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February 11, 2010

ELCA delegation, Pope Benedict XVI meet, exchange greetings


Continuing dialogue between Lutherans and Catholics was a common theme expressed in an exchange of messages here between a delegation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Pope Benedict XVI. Speaking for the Lutherans, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop and president of the Lutheran World Federation, called such dialogues "a sign of hope and commitment," while the pope emphasized hope for the continuing Lutheran-Catholic dialogue.

The world church leaders spoke to each other in a brief, formal private meeting Feb. 10, following Pope Benedict XVI's regular weekly audience.

"The current international LWF-Catholic dialogue focusing on the theme 'Baptism and Growth in Communion' and the very rich U.S. Catholic-Lutheran dialogue now focusing on 'The Hope of Eternal Life' are very important for our relationship and for our hope for unity in Christ," Hanson said.

Hanson is leading an official ELCA delegation of clergy and lay leaders on a "2010 Ecumenical Journey" to visit leaders of three of the world's largest churches — Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Catholic. The Lutherans will conclude their meetings with LWF leaders and other global church partners in Geneva next week.

"Our ecumenical journey that is now bringing us to you is a sign that we bear witness to John's prayer -- that we might be one, as the Father and the Son are one, so that all might believe," Hanson said to Pope Benedict XVI.

Hanson noted that last month, the pope welcomed representatives of the Church of Finland for their 25th annual visit during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Hanson said Lutherans "were deeply moved when you said to them it is your prayer that our efforts at understanding and reconciliation would blossom into perfect, visible unity in Christ Jesus."

The Lutheran leader said last year's celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the signing of The Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification by the LWF and The Vatican were "another sign of commitment and hope." Hanson said he was pleased by comments made at one celebration in Chicago by Catholic Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, in which Gregory stated deeper dialogue is needed between Lutherans and Catholics.

Lutherans and Catholics "have great challenges before us as we address concerns in the areas of ethics, morality, theology — and we pray for the Spirit's guidance in our biblical and theological conversations as we grow in faith and life," Hanson said.

Hanson said he hoped Lutherans and Catholics might make "a united witness to the world" as the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation approaches in 2017. He added that Lutherans join Catholics in praying for Middle East peace and greater interfaith understanding.

In his response, Pope Benedict XVI said he hoped "the continuing Lutheran-Catholic dialogue both in the United States of America and at the international level will help to build upon the agreements reached so far."

He said it is important to build on the results of the dialogues started in the 1960s. "To build on what has been achieved together since that time, a spiritual ecumenism should be grounded in ardent prayer and in conversion to Christ, the source of grace and truth," Pope Benedict XVI said.

"May the Lord help us to treasure what has been accomplished so far, to guard it with care, and to foster its development," the pope said to Hanson and the delegation.

Quoting his predecessor John Paul II, who in 1985, received a similar Lutheran delegation, the pope said, "Let us rejoice that an encounter such as this can take place. Let us resolve to be open to the Lord so that He can use this meeting for His purposes, to bring about the unity that He desires. Thank you for the efforts you are making for full unity in faith and charity."

Hanson presented Pope Benedict XVI with a "Savior of the World" cross made by Sally Stewart, a Johnstown, Pa., artist, which contains woods from throughout the world. Hanson also presented the pope an expanded written message, available on the ELCA Web site.

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February 10, 2010

Members of Pennsylvania congregation "OK" after carbon monoxide poisoning


For the first time in 10 years members of Hessel Valley Lutheran Church in Chandlers Valley, Pa., held worship this year in the church's sanctuary instead of the basement. That was unfortunate, said Vern Ekdahl, the congregation's president. He said the 35 worshipers in attendance on Feb. 7 fell ill from carbon monoxide poisoning due to a blocked chimney.

Two children, one pregnant member and a senior were airlifted to a hospital in Pittsburgh for extensive tests and treatment. The others were treated at a local hospital. "At this point, everyone seems to be OK," said Ekdahl.

