participants who attended the 2011 Women of the ELCA Triennial Gathering. "I had had enough of [Liberia's] war," Gbowee told the women. "That space, Liberia had to be reclaimed." She described how thousands of Christian and Muslim women came together and were instrumental in ending the war.

Gbowee is never content to leave enough alone. That's a good thing. Over the years, she's expanded her concern to envelop not only Liberia but the entire West African region, the U.S. and other countries. And in July, the Women of the ELCA were no exception. "What are you reclaiming today?" Gbowee asked the women. "What have you allowed your community ... the Lutheran tradition [or] your comfort zone to take away from you?" Saying it's not enough to send out school kits, health kits, prayer shawls and encouraging words, she added, "It's time to rise up [and] reclaim the space God has given us."

Gbowee is the second Lutheran woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1982, Alva Myrdal, a member of the Church of Sweden, was the first Lutheran woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Other Lutheran Nobel Peace Prize winners are Albert Schweitzer (1952), Dag Hammarskjöld (1961) and Norman Borlaug (1970).

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August 10, 2011

A 'debt of gratitude': Church executive Dorothy Marple dies

Dorothy Marple, pioneering church executive and coordinator of the transition team for the ELCA (1986-1987), died Aug. 8 at Artman Lutheran Home in Ambler, Pa. Marple, a member at St. Michael Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, was 84.

“Dr. Marple was gracious but firm, precise and thorough, conscious of detail and yet mindful of the bigger picture,” retired ELCA pastor and former ELCA Secretary Lowell Almen told ELCA News. “She was crucial in completing the commitment made by the ELCA’s predecessor churches in 1982. In that year, the ALC (American Lutheran Church), LCA (Lutheran Church in America) and AELC (Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches) voted to form a new church in a step toward greater Lutheran unity for the sake of effectiveness in mission. Dr. Marple shared that vision and worked tirelessly toward its implementation.”

Marple broke ground in 1975 as the first woman and the first layperson to be named a bishop's assistant in the Lutheran Church in America. She came to that role after serving as the first executive director of the LCA women's organization from 1962 to 1975.

A lifelong pioneer, she was also the first in her family to graduate from college and to earn advanced degrees, including a doctorate in education from Columbia University, New York.

"The adjective to describe Dorothy is outstandingly competent," said James Crumley, a retired ELCA pastor and former bishop of the LCA. "She had an accurate and detailed knowledge of the entire Lutheran Church in America; its history, work and function. Dorothy was always contributing to the work of the entire group. We especially valued her contribution to our church's ecumenical work and the Lutheran World Federation."

The late LCA President Robert Marshall selected Marple as a bishop's assistant in 1975 — "something that was most fortunate for me, in following Dr. Marshall," Crumley said. "There is no way I could say too much about Dorothy. In the 1980s, Dorothy and all of us spent a large portion of time planning for the ELCA. A formidable series of tasks had to be done to make the ELCA happen. After the ELCA was approved, she did an extraordinary job coordinating the transition team. She was just a wonderful person."

Marple held many other leadership roles throughout the years, including: dean of women and foreign student adviser at Thiel College in Greenville, Pa. (1953-1961); board member of Church Women United (1962-1975); assistant general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCCCUSA) from 1988-1989; NCCCUSA governing board member (1970-1987); LWF Executive Committee member (1977-1984); chair of the LWF Commission on Church Cooperation (1984-1989); member of the board of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (1989-98); member of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia (1989-98); and chair of a task force studying theological education in the ELCA (1989-1994).

Phyllis Anderson, president of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley, Calif., and one of Marple's colleagues on the theological task force, called it "one of the singular privileges and joys of my ministry to be [Dorothy's] staff partner." Anderson formerly served as executive director of the former Higher Education and Schools churchwide unit, which had responsibility for the task force.

"The whole church owes Dorothy Marple a debt of gratitude for the tireless, focused, eminently fair leadership she gave to the ELCA Study of Theological Education, which was her trademark," Anderson said. "That study continues to inform the directions and decisions of our seminaries today."

