The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


September 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 12, 2013

ELCA Church Council approves another seminary, university merger

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

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

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

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

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

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

In other business the council:

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

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April 8, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer resources are available on the synod's website.

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

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February 8, 2013

Lutheran church in Ethiopia severs relationship with ELCA

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

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

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

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

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

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

ELCA leaders 'very saddened'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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July 2, 2012

ELCA congregations face challenges after a week of natural disasters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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November 11, 2011

ELCA Board of Pensions trustees announce 2012 annuity adjustment

After its Nov. 4-6 meeting in Minneapolis, the ELCA Board of Pensions trustees announced a 3.8 percent reduction in 2012 payments to ELCA Participating Annuity members and a 2.1 percent interest crediting rate for bridge account holders in 2012.

The ELCA Participating Annuity is an immediate variable annuity that provides an income stream for life and income growth potential over the long term.

The 3.8 percent reduction reflects a guideline adopted earlier this year that takes into consideration the funded ratio (a comparison of net assets to future benefit obligations) of the ELCA Participating Annuity Investment Fund. Under the guideline, a funded ratio below 1.000 calls for annuity payments to be reduced. As of Sept. 30, the fund's assets were estimated to cover 88.5 cents of every dollar in future benefit obligations.

"We hold in tension the needs and desires of our annuitants for annuity payments now with the expectation that payments will be made for life," said Board of Pensions CEO and President Jeffrey Thiemann. "We have a great group of trustees and advisers that discharge this responsibility with great care."

Brad Joern, the board's director of products and services, said the 2012 adjustment reflected the fund's market performance. "To moderate the magnitude of annual adjustments, we follow a process that adjusted 2012 annuity payments by one-third of the difference between the 0.885 funded ratio and 1.000," he said.

Where a three-year recovery was originally announced in 2009, the new guideline now intends for adjustments to be more responsive to market performance, Joern said. The 2012 adjustment is smaller than the three years of 9 percent reductions previously announced, he said, adding that reductions are now likely to occur over a longer period of time.

In other news, the trustees approved a $49.4 million operating budget for 2012, up from a 2011 operating budget of $46.7 million. 

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July 28, 2011

New ELCA treasurer; new executives for Mission Advancement and ELCA Mission Investment Fund

(Editor's Note: This July 28 feature was updated August 4.)

During a July 28 meeting by conference call, the ELCA Church Council elected two staff members to new roles within the churchwide organization. ELCA controller Linda O. Norman will serve a six-year term as ELCA Treasurer, beginning Oct. 1. Current ELCA Treasurer Christina Jackson-Skelton will serve a four-year term as executive director of the ELCA Mission Advancement unit, beginning Sept. 1.

On Aug. 4, Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA trustees elected Eva Roby to a four-year term as new president of the Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA, beginning Sept. 1. 

Norman, an ELCA pastor and CPA, began serving the churchwide organization in 2006 as controller and then chief financial officer for the ELCA Foundation. In February 2011, she began serving as the ELCA controller. Norman has a bachelor's degree in business administration and a master's of science in accounting from Trinity University in San Antonio. In 2006, she earned her master of divinity degree from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, and began serving a part-time call at Bethel Lutheran Church in Chicago until 2009.

"Linda Norman's integrity and transparency will maintain the high confidence this church has in the office of treasurer," said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson. "Her experience as a pastor in an urban congregation grounds her work in a passion for God's mission, which we all share. Her wisdom makes her a great mentor and colleague. I look forward to serving with her."

Jackson-Skelton said of Norman, "I could not imagine turning over this work with more confidence than I have today in entrusting it to my colleague, Pastor Linda Norman. Linda's deep financial knowledge and integrity will ensure the highest level of fiscal management and careful stewardship of the gifts entrusted to us by this church."

Jackson-Skelton has served the ELCA churchwide organization since 1989, spending nine of those years as ELCA treasurer and president of the Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA. This past February, she was named interim director of the Mission Advancement unit. She will continue to serve on the Lutheran World Federation Council and Executive Committee, and to chair the LWF Finance and Administration Committee.

Jackson-Skelton is a graduate of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., as well as an MBA graduate of Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz. As a member of the design team that created the Mission Advancement unit, she "understands how bringing together marketing and public relations, planned giving, fundraising appeals, mission support and constituent services can increase awareness of and engagement in ELCA ministries," Hanson said. "She will share enthusiastically with donors the story of this church engaged in mission and the joy that comes with giving."

ELCA Vice President Carlos Pena, who chairs the ELCA Church Council, said Jackson-Skelton is "tremendously gifted, and as such will bring excellent skills to her new position: integrity, professionalism, clarity and knowledge." 

