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August 22, 2009

Hanson: Talk to one another

 
An emotional Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson urged ELCA members unhappy with the Churchwide Assembly's decisions on sexuality to make thoughtful, careful decisions about their continued involvement in the church.

"Now perhaps more than ever, we need to stay engaged with one another," Hanson told the more than 1,000 voting members at the close of the assembly's business early Saturday evening in the Minneapolis Convention Center. The assembly will formally wrap up with worship on Sunday.

Earlier in the day, the leader of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod got right to his point: actions taken by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on sexuality and rostering of gays and lesbians could be a deal breaker.

Saying he spoke in "deep humility, with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend," Gerald B. Kieschnick, president of the LCMS said, "The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA."

"It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies. The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm," he said.

Kieschnick acknowledged that money woes and strife have hit his 2.4 million member church as well, but that what's happening in the 4.6 million member ELCA boils down to an understanding of Scripture.

 "Simply stated, this matter is fundamentally related to significant differences in how we understand the authority of Holy Scripture and the interpretation of God's revealed and infallible Word," Kieschnick said.

The ELCA's constitution describes the Bible "as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of [the denomination's] proclamation, faith and life."

Hanson responded by encouraging the LCMS to remain in close collaboration with the ELCA in existing projects such as hunger and disaster relief, as well as a looming joint effort to attack malaria in Africa.

In another greeting, Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, thanked the ELCA for its many contributions to Lutheran efforts around the globe, urging the denomination to look beyond its current controversy over homosexuality.

"God, those people [ELCA members] love their church, I know it," Noko said. "God, send the Holy Spirit to keep them together. You stay together."

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August 21, 2009

Day of decision


Whether the hours of quotations from Scripture or impassioned speeches of personal experiences changed any minds will never be known. But in the end Friday, the ELCA's highest governing authority opened the door to gays and lesbians in committed relationships to hold pastoral and other ministerial leadership roles in the church.

Following a key 559-451 vote by the Churchwide Assembly, silence engulfed the Minneapolis Convention Center. Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson led the group in prayer. Later, he called for unity and peace in the church, saying "it would be tragic if we walked away from one another."

"We need all of you" to contribute to conversations of where the denomination goes following the historic vote, Hanson said. The assembly approved four resolutions on ministry policies that would eventually produce rules for gays and lesbians "in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relations" to serve as pastors, associates in ministry and the like.

Rebuke came swiftly from Lutheran CORE, a coalition that holds a traditional or conservative view of Scripture. Leaders renounced CORE's recognition by the ELCA of it as an independent Lutheran organization in relationship with the denomination.

It also plans to host a gathering next month for disgruntled members and congregations to see what happens next. While upbraiding the assembly for its action and calling for certain economic sanctions, "it is important that congregations and individuals not make hasty decisions about their future in the ELCA," said Pastor Paull Spring, chair of CORE.

Debate during the day remained civil but did have moments of emotional appeals for each side to see the errors of their ways. One resolution was amended so that the ELCA makes "provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church should not call or roster" gays or lesbians. That would allow congregations opposed to such ordinations from being forced to accept a gay or lesbian pastor.

Hanson said "it's going to take time to sort out how we live together."  He said the ELCA has grappled with its unity and diversity throughout its 22-year history. "The maturity [of the denomination] will be tested but the Spirit will be faithful," he said.

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August 20, 2009

Something to sing about


Some of the enthusiasm clearly left the ELCA Churchwide Assembly Thursday, but the more than 1,000 voting members bounced back upon the approval of a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church.

The 958-51 vote at the Minneapolis Convention Center met with a thunderous applause and rousing rendition of the Wesleyan hymn favorite "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues to Sing."

The accord brings to six the number of denominations with which the ELCA shares altar and pulpit fellowship. The others are the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church of America, the United Church of Christ and the Moravian Church in North America.

The agreement was some 32 years in the making. The United Methodist Church's governing body approved the measure last year in an 869-19 vote.