President Michael Cooper-White of Gettysburg Seminary said Marple was the epitome of a churchly servant leader. “She never sought the limelight of center stage, but her quiet competence shone in so many corners of the church, especially in her work helping lay a solid foundation for the ELCA,” he said.

Retired ELCA pastor Ralph Eckard knew Marple for 48 years, including the 27 years he served as an assistant to LCA presidents and later bishops. "Dorothy and I served as colleagues from 1976 until the merger in 1988," Eckard said. "She was a prodigious worker and a great colleague in every sense of the word. She had a breadth of experience, which she could apply to any situation."

Marple's funeral service is set for Saturday, Aug. 13, at Upper Dublin Lutheran Church, Ambler, Pa. She is survived by a sister, Virginia Reynolds; nine nieces; and a longtime friend, Lois Leffler.

Memorials can be sent to ELCA World Hunger, P.O. Box 71764, Chicago, IL 60694-1764. 

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July 21, 2011

Canadian Lutherans open doors to gay marriage and pastors

The national convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada widened the church's welcome for gays and lesbians and restructured the national church at its July 14-17 gathering in Saskatoon, Sask. The 152,500-member church will now allow same-sex marriages and the ordination of gay and lesbian pastors.

Following more than two hours of debate, delegates approved 213-134 a human sexuality social statement that developed out of a four-year national study of sexuality. The statement calls the ELCIC to "denounce discrimination, including sexual discrimination, in all its forms." The voting process for the social statement was contentious. Delegates defeated a motion that would have required approval by a two-thirds majority, instead of the usual simple majority vote.

In a statement, Lutherans Concerned North America executive director Emily Eastwood, who was present at the convention, said the ELCIC social statement is "more prophetic than that of the ELCA" and "a major turning point in the Canadian church towards full inclusion."

Delegates sang "Lord Listen to Your Children Pray" as they voted 192-132 to allow ELCIC clergy to preside at or bless same-sex marriages, according to their consciences and the laws of their provinces. Canada legalized same-gender marriage in July 2005.

By a vote of 205-114, delegates rescinded past actions that banned non-celibate gay and lesbian people from ordination and call. The action states that sexual orientation is not in itself a factor that disqualifies a candidate for rostered ministry.

"I can't see that anything good has come from the church's current policy on this issue," Eastern Synod Bishop Michael Pryse said during the debate over ordination. "I've seen the terrible results of this policy: broken people, broken families, broken congregations, substance abuse, broken lives. That's what happens when you demand celibacy of those who don't have the gifts to live celibate lives. This motion provides the opportunity for willing congregations to consider these candidates."

Delegates also voted 204-133 to affirm a statement that church members who disagree with one another will remain in dialogue and unity, and refrain from church-dividing actions.

In other action, delegates:

• approved in principle restructuring moves that re-organize the ELCIC's five synods into three synods; move from biennial to triennial national conventions of reduced size; and reconfigure regional conferences into area congregational groupings supported by leadership teams. Delegates gave the ELCIC National Church Council the authority to implement the changes.

• re-elected Susan C. Johnson to a second four-year term as ELCIC national bishop.

— Based on news releases from the ELCIC 

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June 3, 2011

Gettysburg and Luther seminaries will join forces

The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) and Luther Seminary (St. Paul, Minn.) announced June 3 they will work together on an existing distributed learning master of divinity program at Luther, and a new religion and media concentration for Gettysburg's master of arts in religion program, to begin as soon as fall 2012. Both degree programs involve distributed learning, with a sharing of faculty, two-thirds of coursework carried out online, and one-third of instruction done through campus-based intensives.

The seminaries' announcement about the cooperative effort follows "Renewing the Seedbed," a recent ELCA study on theological education governance that calls for new and creative collaboration. ELCA and other mainline seminaries are facing the challenges of declining enrollment trends, an economic downturn that makes it difficult for students to relocate, and an increasing debt load for seminarians.