Roby, MIF executive vice president for administration since 2002, has a “unique combination of financial industry knowledge, ELCA-related experience and a passion to lead the organization in its mission to serve (this) church,” said Harold Mueller, MIF board president.

“In challenging economic times she will provide leadership marked by integrity, continuity and creativity,” Bishop Hanson said of Roby, a member of Bethel Lutheran Church, Chicago, Ill. In the last nine years the ELCA Mission Investment Fund has grown from $380 million to $640 million in assets, “with $450 million in loans now at work supporting ministries throughout the ELCA,” Jackson-Skelton said.

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November 12, 2010

ELCA pensions board: smaller reduction in 2011 annuities

Trustees of the ELCA Board of Pensions announced smaller-than-anticipated reductions in annuity payments for plan members in its Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund and in the interest crediting rate for bridge accounts.

At their Nov. 5-7 meeting, trustees reduced annuity payments for 2011 by 6 percent for plan members in the board's Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund and set the interest crediting rate for 2011 at -0.3 percent for bridge accounts.
In 2009 the trustees decided to reduce 2010 payments for members in the Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund by 9 percent, and announced they anticipated additional reductions of 9 percent for 2011 and 2012. The reductions were needed because the annuity and bridge fund suffered significant market losses in late 2008 and early 2009, resulting in a funding shortfall of as much as 39 percent in February 2009. To ease the reductions on plan members, the trustees decided to implement the reductions over a three-year period. Earlier in 2009 the Board of Pensions closed the Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund to new entrants.

While markets have produced more favorable investment results over the past 18 months, they remain volatile, said John G. Kapanke, ELCA Board of Pensions president. A funding gap still exists, and further reductions are anticipated to close that gap by the end of 2012, Kapanke told the trustees.

Before making the final decision on the 2011 annuity reductions, the trustees debated the size of the reduction for annuity payments and bridge accounts, given recent positive market gains.

Kapanke said he appreciated the discussion before the trustees made their decision, emphasizing that the Board of Pensions and the trustees were trying to make a judgment in the best interests of plan members.

He said that the decision is part of providing members with income for their lifetimes as the Board of Pensions works to restore the health of the Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund. Kapanke said he and Robert D. Berg, assistant to the president for church relations, had met with about 1,900 people in 27 synods in the past year to answer questions about the three-year annuity recovery plan.

David G. Adams, Board of Pensions vice president for products and services, told the trustees that the Board of Pensions has pointed out through its communications to members the "variable nature" of the annuity. For example, he said that, when fully-funded, it doesn't mean there won't be further decreases. "This is a participating annuity. There will be increases as well as decreases," he said.

James A. Justman, bishop of the ELCA East-Central Synod of Wisconsin, Appleton, said retired ELCA clergy and other professional staff are counting on the retirement funds. "We have to be in an atmosphere of carrying the burden on this one," he told the trustees and Board of Pensions staff. "As we think about the folks in our plan, they're counting on this. That's part of the 'spiritual' fiduciary responsibility we have." Justman serves as advisory bishop to the trustees.

In addition, the trustees made decisions about reopening the Participating Annuity Fund, without new bridge accounts, and delaying a second annuity fund offering. They approved a staff recommendation to authorize "reopening of the ELCA Participating Annuity Fund at a date to be determined by management," sometime in mid-2011. However, the trustees delayed launching a new second annuity fund option until a date to be determined, and asked that recommendations be brought to them when they meet March 10-13, 2011, in Chicago.

The trustees were told by staff that the delay in launching the second annuity fund option was caused by a delay in an overhaul of the Board Pensions' online systems and technology, aimed at streamlining customer service. The Board is working with a consultant to resolve the systems and technology difficulties, Kapanke said.

Kapanke told the trustees the delayed opening of the new fund was "very disappointing" but that it was positive development that the existing fund is being opened up next year to new entrants.

Other actions related to the trustees' work:

  • At its Nov. 12-14 meeting in Chicago, the ELCA Church Council is expected to consider a report and recommendations from an ad hoc committee it appointed to consult with the Board of Pensions to learn more about the decisions it made regarding the Participating Annuity and Bridge Fund. It asked the committee to explore ways to restore fund losses, increase payments to annuitants and explore ways to mitigate the adverse effects of fund losses.
  • Trustees approved amendments to the ELCA retirement, medical and dental, survivor benefits and disability benefits plans to allow congregations or qualified church-controlled organizations with "common religious bonds with the ELCA" -- such as the new North American Lutheran Church -- to sponsor members in the benefit plans. The amendments were sent for approval to the ELCA Church Council. David D. Swartling, ELCA secretary, told the trustees that the topic had been discussed by leaders of the churchwide organization and the Board of Pensions. He said it had been determined to open the plans to qualified non-ELCA congregations or churches. The benefit plans that are offered will be exactly the same as plans offered to ELCA plan members.
  • Kapanke told the trustees that direct rollovers of retirement funds out of the Board of Pensions totaled $47.5 million through the third quarter of 2010, compared to $15.3 million for 2009. The reason for the increase in 2010 is the absence of the availability of an annuity product, and removal of withdrawal limits for surviving spouses and divorced spouses, Kapanke said.
  • Trustees approved a $46.8 million operating budget for the Board of Pensions for 2011, up from about $45.3 million in actual and forecasted expenses this year.
  • Trustees learned that 70.3 percent of 12,306 eligible plan members took the Board of Pensions' online health-risk assessment in 2010, up from 64.9 percent in 2009.

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October 29, 2010

After Oct. 25 tsunami, ELCA will send up to $46,280 in relief

The ELCA announced plans to send up to $46,280 for immediate relief to communities affected by the Oct. 25 tsunami that struck the Mentawai Islands off of Sumatra's western coast. The ELCA is responding to a specific request for funds from a relief agency in the area, Nommensen (Lutheran) University Center for Disaster Risk Management, said Megan Bradfield, ELCA associate director for international development and disaster response.

At least 340 people died and hundreds are reported missing as a result of the 10-foot tsunami, spawned by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake. The Indonesian government also reported that about 20,000 people were displaced by the tsunami.
According to Indonesian disaster officials, at least 10 villages on the Mentawai Islands, known as a destination for surfers, were swept away by the tsunami. Among the villages hardest hit were Sikakap, Tikako and Malakop, said Franklin Ishida, ELCA director for Asia and the Pacific.

The Nommensen University Center for Disaster Risk Management was born after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Bradfield said. That disaster caused at least 230,000 deaths in 14 countries, as well as significant coastal destruction throughout the Indian Ocean region.

Bradfield said the ELCA is working alongside 12 Lutheran churches in Indonesia, the Lutheran World Federation, Lutheran World Relief and Australian Lutheran World Service to provide "quick and much-needed relief to communities underserved during times of disaster."

The Nommensen University Center is the only nongovernmental organization based in Sikakap, Ishida said. The center was stationed there to help people rebuild after the 2004 tsunami and prepare for and mitigate similar future disasters. The center is works in collaboration with the Protestant Christian Church in Mentawai (a Lutheran church body) to respond to people affected by the tsunami, he said. Church members resided in most of the affected villages, Ishida said.

The center is working with the Protestant Christian Church in Mentawai to distribute  food, kitchen supplies, plastic sheeting, blankets, hygiene kits and other items to   nearly 200 families in the worst affected households, Ishida said. Eventually the center expects to assist as many as 500 families.

For more information or to give, visit the ELCA website.

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February 28, 2010

Lutherans in Chile report significant earthquake damage

Earthquake damage is said to be extensive in Santiago and Concepcion following the Feb. 27 severe earthquake in central Chile, according to Karen Anderson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Global Mission staff in Santiago.

The Feb. 27 earthquake measured 8.8 on the Richter scale. The Chilean government has reported at least 147 deaths in all of the country. A tsunami warning was issued for the entire Pacific basin as a result of the earthquake, including Hawaii and U.S. territories such as Guam and American Samoa.

According to news reports in Chile, the earthquake damaged 1.5 million homes, 500,000 "very seriously," Anderson wrote in an e-mail to the ELCA News Service . Phone service was not available.

"Many homes, especially in older parts of Santiago, were destroyed," she wrote. The international airport there suffered "major damage" and is closed, Anderson wrote.

"We are all still waiting to hear news from Concepcion. There is very little communication with people in Concepcion -- the IELCH (Iglesia Evangelica Luterana en Chile or Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile) has congregations there," Anderson wrote. The IELCH is a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

Anderson also works with another ELCA partner organization, Educacion Popular en Salud (Popular Education in Health Foundation or EPES), which promotes quality and fairness in health care for the poor, and works to establish and train community health groups.

She said most EPES staff is accounted for in Santiago. "EPES has a center in Concepcion. We have not been able to communicate with anyone on our staff in Concepcion — led by Dr. Lautaro Lopez — or any of the health promoters. We are hoping and praying they are okay. The damage reported on the news is devastating — entire buildings collapsed, the old bridge completely collapsed, and so on. The images are very sad and frightening," Anderson wrote.

She wrote she had spoken with Gloria Rojas, IELCH president. Rojas has been in contact with most of the other pastors of the IELCH and reported that it appeared no one has suffered personal injuries.