One ELCA voting member opined that he knew what Lutherans would be bringing to joint potlucks and wanted to know what Methodists could contribute. Bishop Sally Dyck of Minnesota didn't skip a beat: "I think we have the same cookbooks."

The mood turned more somber when a video greeting from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops cautioned the assembly of taking actions that deviate from historic biblical interpretations. While not specifically mentioning the assembly's vote on a social statement on human sexuality, the intent of Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta was clear.

On Wednesday the highest governing body of the ELCA approved the social statement that, among many other things, addresses committed relationships by gays and lesbians. Another controversial measure, to open the roster of the ELCA to gays and lesbians, will likely be considered Friday.

Lutheran CORE, an umbrella organization of traditionalist and conservative Lutherans, announced Thursday it would host a "convocation" Sept. 25-26 in Indianapolis to discuss implications of decisions by the assembly and "what the future might hold for" those upset with the actions.

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August 19, 2009

Close as it gets, times two

Talk about close calls. First a tornado struck the far end of the building hosting the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA on Wednesday, followed by voting members approving a social statement on human sexuality by one vote.

Sirens and announcements marked the approach of the storm that raked Minneapolis. Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson told the more than 1,000 voting members to stay in the assembly hall. He later informed the crowd that a tornado nipped the building and damaged the steeple of nearby Central Lutheran Church. Minneapolis media reported no injuries.

The jolt was reinforced a short time later when the highest governing body of the ELCA voted 676-338, or 66.67 percent to 33.33 percent, to adopt the controversial sexuality statement. Social statements of the ELCA must be approved by a two-thirds vote. A change of one yes vote to a no would have rejected the statement.

The document acknowledges that members are of divided views on same-gender relationships. It calls for "profound respect for the conscience-bound belief of the neighbor," including same-sex couples. It also addresses a wide range of issues, such as trust, marriage, family, sexual education for and the safety of youth, sexual exploitation, and adult cohabitation. It opposes "non-monogamous, promiscuous or casual sexual relationships."

Several attempts to change the wording of the document or delete portions of it to make it more traditional or conservative were defeated.

Still to be considered are proposed changes to rules governing those admitted to the roster of the church, such as pastors, associates in ministry and deaconesses. If adopted, it would allow the rostering of gays and lesbians in committed relationships. The proposal, which will likely be voted on Friday, needs only a majority vote to pass.

 

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August 18, 2009

Nearly unanimous: Malaria must go


Voting members to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly may not agree on sexuality issues and related rostering rules, but they do on malaria: they don't like it and want it stamped out.

On Tuesday they voted 989-11 to support the development of a Lutheran Malaria Initiative that calls for a possible $25 million appeal to help eradicate the disease in Africa. Plans for fundraising would have to be approved by the Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA's highest decision-making body, at its next gathering in 2011.

The malaria campaign would be a joint effort of the ELCA with Lutheran World Relief, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the United Nations Foundation.

The voting members, meeting in the Minneapolis Convention Center for the church's 11th assembly, also heard Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson deliver a challenging state of the church speech in which he addressed fears that actions taken at the gathering on controversial matters of sexuality would cause the ELCA to become another Protestant denomination to suffer loss of membership and influence. "We already are and have been for years," Hanson said. He urged members to make the ELCA "a Pentecost church," with "each and every one of you" serving as an evangelist. He also said the ELCA must become a more diverse church to reach out to the ethnic and racial groups that have changed the face of the U.S. in recent years.

Tuesday also saw the start of debate over a proposed social statement on human sexuality. Voting members lined up at microphones, some quoting Scripture in opposition to any acceptance of homosexual relations, others offering testimonials of their personal experiences as gays and lesbians of faith.

Later in the week, likely Friday, the assembly will vote on the proposed social statement and possible changes to ministerial rules that would accept gays and lesbians in committed relationships to be pastors, associates in ministry and deaconesses.