In a joint statement, Gettysburg President Michael Cooper-White and Luther President Richard Bliese said, "We are eager to see what emerges from an unexpected exploration on the part of schools from differing heritages and in distinct Eastern and Midwestern contexts. We are committed to sharing our discoveries and exploring broader collaboration with our other partners in the Lutheran network and broader circles of theological education."

Not a merger; identities remain separate

Both institutions will keep their separate identities and maintain relationships with seminaries in their separate ELCA seminary clusters.

However, they will "work together in creative ways" that "build upon the latent and active strengths of each in forming leaders for mission on behalf of the church," stated a joint news release from Luther Seminary and Gettysburg Seminary. The two seminaries plan to jointly research future educational models as well.

It's unexpected because "the usual thinking has been that cooperation among seminaries will go on in the [geographically based seminary] clusters," said Luther Seminary academic dean Rollie Martinson, who is heading up the effort with Gettysburg academic dean Robin Steinke. "One thing that's emerged is that while clusters are good for certain kinds of shared work, they can't contain all of the shared work."

Also notable, Martinson said, is that cooperative efforts among seminaries tend "to be thought of as being done out of deficits or to economize. That is not the case here. This is about two seminaries working out of their assets."

Still exploring details and advantages

Martinson allowed that the efforts are still in "exploratory stages," with both "excitement and caution" from seminary leaders, who "want to be careful how the details are worked out." He credits much of the new proposal to Steinke, "an incredible churchwoman who was eager to have partners in this imaginative work and I became one of them," he said.

Their work could have many advantages, from equipping new leaders for ministry with new media to reducing seminarians' overall debt and expanding the reach of seminary programs, Martinson said.

Gettysburg, founded in 1826, is the oldest continuing Lutheran theological school in North America, with 220 students and 16 full-time faculty. Luther, founded in 1869, is the largest ELCA seminary, with 796 students and 45 full-time faculty. 

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October 30, 2010

First female presiding bishop for Norway's Lutherans

The Church of Norway has its first ever female presiding bishop, at least until mid-2011.

Helga Haugland Byfuglien, bishop of Borg and a Lutheran World Federation vice-president, was elected Oct. 21 by her fellow bishops as the 3.9-million member church's presiding bishop. She succeeds Bishop Olav Skjaevesland of Agder, elected in 2006. Byfuglien also chairs a national church project to reform religious education and serves as secretary general of the Norwegian Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations.

"I will strive to play a unifying role in the meantime [while a presiding bishop is chosen]," Byfuglien said. According to the church's news service, she sees the church's main challenge as sharing the "message of love, forgiveness and hope in such a way that people find our words and deeds relevant."

In a letter to Byfuglien, LWF General Secretary Martin Junge wrote: "We celebrate this new evidence that, within the span of a single lifetime ordained women's leadership is becoming visible at the most senior levels of our churches."

Byfuglien's interim will end sometime mid-2011, when Norway's government will establish a permanent office of presiding bishop. Whereas in the past one of the 11 diocesan bishops would simultaneously serve as presiding bishop from his or her diocese, beginning in 2011, the presiding bishop will be dedicated to that role and based out of an office in Trondheim. Byfuglien would be eligible to run for the seat, if she so chooses.

The Church of Norway has a high percentage of female bishops: four of the church's 11 bishops are women. In the ELCA, by comparison, six of 65 synod bishops are women. 

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September 30, 2010

ELCA: $30 million malaria campaign 'not feasible'

A proposed $30 million ELCA campaign around malaria will no longer go forward, but the ELCA will continue raising funds for malaria, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson wrote in a Sept. 30 email to churchwide staff.

'Hard financial realities'

"In recent months, mission support [benevolence funds that congregations pass on to synods, a percentage of which synods share with the churchwide organization] to the ELCA and support of ELCA World Hunger have declined significantly, and many synods and congregations are also struggling to deal with hard financial realities," Hanson wrote. "In the light of this difficult economic situation, ELCA leadership has determined that a $30 million campaign around malaria, which was to be tested in the current biennium, is not feasible at this time. Therefore, the decision has been made to withdraw the ELCA's grant proposal to the United Nations Foundation and to end the partnership that was entitled "Lutheran Malaria Initiative."

