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September 28, 2009

Lutheran CORE plans a 'free-standing synod'


Leaders and members of the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal (CORE) began planning Sept. 25-26 at Holy Spirit Parish at Geist Catholic Church, Fishers, Ind., for the organization's future. Some 1,200 Lutherans from more than 40 states and three Canadian provinces adopted a constitution that includes plans for a "free-standing synod" not directly related to the ELCA. The constitution also formally changed CORE's name from "Coalition for Reform" to "Coalition for Renewal." Biblical teaching, the creeds and the Lutheran Confessions are key values of CORE, according to its constitution.

Approximately 400 congregations are affiliated with CORE, said Mark Chavez, an ELCA pastor from Landisville, Pa., CORE steering committee member and vice president, WordAlone Network, New Brighton, Minn.

Much of the discussions centered on responses to actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis, which adopted a social statement on human sexuality and a series of proposals to change ELCA ministry policies, including a change to make it possible for Lutherans in lifelong, publicly accountable, monogamous same-gender relationships to serve as ELCA associates in ministry, clergy, deaconesses and diaconal ministers.

Lutheran CORE opposed some parts of the social statement and the ministry policy changes.

"What happened is a catastrophe," Kenneth Sauer, Columbus, Ohio, CORE advisory council member and former ELCA synod bishop, said in a presentation. The choice of whether congregations stay or leave the ELCA "can be a faithful one," he said. Any decision to leave the denomination "should be done with love." He said there are some ELCA synods and bishops who share CORE's concerns, and the organization must find ways to support them.

God is reforming the churches of the Reformation in North America, said Ryan Schwarz, Washington, D.C., CORE steering committee member and nominee at last month's churchwide assembly for ELCA vice president. He cited declines in membership in several mainline denominations, including the ELCA. Schwarz predicted that in 20 to 30 years, congregations of the ELCA will be "more orthodox." "Congregations that preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ will thrive," he said.

CORE is committed to finding "a viable church body" for ELCA congregations that choose to leave the denomination. For those who stay CORE will help them to "proclaim faithfully" and provide alternative resources for them, he said.

"We want to be part of the solution with the help of the Holy Spirit," said Paull Spring, State College, Pa., CORE chair and a former ELCA synod bishop. CORE will be an intentional, confessional reforming movement, he said. It will be a "churchly community" and will form a free-standing synod for all Lutherans. It plans to provide resources to strengthen members' faith and congregations, support global missionaries, develop new congregations and provide theological education, he said. It also wants to work with synods and bishops as they consider candidates for ministry and in the process of calling pastors to congregations.

Spring said CORE wants to be an umbrella organization for other reform movements, and provide an "alternative community" for congregations and reform movements. CORE does not plan to seek a formal relationship with the ELCA, he said.

"God is calling us to do something," he said. "The ELCA has fallen into heresy. It is time for confession and time to resist. It is a time for new life." Those who do not agree with CORE are not enemies, Spring told the convocation. "They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Be gracious in your dealings with them," he said.

Challa Varo, Oromo Evangelical Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, read a statement on behalf some 120 African national congregations in the United States and Canada. He said it is "a distressing, shocking and confusing time" in the ELCA, and said the assembly actions "fundamentally shattered" global and ecumenical relationships.

Eddie Perez, Iglesia Luterana San Pedro, Inc., Miami, said he spoke on behalf of some Latino pastors in the ELCA Florida-Bahamas Synod, in calling this "the saddest and darkest time in the history of the ELCA."
"We are glad to see that God is using this time of duress to manifest the light," he said.

Variety of views 

"The church is in a confessional crisis," Marshall E. Hahn, an ELCA pastor from St. Olaf, Iowa, told the ELCA News Service. "The decisions that we made at the assembly were done contrary to our own confessional faith. I'm working with folks in our synod to see what can be done to address that."

Hahn, said the two congregations he serves -- Norway Lutheran Church and Marion Lutheran Church -- have not yet considered their future in the ELCA. "I've advised them that we just need to take our time, be very deliberative and very careful about what we do in response. Right now we're working in our synod to see how we can work in opposition to what took place in Minneapolis."

Hahn, who is also secretary for the ELCA Northeastern Iowa Synod, said he wrote to his congregations to say he's contemplating what the decisions mean for his own ministry.

"I see all of this upheaval as God shaking us out of lethargy and lukewarmness," said Jo Pruett, Rockdale, Texas, a Lutheran for 50 years. She is congregation president at Peace Lutheran Church. She told those gathered she's most concerned about a lack of "spiritual uplifting" in the ELCA.

In conversations with members, Pruett said a couple of members agreed with the assembly's decisions. "The majority of people who have contacted me are very much against what happened at the chuchwide assembly," she said.

Peace Lutheran Church has already started withholding benevolence from the ELCA and is giving the funds to local organizations, she said, although members haven't made any decision about Peace's future in the ELCA.

Edgar Corns, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Merrillville, Ind., said he's dissatisfied with the assembly's decisions. "If our church (congregation) doesn't turn independent, I'm leaving. That's as simple as it gets," he said.

Katherine L. Olson, a pastor at St. Peter Lutheran Church, Delphos, Ohio, said members of her congregation are asking questions about the assembly's decisions. "I think the members of my church want to stay and are inclined to stay," she said. "However, all options are on the table now. We're really being watchful, slow and deliberate -- and prayerful -- as we think about these decisions."

Olson said the tone of CORE's convocation was hopeful. "This is an organization that seeks to be a witness to God's Word, and that really gives me hope," Olson said.

Thomas E. Jacobson, Gonvick, Minn., serves Samhold Lutheran Church and United Lutheran Church.  He characterized many members as "upset" with the assembly decisions. "They feel this is a distraction from important local ministry that could be happening," he said. "I think that people would be open to a variety of options.  I don't think it is their desire to leave the ELCA.  Their hope is that things could be worked out within the ELCA structure," he said.

Some ELCA churchwide staff attended the convocation, including Stephen P. Bouman, executive, ELCA Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission, Chicago.

"I'm here because this is a part of our church -- a part of our church in pain," Bouman said, noting that many are longtime friends from his 35 years as a Lutheran pastor. "I'm here to listen. I'm here because some of our mission-developer pastors are here and are in pain over what's happened. I'm here because I want to say to anyone who will listen that we're serious about mission. We don't want to lose contact with each other around the mission," he said.

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