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August 17, 2009

And they're off

With 1,045 voting members signed in, the 11th Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA is off and running as of Monday evening at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

Just hours after launching the gathering with a rousing worship that featured just about everything from Bach to African to modern music, the highly anticipated gathering got right to it with a spirited debate about rules to govern the seven-day event.

Presiding Bishop Hanson presides at opening worship
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson presides at communion during the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly's opening worship.
Earlier, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson tried to keep the secular media focused on the variety of issues before the highest governing body of the church, matters that range from a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church to HIV/AIDS and malaria initiatives. The hook for the press, however, is a proposed social statement on human sexuality and recommendations on ministry rule changes that would allow inclusion of gays and lesbians in committed relationships.

Standing in front of a shiny new backdrop featuring the ELCA's logo and new tagline, "God's work. Our hands.", Hanson highlighted the other items on the agenda for the media while acknowledging that the sexuality statement and rostering rules would likely take much of the center stage at the assembly.

The voting members proved him correct as they grappled with rules governing the debate before even getting into the specifics of the recommendations. Those will come in the next few days, with a vote on the statement and rostering rules possibly on Friday.

Voting members gather for th first plenary session at Churchwide Assembly.
Voting members gather for the first plenary session of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

For more than one and a half hours, the body debated a number of bids to require a two-thirds vote to change rules governing those allowed to be pastors, associates in ministry and deaconessses. Supporters of a two-thirds minimum vote asked the assembly to hold itself to a higher level of consensus before making a change, with those backing a majority vote repeating the theme that unity should not be confused with uniformity.

In the end, the main bid for a two-thirds vote to change the rules failed 436-584. On to Tuesday, and Hanson's report on the state of the church.

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August 13, 2009

On to Churchwide Assembly

The Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA meets in the Minneapolis Convention Center Aug. 17-23. There are a few related activities starting Aug. 16, and I'll be there for it all.

I'll blog from the Twin Cities every night, barring an emergency or unforeseen complication. All effort will be made to keep the postings light yet still informative.

Most ELCA members have never attended an assembly. This is only my second. There is still much to learn about the gathering. I'll do my best to take an "eyes wide open" look at the event, trying to paint of picture of the flow of action and the flavor of the gathering.

Say a prayer for all the voting members. They have much to ponder.

More to come, from Minnesota.

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January 13, 2009

Dash to the finish


The final day of a trip to the Middle East by North American Lutheran bishops ended with a flurry of activity, with most clergy visiting West Bank schools while a smaller delegation made contact with political and government leaders.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the  on Tuesday held visits with the Palestinian Authority's  prime minister, president and Jerusalem mayor's offices, as well as the Islamic Supreme Court and the Russian Orthodox Church.

Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and the Palestinian Authority's Prime Minister Salam Fayad
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson presents a gift to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayad.
Prime Minister Salam Fayad told the group the Palestinian people "are tortured by decades of occupation" and that he'd like to "see you do more" to help. He committed to keeping Jerusalem a shared city, open to Jews, Christians and Muslims.

First, though, "justice must prevail. ... Violence must stop," Fayad said.

From there the ELCA and ELCIC leaders drove across the West Bank city of Ramallah to meet with representatives of the office of the president. Rafiq Husseini, chief of staff, said he believed Palestinian Christians were being targeted by Israel to leave the West Bank.

Once Christians — who at one time made up 22 percent of the population but now total no more 1.5 percent — are gone, Husseini said he fears the West will drop interest in the then-Muslim country.

 Hanson signs a book of condolences
Hanson signs a book of condolences for the death of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II (depicted in the portrait in the background. Younan and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Theolphilos III watch.
At the Islamic Supreme Court, Chief Judge Tayseer al-Tamimi lauded the Lutheran bishops for coming to the West Bank.

"Rarely do we find an international person like you" promoting the welfare of Palestinians, al-Tamimi said of Hanson, who is also president of the Lutheran World Federation.