Hanson said the church's commitment to malaria work, global health and companions in Africa is "firm."

"The new ELCA initiative, will carry forward much of the work that the ELCA had been doing under the rubric of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative," Hanson wrote. "The ELCA Malaria Campaign, as it will now be known, will direct all of its funds to our companion churches in Africa (90 percent) and to our fund-raising efforts (10 percent)." According to Hanson, the proposed UNF-related campaign would have required that "30 percent of funds raised to go to the Global Fund [to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria] and 20 percent to be used for capacity building to encourage companion churches to participate in Global Fund country efforts." Fifty percent of ELCA funds would have supported malaria work among ELCA partners.

$15 million: a challenge, but 'doable'

Hanson wrote that leaders had "right-sized" the malaria efforts given "current realities of the ELCA." Raising $15 million "will be a challenge in the current economic environment, but is both doable and ambitious enough to meet the commitments that we have made to our companion churches in Africa," Hanson wrote. "The ELCA Malaria Campaign will continue to work closely with ELCA World Hunger, and to underscore the global health connections between malaria containment and ministry with those living with HIV and AIDS."

Hanson said that rather than compete with "core World Hunger work," the ELCA Malaria Campaign will "build further capacity" by reaching new donors and allowing current donors "to deepen their commitment above and beyond normal World Hunger giving."

Synods piloting malaria fund-raising efforts in 2010 and 2011 will "continue with their current fund-raising and awareness-raising goals," Hanson wrote.

Continued cooperation with LWR

"The ELCA plans to work cooperatively with Lutheran World Relief to contain malaria in Tanzania and other places where common work can advance the cause, and also through wider ecumenical malaria initiatives," Hanson wrote. "We are also exploring a shared approach in malaria fundraising with Lutheran World Relief to colleges and universities of the ELCA."

While the ELCA and its companion churches will continue to work with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, "no direct financial assistance will be made to the Global Fund through the ELCA Malaria Campaign," Hanson wrote. Continuing the ELCA's involvement with Nothing But Nets "is still under consideration," he added.

Hanson said that 90 [percent] of gifts to the ELCA Malaria Campaign "will assist our companion churches and partner organizations in Africa to engage in additional projects to prevent, treat, and educate about malaria," while "10 [percent] of funds raised will be used administratively to underwrite continued campaign efforts."

The new malaria effort will involve ELCA companion churches in Angola, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Hanson said. 

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September 14, 2010

Midland Lutheran College to become Midland University


Midland Lutheran College will become Midland University Oct. 20, as part of an overall re-branding effort, school officials announced Sept. 13.

Midland also reported that for the Fall 2010 semester Midland's student body grew by more than 50 percent to 962 students. Part of that growth came from 321 students who had planned to attend the now defunct ELCA-affiliated Dana College, in nearby Blair, Neb. Midland is one of 26 ELCA-affiliated colleges and universities.

 On Sept. 13, Erik Soll, Megan Reed and Darienne Holley carry
On Sept. 13, Erik Soll, Megan Reed and Darienne Holley carry "See the new U" signs after Midland Lutheran College's announcement that it will become Midland University Oct. 20. Midland also received an influx of new students when Dana College in Blair, Neb. closed in July.
Midland's board of trustees voted unanimously Sept. 13 to approve the name change, Midland spokesman Jon Fredricks told The Lutheran. Issues around marketing the school to prospective students were a factor, Fredricks said. "Research shared with our board of trustees that helped shape their decision-making was that to a prospective student, ‘university' is synonymous with more opportunities than ‘college,'" Fredricks said. The university model, he added, "allows us to shape our academics in new ways, organizing structurally into colleges."

But why lose "Lutheran" from the institution's name? "We lost the Lutheran in our name only," Fredricks said. "The change in our name in no way lessens our connection to, or our commitment to the Lutheran Church."