The weekend is the last of the summer in Chile, Anderson wrote. "At this point, the authorities are recommending that people stay close to home. EPES will be meeting with health promoters as soon as possible to see what we need to do to help people in the communities we work in," she added.

There was some structural damage to Lutheran church buildings in Santiago, Chile's capital, according to Martin Junge, LWF general secretary-elect. Junge, a Chilean, reported that communication with congregations in Concepcion has been "extremely difficult," and it has not been possible to reach some Lutheran pastors in the area by telephone.

On behalf of the LWF, Junge expressed solidarity with companions in Chile. The LWF alerted the Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance to evaluate the needs of people in the coming days. At the moment, however, it is difficult to assess what those needs may be, reported Junge. The ACT Alliance is made up of churches and related agencies working together in disaster response and development. It is based in Geneva with the LWF. The ELCA is a member of the LWF.

More information will be shared as channels of communication are restored, said Rojas.

In a Feb. 27 pastoral letter Rojas wrote that the members of IELCH have lifted in prayer the families of those that have perished in the earthquake. "Receive love, comfort and strength in this time of difficulty, understanding the full conviction that we are not alone in this journey. God is with us," she wrote.

Financial contributions to support earthquake relief efforts in Chile can be made at the ELCA Web site.

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November 15, 2007

ELCA Church Council elects leaders, acts on variety of proposals

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America elected four churchwide leaders, heard a report from the ELCA presiding bishop , acted on proposals regarding social policy on sponsorship of legal gaming by American Indian tribes, a proposed "Lutheran Malaria Initiative," and received an implementation plan for a churchwide mission funding effort.

The Church Council is the ELCA 's board of directors and serves as the legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies. The council met here Nov. 9-11. Assemblies are held every other year; the next is Aug. 17-23, 2009, in Minneapolis.

The council elected two new churchwide executives. Wyvetta Bullock was elected to a six-year term as executive for administration, Office of the Presiding Bishop , succeeding Charles S. Miller, who retired Oct. 31. The council elected Stephen P. Bouman, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod , to a four-year term as executive director, Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission , effective Jan. 1, 2008. He will succeed the Richard A. Magnus, who will retire Dec. 31.

It elected Christina Jackson-Skelton to a second six-year term as ELCA treasurer . As treasurer she serves as one of the four officers of the church and as a member of the council's executive committee. Her new term will begin Feb. 1. The council re-elected Rafael Malpica Padilla as executive director of ELCA Global Mission . The former bishop of the ELCA Caribbean Synod was elected in 2003 to his first four-year appointment to the position. His new term began Aug. 1.

ELCA presiding bishop discusses leadership, church challenges

Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop , who began his second six-year term Nov. 1, asked the 37-member council to join with him in "shared leadership" for the ELCA . One-third of the council members were attending their first meeting after their election at the 2007 Churchwide Assembly .

Hanson also discussed other topics:

• "Interreligious relationships are absolutely critical," Hanson said. A "Lutheran-Muslim Consultative Panel" is being formed, he said.

• Hanson identified four challenges for the ELCA: building trust throughout the church, creating awareness by telling the ELCA's "story," raising expectations for what the Holy Spirit is doing, and lowering anxiety about sexuality as the church prepares a social statement on human sexuality for consideration at the 2009 ELCA assembly .

"We cannot let that social statement define solely the life and work of this church or our leadership," Hanson told the council. "That's going to take shared leadership. If we become so preoccupied with 2009, we are conveying a message that sexuality defines this church, and (because of) sexuality, this church could potentially be divided. Frankly, that's heresy. That's absolute heresy. The gospel of Jesus Christ defines this church."

"I think this (the social statement) is hugely important work for us in these next two years. I'm committed to it, but I will not let it solely define my leadership of this church, because I think that's not responsible," he said.

Council addresses several churchwide matters

• The council expressed gratitude for a plan to implement recommendations of the church's Blue Ribbon Committee on Mission Funding. The council will receive regular progress reports on the plan, which will include one-on-one visits among ELCA leaders to discuss the importance of tithing.

• The council received the report of a consultation, Sept. 30-Oct. 1 in Tampa, Fla., on the church's response to disasters. Council members voted to reaffirm guiding principles for ELCA disaster response as identified by the consultation. The council noted that the consultation reached areas of general consensus and raised topics to be addressed at future consultations. A report and specific recommendations in response to a variety of concerns raised by resolutions from the ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod and ELCA Southeastern Synod is to be presented at the November 2008 council meeting.

