The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


August 17, 2009

And they're off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Embracing diversity