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September 15, 2015

ELCA Malaria Campaign hits $15 million goal

CHICAGO (ELCA) – The 3.8 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is celebrating a significant milestone in reaching a five-year goal of raising $15 million for the ELCA Malaria Campaign.

Since the start of the campaign, ELCA members and others have joined with Lutheran companion churches and partners in 13 African countries to support programs designed to save people’s lives from malaria — a preventable and treatable disease — by providing mosquito nets, insecticides, medication, health care services, education and more.

As a result of campaign contributions, malaria programs in 13 African countries have been fully funded. Millions of community members were educated about the disease, nearly 10,000 local volunteers were trained on disease prevention and treatment methods, 50,000 nets were distributed, 32,000 pregnant women received prevention medication and more. Although the campaign’s financial goal has been met, the ELCA will continue its anti-malaria work post 2015 through ELCA World Hunger.

“We began the ELCA Malaria Campaign in the depths of the Great Recession and at a time of considerable turmoil in this church. The goal of raising $15 million might have sounded improbable at the time, but our people responded generously,” said the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop. “We are honored to accompany our global companions in the Lutheran churches in Africa in their work to make malaria history.”

“I really thank God Almighty for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Lutheran Communion in South Africa” (LUCSA), said Shoni Ngobeni, a regional malaria coordinator with LUCSA. “They gave me an opportunity to be the feet of Jesus in the southern African region. I travel to the six countries, where I see member churches are capacitated to respond to the burden caused by malaria within the hard to reach areas,” she said.

“I learnt a lot of lessons from the church [and its] program, especially on sustainable livelihood. I have seen ordinary women turn into embracing the entrepreneurial spirit and becoming successful business women,” said Ngobeni.

LUCSA is a sub-regional expression of The Lutheran World Federation — a global communion of 144 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.

The act of generosity

“Congratulations, church! We celebrate the generosity of ELCA Lutherans who have worked together to give $15 million to the fight against malaria,” said Jessica Nipp Hacker, director for donor relations and donor stewardship, ELCA Mission Advancement.

“The success of the ELCA Malaria Campaign demonstrates the commitment of ELCA members to share the gospel with their actions — the act of generosity. Supporting malaria work is one of the concrete ways in which we roll up our sleeves and get to work,” she said.

“In the past five years, malaria has become a household word in the ELCA, even among our youngest members. Children, inspired by the message that no child should die of a disease that is preventable and treatable, have been among the most vocal and generous advocates of the ELCA Malaria Campaign.

“The success of the ELCA Malaria Campaign was not due to the generosity of a few individuals, but rather the commitment of a whole church,” said Nipp Hacker. “We can be proud of what ELCA members, hand-in-hand with our Lutheran sisters and brothers in Africa, have contributed — and will continue to contribute — to the global movement against malaria. We have made a difference for children, for families, for communities. Lives have been changed, lives have been saved, thanks to the good work of Lutheran malaria programs in Africa.”

In a Sept. 15 email to ELCA members announcing the campaign goal Christina Jackson-Skelton, executive director for ELCA Mission Advancement, wrote that the ELCA Malaria Campaign “is just one of 10 priorities” for the ELCA’s first-ever comprehensive campaign, Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA.”

“While we’ve hit our $15 million goal for the ELCA Malaria Campaign, there are still many more ministries that need support. Through this campaign, we hope to raise $198 million by Jan. 31, 2019, to help our church grow our communities of faith, form new leaders, welcome our neighbors, confront hunger and poverty, accompany our global churches and so much more,” said Jackson-Skelton.

Although the goal was to raise $15 million by Jan., 31, 2016, the ELCA “completed that goal five months early,” said the Rev. Daniel Rift, director for ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Response.

“But the challenge continues,” said Rift. “Expanded project work to address malaria in Africa will be accomplished by additional gifts to the ELCA Malaria Campaign until the original goal date. After that similar work to address malaria in Africa and around the world will continue through contributions to ELCA World Hunger.”

The work of ELCA companion churches, partners

Working alongside governments, international agencies and local organizations, the malaria programs led by ELCA companion churches and Lutheran partners “have been a player in making a contribution to the successes achieved globally against malaria since 2000,” said Rebecca Duerst, program director for global health, ELCA Global Mission.

“Churches are often present where other organizations are not, and, therefore, have a role to play in reducing the burden of malaria by reaching and working with people who live in communities that might not otherwise be reached through the government or other malaria programs. The malaria programs implemented by companion churches and partners have taken up this call, working with and through communities in remote areas,” she said.

Duerst said that faith groups are often engaged in various types of health ministries, from health facilities to community-based primary health care, “as well as engaging in the response to HIV and AIDS, particularly through life-affirming ministries with people living with HIV and AIDS. Malaria also fits in within this mission of the church, seeking to promote physical as well as holistic health more broadly.”

Duerst said the malaria programs implemented by companion churches and partners “also take into account the underlying causes of poor health, first among them poverty. Through livelihoods projects, people have empowered themselves to be better equipped to cope with the costs associated with being able to acquire the resources required to prevent malaria and access care when it needed.”

Information about the ELCA Malaria Campaign is available at www.ELCA.org/malaria and Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA at www.ELCA.org/campaign.

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May 13, 2015

ELCA partners continue assessments after second earthquake strikes Nepal

A second earthquake struck May 12 in Nepal, with its epicenter approximately 40 miles northeast of Kathmandu. Partners of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) there “are conducting assessments to determine how original response plans will expand to address new needs,” said Vitaly Vorona, program director for ELCA Lutheran Disaster Response (international). “Our response and projects will grow while we remain committed to providing assistance to those who need it most,” he said.

Through Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA members had allocated an initial $500,000 to support ELCA partners engaged in emergency assistance following the April 25 earthquake that struck 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu. The funds were sent to ACT Alliance—$200,000 allocated to The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) based in Geneva, and $200,000 to Lutheran World Relief based in Baltimore. Separately the ELCA had allocated an initial $100,000 to the United Mission to Nepal.

Staff members of the LWF World Service in Kathmandu and elsewhere in the country are safe and will resume relief activities. The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. The ELCA is the only U.S. member church of the communion. Active in Nepal since 1984, the communion began an immediate large-scale emergency response in and around Kathmandu after the first earthquake struck. ELCA funds will support the communion’s establishment of shelters and camps and the distribution of clean water, food, sanitation supplies and more in several districts in the Kathmandu Valley. The LWF is the lead agency for ACT Alliance and has been working directly with the Nepalese government.

Information about Lutheran Disaster Response is available at http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Relief-and-Development/Lutheran-Disaster-Response.

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May 12, 2015

Liberia is Ebola-free

By Linda Johnson Seyenkulo, ELCA missionary

Liberia is Ebola-free. Hallelujah! In Liberia and around the world we are celebrating that the World Health Organization declared the country Ebola-free.

The announcement came on Saturday, May 9; it had been 42 consecutive days with no reported cases of Ebola in Liberia. People are rushing to celebrate, but while Monday, May 11, was declared a holiday to celebrate, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia said there can be no complete celebration until the neighboring countries of Sierra Leone and Guinea are also Ebola-free. Both of those countries have each had a few cases during the past week.

I have a close relationship to Liberia. I am an ELCA missionary, called to teach church leaders in Liberia. I am married to the bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. Our family is in Liberia, many friends are in Liberia and the Lutheran Church in Liberia is my second church home (right after the ELCA).

The Ebola epidemic has been uppermost in my mind for a year. I still find it amazing that so many people in West Africa could die and with so little attention in the West. While people were dying by the hundreds in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, it barely made the press in the U.S. until a man came from Liberia to the U.S. and died there. Then it became an important story.

Here are a few things you may not have heard: people died or got seriously sick from lack of medical attention because hospitals were not treating fevers (imagine that); an already overtaxed medical system with few resources was overwhelmed and became more so when staff died; children were not in schools, which were closed; people could not go to work and things were shut down; economic development came to a standstill; and the list goes on and on.

Curran Hospital, a Lutheran institution located in a region where Ebola was rampant, stayed open and treated patients throughout the epidemic. Lutheran Church in Liberia staff and pastors continued to minister with families and communities where Ebola had taken a toll. They were present when others were not. The Lutheran Church in Liberia—in partnership with the ELCA and other churches—has been able to provide food and school scholarships to communities that were hit hard by Ebola.

Today we are able to announce Liberia as Ebola-free. This deadly disease has been halted due to the hard work of Liberian citizens, including young people working as community organizers, the Liberian government, local churches and partners from around the world.

While we celebrate, let us remember that aid from the ELCA, other churches across the world and other organizations must continue as Liberia rebuilds and strengthens its medical system.

As we celebrate, we give thanks for the lives of those medical personnel who died of Ebola while caring for the sick at Phebe Hospital, the other Lutheran institution in Liberia. While they are just a few of those who died, both in the Lutheran Church in Liberia and the rest of the country, let’s name them and celebrate their lives of service in the care of the sick in Liberia.

Ms. N. Friencielia Kollie                                   Registered nurse

Mr. J. Otino Garpu                                          Registered nurse

Ms. Joenpu T. Loweal                                     BSN/Registered nurse

Ms. Nancy T. Sackie                                       Physician assistant

Ms. Alice Passewe                                          Licensed practical nurse/assistant

Ms. Kou T. Gbeahn                                        Nurse’s aid

Mr. Amos Kollie                                             Ambulance driver

Mr. Stephen T. Paye                                      Ambulance driver

Liberia is Ebola-free. We celebrate and we grieve. We thank God that Liberia is Ebola-free.

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January 9, 2015

Horner named president of Midland University

Jody Horner was named president of Midland University, Fremont, Neb., effective Feb. 1. She is the fifth woman to lead an ELCA college or university. Horner succeeds Benjamin Sasse, who was elected to Congress last November.

Previously she was president of the Wichita, Kan.-based Cargill Meat Solutions and Cargill Case Ready, where she championed the launch of the Cargill Innovation Center, a $15 million collaboration among food scientists, microbiologists and culinary teams. A lifelong Lutheran, she has served on the board of regents for St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minn., her alma mater. She helped develop a new strategic plan for St. Olaf and leads a task force charged with finding ways to help reduce student debt.

Horner “rose to the top of an unbelievably qualified pool of applicants, not only for her success leading blue-chip enterprises through impressive growth, but also for her values-based service to her community as a mentor and board member of a Lutheran college,” said Gary Perkins, Midland board chair.

Horner has experience in managing college recruiting at Cargill toward finding better ways to connect students with employers at graduation. She also serves as board chair of the nation’s second largest Big Brothers Big Sisters agency.

“I am delighted to steward an institution with the proud heritage and bright future of Midland University,” Horner said. “I look forward to furthering the momentum that Midland has achieved under the leadership of President Sasse.”

Perkins added: “Jody is prepared to lead our fantastic team of faculty, staff and students in writing the next chapter in the Midland story.” 

Horner has a bachelor of arts degree in economics from St. Olaf and a master of business administration from the University of Minnesota—Carlson School of Management, Minneapolis.

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December 9, 2014

Williams is Muhlenberg College president-elect

Businessman and entrepreneur John I. Williams Jr. was named president of Muhlenberg College, an ELCA-affiliated college in Allentown, Pa., effective July 1.

Williams will be the first African-American to serve as president of one of the ELCA’s 26 colleges and universities, said Mark N. Wilhelm, ELCA director for schools, colleges and universities. Appointed by a unanimous vote of Muhlenberg’s board of trustees, he replaces Randy Helm, who is stepping down after 12 years.

“I am drawn to the opportunity to lead Muhlenberg first by my deep passion for the liberal arts, the performing arts, pre-professional programs and the power of transformational learning more broadly,” Williams said in a statement to the search committee. “Alumni of liberal arts colleges number disproportionately among the nation and the world’s leaders. The quality of mind nurtured at Muhlenberg and other fine, liberal arts colleges—promoting close collaboration between students and faculty in a residential setting—is more likely to confront future challenges in a nuanced and conceptually integrated manner that will lead to wiser decisions. Our nation and our world have never needed graduates of liberal arts colleges more than now.”

Williams has a bachelor of arts in economics from Amherst College, Amherst, Mass.; a juris doctor from Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Mass.; and a master of business administration from Harvard Business School.

He was the first person of color hired by Boston-based Bain and Company, and left five years later to co-launch Softbridge Microsystems. He was vice president of strategic planning at American Express, where he led the U.S. Platinum Card business and the U.S. Consumer Travel Network. He left American Express in 1996 to become CEO of Biztravel.com. Since 2000, he has led a number of entrepreneurial ventures and has worked with several colleges, universities and other educational institutions to help guide their strategy development in the face of a changing environment. He has also served for the past four years as an expert-in-residence at Harvard’s Innovation Lab, mentoring students from all across the university.

Williams and his wife, Diane, have three adult children and one grandchild.

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December 5, 2014

Churchwide protest and prayer vigil

December 5 Vigil

Photo credit: Michael Watson

As waves of protests over racial injustice blanketed the nation in early December, some ELCA churchwide staff gathered Friday, Dec. 5 just before noon for a prayer vigil/peaceful demonstration in front of the churchwide building in Chicago.

Lying on the grass as a way to bring attention to homicides committed by police officers, participants called out dozens of names of people killed by police “as a result of the color of their skin,” said a Twitter post from vigil organizer and ELCA Youth Gathering administrative assistant Natalie Young. Participants spent the rest of the lunch hour discussing personal experiences, the ELCA criminal justice social statement and more.


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September 25, 2014

ELCA sends $100,000 to help contain Ebola

In an effort to help contain the Ebola outbreak in Africa, provide food assistance and more, the ELCA committed an initial $100,000 Sept. 25 to support disaster response efforts of partners and Lutheran companion churches there.

The Lutheran Church in Liberia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, for example, have asked the ELCA for assistance in containing the outbreak, distributing food, shipping personal protective equipment, training health-care workers, offering education about prevention, and completing an isolation unit at Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing in Monrovia, Liberia.

Through Lutheran Disaster Response, the following allocations are underway:

  • $25,000 to the Lutheran Church in Liberia, which is providing food assistance to nearly 1,000 households in six territorial areas. The assistance includes a month’s supply of oil, rice and fish per household.
  • $15,000 to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone, which is overseeing the distribution of oil, rice and fish to 3,000 individuals.
  • $50,000 to ACT Alliance (working through Lutheran Development Service in Liberia), which is raising awareness and sharing messages about Ebola symptoms and prevention methods to 4,500 individuals (2,000 males and 2,500 females) in Liberia. Lutheran Development Service hired a contractor to ensure that the isolation center being constructed at Phebe Hospital and School of Nursing meets World Health Organization standards.

This past summer, at the request of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, $10,000 was given to Global Health Ministries to help cover air-freight costs to ship personal protective equipment to Monrovia. Global Health Ministries provides medical supplies and funding for health-care programs in Lutheran churches in 20 countries.

Speaking of the Ebola crisis, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton remembered: “South African Presiding Bishop N.P. Phaswana once said that ‘if we are all part of the body of Christ and if one part of the body is suffering from HIV and AIDS, then we must say that the body of Christ is HIV positive.’ ”

This observation, Eaton said, "brought home to me the realization that what happens to one part of the church is not something distant or separate from our (ELCA) part of the church. This is true now about the Ebola crisis. St. Paul tells us, ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it’ (1 Corinthians 12:26). But we are not without hope. God has given us all that we need to contain and overcome this crisis. It is up to the whole body to respond. The second part of 1 Corinthians 12:26 is ‘… if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.’ ”

Needs go beyond medical care, equipment
“We need food,” said D. Jensen Seyenkulo, bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. “There is a saying [here] now: ‘If we don’t die of Ebola, we will die of starvation.’ ”

Andrea Walker, ELCA area program director for West Africa, said ELCA Global Mission staff have had regular communications with church companions in Liberia and Sierra Leone since the outbreak began early this year.

“We have listened to the stories of loss from Bishop Thomas Barnett of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone and Bishop D. Jensen Seyenkulo of the Lutheran Church in Liberia," Walker said. "Throughout these conversations, an ever-present faith in Jesus the Christ has been evident. In this listening, we have heard their needs and endeavored to respond through prayer, shipments of personal protective equipment and grants for food security.

“As church together, we have worked with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone and Lutheran Church of Liberia and its companion synods — ELCA Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod and ELCA Upper Susquehanna Synod — to coordinate responses.”

Calling the Ebola outbreak truly unprecedented, Rebecca Duerst, ELCA program director for global health, said, “The outbreak is not only causing an extraordinary number of deaths [from Ebola], but also from other treatable diseases [like] childbirth and starvation.

“We have heard a multitude of reasons [as to] why the virus has spread so rapidly — the slow international response, the already-weak health-care systems whose capacities were quickly overwhelmed, the relatively recent civil conflicts and lingering mistrust of government, the emergence of the disease in a new region and its presence in densely populated urban centers, the lack of a vaccine and cure, an insufficient supply of personal protective equipment and other materials, the absence of health workers due to fear of the virus and more.

“[What is] sometimes left off this list is the desire to show love for friends and families, both in life, as those who have been infected fight the disease, and in death, as families prepare to respectfully say goodbye.”

Complications from the Ebola outbreak have expanded beyond those directly related to the disease.

“There are really two stories here,” said Daniel Rift, director for the ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal. “One is the immediate need and response. But the second is about the long-term commitment and the difference it makes that so many generously support the church’s efforts to address poverty, hunger and health, year in and year out, through the ELCA.

“When a situation like this arises, the importance of the church’s commitment to be present in a community, with ministry of health and hunger, become clear. It is because of this ongoing work that the ELCA is able to confidently encourage support through health centers and programs in Liberia and Sierra Leone. These churches have experience, through good times and difficult days, to provide food and build for sustainability. And it is our privilege to stand with them now as they work in this most difficult situation.”

Rift expressed gratitude for ELCA members who are responding to the Ebola appeal. That appeal is “critical work” that “builds on the capacity that has been founded and can only be sustained by gifts to ELCA World Hunger and through benevolence support of the church,” he said.

In an ELCA video,  Seyenkulo also thanks ELCA members for their contributions and prayers. “We feel the impact you are making just by your prayers,” he said. 


To help:
Click here to learn more about the ELCA’s response.

Give. Gifts to support this church’s efforts will be used 100 percent to assist those impacted by the outbreak.

Pray. Join other Lutheran World Federation churches in praying Sunday, Sept. 28, “for churches and communities affected by the Ebola crisis in Central and West Africa.” Click here to download prayer intercessions for that day.

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September 9, 2014

Lutheran hospital documentary airs Sept. 14

Sanctuary: Healing in a Holy Land, a documentary about a Lutheran hospital in Jerusalem, will be televised in Chicago on Sunday, Sept. 14, on ABC-7 at 11:30 a.m. The full program will be available on YouTube and at www.GCBM.org immediately after the television event.

Throughout the deadly armed conflict between Israel and Hamas during the summer of 2014, Augusta Victoria Hospital, a Lutheran World Federation institution, continued to serve Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, doing so in partnership with the U.N. The Lutheran hospital is a major medical center for Palestinian refugees. Other LWF-related ministries in the Holy Land include a vocational training program and the LWF Mount of Olives Sports Field.