• The council approved an "ELCA Social Policy Resolution on the Sponsorship of Legal Gaming by American Indian Tribes." It reaffirmed concerns the ELCA has with gambling, including opposition to lotteries and other state-sponsored gambling; reaffirmed the ELCA's respect for the inherent sovereignty of American Indian tribes and Alaska Native peoples; strongly encouraged the exercise of social responsibility by all
parties involved; and the ELCA reaffirmed the importance of building positive and supportive relationships with North American Indians and Alaskan Natives, and recommitted itself to promoting dialogue and moral deliberation regarding Indian gaming and other American Indian concerns.

• Following a lengthy discussion the council authorized churchwide staff, coordinated by the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop , to develop, in partnership with Lutheran World Relief, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the United Nations (U.N.) Foundation , a proposal for a possible "Lutheran Malaria Initiative." It authorized the council's executive committee to monitor and take action "relating to a possible malaria appeal and program, including the possible receipt of funding from the U.N. Foundation." The council asked the presiding bishop to seek input from ELCA churchwide leaders, and asked that information be shared so that council members would have a chance to offer input before any decisions are made. LWR is developing the initiative, intended to be an effort to comprehensively address and work to contain malaria. LWR and its partners hope to raise $75 million for the initiative over five years.

• The council received an update on planning for the ELCA initiative "Book of Faith ," in which church members engage the Bible with Lutheran principles of reading Scripture, centering on the witness to Christ crucified and resurrected. Several council members related personal stories of how Bible reading has influenced them.

• David D. Swartling gave his first report to the council as ELCA secretary . In August the ELCA Churchwide Assembly elected Swartling, who left his law practice in Seattle. He described his vision of the Office of the Secretar y as "the oil in the engine of the ELCA." He said his future reports will include "parliamentary tips."

• The council approved an initial 2008 fiscal year current fund spending authorization for the churchwide organization of $83 million. It approved an initial World Hunger spending authorization of $19.25 million for the same period. It also asked the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop to give "particular consideration" to grants to ELCA campus ministries if 2007 income is anticipated to exceed expenses.

Council elects new member, others to boards and committees

The council elected a number of people to fill vacancies on ELCA boards, committees and the Church Council. The year in which the term ends is in parentheses:

ELCA Church Council:

• Norene A. Smith, Milwaukee (2009)

Program Committee, ELCA Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission :

• Robert W. Fritch, Jamaica, N.Y. (2009)

• Kristine L. Carlson, Minneapolis (2011)

• Barbara R. Dowdy, Richmond, Va. (2011)

Program Committee, ELCA Vocation and Education :

• Heidi M. Murken, Grafton, Wis. (2011)


Advisory Committee, The Lutheran :

• Pamela Russell, Seattle (2013)

Board of Trustees, ELCA Board of Pensions :

• Ingrid S. Stafford, Evanston, Ill. (2011)

•Bruce D. George, Westborough, Mass. (2011)

ELCA Committee on Discipline:

•Kathryn E. Baerwald, Washington, D.C. (2009)

ELCA Committee of Hearing Officers:

• Charles H. Maahs, Olathe, Kan. (2013)
• Paul J. Blom, Houston (2013)
• Kevin D. Anderson, Gaithersburg, Md. (2013)


The council ratified the appointment of Kathleen M. Rehl, Tampa, Fla., to fill a vacancy on the board of trustees of the Endowment Fund of the ELCA and board of advisors of the ELCA Foundation .

Also: Learn more about the ELCA Church Council at the ELCA Web site .

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August 11, 2007

2007 Churchwide Assembly
Assembly adopts 21 changes to constitution, bylaws

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Churchwide Assembly Aug. 11 adopted 21 amendments to the church body's Constitution and Bylaws -- 20 by a wide margin in an "en bloc" recommendation and one separately.

The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting in Chicago Aug. 6 to 11 at Navy Pier's Festival Hall. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,069 ELCA voting members.

The recommendation pulled from en bloc consideration is to article 17.5 of the Constitution and Bylaws. The only discussion on that recommendation came from Kevin Bardonner, a voting member from Greenwood, Ind., who had requested its removal from the en bloc recommendation; and a response to his concern from ELCA Treasurer Christina Jackson-Skelton.

That amendment essentially adds a listing of the types of church-related entities that are provided "investment opportunities" through the Mission Investment Fund of the ELCA.

Bardonner questioned whether congregations would still be seen as the primary focus of investments and loans if the other groups also were listed.

Jackson-Skelton replied that the rationale for adding those groups has to do with the need for including a "wide range" of investment opportunities and investors via the MIF.

The voting members then adopted the separate recommendation by a margin of 903 to 71.

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