'Difficult' decision

Nebraska Synod Bishop David deFreese and Midland President Benjamin E. Sasse co-authored a Sept. 14 letter that assures ELCA pastors and congregations in the synod of that commitment.

The name change was "a difficult and challenging decision to make, and was not taken lightly," deFreese and Sasse wrote. More than one-third of Midland's board members are ELCA clergy or lay leaders, the two wrote.

"It has been and will continue to be a privilege for this institution to remain steadfast to its heritage and core values in lifting up the benefits of Lutheran higher education. ...This change in name in no way minimizes Midland's connection to and commitment for Lutheran higher education. Our hope and prayer is that new branding and a university structure, along with many other upgrades underway at Midland, will have positive long-term effects. The changes being made will strengthen our ability to recruit high school students of all faith backgrounds. It will ultimately serve to both expand and strengthen the opportunity to share the benefits of Lutheran higher education."

Keeping Luther at the core

As Midland Lutheran College, "students who don't resonate with being Lutheran may not consider us for their college search," Fredricks told The Lutheran. "They may think, 'I'm not Lutheran, so that's not a place for me.' We want to assure students we have a lot to offer them academically."

Midland's "core college" of liberal arts and humanities "will keep the Lutheran connection and be called something like Luther College of Liberal Arts or Luther College of the Humanities," Fredricks said. Midland's "core values" statement will also continue to "speak to our Lutheran heritage," he added.

Rebranding-everything from moving to "colleges underneath a Midland University umbrella" to placing the new name and logo on all campus signs and institutional materials-will take 18 to 24 months, Fredricks said. A new website, www.midlandu.edu and "See the new U" signs and stickers are helping to introduce the new name to stakeholders. A new image for Midland's athletic mascot will be announced later this fall. Many changes, but "for the most part the response has been positive," Fredricks said.

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September 9, 2010

Florida Lutherans' interreligious efforts no publicity stunt

Michael Collins, an ELCA pastor in Gainesville, Fla., hoped Sept. 9 for two prayers to be answered.

Earlier in the week — while the Gainesville-based Dove Outreach Center was still planning to burn copies of the Quran — Collins had asked via Facebook, e-mail and in-person, for members of University Lutheran Church in Gainesville, and the University of Florida (Gainesville) Lutheran Campus Ministry to pray for two things: "that all this talk will turn in to that: ‘all this talk,'" and "for this community and its leaders so that we can continue to teach our students and friends that hate and discrimination have no place in our society."

Michael Collins, pastor of University Lutheran Church, Gainesville, Fla., stands in front of the congregation's sign, changed in response to a local church's plan to burn Qurans.
Michael Collins, pastor of University Lutheran Church, Gainesville, Fla., stands in front of the congregation's sign, changed in response to a local church's plan to burn Qurans.

By Sept. 9, the Associated Press was reporting that the controversial center's plans for burning Qurans seemed to be fizzling out. Regardless of whether or not the burning would be cancelled, a Gainesville interreligious effort that includes members of the ELCA's Florida-Bahamas Synod, once ignited, continues to grow. It couldn't come at a better time, with mounting tensions over a proposed mosque and cultural center to be built in New York City near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks, and an increase in hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. 

Beginning with a Sept. 8 interfaith service at Holy Trinity, an Episcopal congregation in Gainesville, local faith groups united around services, educational forums, shared dinners and joint service projects set to run through the Sept. 11 weekend.

Peace through education

All the events "are designed to peacefully educate and unify," Collins told The Lutheran. University Lutheran Church, other Christian churches, synagogues and Islamic centers are including similar portions of Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament), Christian Scripture (New Testament), and the Quran in their weekend worship readings, Collins said. Gainesville's interreligious community is also supporting a local Muslim association in a Sept. 11 feeding of the poor, Collins said.

"The act of burning the sacred scripture of Islam has no place in our faith, our religious communities, our town, and in our nation," Collins wrote in a letter to parishioners at University Lutheran Church and the 50 to 60 participants in Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Florida. "While we may not agree with the beliefs of Islam, there is nothing Christ-like in a blatant attack on their personhood or their belief; or in religious persecution."