The bishops were in the Middle East for a week in an effort to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.

Later, they met with a deputy mayor of Jerusalem to promote a housing project at Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives that is being developed by the LWF.

 Hanson, Younan and Johnson lay a wreath
ELCIC National Bishop Susan C. Johnson (left), Hanson and Younan lay a wreath at the grave of Yitzhak Rabin.

The delegation also met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III. They paid their respects for the Dec. 5, 2008 death of Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexy II.

And as the day ended, leaders laid a wreath at the grave of slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He was instrumental in the Oslo Accord that led to limited Palestinian rule in the West Bank and Israel. On Monday, the group had place a wreath at the tomb of the other signatory to the accord, Yasser Arafat.

 

 

 

 

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January 12, 2009

Tree power


Monday found Lutheran bishops from North America planting olive trees, praying for peace and understanding along a separation wall and listening to students at a West Bank school speak frankly about their future.

Leaders of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada ventured to the village of Beddo, near the city of Ramallah and north of Jerusalem to plant the hardy trees in a wasteland of trash, construction debris and destroyed arbors.

[Blog continues below photo ... ]

Bishop Burnside digs a hole to plant an olive tree in Beddo
Bruce H. Burnside, bishop of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, digs a hole to plant an olive tree in Beddo.

The ground sits below an Israeli settlement along a separation wall dividing Israelis from Palestinians. The Palestinian-owned hillside was strewn with debris reportedly dumped there by the settlers.

Bishops pray at the gate
Bishops from North America prepare to pray at a gate along the separation wall in Beddo. Israeli police keep an eye on them.
Some 90 bishops, spouses and church staff planted the trees in an attempt to reclaim some of the devastated landscape.

They then gathered at a nearby gate along the separation wall to pray for peace. They did so under the watchful eye of an Israeli police crew.

The bishops are in the Middle East in an effort to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.

Two students at Lutheran School of Hope, Ramallah
Two students on the playground at Lutheran School of Hope, Ramallah.
Earlier in the day, they visited Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah. The school educates 482 Christian and Muslim students. High-school age students sat with bishops in question and answer sessions that focused primary on the fighting in the Gaza Strip and the students' futures in the West Bank.

In one group, five of eight students said they planned to emigrate when they're finished with school. They spoke frankly of their anger with Israel for what they said was an overly violent assault on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

"We are not animals, we have feelings, we are human beings," said Majdi Habash.

The bishops conclude their visit Tuesday with tours of three other schools on the West Bank.

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January 11, 2009

On the 7th day they rested


Sunday morning took North American bishops to worship at Lutheran congregations across Jerusalem and the West Bank and then into the homes or favorite restaurants of those congregations' members.

The slower pace of Sunday was welcomed by clerical leaders of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

They've been in region since Jan. 6 to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.

The official portion of the trip ends Jan. 13, although some bishops and their spouses will remain for two additional days to see the Israeli area of Galilee.

At the end of Sunday, the bishops gathered at the Shepherd Hotel in Bethlehem for a reception hosted by the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Tourism.

According to Palestinian officials, the Israeli-occupied West Bank accounts for 70 percent of the religious pilgrimage sites yet visitors to the region spend 95 percent of their tourism money in Israel. (More information is available at http://www.travelpalestine.ps.)

"Many come to the Church of the Nativity" in Bethlehem to see the church and then get back on the bus to leave and "don't buy even a bottle of water," one official said.

On Monday the group heads for Ramallah, the de facto capital of the West Bank.

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January 10, 2009

Tough streets of the city

Lutheran bishops walked the crowded, littered and graffiti strewn streets of  the West Bank city of Hebron Saturday, seeing first hand the impact of an Israeli settlement in the heart of a Palestinian city.

The modern, sleek mid-rise building in the heart of the old city of Hebron stands ringed by Israeli Defense Forces personnel and lookout posts.