The documentary’s producers, Greater Chicago Broadcast Ministries and Tim Frakes Productions, say this half-hour journey to Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives will bring you stories of faith, courage and healing in the Holy Land and challenge what you think about your politics and your faith. 

View an online promo at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bTeuBntMZI

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August 18, 2014

Eaton calls for prayer, peace after Missouri shooting

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton called for prayer and peace after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., triggered outrage in that city and across the country. 

“Throughout the gospels, Jesus reached out to the ‘others,’ those whom society deemed utterly foreign. We are at greatest risk when we divide into ‘us’ and ‘them.’ Then we are unable to see each other's humanity,” Eaton said. “In Christ there is no ‘them,’ not Michael Brown, not the community, not the police. All are one. All are ‘us’ and all are Christ's.

“We pray that peace will come to Ferguson and the Brown family. Peace is founded on the knowledge that in Christ, there is no ‘other,’ only brothers and sisters."

In an effort to bring the community together, Rick Brenton, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Ferguson, said thousands of residents gathered for a peace march Aug. 14.

“We came together to march and reclaim the streets,” Brenton said. “Somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 people marched. Clergy from all over the city, from every denomination, creed and origin, came together along with youth and others to peacefully protest.

"We had also delivered food and toiletries items to residents of the Canfield Green Apartment complex [where police opened fire Aug. 9]. People there are afraid to leave their homes. God’s people deserve better than what has been happening.”

Brenton called the march and outreach to residents a collaborative effort. "We came together and made a difference," he said. "It’s an amazing example of God’s love for us; that in Christ, God walks beside us and before us, crossing the boundaries of our lives, exercising the demons of racism, sexism, classism and ageism to bring hope, healing and new life to our community.”

ELCA Central States Synod Bishop Roger R. Gustafson wrote in an Aug. 14 pastoral letter to synod members and congregations that “St. Louis’ racial divisions and strife are deeply rooted and complex. Related issues — what has been called the militarization of the police, the lopsided racial makeup of the Ferguson Police Department itself (nearly all white in a predominantly African-American community), (and) a struggling local economy — intensify the conflict. Related events — store lootings, peaceful street demonstrations and a police response that has treated them alike — further poison the atmosphere.

“The various elements of this painful drama carry the temptation of distracting us from an even more painful truth, one that’s at the heart of it all: His name was Michael Brown. He was 18 years old. He was black, and he was killed by a police officer. Had he been white, chances are excellent that he would still be alive."

He added that Michael Brown’s death "under extremely unclear circumstances" points to a larger truth: "To be born male and African-American in this country is to be born into a clear and present danger.

“We need to talk about race and privilege, but high-level conversations between groups will take us only so far. There is no substitute for personal relationship, for connecting one to one with someone who is unlike ‘us.’ Such relating is not comfortable because it has not been the norm. But it is possible and necessary if we want to become more and more the people who trust in God and [in] God’s providing more than we trust in ourselves."

For Judith Roberts, program director for ELCA racial justice ministries, the story of Michael Brown “is becoming all too familiar in the headlines [and] another example of how young black and brown people are targeted in our country. They are stereotyped as a threat, treated as distrustful [and] then it becomes OK to fear them. When you mix that with law enforcement [and] racial profiling, we see the senseless death of a young man with so much promise. I hope and pray the community of Ferguson can work with law enforcement to hold them accountable in improving race relations.

“As this case moves to trial the verdict will determine how this community can move forward. Will we continue to see a justice system that does not value the life of black and brown bodies? The ELCA criminal justice social statement calls for an end to racial profiling, and I believe this church has a responsibility to continue to follow this story.”

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August 7, 2014

Perspective on border issues: Let the children speak

We have some serious border issues in America. Really serious issues. The plight of struggling Central American countries, juxtaposed against United States prosperity (or at least the appearance of “American togetherness”) all separated by a 1,989 mile boundary marker, creates a crisis of untold proportions.

Our legislators in Washington know the border is a huge political issue. So is the future of more than 11 million undocumented immigrants already on our soil. Who knows where immigration legislation will ever go? We have such an absence of muscle in our U.S. Congress right now that cynicism permeates even the most optimistic citizens.

Regardless of where you think immigration legislation should go, there is a matter that deserves our immediate attention. I’m speaking of the kids flowing across the border and filling up nearly every emergency space available. These children and youth have no idea what immigration legislation means. They’re just looking for their next meal. They are wondering what constitutes the American spirit that someone told them about. Most of them are running for their lives, one foot scared and the other courageous.

There should be no division in the religious community when it comes to caring for these children. Yet there is. One pastor in the city where I serve wants nothing to do with caring for these youth. In his mind, they’re terrorists. They bring disease and drugs. Their presence, he says, will endanger our community.

I don’t know what Bible this cleric reads, or from what bubble he reads beneath. But if we cannot figure out how to see the way and will of God through the eyes of children, we don’t have a shot at kingdom living. That's not my idea; it’s Jesus going off again.

“In as much as you have done it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, so you have done it unto me.” I have that Jesus saying framed on my office wall. I’m not going to tell you the whole story that Jesus attaches to these words. You can look them up. But if children are not included in his reference to “the least of these,” I don’t know who is.

I don’t expect to have an epitaph on my tombstone; I don’t even expect to have a tombstone. But if I were to have one, I’d love to think that at least a piece of my life hung on these words, enough for them to be suitable for that rock.

It’s hard to put kids in front of crowds to tell their stories. In fact, it’s often inappropriate. Showcasing children, even for the greater cause of love and mercy, easily turns them into puppets, pawns, or tokens of adult agendas. So, all we typically see are their longing eyes, vividly shared through National Geographic photographs or the latest video clip coming out of Gaza. Their voices don’t get to speak through such images. Only their plight.

What if the children crossing our southern border could speak? And if they could speak in such a way as to be heard, what would we hear? If we could get inside the lives of these Honduran, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran children, I wonder what they would say to our hearts of faith. And, even more important, I wonder what our faith would say to the predicament of their lives.

Think about these things, if you would. Stand strong on behalf of those whose future is far less secure than your own.

“In as much as you have done it to the least of these my brothers and sisters . . .


Reprinted with permission. Copyright © 2014 Peter W. Marty. All rights reserved. Any use of this material must be attributed to Peter W. Marty. To reproduce this material in published format, please contact Peter.

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July 15, 2014

ELCA leaders to visit shelters for unaccompanied children

To learn more about the recent arrival of unaccompanied children into the U.S., ELCA leaders will travel July 16-18 to Texas. They will visit children's shelters and facilities managed by Lutheran Social Services of the South, based in Austin, Texas., and meet with ELCA pastors and members to hear about their experiences and response efforts.

“The holy family was undocumented when they fled to Egypt because their lives were threatened by King Herod," said Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop. "The children entering the United States have fled because their lives are in danger. God is their ultimate hope, and we can be a sign of that hope.”

ELCA leaders and members are eager “to learn more about what is really happening on the ground and what ELCA members are learning and doing in response,” Eaton said. “I’m proud of the work that we are doing as a church.”

Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission, said the children are leaving their home countries to seek protection from drug and sex trafficking, hunger and poverty, and other risk factors rendering them vulnerable.

“For years our companion churches in Central America have been struggling with the problem of growing violence in their societies that has its roots in poverty and inequality," said Malpica Padilla, a member of the group traveling to Texas. "My appeal to United States decision-makers is to respond to this humanitarian crisis in a comprehensive way.

“Our response must address both the immediate needs of newly arrived migrants here in the United States, as well as critically review our economic and security policies toward the Central American region and consider different approaches than we have in the past. Our compassion should not stop at the border. ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.’ We need to re-examine the sustainability of our development policies, review trade agreements for their impact on the poorest, rethink our drug policies, promote nonviolent conflict resolution activities and greater respect for human rights, and strengthen domestic child protection systems in Central America.

"A change of direction in U.S. foreign policy is needed so desperate families won’t feel a need to run from the many risks associated with allowing their children to journey unaccompanied to this country.”

Through Lutheran Disaster Response, ELCA members are working with Lutheran church companions and strategic allies, such as Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), to respond to the needs of unaccompanied and migrant children. Based in Baltimore, LIRS is one of the nation's leaders in welcoming and advocating for refugees and immigrants, working on behalf of the ELCA.

Stephen Bouman, executive director for ELCA Congregational and Synodical Mission, considered a biblical passage from Mark where Jesus placed a child in the midst of his disciples, saying, "Whoever receives one of these children, receives me."

"Today, Jesus points us to thousands of children, placed in the midst of us, apart from families," Bouman said. "I expect to see Jesus in Texas. In the way of Jesus, you cannot love people from afar. ... These children are not a ‘cause,’ a budget-line item, a threat. They are their own sweet selves seeking safety, welcome [and] hope. Their courage in making this dangerous journey to be among us is a gift.”

Lutheran Social Services of the South, an ELCA affiliate, is the largest provider of children’s residential care in Texas. ELCA leaders will visit the agency’s emergency shelter, which provides food and clothing, education, spiritual and psychological care, and medical treatment to unaccompanied children, ages 12 to 17. The shelter also offers case management services and coordinates legal services to assist the child in reuniting with their family, obtaining asylum in the U.S. or returning to their home country. ELCA leaders will visit one of the agency's transitional foster care programs for unaccompanied minors that serves young children and those with special needs.

Kurt Senske, CEO of Lutheran Social Services of the South, said: “We’ve been working with  Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the ELCA and other partners, and we all know that together we are stronger.

“This is a justice and mercy issue. ... While it is difficult to imagine the struggles of each of these children, we feel their pain as we listen to their heartbreaking stories, many who are escaping extremely dangerous situations. Our role, plain and simple, is to be the good Samaritan.”

Learn more at the ELCA website.

Financial contributions to Lutheran Disaster Response designated for unaccompanied and migrant children will be used 100 percent to help support efforts that provide services and “uphold the rights of children.”

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April 30, 2014

ELCA publications win awards

Publications of the ELCA took home 12 awards from the Associated Church Press annual convention held April 23-26 in Chicago. The ACP “Best of the Christian Press” awards were presented for work produced in 2013.

The Lutheran magazine won seven awards:

•           Award of merit, theological: biblical interpretation for “Even prophets get the blues,” Frank Honeycutt, author; Daniel J. Lehmann, editor.

•           Honorable mention, devotional/inspirational for “Love letter,” Honeycutt, author; Lehmann editor.

•           Honorable mention, single photo with article for “A joyful beginning,” (November cover photo of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton) by Michael J. Watson, photographer.

•           Honorable mention for illustration accompanying “Keeping it legal,” Watson, artist; Julie B. Sevig, editor.

•           Honorable mention for feature article (short format) for “Lutheran trump cards,” Dave Daubert, author; Elizabeth Hunter editor.

•           Honorable mention, in depth coverage for “The shrinking church” (January cover story), Nicole Radziszewski, author, Sevig, editor.

•           Honorable mention, interview for “Friday night lights,” Shawn Windsor, author, Sevig, editor.

Gather magazine and Bold Café, both from the Women of the ELCA, won five awards:

•           Award of excellence, devotional/inspirational (long format) for “Wilderness Journey,” Julie Kanarr, author, Kate Sprutta Elliott and Terri Lackey, editors.

•           Award of merit, biblical interpretation for “A wild and crazy guy,” Kanarr, author, Elliott and Lackey, editors.

•           Award of excellence, personal experience (long format) for “Please God,” S.K.O. writer, Elliott and Lackey, editors. 

•           Honorable mention, department for “Playing for Keeps,” Elyse Nelson, author; Elliott and Lackey, editors.

•           Honorable mention, online, independent website to Boldcafe.org, Elizabeth McBride editor and graphic designer.

Metro Lutheran newspaper of Minneapolis-St. Paul, which recently ceased publication, won two awards:

•           Honorable mention in best in class, regional newspaper to Bob Hulteen, editor, and staff of the Metro Lutheran.

•           Award of excellence, newspaper column, for “Grace notes,” Jean Johansson, author.

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December 6, 2013

Mandela a ‘valiant campaigner for justice’

Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop, joined members of the ELCA and "all people of goodwill throughout the world" in mourning the passing of former South Africa President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

Eaton said Mandela "was one of the greatest leaders of our generation, a valiant campaigner for justice for all, but especially against racial discrimination of any kind. His long struggle against white supremacy — later codified as apartheid — has served as an inspiration for many, whether within South Africa or far beyond."

Mandela was brought up as a Methodist who taught the Bible during his student days. Support for the struggle for racial equality, which he led during his 27-year imprisonment, came from many of the churches in South Africa and, eventually, from churches around the world, most notably through the World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism.

"Mandela's Christian values of love and forgiveness were again clearly evident when, as president of his nation's first multiracial government in the 1990s, he oversaw the formation and implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated crimes committed by both the Afrikaner-led regime and the African National Congress during the anti-apartheid struggle," Eaton said. 

Mandela's efforts to end poverty and other forms of inequality, unite racially divided societies and restore the dignity of the oppressed were also hallmarks of his leadership, said Eaton, adding that the values that he embodied should continue to be emulated.

"Our prayers go out to his family and many friends who will miss his warm smile, his extended hand to former adversaries and his many acts of personal courage," she said.          

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October 7, 2013

Eaton installed as ELCA presiding bishop

Elizabeth A. Eaton installation
Elizabeth A. Eaton reminds those assembled of their baptism at her installation as ELCA presiding bishop at Rockefeller Chapel, Chicago. Photo by Michael D. Watson.

More photos here

See a slideshow of photos from the event.

The crowd filling stately Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago burst into loud and prolonged applause and cheers upon the installation Oct. 5 of Elizabeth A. Eaton as the fourth presiding bishop of the ELCA.

Eaton beamed and clapped back to the assembly as she became the first female to occupy the denomination’s top office. She officially assumes the post Nov. 1.

“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else today. I’m contemplating seminary and this is quite an event,” said Mike McDowell of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Bentonville, Ark., who attended with friends from Kenosha, Wis.

“I’m here because it’s historic and because I’m part of a church where men and women work together,” said Carolyn Heider, who will begin her first call as pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Merrillville, Ind., in January. “Look at all of these people gathered here, doing God’s work and having fun doing it. There is just so much joy.”

It was indeed a joyful, emotional celebration. Many of the some 1,500 attendees choked up and became teary, especially when outgoing Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson took off his pectoral cross and placed it on Eaton.

The nearly two-hour service incorporated global music, beloved hymns, choral classics, prayers and readings in a variety of languages spoken around the ELCA, and the musical gifts of people from across the church, including students from Augustana College, Rock Island, Ill.

Eaton had a sense of fun about the day, from the bagpiper she requested to her ready grin as she flung water on those gathered to remind them of their baptism.
The ending hymn and procession from the University of Chicago chapel verged on transcendence. It was a formal setting but managed somehow to feel very personal.

Eleven Lutheran and other Christian bodies participated in the laying on of hands, embodying the whole church’s prayer for the Spirit to sustain Eaton in her new ministry.

Garbed in colorful vestments, they were the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, Episcopal Church, Moravian Church in America, Church of Christ in Thailand, and the United Methodist Church. Lutheran leaders hailed from Canada, South Africa, Sweden and Nicaragua.

In her sermon, Bishop Jessica R. Crist of the Montana Synod used the familiar story of the sower tossing grains on the path, rocky soil, in the thorns and elsewhere with some landing on fertile ground. Like that person in Jesus’ tale, she told those gathered “to keep on sowing.”

“We are here today because somebody somewhere sowed a bunch of seeds [of faith]. They didn’t all grow, they didn’t all survive, but some did,” she said. “Look at these people. Look at the congregations and places they come from and the ministries they come from. What a wild and wonderful community garden that has grown up from those random seeds.

“We are called to be sowers, scatterers of seeds. You may think that you are pretty much surrounded by rocky soil. You may have the experience of sowing and sowing and always having it end up on the rocks. …

“What matters is that we sow, Bishop Eaton and the Church Council, schoolchildren and pastors, professors and missionaries, bishops and churchwide staff, students and retired folks, lifelong Lutherans and new believers. …

“It is sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, in words and actions. It is raising money for world hunger and to eradicate malaria and [for] scholarships and for the poor. It is working for justice for the oppressed. It is telling a friend or a stranger about God’s love. It is listening to another’s pain. It is honoring each and every person as a beloved child of God, created in God’s image, and then acting that way. It is forgiving prodigiously, it’s sharing extravagantly, it’s taking risks for the sake of the gospel. And it’s believing in the promise of the harvest. … So, go, sow! Sow! Go!”

Eaton was elected Aug. 14 to the six-year post based in Chicago on the fifth ballot at the Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh. She received 600 votes and Hanson 287. Prior to becoming bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod in 2006, Eaton, 58, served as pastor of ELCA congregations in Ohio. She earned a master’s of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and a bachelor’s degree in music education from the College of Wooster (Ohio).

Retired pastor Clyde McGee and wife Peggy of Akron, Ohio, joined a busload of members from Eaton’s synod at 5 a.m. to drive to Chicago for the afternoon installation. “It was absolutely worth it,” Peggy McGee said of the journey. “[The service] was done really well. It was all just wonderful.”

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September 18, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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September 12, 2013

Pray for Middle East peace on the 24th

This Sept. 24 people are encouraged to gather at dinner tables, church buildings, community halls and other venues to pray for peace in the Middle East. Toward a peaceful end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the ACT Palestine Forum is asking churches and members worldwide to take part in the APF Ecumenical Prayer Vigil on the 24th day of every month.

Mark Brown, an ELCA pastor who serves as the regional representative for the Lutheran World Federation’s Department for World Service in Jerusalem, said the vigil arose “out of an affirmation that we rely on God in all that we do and that through prayer we are prepared, challenged, guided and refreshed.”

Prayer is at the heart of the APF’s mission to deliver humanitarian services and champion justice, peace healing and reconciliation, Brown said.

“Without prayer the enormity of the problems facing Palestinians and Israelis and others in the Middle East might quickly cause us to become discouraged, tired and rudderless,” he said. “Prayer helps us, in the depths of conflict, to see the image of God in one another and to be open to solutions that would bring about mutual respect for human rights and peace based on justice and forgiveness.”

Every year hundreds of visitors take the time to get off the beaten path and learn about the ministries of the LWF’s Augusta Victoria Hospital and the schools of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, Brown said.

ELCA members also have served as “ecumenical accompaniers,” who provide a protective presence to vulnerable communities through the 10-year-old World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, he said. The accompaniers support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace “and upon returning home help to build awareness of the issues and advocate for a just, nonviolent resolution of the conflict,” Brown said.

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August 14, 2013

Eaton elected ELCA presiding bishop

Elizabeth A. Eaton, bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod, was elected Aug. 14 as presiding bishop of the ELCA at the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. She was elected on the fifth ballot. There were 889 votes cast, and 445 votes were needed for an election. Eaton received 600 votes and Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, received 287.