It motivated University Lutheran members to place a new message on their church sign. "It says: Use your faith to build bridges," Collins said.

Students build bridges

"We have a fairly large Muslim population in Gainesville," said Schwarz, a university senior and a peer minister for Lutheran Campus Ministry. Campus ministry has held interfaith progressive dinners, but now hopes to expand to joint service projects with Muslim students, she said. They're also making T-shirts that read "Christian Gators for Peace" (the Gators are the university's football team) to wear around campus.

"We feel it's important to say we're not in support of the kind of hatred that was put out there," she  said. "It has taught us as students and Christians that we need to know what we believe and to learn more about other cultures and religions." With the Dove Center only 8 miles from campus, other University of Florida students have asked Lutheran Campus Ministry participants how they feel about the actions of the center, which also claims Christianity.

"We've had a lot of students ask us what we believe about it; how we as Christians feel," Schwarz said. "We say we don't believe on putting a limit on God's love and promoting the hatred and xenophobia that Terry Jones [of the Dove Outreach Center] is promoting."

Loving the neighbor

"Positive interreligious activities and relationships have been born in this thorny ground in Gainesville," said ELCA pastor Russell L. Meyer, ecumenical representative for Florida-Bahamas Synod Bishop Edward R. Benoway and executive director of the Florida Council of Churches. "We in the ELCA have a lot to offer with Muslim relationships because we've been [relating] in many places around the world where [Christians are] in the minority."

"In our society today we're struggling with how to deal with the ‘other'," Meyer said. "We have this problem knowing how to understand ourselves in the presence of the ‘other.' But Scripture is about how we make a place for people who don't have a place. ...The command to love God and neighbor includes the neighbor who is the alien in the land."

Update (Sept. 10, 2010)

Lutheran World Federation president Munib Younan released a Sept. 10 statement on the proposed burning of the Quran. Younan,  who is also bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, wrote that the “irresponsible behavior of a man who claims to be a pastor” is “utterly counter to the beliefs of Christianity” and “nothing less than a hate crime.”

Younan encouraged the Dove Center leadership to read the Quran with new eyes. “After all, when Martin Luther was asked by the citizens of Basel to condemn the Qur’an, he offered support to a local printer to publish it,” Younan wrote. Read the entire statement here.

3 ways to reach out to neighbors

Michael L. Collins, pastor at University Lutheran Church and Lutheran Campus Ministry at the University of Florida, shares these three tips for reaching out to Muslim neighbors:

1. Educate yourself about neighbors of different religions and their faiths. This will help you avoid stereotypes.

2. Hold joint social action projects or other sharing opportunities. Build a house or feed the hungry together. We're gathering books for the community library and feeding the homeless together with brothers and sisters from the Jewish and Muslim faiths. Don't be afraid of getting involved in the culture because they're different from you. Talk to people. 

3. After you've learned and experienced, teach. Children, young people and even adults who've learned ways of prejudice and bitterness need to be taught. Our campus ministry is looking at
ways to hold conversations with Islamic brothers and sisters. You, too, can look for ways to be involved with brothers and sisters of different faiths. We are part of a common humanity.

In other news... a Sept. 7 statement on ‘bigotry': 

Donald J. McCoid, executive director for ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations, represented ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson at a Sept 7 interreligious summit in Washington D.C. Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders at the summit denounced anti-Muslim rhetoric and bigotry in the U.S., in a statement McCoid helped draft. It reads in part: "As religious leaders in this great country, we have come together in our nation's capital to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America's Muslim community. We bear a sacred responsibility to honor America's varied faith traditions and to promote a culture of mutual respect and the assurance of religious freedom for all." Read the full statement here.

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August 24, 2010

Timeline announced for churchwide restructuring

In an August 24 e-mail to ELCA churchwide staff, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said wrote that that those drafting a churchwide restructuring proposal will present that proposal to the ELCA Church Council Oct. 8.