Streets of HebronIn the ancient streets below, shops become sparse the closer they are to the settlement of some 500 people.

Camped in the middle of 170,000 Palestinians, the complex highlights one of the biggest problems confronting the two sides: the expanding presence of Israelis in the occupied territory of the West Bank.

Bishops walk through the streets of HebronThe trip by bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.

On Saturday, shoppers jammed the streets just a few blocks for the heart of the old city. In the older section, the few shopkeepers open for business leaped from their chairs to offer scarves, jewelry, Palestinian memorabilia and handicrafts to the conspicuous out-of-towners, some of the few pedestrians on the narrow streets.

The visit to Hebron was arranged by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel. A unit of the World Council of Churches, the group keeps track of how Israel deals with Palestinians in territories it controls.

Graffiti on the streets of HebronJust past the shops the bishops toured the Abraham Mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs. It houses the purported remains of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and other Old Testament figures.

On Sunday, the group was to split up to attend worship in the various churches of the ELCJHL and spend time with members afterward.

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January 9, 2009

All quiet — sort of — in the church

The sometime raucous Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem was, well, quite a church Friday morning except for the spirited singing as Lutheran bishops from the U.S. and Canada held a communion service in a small chapel.

Thanks to the Roman Catholic Franciscans, leaders from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada filled a chapel the religious order controls a few steps from what some considered to be the tomb of Jesus.

The closed door to the main part of the church might have helped.

Worship in a chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Worship in a chapel at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson is on the left.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is run by a handful of Christian denominations that in some instances see themselves in competition for the site. Shoving matches occur occasionally, and the keys to the building are held by a Muslim family.

The 8 a.m. service found the normally bustling church virtually empty and the service went off without a hitch. Celebrants kept their vestments inconspicuous as they entered and left the chapel, so as not to draw attention from the other Christian sects.

A young Franciscan priest did come in through a back door to observe a portion of the eucharist, joining the bishops, spouses and staff singing "Dona nobis pacem."

Bishops visit the Mount of Olives
Lutheran bishops from the U.S. and Canada visit the Mount of Olives.

The group left immediately afterward for Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives. The Lutheran World Federation-owned facility sits atop the mount from where bishops could see a police observation balloon and helicopters scan the Old City of Jerusalem.

Security was tight on Friday as some Muslim leaders called for demonstrations following Friday prayers in opposition to the Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip. The group encountered no trouble reaching the hospital, or later when it was taken by bus to Bethlehem, which sits in the West Bank territory and on the opposite side of Israeli's controversial separation wall.

At the Mount of Olives, bishops were updated on the hospital's evolution into a specialties facility, particularly oncology. The 46-acre site will also be home to an $8.4 million housing project for Palestinian Christians once zoning approval is received from the Israeli government. Funding has been all but secured.

In Bethlehem, some bishops crossed back into the Israeli portion of Jerusalem and participated in Shabbat services at two synagogues and meals with member families.

The trip is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.

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January 8, 2009

Rocket casualty


Rockets fired into northern Israel Thursday wrecked plans by ELCA bishops and others to meet with some Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Still, bishops of the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada pressed on with their visit, laying a wreath at the Israeli memorial to Holocaust victims and conferring with the Jewish state's two chief rabbis.

The rocket attack in the early hours of Thursday threw the day off course. Several high-ranking Israeli leaders, including the president and foreign minister, canceled their time with the bishop.

 Bishops talking
Outside the memorial to the dead at the Yad Vashem, ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson, Floyd M. Schoenhals, bishop of the ELCA Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and Robert Smith of ELCA Global Mission , discuss what to do in light of rocket fire that canceled meetings with Israeli leaders.
As events settled down, private consultations with the ministers of the interior and tourism were held as planned.

After being given a special tour of the Yad Vashem memorial, Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the ELCA, National Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the ELCIC and Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and Holy Land placed the flowers at the memorial for the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II.