"We are a church that is overwhelmingly European in a culture that is increasingly pluralistic. We need to welcome the gifts of those who come from different places, that is a conversation we need to have as a church," Eaton told the assembly shortly after the election.

Prior to becoming synod bishop, Eaton served as pastor for ELCA congregations in Ohio. She earned a master's of divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and a bachelor's degree in music education from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio.

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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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June 17, 2013

LWF asks members to be a 'communion in a fragmented world'

The Lutheran World Federation's council asked all member churches of the federation -- which represents more than 70 million Christians in the world, including ELCA members –to be a "communion in a fragmented world."

During a June 13 special session within their annual meeting, LWF council members discussed and received a document called "Claiming the Gift of Communion in a Fragmented World." From their conversation, council members offered "key messages," which include the federation's commitment to "celebrating the joy, blessing and gift resulting from our being together as a communion" and concern about "a rupture" in relationships among some federation member churches.

"There has been strong affirmation from all geographical regions that we are a communion of churches into which all 143 member churches have been called by God's grace," said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States. "The vitality and unity of the LWF have been reflected throughout this council meeting and were very evident as we discussed (the document)."

Document follows EECMY decision to sever ties

The document "acknowledges the painful separation that has occurred following the actions of the General Assembly of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) to sever relationships with the Church of Sweden and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," Hanson said. "Yet it is clear that as the LWF addresses that reality it is within the context of our shared commitment to being a communion of churches bound in a unity deeper than the divisions that separate us."

The ELCA's "commitment is to work to find ways that we can express the differences without weakening the fundamental unity we have as a communion churches," said Hanson, who strongly encourages ELCA members to study the document. "It recognizes the centrality of theology and relationships for us as LWF member churches."

Hanson said the LWF council said the EECMY, the Church of Sweden and the ELCA "will continue to be supported by prayers and by the leadership of the LWF general secretary in providing space and processes for further conversations." In addition, the council has asked all members of the LWF to pray for the three churches and for the entire communion "so that relationships are healed," he said.

The council affirmed a process of "accompaniment" the LWF office has offered to the three churches. It also asked that LWF General Secretary Martin Junge engage member churches "in further theological reflections on how to respect the autonomy of LWF member churches' decisions and express and deal with resulting differences, while at the same time uphold their commitment to live and work together as a communion of churches." The council commended "Claiming the Gift of Communion in a Fragmented World" to all LWF member churches for study.

In the document, Junge reflects about the affirmation from communion members and ecumenical partners related to the communion's discussion of family, marriage and sexuality -- referenced as the "Emmaus conversation" by Junge -- and the "important step" the council took in 2012 regarding that discussion. The council shared five insights with member churches, which include: that respectful and dignified dialogues on complex issues are possible, that the unique situation of each member church has to be acknowledged, and that the LWF is a communion with many themes and its journey continues.

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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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June 3, 2013

Erwin is first gay, first American Indian ELCA synod bishop

R. Guy Erwin was elected May 31 to a six-year term as bishop of the ELCA Southwest California Synod at its assembly May 30-June 1 in Woodland Hills, Calif. Erwin was elected on the sixth ballot with 210 votes of 381 cast. Scott Maxwell-Doherty, campus pastor of California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, received 171 votes.

Erwin is interim pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Canoga Park, Calif., and the Gerhard and Olga Belgum Professor of Lutheran confessional theology at CLU. Since 2004, he has served as ELCA representative to the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches.

Ordained in May 2011, Erwin is the ELCA's first synod bishop who is gay and in a partnered relationship. He is part Osage Indian and is active in the Osage Indian Nation.

"I bring a deep faith in Christ's presence in his church lived out in 20 years of parish experience blended with university and seminary-level teaching," Erwin wrote in biographical material submitted before the election. "In the years I've waited for the day I could be ordained, I lived out both vocations at the same time. They have been mutually enriching, and I am a stronger scholar and a better pastor for having done both."

From 2010 to 2012, Erwin served as interim pastor for two ELCA congregations in California. Prior to that, he served as minister for worship and education at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in North Hollywood, Calif., principal instructor for the Lutheran Studies Program and lecturer in church history and historical theology at Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Conn., from 1993 to 1999. He served as parish associate at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in New Haven from 1986 to 2000.

Erwin also served on a variety of boards and committees for ELCA-related institutions and agencies.

He earned a doctorate and two masters from Yale and a bachelor of arts from Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. He also did seminary studies at the University of Tuebingen and the University of Leipzig, both in Germany.

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May 16, 2013

ELCA member and Peace Corps volunteer dies in Ghana

Danielle Dunlap

Danielle Dunlap, 25, a Peace Corps volunteer and member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Atlanta, died April 28 after becoming ill while serving in Krobo, Central Region, Ghana. The cause of death was later found to be malaria, a preventable, treatable disease for which the ELCA Malaria Campaign is raising $15 million by 2015.

This August, Dunlap would have completed her two-year stint as a health worker, focusing on community outreach in the areas of nutrition, HIV/AIDS, and malaria awareness and sanitation.

In a news release Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Peace Corps deputy director, said Dunlap was widely respected and “an exceptional role model [for youth in Jukwa Krobo]. The entire Peace Corps family is grieving over this tragic loss. During this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers are with Dani’s loved ones and her community both here and in Ghana.”

Dunlap successfully led an effort to raise funds and develop plans for a medical clinic currently under construction in the village where she served. Residents said the facility will be named in honor of Dunlap, a young woman with boundless energy and enthusiasm who loved to dance and was their “Mama Grace.” At a memorial service in Ghana, several young women performed a dance piece Dunlap had choreographed for them.

ELCA pastor Beverly Wallace preached at Dunlap’s funeral on May 11 at Emmanuel — about a decade after confirming her. “While my heart hurts, I smile when I think of Danielle,” said Wallace, who now serves as assistant professor and director of ministry and context at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. “She was determined and committed. I am grateful that my former confirmation student made a difference in the world, even in her short life.”

Dunlap’s “legacy of service will indeed live on” at Mama Grace Hospital, she added.

Born in Nuremberg, Germany, Dunlap lived in several countries where her mother served as a diplomat with the U.S. State Department. In Haiti and South Korea, she learned Spanish and Korean. As a student at Brown University, Providence, R.I., she helped recruit other ethnic minority students, taught children with asthma to swim, and worked on sleep research projects. She graduated from Brown in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience, hoping to pursue a career in health care. She cared deeply about Christian missionary work, and at the time of her death had been accepted into a public health degree program at Emory University, Atlanta.

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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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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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March 25, 2013

Luther Seminary reduces faculty, staff

Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., will move ahead with 18 fewer staff members and eight fewer faculty members after June. With some open positions remaining unfilled, the total staff and faculty decreased from 125 to 95.

The seminary announced March 19 a plan to reduce annual operating expenses by at least $4 million. Tuition will not go up nor will the seminary back off on recruitment, said Rick Foss, interim president.

“We have good people, and many of them are hurting right now. We just had too many good people, more than we could afford. Some things won’t feel good no matter how well you handle them; we’re trying to handle them faithfully and well. I learned as a bishop during the Red River Flood in North Dakota that we all grieve at different rates and heal at different times,” Foss said in an interview.

Luther’s doctoral program will not admit new students for three years. Foss said the faculty is exploring a new model for this program, which will continue to offer high-quality curriculum and will be financially viable for the future. The master of sacred music program, presently on hold, will not accept new students for now.

In October 2012, Luther’s Board of Directors learned that spending was beyond the seminary’s means. Foss explained in a letter to the community, “When we investigated the situation, we found we were overspending on an annual basis by several million dollars. Unfortunately, we were relying on loans from financial institutions, as well as from our endowment, to cover our expenses. While the money was being spent on excellent initiatives, including personnel, programs and innovative missional work, it was clear we could not sustain this rate of spending.”

Foss said, “Clearly finances were not working.” While the situation “came as a surprise,” he said “Luther is so strong, it’s like a really good student or athlete who can compensate for a while [in spite of mistakes]. Whether it was overconfidence or under competence, nobody meant ill.

“It appears that we didn’t fully anchor our high-flying hopes in financial reality. Now we move forward in a more reality-based hope.”

The board called for a reduction in expenses for fiscal year 2014 by at least $3 million.

Foss said Luther will “make additional adjustments to begin paying back [its] loans and fund [its] deferred maintenance. In light of this stark financial reality, the administrative cabinet created a comprehensive plan to evaluate all program, faculty and staff expenses.”

Five faculty members plan to retire June 30: Terry Fretheim, Fred Gaiser, Gracia Grindal, Roland Martinson and Paul Westermeyer.

Three faculty plan to take another call on June 30: Carla Dahl, Mary Hinkle Shore and Christian Scharen, who will move to director of contextual learning at Luther.

Foss said in a press release: “We will deeply miss the people who are leaving us and are thankful for all their contributions.”

Luther will continue to recruit students for its master of divinity, master of arts, master of theology, and doctor of ministry programs.

Luther’s mission is equipping leaders for the world today, in communities so diverse that we will need all the innovation we can muster,” Foss said.

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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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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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December 25, 2012

Cokesbury follows Augsburg Fortress, shuts stores

The United Methodist Publishing House announced in November it will close its 38 brick and mortar Cokesbury stores and 19 seminary bookstores, driving all sales to its website, toll-free call center and church events (“resource fairs”). The closings will be completed by April 30 and affect 285 full- and part-time employees.

Neil Alexander, publishing house president, told the United Methodist Insight that 2012 fixed operating costs of Cokesbury retail stores were $2 million more than combined sales. He called the change “financially and practically necessary.”

In a statement the publisher said a survey found only 15 percent of customers shopped exclusively in stores. And a breakdown of the publisher’s $85 million revenue in the last fiscal year revealed that 30 percent came from store sales, 40 percent from the call center and events, 18 percent from online sales, and 12 percent wholesale to trade.

Alexander cited similar moves by Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, the ELCA publishing ministry, which in December closed its last U.S. retail store at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. It was in 2008 that Augsburg Fortress eliminated its nine U.S. brick and mortar stores, moving to an online, call center and event sales model. Since those closings, Augsburg Fortress has not publically reported its sales data.

According to United Methodist Insight, the 2008 market downturn left the Methodist publisher’s staff pension account “underfunded and its board has adopted a seven-year plan to restore the fund’s assets.” Before 2008, the publisher gave the net income from Cokesbury to the United Methodist Church to help support clergy pensions and churchwide initiatives. Since 2008, the denomination’s pension board has not received funds from the publishing arm.

During the transition, called “CokesburyNext,” Alexander said the publishing house is working “to generate the required funds for capital investments in new technology, start-up costs for innovative publishing and sales programs, [and] funding for our staff pension and health benefit obligations.  … CokesburyNext is designed to assure a vibrant and financially viable Cokesbury future.”

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November 28, 2012

ELCA congregation the star of Christmas Eve special

Hope Lutheran Church, Reading, Pa., is the site and inspiration for a nationally televised special on Christmas Eve (CBS, 11:30 ET/PT). One Christmas Story: People Rich in Spirit, a new production from Odyssey Networks, takes viewers to the heart of this small American city for a celebration that reflects the true meaning of the holiday season: hope and caring. 

Hope, a beacon in Reading’s poorest neighborhood, offers a scene in which a diverse congregation gathers on Christmas Eve 2012 to share the joyful sounds of the season as performed by four local choirs and to hear the story of Christ's birth as told through Scripture.

In 2011, Reading was named the poorest city in the U.S. after it lost factories, jobs and population, amplified by the recession. Also in 2011, Odyssey Networks produced Faces of Poverty: Life at the Breaking Point. The documentary followed Mary Wolfe, Hope’s pastor, and three families as they struggled to make ends meet. According to the 2011 census, 41 percent of the 80,000 residents live below the poverty line.

This year’s Christmas special focuses on the town’s journey from the depths of poverty to “hope and renaissance.” The return to Reading special will feature a gathering of local families, providing shelter to the homeless, sharing a meal with the hungry and giving to those in need, said Mary Dickey, the networks’ vice president for communications.

The popular time slot on Christmas Eve was “an amazing offer for us,” said Eric Shafer, an ELCA pastor and senior vice president of Odyssey Networks. It will run 59 minutes and 20 seconds with no commercial interruptions. Four to 5 million people have watched past Christmas Eve CBS specials.



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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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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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June 14, 2012

Odyssey Networks to feature Reading, Pa., in Christmas special

After being named the poorest city in the U.S. just one year ago as a result of the recession, Reading, Pa., will be cast in a bright light during the 2012 Christmas season. During a May 14 press conference at Hope Lutheran Church, Reading, it was announced that the town of 80,000 will be the setting for a TV special titled One Christmas Story: People Rich in Spirit.

The CBS special, which is scheduled to air at 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, will be produced by Odyssey Networks. The ELCA is a partner of the New York-based multi-faith media organization.

In 2011, Odyssey Networks produced Faces of Poverty: Life at the Breaking Point. The documentary followed Mary Wolfe, pastor of Hope, and three families as they struggled to make ends meet in Reading. According to the 2011 census, 41 percent of residents in Reading live below the poverty line.

This year's Christmas Eve special will focus on the town's journey from the depths of poverty to "hope and renaissance," according to an Odyssey Networks news release. Thanks to Wolfe's support and determined efforts since Reading was deemed the poorest town in the country, the majority of the content will be filmed at Hope, the main location of the initial documentary.

Mary Dickey, the network's vice president for communication, said the special will feature "a gathering of local families, providing shelter to the homeless, sharing a meal with the hungry and giving to those in need."

Eric Shafer, an ELCA pastor and senior vice president of Odyssey Networks, played a crucial role in getting the CBS time slot. He contacted a former colleague, Jack Blessington, head of religion news at CBS, and was offered the 11:30 p.m. slot. Shafer said it was an easy decision to accept the popular time. "This was, as you can imagine, an amazing offer for us," he said. "It is a 59 minute, 20 second production with no commercial interruptions. Four to 5 million people have watched past Christmas Eve CBS specials."

With the time slot in place, Odyssey Networks had to find material and funding. Maura Dunbar, Odyssey's executive vice president of programming and content, suggested the team return to Reading as a follow-up to its award-winning poverty piece from 2011.

This proved to be another easy decision due to Shafer's strong ties to the town. "I give this all back to God, really," he said. "As someone who grew up in Berks County, whose mother taught for many years at Reading High School, I care about my home city."

Funding is about one-third of the way complete after the Collegiate Church of New York City issued a $50,000 grant for the production, as well as another $50,000 grant for Odyssey to help alleviate poverty in Reading. The congregation is a member of the United Church of Christ, a full communion partner of the ELCA.

"This was a complete, moving surprise to all of us here at Odyssey," Shafer said. "It is not often that our work, telling stories of people of faith making a difference for good, produces a direct gift to help others. We were and are deeply moved and thankful."

Fundraising continued following the press conference with an event at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel in Reading. 

Jeremy Ott, a journalism student at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, is The Lutheran magazine’s 2012 summer intern.

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June 8, 2012

ELCA and UMC will partner in ministry with Native American people in the Southeast

In May, ELCA Region 9 and the United Methodist Church Southeast Jurisdiction launched a cooperative ministry with Native American people. The partnership is considered a historic first in the Southeast and grows out of a 2009 full communion agreement between the ELCA and UMC.

The effort's vision and mission statement says: "We claim a shared call and vision to celebrate the rich cultures and histories of Native people, and to communicate the cultures and histories accurately with respectful fostering of the partnership to include multicultural and social justice initiatives, advocacy, education and collaboration that the invisible may become visible."

Lutherans and Methodists share "missional passion and concern for ministries with the invisible indigenous Native American people of the Southeast," the statement adds, "... by God's grace we will not continue to ignore the basic needs and leadership gifts of Native people."

The partnership was announced at a May 9 meeting at the UMC's North Carolina Conference headquarters in Garner. Participants held a worship service with prayer in the Catawba language and native flute music by UMC staff member Catherine Nelson, who gave an overview of milestones in the lives of American Indians/Native Americans from the time of Christopher Columbus. Nelson also spoke about the Christian church's growing acceptance of Native American spirituality.

North Carolina Synod Bishop Leonard Bolick and South Carolina Synod Bishop Herman Yoos told participants they were excited about the ministry possibilities the partnership will create. UMC North Carolina Conference Bishop Al Gwinn said the partnership "has to be bringing a special joy to the heart of our Lord."

This summer the partners will appoint an executive committee and establish a process for developing and funding ministry projects. The goal, said Harvey Huntley, Region 9 coordinator for missional leadership, is "to educate and support existing leadership and ministries while creating new Native American leadership and ministries in the Southeast."

The partners are continuing their first project, which began in 2011 with a Lutheran-Methodist effort to establish a free clinic at Hickory Grove United Methodist Church in Clio, S.C. Leaders hope to soon build a multipurpose structure to house education and ministry outreach programs.

The church must 'listen with its heart'

Jesse David Hill, director for ELCA American Indian and Alaska Native ministries, told those gathered that the church needs to "hear with its ears and listen with its heart" when discerning paths to pursue in ministries with Native Americans. A Cherokee saying, "We go as fast as the slowest," can be helpful as the partnership develops, he said.

Native Americans are often invisible to the church, added Hill, who said 60 percent of Native Americans have no church home.

"You are a dream come true," Hill told the partners at the May 9 meeting. "The Indian community is watching this partnership."

ELCA Region 9 is composed of the Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Southeastern, Florida-Bahamas and Caribbean synods.

(Note: Harvey Huntley, coordinator for missional leadership in ELCA Region 9, contributed to this report.) 

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May 23, 2012

PLU women's softball team wins World Series

Pacific Lutheran University won the 2012 women's fast-pitch softball World Series May 18-21. Three ELCA schools — PLU, Tacoma, Wash.; Roanoke College, Salem, Va.; and Luther College, Decorah, Iowa — progressed to the NCAA Division III National Softball Championships, held at Moyer Stadium in Salem, Va.

Kaaren Hatlen, a women’s fast-pitch softball player at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash., swaps out for pinch runner, Spencer Sherwin. Hatlen is a member of First Lutheran Church in Bothell, Wash.
Kaaren Hatlen, a women's fast-pitch softball player at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash., swaps out for pinch runner, Spencer Sherwin. Hatlen is a member of First Lutheran Church in Bothell, Wash. 

It was the Lutes' first trip to the series since 2002, Roanoke's first trip since 2001, and the third consecutive appearance for Luther. PLU collected the championship trophy after shutting out Linfield College, McMinnville, Ore., 3-0. 

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May 3, 2012

ELCA publications win ACP awards

Publications of the ELCA took home 14 awards from the Associated Church Press annual convention, held in Chicago April 30-May 2. The ACP "Best of the Christian Press" awards were presented for work produced in 2011.

Café — Stirring the Spirit Within received:

• Award of merit, best in class: independent website or e-zine for its website. Elizabeth McBride and Kate Elliott, editors.

Gather (formerly Lutheran Woman Today) received:

• Award of merit, personally useful article for "Burning bush chaser." Martha Sterne, author; Elliott and Terri Lackey, editors.