Planners, called the "churchwide organization design team," have made "steady progress" and "intentionally connected with our partners and governing bodies (Living into the Future Together [LIFT] Task Force, Conference of Bishops, ELCA Church Council's Executive and Planning and Evaluation committees)," Hanson wrote.

During an executive session (closed to media), the council "will be asked to affirm concepts as described in the proposal," including "personnel implications and potential amendments to the ELCA's governing documents," Hanson wrote.

"Notification of the changes in personnel, programs and operations will begin the week of October 11, 2010," Hanson wrote. "We anticipate that the Church Council will act on the final recommendations at its November 12-14, 2010 meeting."

Hanson asked for prayers for the design team and all of the churchwide organization.

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August 5, 2010

LCMS President-elect calls ELCA relations 'complex'


What is the future of inter-Lutheran cooperation between the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America? LCMS President-elect Matthew Harrison calls it "complex."

Harrison spoke to interviewer James Heine from the LCMS Reporter about topics from the LCMS restructuring and debtload to how Harrison will approach relations with the ELCA. Reporter is a monthly newspaper the LCMS mails to some 33,000 clergy and lay leaders. The interview was posted August 4.

When asked whether the Missouri Synod can work effectively with the ELCA in inter-Lutheran groups, Harrison called it "a hard issue," that does not have "an immediate one-size-fits-all answer."

"It will be difficult to move to resolution in any way, shape or form, because people are deeply invested, and it's complex," Harrison said. "On the positive side, I've served on the inter-Lutheran boards.I've spent more time with ELCA leadership and ELCA people than, I think, virtually anybody else in the Synod over the last 10 years. We know the agencies. LCMS World Relief has 120 Recognized Service Organizations, 100 of which are inter-Lutheran. We know the constitutional issues they face; we know the representation, Missouri/ELCA, on those organizations. ...

"It's going to be virtually impossible to do anything with Higgins Road [the ELCA's headquarters] - that is, direct joint administration of an AIDS task force or those kinds of issues. Higgins Road is deeply and ideologically committed to their stand on the issues that separate us, and unless the ELCA is willing and able to bring something new to the table, it's just going to be very difficult.

"On the other hand, a ministry such as [Lutheran World Relief] — where our friend John Nunes is doing his best to navigate some difficult waters and be faithful in an inter-Lutheran organization — I think our emphasis has to be on these independent Lutheran entities and how we relate to them."


Read the full interview here.

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August 4, 2010

ELCA Church Council trims churchwide budget by $4.2 million


After spending two hours of a two-and one-half hour conference call meeting in closed session Aug. 4, the ELCA Church Council voted in open session to cut the churchwide 2010 current fund spending authorization by 6 percent, from $69.3 to $65.1 million. ELCA Treasurer Christina Jackson-Skelton reported that, through the end of June, 2010 mission support was down $3.7 million (a 15.2 percent reduction) from the same period in 2009.

Spread across a variety of churchwide units, the $4.2 million cut affects some more deeply than others: Vocation and Education, down $592,000 (6.28 percent); Global Mission, down $448,000 (3.34 percent); Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission, down $400,000 (2.23 percent); Development Services, down $331,050 (22.06 percent); Church in Society, down $131,000 (4.72 percent); and Multicultural Ministries, down $94,870 (7.73 percent).

Wyvetta Bullock, executive for administration, told the council that churchwide was still trying to hold its commitment to new starts and missionaries. "We're not recalling any missionaries," Bullock said.

Bullock told The Lutheran that the $4.2 million cut includes: decreases in international scholarship grants; elimination of some unassigned new [mission] starts funding; reductions in grants to colleges and universities; small decreases in seminary and campus ministry grants; decreases in program activities; reductions in general office and administrative costs; and position vacancies.

"There were no staff reductions in this revised spending authorization," Bullock said.

In a separate action, in response to requests from nine synods, the council established an ad hoc committee to bring to the November 2010 council meeting a report and possible recommendations on ELCA Board of Pensions annuity funding, losses and "steps to mitigate adverse effects of the Fund reductions." 

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