From there they held an abbreviated meeting with Israel's top rabbis, Yona Metzger of the Ashkenazi and Schlomo Amar of the Sephardi branches of Judaism.

Both rabbis devoted much of their address to explaining Israel's incursion into the Gaza strip as necessary to stop rocket attacks on civilians in the southern portion of the country.

 Bishop Hanson
ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson meets with rabbis Yona Metzger of the Ashkenazi and Schlomo Amar of the Sephardi branches of Judaism.

They mourned civilian deaths in Gaza, but said military leaders showed them evidence Hamas fighters were positioned in schools and other public institutions.

Hanson stressed the two North American church's "rejection of violence." He said the current conduct of the campaign by Israel raised just war theory questions, especially "proportionality and killing of innocents."

"If we can't have this kind of exchange," Hanson said, "... then fanatics will win."

Johnson urged the rabbis to "stay at the table" in discussions with other faiths over moral and ethical issues arising from the violence. She promised "our prayers for you at this very difficult time and our pledge of accompaniment."

Neither rabbi responded. They left immediately for another meeting.

The trip is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace. It runs through Jan. 13.

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January 7, 2009

A day in Jerusalem


Visiting bishops learned firsthand the ups and downs of life in Jerusalem Wednesday.

Leading clergy from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada started their day with a Eucharist in the starkly handsome Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the center of the Old City.

ServiceAcoustics in the 1898 sanctuary built by the German kaiser are exceptional. The bishops and staff did not hold back in their singing as part of their second day of a seven-day meeting in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The obvious joy from the service would soon dissipate as the group walked through the narrow, covered streets of the Old City for a rare tour by Christians of the El Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's most revered worship sites that rest atop the Temple Mount. The visit was arranged by Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein.

The group was turned away at the mosque by Israeli authorities after a short and frank verbal exchange. Israeli officials contacted group leaders to say the visit could occur later in the day. The deed was done, however, and the bishops moved on with their day.

Clerical leaders of the two North American churches are on a mission of accompaniment, awareness and advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

After lunch in Redeemer's courtyard — parts of which date from the 12th century — the bishops divided into groups for walking tours of the Old City. They visited churches and former mosques and synagogues of various kinds, witnessing the street life where Israelis, Palestinians and tourists mingle on streets some 2,000-plus years old.

The life in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza confronted them again in the evening during a presentation by a United Nations official on the walls surrounding the Palestinian areas and the Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

Then came testimony for peace and mutual understanding — not revenge — between the two sides from an Israeli whose 14-year-old daughter was killed by two Palestinian suicide bombers and a Palestinian whose 62-year-old father was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers. The bishops supported the pair with a long ovation and prayer with the laying on of hands.

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January 6, 2009

Gather at the river

Bishops from North America joined members of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Amman at the banks of the Jordan River to celebrate with a eucharist the blessing of a parcel overlooking the river given the church for a retreat center and worship facility.

The significance of the day was not lost on those gathered at one of the sites believed to be the spot where Jesus was baptized. It was Epiphany, which marks both the visit of the wise men to Jesus as a child as well as his baptism.

Service at the Jordan RiverThe crowd worshipped at a recently constructed covered grand stand at the very foot of the river. The Jordan River is reported to be remnant of river Jesus would have seen, having been greatly reduced in recent years by the siphoning of its water for irrigation and other uses. The shallow, narrow river is brownish green in color and exceedingly murky.

That didn't stop those gathered from celebrating the recent gift of Jordan's King Abdullah II of a sizable nearby plot of land for the buildings. A number of churches and centers of various faith traditions are under construction or planned in the area, once a military security zone between Jordan and Israel.

The moon-like surface of the site is the result of sediments deposited there eons ago when the adjacent Dead Sea covered a much larger area. It overlooks the river, the Israel-Jordan border and the city of Jericho.

Later in the day the small group of bishops from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada were joined by a majority of their fellow bishops in Jerusalem for a seven-day visit of the city and the West Bank through January 13.