• Award of merit, Bible resource, for "Renew, respond, rejoice." Catherine Malotky and David Engelstad, authors; Elliott and Lackey, editors.

• Honorable mention, personal experience/first-person account (long format) for "Healing friendships." Terry L. Bowes, author; Elliott and Lackey, editors.

• Honorable mention, department for "Family matters." Sue Gamelin and Elyse Nelson Winger, authors; Elliott and Lackey, editors.

• Honorable mention, devotional/inspirational (long format) for "A place apart." Christa von Zychlin, author; Elliott and Lackey, editors.

The Lutheran received:

• Award of excellence, humor, written for "Great expectations." Elizabeth A. Eaton, author; Julie B. Sevig, editor.

• Award of excellence, convention or meeting coverage for "ELCA assembly: Full speed ahead" by the staff of The Lutheran.

• Award of merit, news story for "10 trends to watch." Kathryn Sime, author; Elizabeth Hunter, editor.

• Award of merit, personal experience/first-person account (short format) for "Between us: Half a lung, half a lung, half a lung onward." Walter Wangerin Jr., author; Daniel J. Lehmann, editor.

• Honorable mention, editorial courage for "R. Guy & Keith Fry ...." Sandra Guy, author; Sevig, editor.

• Honorable mention, theological reflection (short format) for "Deeper understandings: The creeds." Robin Steinke and Gary Simpson, authors; Lehmann, editor.

The Little Christian received:

• Award of merit, magazine design: entire issue for "Go with God." Amber Leberman, art director.

• Award of merit, photography: with article or cutline for "Jhariff lives in Peru." Elie Gardner, photographer; Leberman, art director. 

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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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March 27, 2012

ELCA leaders respond to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., has called ELCA members to engage in the work of "restoring and reconciling communities, pursuing justice and peace no matter how long the journey or wide the chasm," said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson.

"The deep sorrow of Trayvon Martin's family has become our shared public lament," Hanson said. "The tragedy of Trayvon's death must move us to ask searching questions. How much longer shall any child live in fear because of the color of their skin? Are we, who are white, ready to confront our power and privilege for the sake of a more just and inclusive society? Are we as a nation ready to reform our criminal justice system?"

An ELCA task force recently released a draft social statement on criminal justice that calls for urgent reform with areas of the U.S. criminal justice system, such as persistent inequalities and injustices based on race and class. "Now is the time for all in the ELCA to live up to its commitment made in our social statement 'Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity and Culture,'" Hanson said. In that social statement, ELCA members commit "to 'model an honest engagement with issues of race, ethnicity and culture, by being a community of mutual conversation, mutual correction and mutual consolation,'" Hanson said. "And further, we will 'participate in identifying the demands of justice and work with others who would have justice for all.'"

The death of Martin also calls for courage, Hanson said. "Let us have the humility to repent of the sin of racism and the courage to tear down the walls we erect to divide us, turning those walls into tables of conversation and reconciliation."

Congregations can help

Albert Starr Jr., program director for ELCA African descent ministries, is encouraging ELCA congregations to:

• declare their church facilities as "places of sanctuary for meeting and gathering, shelter and protection." 

• develop listening and healing circles for community, conflict resolution and restorative justice.

• promote conversations and training about non-violence and tolerance.

• provide assistance and training for parents and parenting.

• practice civility in public and private discourse.

• work to develop proactive legislation to address the climate of aggression in a community.

"Trayvon's death and the circumstances surrounding his death call us to do more than grieve," Starr said. "We trust God to inspire and equip us for action, for work that builds community and values the dignity and worth of every human life."

Judith Roberts, director for ELCA racial justice ministries, said it's helpful to have a "plan of action to (address) race and racism, particularly when the story is no longer headline news." In addition to reading the draft social statement on criminal justice, Roberts encourages congregations to learn more about how race impacts the criminal justice system and to host an anti-racism training event.

'This is what racial profiling is all about' 

Edward R. Benoway, bishop of the ELCA Florida-Bahamas Synod, helped develop a March 21 statement with other Florida faith leaders that conveys condolences to the family of Trayvon Martin. The statement says that Martin's death was "unwarranted" and that the investigation into his death "should proceed swiftly without racial bias, so that the matter is not continually tried in the media."

The circumstances surrounding Martin's death have "a significant appearance of injustice," Benoway said. "Trayvon was pursued by the one who shot him, and there has been no arrest in the case. Florida's 'stand your ground' law, which allows for deadly force when one feels threatened, lends itself to abuse and misuse. The law can be and is applied inconsistently across the state. It certainly opens the door for racism and disparity."

Benoway said the "ELCA is concerned that our criminal justice system be fair and just for all persons, victims and accused, and all involved. Our laws must be enforced reliably and appropriately without regard to color, class, creed or sexuality of those involved."

The March 21 statement was released through the Florida Council of Churches, and endorsed by more than 100 church leaders, said Russell Meyer, an ELCA pastor who is executive director of the council.

Meyer said Martin's death had "galvanized" young people in Florida. "You cannot be declared suspicious of how you dress," Meyer said. "No one is fooled by the fact that (Trayvon) had a hood over his head. This is what racial profiling is all about. My hope with what's happened with the Trayvon case is that we not just deal with gun laws or structural and cultural racism, but that we understand how all of these things together have a created a culture of despair for young men with dark skin." Meyer added that one in three "black young men in Florida will be incarcerated or arrested sometime in [his] life."

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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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January 10, 2012

Park ranger memorial service streaming live

The memorial service for Margaret Kritsch Anderson, the first female National Park Service ranger killed in the line of duty, is being live-streamed from Pacific Lutheran University by Seattle television station KOMO. Watch live beginning at 1 p.m. PDT.

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January 6, 2012

Ranger’s memorial service announced

A public memorial service will be held Jan. 10, at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash., for Margaret Kritsch Anderson, 34, the first female park ranger killed in the line of duty. Anderson and her husband, Eric Anderson, who is also a park ranger, and their daughters, Anna and Katie, are members of Bethany Lutheran Church, Spanaway, Wash.

The ranger was killed Jan. 1 when trying to keep a speeding car from entering Mount Rainer National Park. The gunman was later found dead.

Kritsch Anderson's father, Paul Kritsch, is pastor of Redeemer, a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation in Westfield, N.J.

Jayne M. Thompson, an ELCA campus pastor, filed a blog for The Lutheran ("Margaret") on Jan. 2 about Kritsch Anderson's involvement in Lutheran Campus Ministry at Kansas State University in Manhattan. 

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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 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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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 24, 2011

Churchwide Assembly: The afterglow or what lingers

My previous blog entry ended with a promise for just a bit more. The “more” I offer here is taken from notes I scribbled while at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Orlando, Fla., the first such event I have attended in person. Items listed in the three categories below represent thoughts and impressions that deepened my appreciation for the broad and diverse ministry of the ELCA. I didn’t include them in my previous days’ entries, yet they remain significant to me.

Memorable facts or images:

• The assembly rose for a standing ovation upon the launch of a four-year, $15 million campaign to work toward a malaria-free world.

• The video of Peace Lutheran in Joplin, Mo., showed the congregation worshiping in their parking lot the Sunday after a tornado destroyed their building and most of the city.

• The Living Lutheran video contest entry from the woman waiting for her husband to come home from military service and the one from the church whose pastor was busy posting 95 sticky notes around town.

• The assembly responded with applause when offered the greeting “The Lord be with you” from Sayyid M. Sayeed, general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America.

• At least three native peoples rose to speak in encouragement of initiatives for the ELCA to work toward even greater inclusivity in its governance structure: Vance Blackfox, Metropolitan Chicago Synod; Prairie Rose Seminole, Eastern North Dakota Synod; and Rev. Kathryn Jenny Lightfoot, St. Paul Area Synod.

• More than 95 percent of those who comprise Shekinah Lutheran Chapel in Riverdale, Ill. (featured in a Living Lutheran video), are first-generation Lutherans.

• Nearly all gathered in worship on Tuesday slowly swayed or quietly clapped while walking forward for communion to the words and lyrics of “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me.”

Memorable quotes:

• “We are modeling welcome for our neighborhood,” said Gretchen Mertes, mission developer of Luther’s Table.

• “I have seen him in corridors of power speaking truth to the power,” said Sayyid M. Sayeed about Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson. Also, “No church or organization on earth can fight these mountains of bigotry alone. It is a collective responsibility.”

• “I love the energy. You can tell everyone here loves to sing, and the songs chosen are wonderful,” said Angela K. Renecker, pastor of Faith Lutheran Church, Elma, Wash.

• “I come from an area where we only speak English, so to me [singing and hearing Scripture in another language] broadens my understanding of worship. I’m from the old tradition where it’s pretty cut and dried,” said Marlene Arneson, voting member from the Eastern North Dakota Synod.

• “Emptied himself of power to serve,” words shared by Brig. Gen. Howard Stendahl when describing a wounded active-duty solider. “He is my hero.”

• “We work for peace and justice in the world. One of the ways we do that is through social statements,” a voting member speaking to a resolution to refine the process for developing a social statement.

• “We are energized by dialogue and debate. That’s brought to life through passionate conversation,” said a voting member during discussion on social statements.

• “Social statements are cries of people living in the world. This church has been the voice of people who suffer and are powerless,” said yet another voting member during discussion on social statements.

• "It’s not the church’s position to endorse scientific paradigms,” said a voting member during discussion on the social statement on genetics about why it is important to “not endorse a specific paradigm, but rather uphold the work done by scientists” without inflammatory wording (i.e., evolution).

Things that felt very Lutheran:

• Coffee in the morning, coffee at the noonday, coffee as the sun went down.

• Groups rising to sing a table prayer before a meal.

• Reusable take-homes or giveaways that emphasize stewardship of resources (e.g., water bottle, lunch bag, coffee mug, carrying bag).

• Respectful, well-spoken thoughts on topics in addition to patient requests and responses on points of order.

• Votes prefaced by prayer.

• Wonderful worship: Diverse people joining in diverse practices that welcomed all to the table.

• Liturgical humor: Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson earned laughter with this request: “Please stand and sing as you are able.”

To those who joined my experience at the 2011 Churchwide Assembly through these blog entries, I thank you. I also invite you to join me for the next assembly when it’s held in Pittsburgh, Aug. 12-18, 2013. If I am not there as a voting member, I plan to virtually attend via Web stream. Please consider doing the same.

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August 20, 2011

Churchwide Assembly: Communion, worship

During mealtimes and in between plenary sessions, I regularly asked voting members to name a highlight of their week. The first two dozen or so answered with the same word: "worship." When I finally got a new answer — "moments shared with others during the in-between times" — I realized how attuned we are to communion. We love to share.

What we have shared in worship this week has been extraordinary. We journeyed from Christ's birth to his death, and a resurrected life that freed us. We shared celebratory, music-filled moments that led us into thought-filled declarations of the word. More than a thousand voices raised each day to praise the God who calls us into common mission. We have been freed to serve.

Every time we sang, I remembered my days singing in the Wartburg College (Waverly, Iowa) Choir. As back then, our worship space this week filled with voices singing boldly, joyfully, melodically and harmoniously. The energy was electric. Traditional hymns and chanted responses framed other worship-filled moments that had a more ethnic flavor. We often sang hymns and heard Scripture read in languages other than English. Saying that the services had something for everyone mutes the depth and texture of what happened in our worship every day. Our times of communion were opportunities to celebrate the diversity of the ELCA. Our worship carried us seamlessly through a celebration of the unity that is present in our wonderful diversity.

One of the Augsburg Fortress displays invited people to affix sticky notes that listed something they would like to change about their congregation's worship. As the parent of a child with multiple disabilities, I especially appreciated a plea posted to make worship more welcoming and accessible to all. But the word used most often on the notes for the wall was "more," as in more music, more silence, more hugging, more steel guitar, more organ (well, there was one note with a desire for less organ), more meditation, more energy, more children, more focus on God and, yes, even more cow bell.

Clearly, when it comes to worship, we want — perhaps even need — more.


The 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly is now history. And I have enjoyed reflecting on my experiences as a first-time attendee. I hope you won't mind me posting just one more day, even though the event is over. I have just a few more thoughts roaming that I hope to share. So tomorrow, I plan to write just a little bit, well, more.

Watch Joy M. Newcom's videos from the assembly:

• "ELCA 2011 Churchwide Assembly closing worship"
• "Thursday worship at the ELCA 2011 CWA"
• "ELCA 2011 churchwide choir"
• "ELCA plenary session"
• "Mission encounter meal"
• "Mission encounter"
• "'Love' written in Chinese"
• "Luther's Table"

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August 19, 2011

Churchwide Assembly: Youth and unity shape the future

Two impressions of the ELCA wove themselves together on Thursday: unity and youth. Like the intricate and indescribable beauty of our worship backdrop for the week, the youth voting members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly shimmer with brilliance. Please forgive this Iowan if that sounds corny, but when I see someone who appears to be under 30 at a microphone, I eagerly await his or her voice, wondering what new light might be shed on a proposed resolution.

Genetics, ecumenism, responses to immigration, communication structures, agricultural policies, environmental stewardships, health-care issues and stigmas — many of the topics discussed Thursday will define their future even as they reshape what's next for older generations. How our church chooses to dialogue about them among ourselves and our world partners will impact advances in medicine, agriculture, economics, education and more. We will feel the effects within our congregations and synods. Indeed, within our nation and other countries.

I love hearing what our ELCA young adults have to say. I love hearing them be proud of our denomination for inviting Dr. Sayyid M. Sayeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, to speak. One youth told me, "That's how we will advance greater understanding in our world." Another said, "Those are the kinds of conversations we need to keep having." They are thinking beyond barriers and borders. Freed in Christ, our young members seek to serve with and alongside our neighbors — those in nearby pews and those represented by our ecumenical and spiritual partners.

On Thursday, nearly two dozen representatives from organizations who are ecumenical and interfaith partners to the ELCA greeted the assembly. Their physical presence conveyed unity of faith in our shared and connected future. They bear witness to our profession that there is no east or west in Christ, and no south or north.

We live connected every day in ways we can see (the assembly being webcast and voting members Tweeting and posting to Facebook) as well as ways we cannot see (our ecumenical partners lifting the ELCA in prayer, as we do them). Those who comprise the ELCA understand that living into the future happens best when we accomplish it together whenever and wherever possible.

Images I hope to keep from Thursday:

A woman with Stage 4 metastatic cancer bravely sharing what the social statement on genetics meant to her.

A parish nurse praying with a pastor who was sitting in a recliner with her foot elevated and on ice.

Three standing ovations to honor Sayeed and the warm, tight embrace he shared with ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson. Sayeed greeted the gathered body with "the Lord be with you." And also with you, Dr. Sayeed. Also with you.

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August 18, 2011

Churchwide Assembly: Conducting the "business" of the church

The majority of this day was dedicated to conducting the "business" of the church. Those gathered to complete this work hold high regard for how this business is conducted. I share their respect with a healthy dose of awe.

While I am aware there is no parliamentary aptitude test for church leaders, there is an expectation that they are competent and resourceful. The 2011 Churchwide Assembly shows how that expectation is fulfilled. Sessions are orderly and conducted with regard for all participants engaged in the legislative process. Each person shows respect for the integrity of the legislative process while exhibiting patience and, at helpful times, self-effacing humor.

So far, the only issue that has garnered lengthy lines of people waiting for an opportunity to speak was a proposal to move from a biennial to a triennial assembly. Those speaking — for or against — shared passion for maintaining a transparent and active way for members to move the church forward. Church polity — not politics — was the focus with reports, memorials, amendments, bylaws, and revisions simply the byproducts of this process. By the way: The recommendation to begin meeting on a triennial schedule in 2015 passed.

This morning we watched 1962 film footage from the former American Lutheran Church's Luther League Conference held in Miami Beach, Fla., where Martin Luther King Jr. spoke on racism. I appreciated the reminder that part of the business of this church continues to be dealing with difficult contemporary issues. Wrestling with those allows us — individually and as a denomination — to respond with a "yes" to the holy process of transformation.

Several of today's events had me marveling at the timelessness of faith: a greeting bathed in gratitude from Martin Junge, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation; a Bible study on Galatians 5 over Paul's "new way" to regard circumcision; a message about heroes and peace from Brig. Gen. Howard D. Stendahl, U.S. deputy chief of chaplains; and probing discussions about recommendations brought forth by the LIFT (Living into the Future Together) Task Force.

I ended the day wondering if participants in previous assemblies appreciated the historical significance of their actions and if those gathered this week would as well. We live in fascinating times; I guess we always have.

Today's fact:

The ELCA is represented by 203 federal chaplains: 64 on active duty, 63 as Army Reserve and National Guard, 41 in Civil Air Patrol, 30 in Veterans Affairs and five with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Special thanks to staff accompanying the deputy chief of chaplains for this information.

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August 17, 2011

Churchwide Assembly: Witnessing to the Word

I begin my second day at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly with lingering images from the previous evening's worship. In particular, I see banner bearers with gilded ribbons and Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, with hands raised in the air, joyfully turning in time to the lyrics of our sending song "The Canticle of the Turning."

I join in joyfully embracing a turn to a new way of doing God's work with our hands. And I look forward to how those new ways will be better fleshed out this week by those elected to represent their synods of the ELCA.

Last night we were invited — like Mary, the mother of Jesus — to allow the Spirit to move us as a church from "How can this be?" to "Let it be to us according to your word." The challenge, it seems, is to embrace transformation of ourselves as we encounter others. This week I am aware of how many ways we are invited into unity with other children of God — the same God — while celebrating the various ways God is made manifest in each of us. It's a reciprocal encounter: I see myself in you when you see yourself in me. In this "seeing," God is.

In today's worship, Marysol Diaz Feliciano, an ELCA pastor in Puerto Rico, shared: "Witnessing is the vocation of the baptized." And what is witnessing if not sharing stories of who we are and what matters to us? We are freed in Christ to witness, freed to serve.

This afternoon we gathered for a Bible study on John 4:3-29 and were reminded of what happened when two Jews with different concepts of God — Jesus and a Samaritan woman — met at a well and exchanged pieces of life. She inquisitively cajoled him about his boast of living water; he knowingly cajoled her about her status as a woman living without official attachment to a male. (Dear Bible Study Table No. 113 - note how I worded that based on our interesting conversation today.) As a result of Jesus' witnessing, the woman leaves her water jar to go back to the city, telling her story as she went. Her words bear her testimony. Previous understandings of scripture now brought to life, she began to regard her life in a new way: "He cannot be the Messiah, can he?"

I think of the question posed to us in our opening worship: Are we a church that is ready to be moved by the Holy Spirit to say, "Let it be to us according to your word?"

This afternoon we witnessed story after story of synods and congregations who have said "yes" to God's Spirit at work among them. Children's and family ministries being accomplished by Luzhou Christian Church, in Sichuan Province, China; cultural barriers crossed by people willing to share and try new things in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod; and community gatherings that welcome everyone in the neighborhood courtesy of the food, beer and wine served joyfully at Luther's Table (a.k.a. restaurant/cafe/bar) in Renton, Wash. And more was shared. So much more. Stories that will be shared in days and months to come by those who witnessed them.