The trip is to stress accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land , raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.

Presiding Bishops Mark S. Hanson of the ELCA and Susan C. Johnson of the ELCIC joined Bishop Munib A. Younan of ELCJHL in a private session with the king Tuesday morning. Details of their conversation were not released.

Leaders of the ELCA and ELCIC plan to meet with Israeli officials later this week to discuss the current fighting in the Gaza Strip, efforts to stop it and what can be done to reach a long-term peace accord between the Israelis and Palestinians.

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January 5, 2009

Meetings, mountains, delays

 
Monday was a day of official meetings, historic and breathtaking scenery and the end of an epic journey for ELCA bishops visiting the Middle East.

Mount Nebo, Jordan
Mount Nebo, Jordan

A delegation from the ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada met with the speaker of the Jordanian legislative body as well as leaders of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center.

The bishops are an advance party of a larger gathering of American and Canadian bishops Jan. 6-13 in Israel and the West Bank. They are on a mission of accompaniment, awareness and advocacy for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

Tuesday promises an even more significant talk. Jordanian King Abdullah II is scheduled to meet with Presiding Bishops Mark S. Hanson and Susan C. Johnson of the ELCA and ELCIC, respectively, and Bishop Munib A. Younan of ELCJHL in a private session.

Religious leaders meet in Jordan
Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land; Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Susan Johnson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; Nabil B. Haddad, Melchite priest; and Ahd al Fatah Salah, Jordanian Minister of Islamic Affairs

In talks with the religious leaders, Hanson, Johnson and the other bishops signed on to a 2008 document between Christians and Muslims in Jordan that urges respect for each others beliefs, prophets and holy books, as well as free access to all holy sites.

At a news conference in the evening, Hanson called for a more active role by the U.S. to end the fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier in the day a small group of  bishops went to Mount Nebo, from where the Bible says Moses viewed the promised land-today's Israel, Jordan and the West Bank — just before his death.

And at days end, Bishops Harold L. Usgaard of Southeastern Minnesota Synod and Duane C. Pederson of Northwest Synod of Wisconsin Synod arrived in Amman after two full days of travel. Their plane was delayed three hours leaving Minneapolis. They missed their connecting flight in New York to Jordan, so they spent the night in the airport. Once finally in Istanbul, they missed another connecting flight, delaying their eventual landing in Jordan by several hours. They showered, changed clothes, joined an evening reception and made the best of their adventure.

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January 4, 2009

Confirmation day

 With fighting in the Gaza Strip hovering ominously in the background, a small group of bishops from the ELCA turned to the more pleasant church business Sunday evening of witnessing the confirmation of five youths at a Lutheran church in Amman, Jordan.

The six bishops and spouses helped fill Good Shepherd Lutheran Church on the edge of city's downtown, easily spotted by with its lighted cross atop the church belltower.

The reception that followed in the church basement was as celebratory as they come: dance music and a lighted, spinning disco ball greeted the youth as they entered in line and were followed by a sheet cake featuring two lit roman candles. The smoke released for added atmosphere probably wasn't need since nearly every parishioners smoked cigarettes.

During the worship service, Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land thanked the bishops for coming to the Middle East "not only in times of joy" but also during periods of sorrow, and in the current situation, fighting between Israelis and Palestinians.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson pledged the denomination's support for the ELCJHL and said he hoped the change of presidential administrations in the United States would help bring "the conflicting sides to a lasting, two-state solution" of peace.

Hanson and the other bishops were to be joined by Presiding Bishop Susan C. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for a two-plus day visit to Jordan before hooking up with a majority of the bishops from both nations in Jerusalem and the West Bank Jan. 6-13. The bishops hope the trip will stress accompaniment with the ELCJHL, raise awareness of regional issues and boost advocacy for peace.