Some of my takeaway quotes for the day:

"Thank you, ELCA. You have taught us how to love God and God's people" (the Rev. Liao Xiao Qin, when sharing gratitude for what has been made possible through the ELCA's work through the Lutheran World Federation).

"So you don't think you can do it? You can do this too. Just like Sarai and Abram, this old synod has been blessed with mission fertility" (Bishop Claire Burkat, Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, when challenging others in synods with "traditional" demographics).

"What more can I do?" (Gretchen Weller Mertes, mission developer of Luther's Table, when sharing the irony of people still hesitant to come to Luther's Table — where meals are served along with poetry readings, live music of many genres, and even beer and wine — because it sounds "too churchy").

As I headed into a delicious meal featuring fare of various ethnicities, I continued to marvel at our shared commonality with Lutherans around the world. Our unity is in Christ alone. We are joined by our call to be love in action, extending grace in lavish portions so that all might know they are invited to the table that has been prepared for us all.

Table #113 — Thanks for great Bible study conversation. So many states represented too: California, Florida, Iowa, North Dakota, Pennsylvania. I trust the Flat Pastor photo of Paul Black, pastor of House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Escondido, Calif., will be a hit.

Pastor Sherry McGriffin — You are correct. Morning plenary sessions begin better when there is a wonderful cup of coffee in hand. I hope the line at Starbucks is shorter for you tomorrow.

JoAnne Brady— Thanks for indulging my curiosity about the ELCA Churchwide Assembly's demographics. I am thrilled to learn how many "young" members are here: 22 aged 18 and younger; 46 aged 18-21; 62 aged 22-30; 148 aged 31-45; 433 aged 46-60; and 313 aged 60 and older. Your enthusiasm for what happens here is palpable.

What will Wednesday bring? More stories. More witnessing of how we are freed in Christ to serve.

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August 16, 2011

Churchwide Assembly: Wonder as I wander to Orlando

Twelve ELCA Churchwide Assemblies have been held since the ELCA's founding in 1989. This year 52 percent of the voting members are participating in such a gathering for the first time. I join them this year as a first-time attendee, and to my delight, I have encountered things that have matched my anticipation for a gathering that celebrates Christ among us.

Yet, I have also seen things outside my understanding of our shared humanity. As a follower of Christ born into the Reformation tradition, I welcome such moments. They challenge me to look for God in others that I encounter—those unlike me as well as those quite similar.

Of all the sights I anticipated seeing at my first Churchwide Assembly, hate-filled picket signs just outside the grounds of our host venue, the Marriott World Center Resort in Orlando, Fla., were not among them. I held a mixture of horror and wonder when I saw those gaudy gold, black and red placards that spouted hateful sentiments attributed to God. My wonder was tied to this: As diverse and sometimes disagreeable as ELCA Lutherans might be at times, we share disdain for factors and forces that create an unwelcoming presence. We don't take kindly to gross distortions of God, and we don't understand denials of grace. The men, women, teens, boys and girls who stood on the corner personifying a God of hate do not reflect the witness of the ELCA.

I am confident those gathered in Orlando this week agree that such a witness is not who we are as a church of God, freed in Christ to serve. At the end of the opening day, my greatest delight is for the joy-filled and celebratory way we Lutherans of various spots and stripes came together to tend to the work of the church. The business of being the body of Christ, if you will.

And the evidence I have seen here points to this most certain truth: We "do church" well. Already I have participated in uplifting worship that draws on strong traditions while incorporating new ones. I have encountered faith-filled laity and clergy who are eager to engage in dialogues that lead to new understanding. And I have walked beside and eaten with other Lutherans who are proud to be part of a denomination that faces complex and ethical issues with integrity.

Pastor Jill from Crystal, Minn.: thanks for your companionship and wonderful conversation through the airport terminal and on our shared shuttle ride. Your enthusiasm for ministry clearly serves you well regardless of circumstance or hardship. I hope your stitches allow you to move a bit faster today and even get in a good run. Alex from Wisconsin: I wish you well in your seminary studies. Your passion for global mission and desire to minister in a "relevant" way is inspiring. I'll be on the lookout for you and your skateboard. Elliott, a junior at Luther College, Decorah, Iowa, but whose hometown is in Michigan: I totally agree—"Lutherans are 'chill.' " Even in hot and humid Orlando.

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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 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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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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April 30, 2011

ELCA publications win awards

Publications of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (including The Lutheran) took home nine awards from the Associated Church Press annual convention, which was held jointly with the Canadian Church Press annual convention in Chicago April 27-29.

At an April 29 awards ceremony, the ACP announced its "Best of the Christian Press" awards for work produced in 2010.

Café — Stirring the Spirit Within received:

• Honorable mention for www.boldcafe.org in the "Best in class: Independent website or e-zine" category. Elizabeth McBride and Kate Elliott, editors.

The ELCA News Service received:

• Award of excellence for "'He spent his last breath singing': Wife, cousin remember ELCA's Ben Larson" by John R. Brooks in the "News story: News service/newsletter/website/blog" category.

• Award of merit for "Lutheran's mobile phone technology project earns 'Time 100' honor" by John R. Brooks in the "Feature article: News service/newsletter/website/blog" category.

Lutheran Woman Today received:

• Honorable mention for "Creature kindness" by Kim Winchell in the "Reporting and writing: Personally useful article" category.

• Honorable mention for "Let us pray" by Julie Aageson in the "Column" category. Kate Elliott, editor; Terri Lackey, managing editor.

• Honorable mention for "What I like about Paul" by Robert O. Wyatt in the "Theological reflection: Long format" category.

The Lutheran received:

• Award of excellence for "Caring for the military" by Cindy Novak, Anne Ford and Michael T. Lembke in the "Reporting and writing: Personally useful article" category. Elizabeth Hunter, editor.

• Award of merit for "Meet Fast Eddie" by Julie B. Sevig in the "Biographical profile" category.

• Award of merit for www.thelutheran.org in the "Website redesign" category. Amber Leberman, Web manager and associate art director.

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March 11, 2011

ELCA begins response to Pacific earthquake, tsunami

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is responding to a massive earthquake and tsunami March 11 that caused considerable loss of life and property in Japan. The earthquake was centered near the city of Sendai, a city in north-central Japan with a population of 1 million.

According to media reports, hundreds of people have died and hundreds more are missing. Tsunami waves as high as seven feet struck Hawaii, but there were no reports of significant damage there.

The ELCA has 22 missionaries serving in Japan, working in partnership with the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church. Many of the ELCA's missionaries in Japan have communicated that they are safe, said Y. Franklin Ishida, ELCA program director for Asia-Pacific Continental Desk.

Ishida, who is attending a conference in Malaysia, said in an e-mail he was seated next to Sumiyuki Watanabe, president of the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church, when news of the earthquake and tsunami reached them. He said Watanabe's "first concern was for Sendai Lutheran Church," but there was no immediate communication because of power and cell phone outages in the area.

According to Ishida, the ELCA has missionaries serving at a Christian seminary in Tokyo, and pastors serving a Lutheran congregation in Tokyo. ELCA missionaries serve on the southern island of Kyushu, providing chaplaincy and parish services, as well as teaching at Kyushu Lutheran College.

The Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church operates schools and other programs that provide English language instruction as part of the church's ministry. There are 10 ELCA missionaries serving in the local church's "J3" program, to teach English and to serve in local congregations, Ishida said. "J3" references the program's three-year commitment.

He said five of the J3s were in Tokyo when the earthquake and tsunami struck.
"Within the first hour we heard requests for prayer from our partner churches. If you'd like to stand with them through your financial support, I would encourage you to give through ELCA Disaster Response. Gifts designated to the Pacific Earthquake and Tsunami fund will be used entirely — 100 percent — in response to this disaster," said Daniel Rift, director for the ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal.

To give:

Financial gifts for the Pacific Earthquake and Tsunami can be contributed through the ELCA website. Credit card gifts may be contributed by calling 1-800-638-3522. Gifts designated for the Pacific Earthquake and Tasunami can also be sent to: ELCA Disaster Response, 39330 Treasury Center, Chicago, IL 60694-9300. Gifts may also be sent to ELCA Disaster Response where the need is greatest, enabling the ELCA to respond where help is needed most around the world and close to home.

Information about the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church is at  on the ELCA website. 

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December 6, 2010

ELCA chaplain to bless national tree

Darrell D. Morton, assistant for federal chaplaincy ministries to the presiding bishop of the ELCA, will present the invocation at the 87th National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, Thursday, Dec. 9, in Washington.

This year’s tree lighting ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. EST on the Ellipse, between the National Mall and the White House. According to the National Christmas Tree website, the event will be broadcast on PBS-TV across the country. It will be rebroadcast in certain cities later in the month, and the event will be available online.
The National Christmas Tree is a project of the National Park Foundation, the charitable arm of the National Park Service. President Calvin Coolidge turned on the lights for the first National Christmas Tree in 1923.
“I got an e-mail from the National Park Foundation asking me if I would do it,” Morton said, adding that Bishop James “Jay” Magness, suffragan for federal chaplains, The Episcopal Church, recommended him.
Morton, a retired military chaplain and U.S. Air Force colonel, said he has presented the invocation at similar events in the past, but nothing on this scale. President Obama and his family are expected to attend, along with an estimated 17,000 people, Morton said. Musical performances are also part of the program.
Morton said his prayer will ask for God’s guidance and wisdom in caring for those who are hungry, homeless or living in poverty, as well as petitions for military personnel who are serving overseas and can’t be home for Christmas. Organizers have asked him to keep his prayer to one minute or less, he said.
With ELCA synod bishops and congregations, Morton helps support about 70 ELCA active duty military chaplains, including five military chaplains now serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. He and others also support 130 ELCA military chaplains with reserve and National Guard forces, and about 60 chaplains who serve in federal prisons or Veterans Administration facilities.
Morton’s appointment is especially significant because of the Lutheran connection with the Christmas tree tradition. According to legend, Martin Luther, whose writings helped spark the Protestant Reformation, is among those credited with the tradition of decorating trees to celebrate Christmas. Luther’s role in Christmas tree decorating dates back to about 1500, when he was said to have been struck by the beauty of a small group of evergreens as he walked through snow-covered woods one Christmas Eve.

“Their branches, dusted with snow, shimmered in the moonlight. When he got home, he set up a little fir tree indoors so he could share this story with his children. He decorated it with candles, which he lighted in honor of Christ’s birth,” according to the Christmas Tree Farm website.

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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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November 4, 2010

Stan Olson named Wartburg Seminary president

Stanley N. Olson has been elected president of Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, according to a Nov. 4 press release from the seminary.
Since 2005, Olson has served as executive director of the Vocation and Education unit of the churchwide office, which was disbanded in the churchwide office's October reorganization. Olson will begin his new job Jan. 1, succeeding Interim President David Tiede.

In his Vocation and Education role, and as executive director of the ELCA’s Division for Ministry from 2002 to 2005, Olson led the church’s partnerships with its seminaries, colleges and universities, lifelong learning programs, outdoor ministries and campus ministries, as well as supporting young adult and youth ministries and guiding the ELCA candidacy program.

“The Wartburg community gives thanks to God for the appointment of Dr. Olson as our president. His grace, strength, and integrity are gifts among many that will lead us in mission and inspire us to love and serve in Jesus’ name,” said James Justman, chair of the Presidential Search Committee and the Board of Directors.

Olson also served as bishop of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, and pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minn., and First Lutheran Church in Duluth, Minn. In the years between those parish calls, he served as a professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn.

Olson was raised on a farm near Eagle Grove, Iowa. He is a graduate of two ELCA colleges (Waldorf and St. Olaf) and of Luther Seminary. He holds a doctorate from Yale University where he wrote a dissertation on the New Testament. His wife Nancy is an Associate in Ministry and is Member Care Coordinator for St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Ill.

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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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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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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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September 1, 2010

Task force requests scenarios for ELCA's future

Living into the Future Together, a task force decicated to "renewing the ecology of the ELCA" has issued a request for scenarios for the future of the ELCA.

The LIFT website reads: 

"The members of the LIFT Task Force are seeking insight and help from the members and friends of the ELCA. The LIFT Task Force is the group called together to help renew the ecology of the ELCA by offering ideas about ministry in the next 5 to 10 years. The task force has written a document that asks for scenarios of what could be or should be, based on experience and history, hopes and dreams."

The task force is requesting responses be completed by Sept. 10.

Learn more and respond at the LIFT website ...

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August 25, 2010

Haiti: Devastation worse than imagined

Pictures of the devastation are distressing, but seeing earthquake-ravaged Haiti in person is far worse than what Rafael Malpica Padilla imagined.

"It is overwhelming," said Malpica Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission, told the ELCA News Service Aug. 24. Describing piles of rubble where buildings once stood, and trash that continues to pile up, Malpica Padilla said cleaning up will be "a major affair." Finding permanent housing for more than 1 million people who are still displaced from their homes and living in make-shift camps after the January 12, 2010 earthquake is also "a massive undertaking," he said.

'What we need...is work' 

During an Aug. 22-25 trip to Haiti, Malpica Padilla and two other Global Mission colleagues (Louis Dorvilier, director for international development and disaster response, and Raquel E. Rodríguez, director for Latin America and Caribbean continental desk) are meeting with Haitians to hear their stories. One woman from Carrefour, Haiti, told Malpica Padilla that what "we need in this community is work, people who will trust us and give us a chance to rebuild our lives."

In Carrefour, the ELCA supports the work of the Lutheran Church in Haiti to provide shelter materials, distribute food and water, and address sanitation issues needed for daily living, safety and security,  Malpica Padilla said. He also said the ELCA is exploring opportunities to build "permanent houses in several communities in collaboration with The Lutheran World Federation and possibly with Church World Service."
The ELCA is a member of the LWF and participates in the work of CWS.

"When I met with members of the community, I told them that I would not take care of them, but seek to empower the community. We need to move beyond the 'assistance approach' in relief and development to empowering people, so they can do their work. (Residents) need to claim ownership. Then together we can transform communities," Malpica Padilla said. Relief and rebuilding efforts must be "complementary, focused and urgent," he added.

In an Aug. 23 meeting with Haiti's chief economic advisor to the prime minister, Malpica Padilla said ELCA  work in Haiti must complement that of others. "There are tasks that the (Haitian people) should do, what the church will do, and what the government has to do," he said. Together "we can develop an integrated process to accomplish goals."

"We do not want to be spread too thin by building here and there," Malpica Padilla said. "We need to focus our efforts ... We need to be urgent. Rebuilding should have happened yesterday, not for our sake but for the sake of people who remain displaced from their homes, who are without work and who have nothing."

Haitian people, a source of hope

At the heart of recovery and rebuilding is "internal solidarity," he said. "When the earthquake happened, people found themselves with dead loved ones and nowhere to go. Survivors turned to one another and offered help. What little they had, they shared and worked on together. We need to build on that, especially agencies and organizations coming from the outside. The resilience of the Haitian people gives me hope in the midst of many challenges."

ELCA members have contributed more than $12.2 million to support disaster relief efforts in Haiti. Click here to add your gift.


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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 18, 2010

'Fast Eddie' Soistman dies in car accident

Edward C. “Fast Eddie” Soistman, 91, lay minister of St. John Lutheran Church, Winter Park, Fla., was killed in an early-morning automobile collision Monday after leaving his home to make a hospital visit.

Soistman was featured in the February issue of “The Lutheran” magazine: “Meet ‘Fast Eddie’: He’ll give you cookies, communion and a $2 bill.” Until last year, when Soistman’s official status became “retired,” he was the oldest active associate in ministry on ELCA records.
At age 55 Soistman retired from a 36-year career at Martin Marietta Corp. (now Lockheed Martin) to work at his church for no pay. Within 15 minutes of his Martin Marietta retirement lunch he was making the first of some 1,600 hospital calls he logged that first year of ministry.
Soistman left his home at 5:30 Monday morning for yet another hospital call to pray with a member awaiting surgery. After pulling out of his driveway and onto a nearby street, his car was struck by a sheriff’s deputy car.
In 2009 the Florida-Bahamas Synod and the community designated Feb. 22 “Eddie Soistman Day.” Walt Disney World presented him with the Lifetime Achievement Award, calling him “a spiritual beacon to generations of Walt Disney World cast members and guests.” In more than 28 years, Soistman conducted 220 worship services at Disney.

Soistman was known for the $2 bills he gave away with John 3:16 written on them (in memory of his wife Dorothy “Dot”). Sometimes the bills were taped to a copy of Luther’s Small Catechism. He said his secret for a long, active life was massage, pedicure and an occasional beer: “It’s OK to have a good time... in moderation.”

In an envelope Soistman had left to be opened after his death were the instructions: "Celebrate and have a great time."

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August 10, 2010

ELCA: 4.5 million members, $2.6 billion in offerings in 2009

The ELCA reported a baptized membership of 4,543,037 in 10,348 congregations in 2009. The ELCA Office of the Secretary and ELCA Research and Evaluation extract these numbers from analysis of membership and income data in parochial reports submitted by ELCA congregations each year.

ELCA Secretary David D. Swartling said in a report that data indicate a 2009 decline of 90,850 members and 48 congregations-slightly more than membership declines in the preceding two years.

Total receipts for ELCA congregations exceeded $2.6 billion in 2009, down 2.94 percent from 2008, according to the report. However, reported total assets of ELCA congregations actually grew in 2009 by 1.2 percent to $20.9 billion, the report said. Funds held in endowments and memorials also increased to almost $1.2 billion in 2009. Average giving per baptized member grew 2.8 percent in 2009 to $492, the ELCA secretary reported.

Swartling said that 2009 was a turbulent year nationally and internationally, and that "the ELCA certainly had its share of turmoil."

Despite the challenges, "ELCA members have continued to be remarkably steadfast in their giving, and many ELCA congregations remain surprisingly healthy from an economic perspective," Swartling said. "We must not forget that by the world's standards we remain a wealthy church that must continue to look for innovative ways to translate that wealth into effective ministry through this whole church to God's world."

The secretary's report said the average number of people in worship in ELCA congregations declined slightly from the previous year. A total of 1,289,967 people or 28.39 percent of baptized ELCA members attended weekly worship in 2009. That number was 1,330,709 (28.71 percent of baptized members) in 2008, the report said.

For the first time parochial reports asked congregations to provide information about the number of people participating in the congregation's ministry, not simply members, Swartling said. "Our hope is that we will be able to develop more meaningful data in the future based on participation," the ELCA secretary said. "It also will allow us to link congregations more effectively to take advantage of particular strengths in their ministries."

In this new category congregations reported 2,527,941 people participating in congregational activities. More than 35 percent of ELCA congregations reported African American/Black participation and 32 percent reported Latino participation.

The number of congregations reporting more than 5 percent multicultural membership has also risen, the report said. "Many ELCA congregations continue to be proactive in their efforts to be intentionally inclusive," Swartling added.

Click here to view a summary of annual membership data.

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August 5, 2010

ELCA gives $100,000 for Pakistan flood relief

Through the ELCA International Disaster Response, ELCA members committed $100,000 to help partners respond to widespread flooding in Pakistan.

Those partners— a U.S.-based ecumenical agency named Church World Service, will provide emergency assistance to some 70,000 people, food assistance to about 35,000 people, emergency shelter supplies for 17,500 people, and mobile health access for 17,500 people, said Megan Bradfield, associate director, International Disaster Response, ELCA Global Mission.

As many as 1,500 people have died in the Pakistan floods — caused by the seasonal monsoon — and at least 1.5 million people were displaced by severe flooding in provinces including Balochistan, Punjab, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Kyber Paktunkwa and Sindh. The monsoon normally affects Pakistan between June and September. Pakistan's military deployed 30,000 troops, rescuing nearly 21,000 people. Rescue workers are struggling to save more than 27,000 people still trapped by water.

The most pressing humanitarian needs are food and safe drinking water, said a spokesperson for Pakistan's National Disaster Management Authority. Survivors face serious challenges given the loss of housing, crops and livestock, Bradfield said. Additionally, more than 100 bridges were destroyed and more than 3,700 houses were swept away, Church World Service reported.

Bradfield said initial efforts by Church World Service include  providing food and shelter kits; conducting assessments in affected areas and identifying beneficiaries; and providing emergency health assistance through a mobile health unit.

Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director for ELCA Global Mission, said that thanks to "the ELCA's commitment to strong ecumenical partnerships ... we are pre-positioned to respond with CWS to those affected in Pakistan." The ELCA's efforts with CWS are "an expression of the global ACT (Action by Churches Together) Alliance," he added.

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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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July 26, 2010

Younan elected president of Lutheran World Federation

Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), has been elected president of the Lutheran World Federation July 24 at the LWF Assembly in Stuttgart, Germany. Younan received 300 votes affirming his election, 23 against and 37 abstentions. There were no other nominees.

The LWF Assembly, the organization's highest legislative body, is meeting here July 20-27 under the theme "Give Us Today Our Daily Bread." The LWF is 140 member churches in 79 countries, representing more than 70 million Christians worldwide.

Younan succeeds Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who has been president of the LWF since its 2003 assembly in Winnipeg, Canada.

"Bishop Younan will provide exceptional leadership for the LWF. His leading the ELCJHL in the midst of the suffering of occupation will become a sign of hope for all LWF member churches," said Hanson.

Younan's "passion for justice and peace will inspire us. His commitment to making visible the unity we have in Christ will build upon the LWF strong ecumenical commitments," said Hanson.

"Bishop Younan is modeling what it means to confront religious extremism by building strong interfaith relationships. He centers his ministry in the proclamation of the gospel through which God sets us free to serve our neighbor. It is a great joy to pass the mantle of leadership to my friend Bishop Munib Younan," said Hanson.

Ordained in 1976 after study in Palestine and earning a degree from Helsinki [Finland] University, Younan was a youth pastor and teacher in his homeland. From 1976 to 1979 he was pastor of the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem and served parishes in Beit Jala and Ramallah.

Younan studied at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and holds an honorary doctorate from Wartburg College, Waverly, Iowa. LSTC is one of eight ELCA seminaries; Wartburg is one of 27 ELCA colleges and universities.

The president-elect has headed the ELCJHL since 1998, and he was the third Palestinian bishop of the church founded by Germans in the nineteenth century and previously led by clergy from Germany. A member of the LWF since 1974, the ELCJHL has about 3,000 members.

Younan was the first to translate the Augsburg Confession, a key document of the Lutheran Church, into Arabic.

A former vice-president of the LWF, Younan is president of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches and serves with three Jerusalem patriarchs and nine other bishops on the International Christian Committee of Jerusalem. He is also a co-founder of the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, made up of the two chief rabbis of Israel, heads of the local churches, the Chief Judge of the Islamic Court in Palestine and other Muslim leaders.

Younan wrote Witnessing for Peace (Augsburg Fortress, 2003), a book about the search for peace in his homeland and wrote numerous articles on churches and the search for peace in the Holy Land.

Younan's wife, Suad, is chair of the ELCJHL's women's committee and serves as director of the Helen Keller School in Beit Hanina, a suburb of Jerusalem. The school educates visually-impaired children.

The couple has three children and one grandchild.

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July 14, 2010

Marj Leegard, Lutheran Woman Today Columnist, Dies

Beloved author, columnist and speaker Marjorie "Marj" L. Leegard, Detroit Lakes, Minn., died July 12 after a long history of heart disease. She was 89. Most notably Leegard was a columnist for Lutheran Woman Today, the magazine of Women of the ELCA.

A funeral service for Leegard is scheduled for 2 p.m. July 16 at Richwood Lutheran Church, Detroit Lakes. Leegard became a member of Richwood in 1944, after she wed Jerome Leegard there in 1942. She has served as president of the congregation and the Richwood Lutheran Parish Council.

"Through her writing, speaking and in conversations, Marj has consistently invited us to live in the wonder of God's grace," Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, wrote in a July 14 letter to Leegard's husband, family and friends.

"Marj has taught all of us about the beauty and challenges of life in rural America," Hanson wrote. "She has affirmed again and again how important rural ministries are in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America."

The Leegards lived on a farm outside of Detroit Lakes their entire married life.

Leegard wrote the book "Give Us This Day" and authored a column by the same title in Lutheran Woman Today from 1994 to 2009.

"We rejoice in Marj's many years of writing," said Kate Sprutta Elliott, editor, Lutheran Woman Today. "We are grateful for her life and witness, which has been an inspiration to many. Anyone who has met Marj would remember her good-heartedness and warmth. The readers of the magazine and Women of the ELCA staff will certainly miss her," Elliott said.

Sue Edison-Swift initiated Leegard's column in Lutheran Woman Today and served as managing editor of the magazine during most of Leegard's tenure there. Edison-Swift now serves as associate director for ELCA Global Mission Support.

"Marj was a theologians' theologian, a chaplain to synod bishops, and a liturgical storyteller. As someone who has walked in the valley of grief and pain, her extraordinary witness of faith and hope was especially powerful," Edison-Swift said. "I'm grieving her loss even as I know she'll be with me as part of the great cloud of witnesses."

In addition to her writing, Leegard led numerous Bible studies across the church and served on the board of regents at Concordia College, an ELCA institution in Moorhead, Minn.

In 1969 Leegard was elected American Lutheran Church Women (ALCW) synod president and became a member of the ALCW Board of Regents. The American Lutheran Church was an ELCA predecessor church body.

Leegard is survived by her husband, their son, Jerome "Jim" Jr., four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Preceding Marj in death is daughter Laurie, who died at age 27 of cancer.

In a May 1998 article titled "Groundedness," Marj Leegard wrote: "When we are planting vines and flowers (at Laurie's gravesite), I mumble, ‘Why are we doing this? She is not here. She is not here.' And then I know that God created her body and gave us the gift of a daughter for earth years and for eternity. There is thankfulness in the rush of color, the blooms of the flowering crab apple trees. We must have a place of remembrance, and in the old cemetery we find one place."

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July 13, 2010

Three ELCA members die in Okla. plane crash

Three members of Fellowship Lutheran Church, Tulsa, Okla., died in a plane crash July 11 near Gundy's Airport in Owasso, Okla.

Lonnie Hardin, 55, Joseph Provenzano, 53, and Richard Shimer, 64, suffered injuries and died when their single-engine plane crashed about 100 yards from the runway, according to news reports.

"Rick, Lonnie and Joe will be greatly missed by their spouses and families and by Fellowship Lutheran Church. I give thanks that in Baptism they were marked with the cross of Christ forever. My prayers and the prayers of the ELCA Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod will continue to be with their spouses and families and with Fellowship Lutheran Church," said Floyd M. Schoenhals, bishop, ELCA Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod, Tulsa.

"These deaths are such a loss to so many," wrote Jinni Young in a letter to members of Fellowship. Young is president of the congregation council.

"Joe, Lonnie and Rick each had many friends in our church family and also shared their talents and gifts (with) those less fortunate through involvements with various mission projects in the community and abroad. They each made a difference in the lives of so many and will be sorely missed," Young wrote.

Hardin and Shimer were involved with Oaks Indian Mission, an ELCA social ministry organization based in Oaks, Okla. Shimer served as treasurer of the mission for more than 10 years. Hardin, an attorney, offered legal expertise for the mission. His wife, Donna Hardin, is a member of the mission's board of directors.

"This is a huge loss for us," said Don E. Marshall, an ELCA pastor who is development associate for the mission. Oaks Indian Mission is a unique, unprecedented ministry that represents relationships between church and tribe, Marshall said. "It exists in the heart of the Cherokee Nation. We also work with other tribes, who place their children in our care. More than 90 percent of our budget comes from Lutheran congregations and individuals. The important work (Hardin and Shimer) contributed made our ministry stronger."

Funeral arrangements for Hardin, Provenzano and Shimer are pending.

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July 1, 2010

ELCA-affiliated Dana College shuts down

Dana College, one of 27 ELCA colleges and universities, will shut down and not reopen for the 2010-2011 academic year, Dana’s Board of Regents announced June 30.

The 126-year-old, financially-struggling college was to have been sold this summer to Dana Education Corporation, a for-profit organization based in Nebraska. It would have ceased to be an ELCA college, much like Waldorf College, Forest City, Iowa, which was sold last year to a for-profit university.

Commission refused transfer

Dana’s sale fell through when the college’s accrediting agency, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, refused a change of control that would have transferred  accreditation to the new buyers. Without accreditation, Dana students would have been unable to access federal financial aid and other help.

A Dana College news release called the commission’s decision “inaccurate, unfair and based on speculation and information not included in the required change of control request.” According to The Lincoln Journal Star, the commission believed that the new buyers lacked higher education experience; that there would not be sufficient continuity of Dana’s mission and programs and that the buyers’ promise of $4.5 to $5.5 million would fund the school’s operational losses, but not its infrastructure.

According to insidehighered.com, the commission “insisted on a series of stipulations to approve the continued accreditation of Iowa’s Waldorf College —stipulations that will effectively keep the near-term focus of the college on its residential, liberal arts mission.”

The commission’s decisions related to Waldorf and Dana were “based on a new set of policies ... that require that the mission remain similar after a purchase if the new owner wants the accreditation to carry over,”  reported insidehighered.com. Commission president Sylvia Manning told  insidehighered.com the policy became more detailed last year due to increasing purchases of nonprofit institutions by for-profit investors.

Helping to situate students & some staff

Dana College board chair Dennis Gethmann said the board was “devastated,” but that Dana is committed to providing assistance for more than 500 students, as well as faculty and staff. Dana has made agreements for students to continue their studies at Grand View University, an ELCA institution in Des Moines, Iowa and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

“Without a doubt, this decision by the HLC causes a major disruption in the lives of hundreds of Dana students, faculty and staff,” said Grand View University President Kent L. Henning. “To receive word, unexpectedly, in the middle of the summer that their institution is closing is a very stressful and unsettling situation. [We are responding] quickly with care, concern and flexibility to help these students progress toward their educational goals with the least possible disruption. ...Where possible, if we can assist faculty and/or staff colleagues with the impending transition in their careers, we will do so judiciously and appropriately.”

According to Benjamin Sasse, president at Midland Lutheran College, an ELCA institution in Fremont, Neb., Midland also plans to open its doors to students as well as some faculty and staff.

"This is a sad outcome for Dana," Sasse said in a statement on Midland's web site. "Because of our proximity and church affiliation, we have long shared some programs. As their closure has been a potential outcome for months, Midland built a plan for all Dana students and some faculty and staff. ...Our heart goes out to their community, and we stand ready to help."

So far that help will include allowing students to transfer all of their credits, retain their financial aid package and even, in some cases, keep their roommate assignments, said Jon Fredericks, Midland Lutheran College director of communications.  “Transfer students get free room and board,” he said, adding that Midland is trying to work out the legalities of offering this to Dana students as well. 

"It’s a wise investment for us,” Fredericks said. “We have a lot of great community support ... We have room in our classrooms and in our residence halls. We have the ability to serve more students than we currently enroll.”  

Calling the news of the closing “painful,” Stanley N. Olson, executive director for ELCA Vocation and Education, said: “We, here, grieve with many around the globe, and we express our deepest concern for those most immediately affected by the closing: students, faculty, staff, administration and the Blair community."

Dana's history of service to the world and church "will remain and will continue to have an impact," Olson said. "The ELCA is deeply grateful to President Janet Philipp and other present and past leaders and supporters of the college. President Philipp, Dana’s board and many others worked hard and creatively to find a way for the college’s educational mission to continue.”

“These are extraordinarily difficult times for small colleges,” Olson said.   

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June 29, 2010

ELCA Seeks Dismissal of Claims in Pension Plan Suit

The ELCA churchwide organization filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Minnesota June 28, seeking dismissal of all claims against it in a lawsuit filed following termination of a defined benefit compensation retirement plan by Augsburg Fortress Publishers (AFP).

On April 21 former employees of the Minneapolis-based publisher who were covered by the terminated pension plan filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota. Named as defendants were Augsburg Fortress; its president and chief executive officer, chief financial officer and vice president of human resources and organizational development; the ELCA; and current and former members of the publisher's board of trustees. About 500 people were affected by the termination of the plan.

The lawsuit seeks to recover losses allegedly suffered by the plaintiffs because of what they claim were "breaches of duty" with regard to the termination of the defined benefit pension plan. The suit also asks the federal district court to declare that the terminated pension plan is not a church plan, but a defined benefit plan regulated by the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Augsburg Fortress, a separately incorporated entity apart from the ELCA churchwide organization, maintained and continues to maintain its own retirement benefits for its staff. At the time the lawsuit was filed, the ELCA churchwide organization asserted that "it had no role in the creation, management, funding or termination of the Augsburg Fortress pension plan." It also denied all legal claims made against it by the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs assert that the ELCA is liable for the Augsburg Plan's losses under ERISA or, alternatively, state law, states the ELCA's dismissal motion. The ELCA churchwide organization denied this. The ELCA churchwide organization noted that it is named in three counts regarding ERISA. One count seeks a declaration that the terminated pension plan is an ERISA Plan (Count I); another claims the ELCA had a duty to monitor the plan under ERISA rules (Count V); a third claims the ELCA had a co-fiduciary duty under ERISA (Count VI).

"All ERISA counts must be dismissed because the Plan is a 'church plan,' not an ERISA plan," the ELCA  motion stated. "Even if the Plan is deemed an ERISA plan, Plaintiffs' allegations that the ELCA is an appointing fiduciary fail to state a claim as a matter of law, requiring dismissal of Counts V and VI as to the ELCA."

Augsburg Fortress Publishers similarly filed a motion on Monday seeking to dismiss the counts based on ERISA but did not address other claims in the lawsuit.

The ELCA churchwide organization motion also said the plaintiffs claim that Augsburg Fortress is an "alter ego of ELCA" which should render the ELCA liable for breach of contract (Count X), or for failure to keep the promises made to the publisher's employees concerning their pension (Count XI) or under the Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act (Count XII).

"The allegations that AFP is an alter ego of the ELCA are neither legally sufficient nor plausible. The Minnesota Consumer Fraud Act allegations also fail to state a claim under the terms of the statute," the ELCA's motion stated. "Accordingly, the ELCA requests dismissal of all claims asserted against it."

In 2005 Augsburg Fortress' board of trustees froze the organization's defined benefit plan, and began offering a 403b defined contribution plan to employees. The costly defined benefit plan "has been underfunded for about nine years," Beth A. Lewis, Augsburg Fortress president and chief executive officer, said at the time the defined benefit plan was terminated on Dec. 31, 2009.

Lewis said when that plan was terminated most participants in the defined benefit plan would receive a lump sum payment. The trustees provided for a "more equitable allocation of plan assets among plan participants," she wrote in a letter to plan participants. Without the amendment, more than half of the plan participants would have received nothing at all, Lewis wrote.

"If we had done nothing, the plan would have run out of money in approximately five years and left about 60 percent of those in the plan with no retirement benefits," Lewis said. "We didn't think that was equitable or fair."
Distributions were made to plan participants in March, Lewis said. Lewis denied all claims of wrongdoing against Augsburg Fortress in the lawsuit.

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June 28, 2010

Southeast Michigan bishop resigns

Stephen G. Marsh resigned as bishop of the ELCA Southeast Michigan Synod effective June 28.

In a June 25 letter to the synod, Marsh shared that he is “dealing with a number of emotional health issues which include addiction issues, and must now enter an inpatient setting [for] the space and safety to heal.” Marsh said he was “deeply sorry” his situation had led to “another period of trauma, anxiety and concern” for the synod.

“I will continue to pray for the forward and missional movement of the Southeast Michigan Synod, and I ask that you continue to pray for me in my healing and my future ministry,” Marsh wrote.

Marsh, 55, was elected bishop in 2009, succeeding John H.K. Schreiber, who died in August 2008. Kenneth R. Olsen, former bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, served as interim bishop before Marsh’s election.

Olsen “has expressed willingness to serve again in that capacity,” ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson and Synod Vice President Will Scott wrote in a June 25 letter to the synod. Hanson and Scott said that Marsh had also sought treatment for addiction issues in 2009. The two thanked Marsh for his service and asked for “individual and collective prayers for his full recovery.”

From 2007-2008, Marsh served as a columnist for The Lutheran.

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June 9, 2010

Pamela Jolicoeur, president of Concordia College, dies

Pamela M. Jolicoeur, president of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn., died today (June 9) after suffering a stroke at her home early this morning, said Ron Offutt, chair of the college’s board of regents in an e-mail message.
Jolicoeur, 65, became president of the college in 2004. Jolicoeur took over for Paul Dovre, who was acting as interim president at the time.
Offutt, Fargo, N.D., shared this message today with the Concordia community: “It is with deep regret and profound sadness that I share the news that President Jolicoeur passed away this afternoon after suffering a stroke in her home early this morning. This is a devastating day for all of us in the Concordia community. Please keep Mike, Jessica and all of Pam’s family in your prayers during this difficult time.”

Jolicoeur’s tenure at Concordia has had a tremendous impact on the school and the larger Fargo-Moorhead community, Roger Gilbertson, a former member of the Concordia College Board of Regents who headed the search committee that helped bring Jolicoeur to Moorhead, told the Fargo Forum.

Jolicoeur joined California Lutheran University in 1972 as a sociology professor and worked her way up the academic ladder. She served as chair of CLU’s sociology department from 1979 to 1983, assistant dean from 1981 to 1983 and associate dean from 1984 to 1992. She spent three years as vice president for academic affairs before being named CLU provost in 1996, the school’s No. 2 post.

In 2008, Jolicoeur was named chairwoman of the Minnesota Private College Council, Fund and Research Foundation, which represents 17 liberal arts colleges and universities in the state. It raises funds to support operating costs and need-based scholarships.

During her tenure at Concordia, the college began construction and completed the $32 million Knutson Campus Center, the most expansive and priciest construction project in the school’s history.