The day wasn't all serious. Using a sunny day to overcome jet lag following Saturday's flight, the bishops took in Petra, the ancient Roman ruin in southern Jordan. The sight of the delegation atop trotting donkeys lugging them up and out of the valley for more than a mile wasn't captured on film as the media travelling with the bishops struggled to stay upright on their own beasts of burden.

 

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January 3, 2009

The group has landed

 
What happened to Saturday? A small group of ELCA bishops, spouses and churchwide organization staffers boarded a jet in Chicago in the dark evening hours of Friday only to deplane some 12 hours later in the gathering black of Saturday night in Amman, Jordan.

The group was to link up later with a few other bishops as well as Presiding Bishops Mark S. Hanson of the ELCA and Susan C. Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for a two-plus day visit to Jordan before hooking up with  a majority of the bishops from both nations in Jerusalem.

The trip is part of a long planned journey to Jordan, Israel and the West Bank as part of the 2005 ELCA "Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine." Its goal is to build relationships with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land , foster awareness of the issues there and increase advocacy for a just peace in the region.

The group that flew direct from Chicago was greeted at the entrance of Hotel Jerusalem in downtown Amman by ELCJHL Bishop Munib A. Younan, his wife, daughter and a welcomed cold glass of sweet and unusually thick orange juice.

Fighting at the Gaza Strip along the Mediterranean Sea cast an air of uncertainty over the visit. Bishops decided earlier this week to proceed, as the trip had been delayed in the past. With reports of Israeli ground troops entering the Gaza Strip late Saturday, it is unknown what other security measures may be put in place that could change the agenda of the visit later in the week to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Ramallah, the largest city on the West Bank.

But first, sleep. Because at 6 a.m. Sunday, suffering from jet lag or not, the bishops and others get on the bus for a quick visit to the spectacular Roman ruins of Petra before worship and a reception in Amman later in the day.

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March 13, 2008

Draft social statement on sexuality now available


The ELCA draft social statement on human sexuality is now available.

The draft, as well as an executive summary, a timeline and answers to some questions are avaliable on the ELCA web site.

Responses to the draft will be received until Nov. 1. The draft will be revised into the proposed social statement on human sexuality in early 2009. According to the time line, the Church Council will then review and “act to recommend” the proposed social statement to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

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October 5, 2006

A tradition in music

You don’t spend more than six hours in church on a Saturday listening to organ recitals and a choir and orchestra concert without leaving with your head spinning just a bit.

The “Bach at Saint Peter’s Festival” in the Midtown section of New York City’s Manhattan on September 30 provided pure joy for lovers of Baroque music in a setting that literally stops people on the street to check out what’s going on. (Click here to read a review from the New York Times)

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church at 629 Lexington Ave. has offered the festival in late September-early October since 1993. “Not only is this a celebration of the great music of the Leipzig master,” according to the event’s program, “but for Saint Peter’s Church it is a celebration of the music of the greatest composer in the Lutheran tradition, a tradition which lives on today at St. Peter’s Church.”

Now comes the full disclosure—Thomas Schmidt, the parish’s director of music since 1990, is my brother-in-law. His sister (my wife) and I have attended the festivals several times over the years, each one seemingly better than the last.

St. Peter’s is located in the first and lower level of the Citicorp skyscraper. The modern sanctuary is viewable through two windows at sidewalk level, with the Klais organ in its free-standing oak case towering over the scene.

Bach’s works dominated the three organ recitals. The twist this year came in three Bach suites played on a marimba. The highlight of the day, however, was the evening performance of Bach’s Mass in B Minor. A 20-plus piece orchestra accompanied the choir, consisting of both professional and amateur voices.

Performance of the beautiful, challenging piece also marked a tradition in my wife’s family. Her maternal grandfather, George Weller, produced portions of the mass while serving in the 1920s and early 1930s in various musical capacities in Fort Wayne, Ind. A premature death prevented him from conducting the entire piece. Last Saturday his work was finished by a grandson.

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