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June 9, 2010

Lutheran Disaster Response provides grant for Ohio tornadoes

Lutheran Disaster Response will provide a $5,000 emergency grant to the Northwestern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for initial response to tornadoes that struck in three counties near Toledo June 5-6.

Lutheran Disaster Response is a collaborative ministry of the ELCA and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported seven confirmed fatalities, with two serious injuries, said Michael Nevergall, assistant director, ELCA Domestic Disaster Response. FEMA also reported 300 homes and commercial buildings suffered minor or major damage in the storms, he said.

Nevergall said Calvary Lutheran Church, Northwood, Ohio, will serve as a collection point for bottled water, light food items and a central location for volunteers working in the area. Calvary is the closest ELCA congregation to the disaster area, he said, which includes Wood, Fulton and Ottawa counties.

Mary Woodward, LDR's local coordinator, said two powerful tornadoes struck communities around Toledo, she said. One tornado had winds of up to 175 miles per hour, the Associated Press reported. Woodward is with Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio, Columbus, and is president of Ohio Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster.

"Since Sunday evening we've been able to provide spiritual and emotional care for families in Lake Township," she said. In addition, she said Ronald M. Matthews, Friendship Lutheran Church, Amelia, Ohio, provided spiritual and emotional care training for pastors and trained volunteers working with people in the area affected by the storms.

LDR is organizing a community prayer service June 9 at Calvary Lutheran Church , and is assisting in organizing a community-wide prayer service at Lake High School, Millbury, Ohio, Woodward said.

"We're providing trained volunteers to help with debris removal and to help with preliminary efforts to assist families without insurance to rebuild," she said.

To give: Financial gifts may be sent via the Lutheran Disaster Response website.

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June 5, 2010

Synod bishop concerned after Minnesota congregation's close second vote

The bishop of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Jon V. Anderson, said he is "concerned" about the members of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Hutchinson, Minn., following the congregation's "very close second vote" May 23 to end its affiliation with the ELCA.

Anderson made the comment in a June 3 e-mail message to the synod. Christ the King Lutheran Church has about 2,500 baptized members. The congregation was told after votes were counted that 232 votes of 348 ballots cast — exactly two-thirds as required by the congregation's constitution — favored the resolution to terminate affiliation with the ELCA, Anderson said in his message.

Two days after the vote, "it was revealed to me that there was an additional ballot that had not been reported in Sunday's (May 23) results," Anderson wrote. "How this single ballot is counted could change the outcome of Sunday's decision to disaffiliate. The congregation's leadership is working to resolve this matter."

According to a statement posted on Christ the King's Web site, the congregation council reported that one person marked a ballot "but neither on the YES or NO line provided on the ballot."

"Since it wasn't clear to the counters, it was decided that this ballot should not be counted in any way, leaving a total of 348 votes," the statement said.

The ELCA Model Constitution for Congregations and the congregation's own constitution require that "a two-thirds majority of the voting members present" must be achieved on a vote to terminate affiliation. Congregations are required to take two such votes, and there must be a 90-day consultation period with the synod bishop between votes.

On May 26 the congregation council reviewed all ballots, including the ballot in question. It declared the intent of the voter who submitted the questionable ballot to be a "yes," the council statement said. The council vote was 10 in favor with three abstentions, Jon Lindekugel, pastor of Christ the King, told the ELCA News Service.

The congregation council ruled that 349 voting members were present, and that 233 members voted yes, 112 voted no and 4 abstained, a 66.76 percent majority. Had the vote failed to achieve two-thirds, the process to leave the ELCA would have ended and would have to be restarted, if members still wanted to leave.

The congregation president and pastors presented a certified copy of the resolution and voting results on May 27 to Anderson. Anderson said he and a synod staff member met May 27 with Lindekugel and the congregation's president, Peter Royer.

Anderson wrote that he did not take a position on the ballot in question but did receive a copy of the resolution and the council's ruling.

"That does not mean I endorse their decision concerning this ballot," Anderson wrote. "As I understand our polity and policy in this situation, my opinion about the ballot and the process is not determinative. This matter will need to be resolved within the congregation in accordance with their constitution," Anderson's statement said.

Anderson also offered to "assist as requested and to support all of the members of the congregation as I am able."

Lindekugel explained that over a period of many years, members of Christ the King felt "a distance between themselves and the leadership of the ELCA," and that actions of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in recent years had "widened the gap."

The human sexuality actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly were the last straw, Lindekugel explained. The resolution the congregation voted on May 23 included a number of concerns about the ELCA, not just human sexuality, he said.

Lindekugel said only one person has raised questions about the outcome of the second vote, since news of the questionable ballot became known. He said he is not certain how many people are needed to challenge such a vote formally and if so, how long the congregation must wait for such a challenge.

"Bishop Jon (Anderson) has been really helpful to try to look for alternative ways this could be solved," Lindekugel said. He also said if the process must be restarted the congregation will do it.

Lindekugel said the council did not make its decision to avoid restarting the process to leave. "The council acted, I think, in good faith and assuming some responsibility as elected leaders, they made the decision that the intent of the vote was yes," he said. The council will meet next week and consider what, if anything, it needs to do, he added.

Read the Christ the King Lutheran Church congregation council statement at the congregation's website. 

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June 2, 2010

Presiding bishop responds to Gaza ship convoy incident

Expressing regret for the deaths and injuries that resulted when Israeli military forces intercepted a ship convoy seeking to deliver humanitarian goods to Gaza, Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called for "a full, international and independent investigation into the matter," in a June 1 public statement.

At least 10 people died after the ships were intercepted in international waters May 31. The ships were carrying humanitarian goods to Gaza from Cyprus. The mission was also intended to draw attention to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, and a number of activists were said to be on the ships. Video images showed Israeli soldiers rappelling from helicopters onto the ships, and showed the soldiers and passengers fighting.

Israel has restricted the flow of goods in and out of Gaza since Hamas gained control in 2007, primarily to control the smuggling of weapons. It said it had warned for days that it would not allow the ships to reach Gaza. Israel also said its troops opened fire in self-defense.

The United Nations Security Council expressed regret at the loss of life and injuries resulting from the Israeli military operation. It also "condemned those acts which had killed at least 10 civilians and wounded many more," according to a Security Council statement.

Speaking on behalf of the ELCA and the Lutheran World Federation, which he serves as president, Hanson expressed "my deep sadness" regarding the operation. He noted the ELCA and the LWF are engaged in the Middle East and are committed to Lutheran Christians and all people living in the region.

"We deeply regret the deaths and injuries that resulted when Israeli forces intercepted the boats," Hanson wrote. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the wounded and the families of those killed or otherwise harmed during this incident. We note that this tragic incident occurred on the first day of the World Council of Churches' World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel."

The incident raises many questions that must be answered, Hanson said in his statement. "We therefore call for a full, international and independent investigation into this matter," the presiding bishop's statement said.

"While we condemn all violence in the resolution of political disputes, this incident raises a number of questions related to the just use of force. It is not clear that, in this incident, all alternatives were explored prior to the use of military force. One tenet of the just use of force is proportionality, a principle I raised during my meeting with the chief rabbis of the State of Israel during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion into Gaza which lasted from December 2008 to January 2009. This incident provides an example of how proportionality is an ongoing concern related to Israeli military action against civilians, both Palestinians and internationals," Hanson wrote.

Hanson's statement said the attempt to deliver humanitarian materials to Gaza via the ship convoy calls attention to the ongoing blockade of Gaza and the consequences for the 1.5 million people living there. The presiding bishop said Israel's blockade "must be fully lifted, in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1860."

Though some aid does get to the people of Gaza, Hanson wrote that the economy, particularly the agricultural and fishing sectors, has been devastated. Basic goods such as seeds and seedlings, plastic piping, irrigation supplies, fishing nets, engine spare parts, veterinary drugs and cement are restricted, he wrote.

Hanson also wrote that the World Health Organization has documented the serious deterioration in Gaza's health system.

"This tragic event demonstrates the urgency of achieving a just peace. One role of religious leaders, including the churches, is to strengthen those voices working for peace, rather than yielding to the clamor of extremism, as we seek a just peace beneficial for all persons in the region," Hanson wrote.

"We urge that this incident not interrupt the proximity talks now being conducted through the Obama administration. Instead, we expect that this incident will intensify on all sides the commitment to serious negotiations that will lead to a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," the ELCA presiding bishop's statement concluded.

In addition, Olav Fykse Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran theologian and general secretary of the World Council of Churches, Geneva, called the events that occurred May 31 "deplorable."

"We condemn the assault and killing of innocent people who were attempting to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, who have been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007. We further condemn the flagrant violation of international law by Israel in attacking and boarding a humanitarian convoy in international waters. We pray for all those who are affected by the attack, especially the bereaved families," Tveit's statement said.


Read Mark S. Hanson's statement at the ELCA website.

Read Olav Fykse Tveit's statement at the World Council of Churches website.

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May 25, 2010

Two dismissed pastors and others welcomed to ELCA clergy roster

Two dismissed pastors have been welcomed back to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The candidacy committee of the Sierra Pacific Synod, Oakland, Calif., met May 24 and unanimously approved the reinstatement of the pastors to the ELCA clergy roster, and it also approved for reception six pastors from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).

According to the synod, a formal Rite of Reception for the pastors will be offered this summer.

Dismissed pastors reinstated

Two dismissed pastors have been welcomed back to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The candidacy committee of the Sierra Pacific Synod, Oakland, Calif., met May 24 and unanimously approved the reinstatement of the pastors to the ELCA clergy roster, and it also approved for reception six pastors from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM).

According to the synod, a formal Rite of Reception for the pastors will be offered this summer.

Ross D. Merkel, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Oakland, and Steven P. Sabin, Christ Church Lutheran, San Francisco, have been approved for reinstatement.

In 1998 Sabin was removed from the ELCA clergy roster for being in a committed, same-sex relationship while serving as pastor at Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Ames, Iowa. His removal by an ELCA discipline committee drew national attention.

"I am relieved and happy that a long and painful episode in my relationship with my church family is ending. I look forward with hope to the restored partnership and opportunities for service that the actions of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly and the Sierra Pacific Candidacy Committee have made possible," said Sabin.

"For two decades, many have been grieved and alienated by the ELCA's exclusion of gay and lesbian pastors blessed with loving spouses. I hope and pray that they can, like me, lay aside the hurts and take hope from the gracious power of God to renew and direct the church into evermore faithful and effective proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope that this will be the beginning of a new period of evangelical outreach for the ELCA aided by our new witness to the forgiveness and grace of God truly being for all people," said Sabin. "Like the psalmist, I can only observe with awe and gratitude: 'This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.'"

ELM pastors approved for reception

ELM pastors approved for reception to the ELCA clergy roster are:

• Jeff R. Johnson, pastor, University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley, Berkeley, Calif.

• Craig Minich, pastor of youth ministries, Oakland-Berkeley Lutheran Youth Program

• Dawn Roginski, pastor of parish programs, St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco

• Megan Rohrer, executive director, WELCOME, San Francisco

• Paul R. Brenner, St. Francis Lutheran Church, San Francisco

• Sharon Stalkfleet, Lutheran Ministry to Nursing Homes, Oakland.

ELM is an organization that credentials qualified candidates of "all sexual orientations and gender identities" for ordained ministry.

"Twenty years ago when I was ordained, we could dimly imagine that Lutherans would one day fully recognize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people," said Johnson in a May 24 ELM news release. "I'm very thankful for all who have helped to carry this struggle forward and for our church which has finally opened up to the new and exciting future God has in store for us," he said.

"I was very pleased by how the candidacy committee came together," said Mark W. Holmerud, bishop, Sierra Pacific Synod. "This was a special meeting of the committee. We in the synod felt it was important to move forward with this process in a timely manner, so the committee agreed to this special meeting," he told the ELCA News Service.

"I am deeply grateful to the ELM pastors, and the two pastors who were removed from the ELCA roster, for their grace and good will in being a part of this process; to the members of the (Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary) faculty who made arrangements to be at this meeting, and to the candidacy committee for their faithful deliberations which have made it possible for these pastors to be brought onto the roster of the ELCA," said Holmerud.

"One of the things that was lived out yesterday was the sense that we were not examining the candidates but rather hearing stories of ministries from pastors who were already actively carrying out the gospel mission. That set the tenor of the meeting," said Nancy Feniuk Nelson, bishop's associate, Sierra Pacific Synod.

"This was by no means an examination. It was a sharing about ministry and a celebration of ministry. We had a worship service that included the former ELM candidacy committee, the present ELCA candidacy committee, the ELM pastors and faculty from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, including the seminary president, the Rev. Phyllis B. Anderson. It was a very moving worship. Bishop Mark and I did the first interviews of all the candidates, and I became profoundly aware of how grateful I am to be a part of this process in this time of the church," Nelson told the ELCA News Service.

Pacific Lutheran Seminary is one of eight ELCA seminaries.

Earlier this month at the synod assembly Holmerud lifted a public censure and admonition placed on University Lutheran Chapel of Berkeley in 2000 for calling Jeff R. Johnson, who was not a member of the ELCA clergy roster. Johnson was also elected at the assembly to the serve on the Sierra Pacific Synod Council.

In a May 6 letter to the congregation, Holmerud said by "lifting this censure, the members of the congregation of University Lutheran are hereby welcome into full participation in the mission and ministry of the Sierra Pacific Synod" and the ELCA.

Holmerud wrote that the actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly "have brought us to a new day."

The 2009 assembly called for revisions to ministry policy documents, making it possible for Lutherans in committed, publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders. The ELCA Church Council adopted the revisions to ministry policy documents April 10.

"This is another important day for so many in the church," said Amalia Vagts, ELM executive director. "It is wonderful to have leaders like Bishop Mark Holmerud and Bishop's Associate Nancy Feniuk Nelson and the members of the Sierra Pacific candidacy committee demonstrating holy hospitality to all," she said.

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May 5, 2010

UCC: $50,000 gift to Lutheran seminary

First United Church of Christ (UCC), Bridgeport, Conn., donated $50,000 each to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and to the UCC-affiliated Lancaster Theological Seminary May 2. The ELCA and the UCC are full communion partners.

"These gifts acknowledge our oneness in Christ and the ministry that is ours," said Karen DeWerth-Wamester, an ELCA pastor serving at First UCC.

Faced with a dwindling membership, the congregation, founded in 1894 by Hungarian immigrants, sold its building in 2006 to a Seventh Day Adventist Church, with the agreement that the UCC congregation could worship there, rent-free, for another 20 years. Funds from the sale have allowed the congregation to give and minister in new ways. 

"We're in a unique position [to give]," Chief Elder Nancy Szwejkowski said in a UCC Connecticut Conference news release. "My theory is that it doesn't do any good sitting in the bank."

"What a wonderful witness to the full communion agreement for the First United Church of Christ to give a generous gift to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia," said LTSP President Philip D. Krey. "Our traditions have grown together, our students study together, our pastors like Pastor DeWerth-Wamester serve one another's congregations, and now we support one another in the preparation of leaders. Scores of thankful students and faculty will remember this Bridgeport congregation."

The congregation's gift will also be counted toward the ELCA New England Synod's goal of raising $1.5 million for the seminary, and the seminary, in turn, will name a seminar room in its Brossman Center in honor of First UCC.

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May 5, 2010

ELCA, Tanzanian, Ethiopian church heads to meet privately on sexuality

ELCA presiding bishop Mark S. Hanson said he will have a private meeting in Chicago May 10 with Wakseyoum Idosa, president of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus to discuss concerns about 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly actions related to human sexuality.

Hanson also said he will meet May 18 with Alex Malasusa, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) May 18. Malasusa will be in Chicago for a companion synod consultation with ELCA Global Mission staff.

In April, leaders of the two African churches expressed deep concern over decisions of the 2009 assembly and, separately, concern over decisions of the Church of Sweden, on sexuality matters. The two African churches focused their public comments on opposition to same-gender marriages.

The Church of Sweden, the ELCT, the EECMY and the ELCA are the four largest churches in the Lutheran World Federation, (LWF), a global communion of churches.

Hanson said he expects to have “honest and open conversations” with both leaders, and added that it is his practice to communicate directly with leaders in companion churches. Hanson said he will share with both leaders “the ELCA’s shared commitment with partner churches to be engaged in God’s mission for the sake of the world.”

Since the churchwide assembly, ELCA Global Mission staff has communicated with companion churches “our intent to continue to be respectful of local policies and practices in the assignment of mission personnel and the development of shared ministries,” said Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission.
Speaking at the Africa LWF Pre-assembly and Church Leadership Consultation in March in Nigeria, Malpica Padilla said the ELCA is “deeply grateful” for the companionship of the African churches.

“For many decades our churches have walked together, sharing their gifts and talents for the proclamation of the gospel of salvation and hope in Jesus Christ. This companionship in the gospel has strengthened the bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood between our peoples,” Malpica Padilla said, adding that the relationships are “historical and deeply rooted.”

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May 4, 2010

Schmeling, Easler to be reinstated to ELCA clergy roster

Bradley E. Schmeling and Darin Easler are in the process of being reinstated to the ELCA clergy roster. Revisions made to ministry policy documents now allow Lutherans in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders.

"It feels like being back with the family again after a time of uncomfortable separation," said Schmeling, who serves as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church, Atlanta. "On another level, the reinstatement feels like the stone has been rolled away from the grave. It's wonderful to me that the news comes with the celebration of Easter," he said.

The candidacy committee of the ELCA Southeastern Synod met April 24-25 and approved Schmeling's request for reinstatement, effective "once the paperwork has been filed," said Schmeling.

In 2007 Schmeling was removed from the ELCA clergy roster for being in a committed, same-gender relationship with Easler while serving as pastor of St. John. A disciplinary committee ruled that Schmeling violated an ELCA policy regarding the sexual conduct of pastors.

The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly called for revisions to ministry policy documents, making it possible for Lutherans in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders. Upon their April 10 adoption by the ELCA Church Counciil, those revisions became official.

"For so long people's dreams about serving the church has led to a dead end," said Schmeling. "Now with a change in policy, there are so many that can imagine a future with the church. The Holy Spirit is alive in the church in a profound and new way."

"I am aware that this moment is about so much more than ourselves... (it is) a moment for the church to be a beacon of hope and bear witness to the widening embrace of love and welcome to all people in the life and the ministries of the church," Easler said.

The ELCA Southeastern Minnesota Synod candidacy committee approved Easler's request for reinstatement April 30. Easler left his call at United Redeemer Lutheran Church, Zumbrota, Minn., in 2003, and in 2006, was removed from the ELCA clergy roster for being without a call for three years. He transferred to the United Church of Christ, working in hospice care as a bereavement coordinator. The ELCA and UCC are full communion partners.

Easler "served in our synod, and he served well," said Harold L. Usgaard, bishop, ELCA Southeastern Minnesota Synod. "I worked with (Easler) when he 'came out' to his congregation," said Usgaard. "The church hall was packed, and he received a standing ovation. There was lots of support for his ministry. But even at the time, (Easler) shared that it had been a lonely life."

Usgaard said some members of the congregation had asked, given the ELCA's policies at the time, what would happen if Easler "finds someone. I told them then I would have to come back and explain that he would no longer be their pastor."

Although the congregation spoke highly of Easler's ministry, Usgaard said some members expressed fear but "had great respect for his ministry. There were only a few people who wanted to talk to me afterwards, but the support for Easler was overwhelming," said Usgaard. When Easler left the congregation he was not disciplined, said Usgaard.

Easler plans to transfer to the ELCA Southeastern Synod, and said he will continue his work in hospice care "with openness to whatever door God opens for me."

H. Julian Gordy, bishop, ELCA Southeastern Synod, called Schmeling's reinstatement "very good news" for the members of St. John, who "have been enthusiastically and unanimously supporting him through all of this." Gordy added, "When (Schmeling) was removed from the clergy roster the congregation did not want to lose him as a pastor, which put them in violation of ELCA guidelines."

Gordy said because of the decisions of the 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly -- which asked synod bishops to exercise restraint in disciplining — he met with the congregation's council to talk about the situation.
They "were clear about their desire to have (Schmeling) serve, and he's done that. Now that he will be back on the roster, there will be great rejoicing," Gordy said. Schmeling's reinstatement "is also good news for many others in our synod, although not for everyone."

"Bradley has been a very fine parish pastor, and the congregation has done well under his leadership," said Gordy. "There are people in our church that believe that pastors in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships should not serve as pastors in this church. But the assembly said that while we were not in agreement on this, congregations could call persons in such relationship to serve as pastors, and St. John has chosen to do this," he said.

The 2009 assembly also directed that revised policies recognize the convictions of those who believe the ELCA should not allow such service.

"I believe that we will learn to live in this new reality. I hope that people who don't personally support this change in ministry policy will be able to celebrate with St. John the restoration of their pastor to the roster," said Gordy.

"From the time I came out in the church in 1992, I never believed that I would retire as pastor in the ELCA," Schmeling said. "But with the policy change, for the first time ever I can imagine a full career of ministry in the church."

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April 26, 2010

ELCA churchwide organization responds to pension lawsuit

The churchwide organization of ELCA said April 23 that it is "deeply concerned" for the well-being of participants affected by the termination of a defined benefit compensation retirement plan of Augsburg Fortress Publishers, Minneapolis.

On April 21 former employees of the publisher who were covered by the terminated pension plan filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota. The churchwide organization's statement, issued to the ELCA News Service, said, "The entire ELCA, including the leadership of the churchwide organization, understands the far-reaching implications of this matter, and is deeply concerned for the well-being of the plan participants and continues to hold them in prayer."

"In the midst of this complex, difficult and painful situation we are also mindful of the need to respect both the obligations and the limitations in the legal agreements so that we can be responsible to all of our commitments and relationships as an interdependent church," the statement said.

Augsburg Fortress is separately incorporated entity apart from the ELCA churchwide organization. The publisher has maintained and continues to maintain its own retirement benefits for its staff. The ELCA churchwide organization had no role in the creation, management, funding or termination of the Augsburg Fortress pension plan, according to an April 22 report in the Wall Street Journal.

Plantiffs in the lawsuit are Judith Thorkelson, Karen Walhof, Gayle Aldrich and Jean K. Stanley, all participants in the terminated plan. The suit also included "all others similarly situated" as plaintiffs. Approximately 500 people were affected by the termination of the pension plan.

Named as defendants were Augsburg Fortress; Beth Lewis, president and chief executive officer; John Rahja, chief financial officer; and Sandra Middendorf, vice president of human resources and organizational development; the ELCA; and current and former members of the publisher's board of trustees.

The class action lawsuit seeks to recover losses allegedly suffered by the plantiffs because of what they claim are "breaches of duty" with regard to the termination of the defined benefit pension plan, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also asks the federal district court to declare that the terminated pension plan is not a church plan, but a defined benefit plan regulated by the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

"We deeply regret any hardship that the termination of our defined benefit retirement plan has caused, but the complaint brought against Augsburg Fortress and other defendants in this matter is wholly without merit," said Lewis, in a statement in response to the suit. "We deny all claims of wrongdoing alleged in the complaint and will seek its dismissal."

"The complaint filed against Augsburg Fortress misrepresents the care with which the plan was administered and the communications that occurred with plan participants," Lewis added.

ELCA Secretary David D. Swartling denied all legal claims made by the plaintiffs against the ELCA.

In 2005 the Augsburg Fortress board of trustees took action to freeze the defined benefit plan, and began offering a 403b defined contribution plan to its employees. The costly defined benefit plan "has been underfunded for about nine years," Lewis said at the time the defined benefit plan was terminated on Dec. 31, 2009.

When that plan was terminated, Lewis said most participants in the defined benefit plan would receive a lump sum payment. Lewis said the trustees provided for a "more equitable allocation of plan assets among plan participants," she wrote in a letter to plan participants. Without the amendment, more than half of the plan participants would have received nothing at all, Lewis wrote.

"We wanted to make certain that we had the most equitable distribution of assets possible," she told the ELCA News Service. "If we had done nothing, the plan would have run out of money in approximately five years and left about 60 percent of those in the plan with no retirement benefits. We didn't think that was equitable or fair."
Distributions were made to plan participants in March, Lewis said.

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April 22, 2010

Retirees, employees sue Augsburg Fortress over pensions

The April 22 Wall Street Journal reports that Augsburg Fortress retirees and employees are suing the ELCA's publishing ministry over pension woes.

The complainants allege that Augsburg Fortress "allowed their pension plan to fail, and used its connection to the Lutheran church as a legal shield to avoid paying them all their pensions," writes Ellen E. Schultz for the WSJ.

"Church plans ... don't have to tell employees how healthy their pension plans are, so bad news can come as a shock," Schultz wrote. "That happened to Augsburg Fortress employees in January. The company sent letters to the 500 employees, former employees and retirees explaining that most would receive only a portion of their pensions, paid out in a check in March."

Click here to read the Wall Street Journal article.


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April 16, 2010

ELCA Church Council authorizes rite, receives 'Bound Conscience' report

Meeting April 9-12 in Chicago, the ELCA Church Council authorized a rite designed to receive pastors from Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM) onto the ELCA's roster of ordained ministers. (ELM is an organization that credentials qualified candidates of all sexual orientations and gender identities for ordained ministry.) 

The rite can be used by synod bishops in the next two years as a means of reception that embraces the ELCA's desire for reconciliation with ELM pastors who serve ELCA congregations and who wish to be recognized fully as ordained ministers. The rite also seeks to respect the ELCA's "ecumenical commitment to the ongoing reconciliation of ministry in the Church catholic," according to the council's background materials.

The rite is intended to receive 17 ELM pastors who: were not previously rostered clergy in the ELCA or a predecessor church body; have been approved by a synod candidacy committee; and have received a call in the church. The rite was recommended to the council by the ELCA Conference of Bishops. The council emphasized that "no other use of the rite is authorized."

Robert G. Schaefer, executive, ELCA Worship and Liturgical Resources, said that "Reception to the Roster of Ordained Ministers with Prayer and the Laying on of Hands" is intended "to be a rite that brings liturgical expression to the deep desire … for reconciliation both in this church and within the Church catholic. It intends to recognize what the ELCA has not yet recognized. At the same time (the rite) is intended to be recognizable by world Lutheran ecumenical partners, echoing patterns that are important for ordination."

Michael J. Schmidt, a council member from Sioux City, Iowa, said some pastors in his area asked if "there was something of a 'mea culpa' from the church" for those who have been "denied for a number of reasons for a number of years." Schmidt asked if there could be a rubric added to the rite to reflect an apology.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said in response that it would be difficult to ask a synod bishop "to apologize for actions of the church." He added: "It would be very difficult to insert, especially liturgically, a rite of apology. I trust that those acts of reconciliation occur in the pastoral relationship, in the candidacy process and in the conversations that occur."

Council members also approved amendments to the ELCA Board of Pensions' medical and dental, retirement, survivor and disability benefits plans, and flexible spending plan. The amendments allow plan members to enroll eligible same-gender partners in the benefit plans effective May 1. The changes were mandated by the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly's adoption of a social statement on human sexuality, and an implementing resolution (#7) that called for "the ELCA to amend the eligibility provisions of the ELCA Pension and Other Benefits Program, consistent with the policies of this church."

Bound-conscience report 

The council received a separate report from a working group convened by the ELCA Office of the Presiding Bishop. The group was assigned to respond to "Motion F" — an action proposed to the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly that requests a study on the concept of bound conscience, particularly with regard to same-gender relationships.

The council acknowledged the objectives of the working group's recommendations, which include a commitment to theological conversation about the foundation of the ELCA's decision-making. ELCA members will be invited to participate in these conversations, with the results to be disseminated widely. The working group recommended "respect for people whose consciences are bound to different understandings of Scripture" and an "invitation to helpful and constructive engagement with the issue of respect for people whose consciences are bound to different understandings of Scripture."  The council action anticipates "deeper and broader" attention to matters of bound conscience through conversation among key leadership groups, publications, a bibliography and/or resource listing on the ELCA Web site, and encouragement for constructive dialogue in various settings.

John Brooks also contributed to this story. 

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April 16, 2010

ELCA Council acts on wills campaign, genetics, more

At its April 9-12, 2010 meeting in Chicago, the ELCA Church Council took action on a wills campaign, a genetics social statement and received reports on other matters.

Wills & genetics

The council anticipated the launch of "Kalos" — the ELCA Legacy Society — in 2010, and a wills and bequests campaign in 2011. Swartling proposed an amendment to encourage the council, Conference of Bishops, synodical officers and other ELCA leaders to become charter members of Kalos. 

The council also affirmed the timeline for a proposed ELCA Social Statement on Genetics, to be considered by the 2011 Churchwide Assembly. It asked the ELCA Church in Society unit "to convene conversations" related to the development of future social statements, and to bring a report and possible recommendations to the November 2010 council meeting.

Congregations leaving

David D. Swartling, ELCA secretary, reported that as of April 7, 308 congregations had taken first votes to leave the ELCA. Of those, 228 passed with the required two-thirds vote (among members present for the vote) and 87 failed. Of the 308, 90 congregations have taken a second vote and 89 of those passed. Swartling said that congregations won't be removed from the ELCA roster until their synods authorize removal.

2010 LWF Assembly report

Teresita C. Valeriano, director, Lutheran World Federation's (LWF) North American Desk, reported that ELCA members can participate in the 2010 LWF Assembly in Stuttgart, Germany, by: praying, using the assembly's Bible study, preparing a dish from the LWF cookbook, "Food for Life," listening to the stories of Lutheran global companions and more.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson told the council that because of budget reductions the ELCA cannot continue to sustain the LWF's North American desk full-time after the LWF assembly. Hanson thanked Valeriano for her "compassionate advocacy."

In other action, the council:

Approved a proposal that the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly be held in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Re-elected Rebecca S. Larson to a third four-year term as executive director of the ELCA Church in Society unit.

Elected Robert Hahn, Walkersville, Md., to fill an unexpired vacancy on the board of trustees of Augsburg Fortress, the ELCA publishing ministry.

Elected John Bauder, Tampa, to the board of trustees of the Endowment Fund of the ELCA, and the advisory committee for Development Services and ELCA Foundation.

 John Brooks also contributed to this story. 

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April 12, 2010

ELCA Church Council adopts significant revisions to ministry policies

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted a series of historic and sweeping revisions to ministry policy documents April 10, the result of months of extensive writing, comment and review by hundreds of leaders and members following the 2009 Churchwide Assembly.

The Church Council is the ELCA's board of directors and serves as the interim legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies. The council met in Chicago April 9-12. The next churchwide assembly is in Orlando, Fla., in August 2011.

The changes were called for by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, which directed that policy documents be revised to make it possible for eligible Lutherans in committed, publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA clergy and professional lay leaders. The assembly directed that revised policies recognize the convictions of those who believe the ELCA should not allow such service. The assembly also adopted a social statement on human sexuality.

The council adopted revisions to two documents that spell out the church's behavioral expectations of ELCA professional leaders — "Vision and Expectations: Ordained Ministers in the ELCA" and "Vision and Expectations: Associates in Ministry, Deaconesses and Diaconal Ministers in the ELCA." The council also adopted revisions to a document that specifies grounds for discipline of professional leaders, "Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline," and it adopted revisions to the "ELCA Candidacy Manual," used by regional committees to help guide candidates seeking to become professional leaders in the ELCA.

Council members asked few questions and commented briefly on each proposed document before approving them. Only minor editorial changes were proposed and adopted by the council. Each revised document was adopted overwhelmingly.

Keith A. Hunsinger, council member, Oak Harbor, Ohio, who said he does not agree with the sexuality decisions made in August 2009, announced April 11 that he had abstained on each vote on the documents. He explained that he didn't believe that the first drafts of the documents released last fall embodied the full range of decisions made at the 2009 assembly. "My conscience won't allow me to vote for any of these documents, but as a member of the board of directors, I can't vote against the will of the churchwide assembly," he told the ELCA News Service.

However, Hunsinger told the council that the final forms of each document reflected "the breadth and depth" of the decisions, including the fact that "we agreed to live under a big tent," and that multiple voices would be heard. "Because those documents now said that, I feel my ideas and I are still welcome in the ELCA," he said.

The revised policies are effective immediately, said David D. Swartling, ELCA secretary. Final revised text of each document will be posted to the ELCA Web site by the end of April, he said.

Following council approval of the policies, Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, expressed his appreciation to many, including the council and the Conference of Bishops for leading the revision process over the past few months. He also thanked Stanley N. Olson, executive director, ELCA Vocation and Education, the lead staff person working with church leaders and various constituencies through the revision process.

Olson thanked many others who have worked for changes in ministry policies through more than two decades of effort. "This is the work of many — hundreds, thousands of people who have reflected, thought and prayed. We are still a church that is tense over this, but we are Easter people, and I think we have done an Easter thing today," he told the council.

Prior to voting, Donald Main, Lancaster, Pa., chair of the ELCA Committee on Appeals, which led the effort to revise Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline, told the council that the document had not been revised since 1993. New sections address matters such as integrity, and substance abuse and addiction, he said.

The Committee on Appeals also "considered each and every word, constantly testing different language so as to be clear and concise as possible, and remain faithful to our charge and to the social statement and ministry policies recommended and adopted by our assembly," Main added.

The two Vision and Expectations documents and the Candidacy Manual are "tools in the service of God's mission through the ELCA, primarily to assist us in that work of calling forth and supporting faithful, wise and courageous leaders," Olson said. The Vision and Expectations documents were most recently revised in the early 1990s, and the Candidacy Manual was revised in the past few years, he said.

"We have not attempted to spell out every possible situation and to give definitive direction for every possible situation," he told the council. "There are broad principles in these documents, and there are guidelines with some details." Olson added the documents call for the ELCA to trust established processes and its leaders who have responsibility for oversight and decision-making.

"Our next step is to orient our staff and the candidacy committees," Olson said. A memo summarizing key policy revisions will be sent this week to help guide synod bishops, staff working with candidates for professional leadership, candidacy committee chairs, seminary presidents and selected staff, and applicants and candidates.

Olson added that the ELCA Vocation and Education program unit, the ELCA Office of the Secretary and others are responsible for monitoring the new policies, and suggesting further revisions and guidelines if necessary.

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April 9, 2010

Valparaiso University Pastor Darlene Grega dies

Darlene E. Grega, an ELCA pastor serving at Valparaiso (Ind.) University was a "beloved member" of the Valparaiso family, said the university's president, Mark A. Heckler, in an April 7 message announcing her death.

The Porter (Ind.) County Coroner ruled Grega's death as a suicide, the Merrillville (Ind.) Post-Tribune reported April 9.

She was a first for chapel staff 

Grega, 55, joined the staff of the university's Chapel of the Resurrection in August 2008. She was the first ELCA pastor called to serve on the chapel staff of Valparaiso University , an independent Lutheran higher education institution. She served on a staff that included two Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod pastors, Joseph R. Cunningham and James A. Wetzstein.

"We mourn the loss of someone who cared deeply for the members of this community. Our sympathy and prayers are with Pastor Grega's son, Nathan, her extended family, and her many friends here at Valpo and beyond," Heckler wrote in his announcement to the university community.

University faculty, staff and students paid tribute to Grega at an April 7 evening prayer service, an April 8 morning prayer service, and will continue evening prayer services in Grega's memory through April 16, according to a Valparaiso spokesperson. A funeral or memorial service for Grega has not yet been announced.

"Pastor Grega has been a friend to many, and generously served our campus community since joining our chapel staff less than two years ago," Heckler wrote. "In particular she provided significant counsel and support to women on our campus and built relationships with our international students to help them feel welcomed here."

"We just lost a very fine colleague and are so saddened," Cunningham said in an interview with the ELCA News Service.

Grega presided at the April 4 Easter celebration at the chapel, a first for an ELCA pastor. "She had a great presence and was overjoyed. She did great, and we all commended her. That's why this is so shocking," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said Grega extended hospitality and care to many in the university community, including international students, women and Alliance, a community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
"My last image of her is the joy of the post-Easter celebration, and seeing her smile," he said. "As a professional, my last memory of her is her deep care and concern for others. It's just such a tremendous loss."

Grega's bishop, James R. Stuck, ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod, Indianapoliis, expressed shock and sadness. "Her presence was very much appreciated by a lot of people," he said. "For her, it was a very rich ministry, and she would express that quite often. She provided a door for a lot of people in the community. It was a good and vibrant ministry for her."

Stuck recalled that Heckler's predecessor, Alan F. Harre, led an effort to raise funds for an endowment for an ELCA pastor to serve on the Chapel of the Resurrection staff. Stuck said he fully expects the university will continue to have an ELCA pastor on the chapel staff in the future.

She welcomed people on the margins

On behalf of the ELCA, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson extended condolences and sympathy for Grega's death to Heckler and the university community. "Darlene's call to serve as the first ELCA pastor on the staff of the Chapel of the Resurrection has been the occasion for renewing and deepening our relationships with the University and its extended family of alumni and friends," Hanson wrote in an April 9 letter. "We have rejoiced in the strength of her service as university pastor with students, faculty and staff -- a ministry marked by her distinctive gifts of warm hospitality, gregarious compassion for the suffering and tenderhearted, and tenacious advocacy for those who have often been kept at the margins of Christian community and public life.

"Although the news of her death comes as a deep shock and disappointment, we entrust her to the mercy of God shown in Jesus Christ and share with you our hope in the promise of Christ's Resurrection," Hanson wrote.

Grega was born in Cleveland and graduated from Valparaiso University and the Lutheran Deaconess Program housed on campus. She earned a master of arts degree in theology from Duke University, Durham, N.C.; a master of arts degree in counseling from the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks; and a master of divinity degree from Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn.

Grega brought more than 25 years of experience in higher education to Valparaiso. She was director of international students at St. Cloud (Minn.) State University and director of the international center at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Va. She also had nine years' experience in campus ministry at colleges and universities in North Carolina, Minnesota and Texas.

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