To save on heating costs, the congregation worships in the basement beginning the first Sunday after Christmas. Because of a recent surge in membership, worship has been held in the sanctuary to accommodate everyone, Ekdahl said.

Nestled in a rural area of Sugar Grove Township, Chandlers Valley is about 115 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. "We're just a rural community, located in the heart of the rust belt," said Ekdahl, a lifelong member of Hessel Valley. He said Hessel Valley's claim to fame is that it "happens to be the church that the King of Sweden came to visit in 1976."

Through aggressive outreach, the vision of a young member on the path to ordination and thanks to the leadership of Nancy E. Schwanke, an ELCA pastor, "we're growing," said Ekdahl.

"We are no longer a small country church waiting to close," said Ekdahl, adding that the congregation recently invested $50,000 in church repairs. "Although there is more to be done, the major work is behind us (as) we enter the new year financially solvent. It's just been nothing short of a miracle."

Following the carbon monoxide leak, the church's chimney and furnace received the necessary repairs, reported Ekdahl.

Services will resume on Feb. 14.

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February 9, 2010

South Carolina Lutherans talk together, faithfully

"Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."

With these words, approximately 700 Lutherans in the South Carolina Synod gathered at Newberry [SC] College for a "Day of Holy Conversation" on Feb. 6, an opportunity to deepen conversations about ELCA churchwide decisions and explore legislative motions for the June 4-5 synod assembly.

The day began with presentations from two Lutheran Southern Seminary professors, David Yeago and Susan McArver. From their theological and historical viewpoints, they spoke about significant issues stemming from recent churchwide decisions. After each presentation, the group took a few minutes for "pew conversations," talking in small groups about what they had just heard.

After eating lunch together, the group reassembled for a service of worship with communion, setting the tone for the "holy conversation" that would take place for the next few hours. The afternoon was designed for an intentional time of listening and praying together, apart from a synod assembly or legislative meeting.

Ten resolutions were discussed, but before each resolution was presented, there was prayer. The discussions were respectful, and people who took part in this day were grateful to have a chance to be heard — in a protected environment — and to hear from other faithful Christians across the synod who have opposing beliefs about these issues.

Many people have remarked that this day might serve as a model for other synods to use as they find ways to walk together, even with marked differences over issues.

Synod Bishop Herman R. Yoos said, "I was deeply impressed with the thoughtful and respectful conversations that occurred this day. Most people expressed a sense of the Holy Spirit's presence with us in the midst of these conversations. Clearly everyone who was there loves and cares deeply for the church and its future. For some, it was the first opportunity to hear two excellent biblical and theological perspectives outlining differing assumptions and understandings of the churchwide decisions. I doubt that many minds were changed, but I believe something even more significant happened. There emerged this day a deeper understanding and respect for being members of Christ's body, engaged together in God's mission."

At the end of the day, each person received a survey listing all the motions that had been discussed. Once compiled, the results of this survey will be mailed to every congregational council to help them continue to pray and talk further together.

Visit the South Carolina Synod's Web site for proposed resolutions, presentation transcripts, and other documents.

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February 8, 2010

ELCA youth return to New Orleans in 2012

When ELCA youth return to New Orleans in 2012, it will be the first time in the ELCA Youth Gathering history that the event has been held consecutively in the same host city. The gathering will be July 18-22, 2012.

The triennial Youth Gathering is the largest event organized by the ELCA, bringing together tens of thousands of high-school-age Lutherans from across the country and overseas for leadership development, faith formation, service opportunities and more.

In the summer of 2009 about 37,000 Lutheran teenagers, adult leaders and others gathered in New Orleans not only to paint and make home repairs but to learn about and experience the faith of people who live there. Residents of New Orleans and others along the U.S. Gulf Coast continue to recover more than four years after Hurricane Katrina.     

"I don't think that we have learned all we can from New Orleans, yet," said Heidi Hagstrom, director for the Youth Gathering. "New Orleans has so much to teach us about practicing God's hospitality. By paying attention to the spirit's activity in and through New Orleanians, I think we get a glimpse of God's intention for the whole world," she said.     

The Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE) and the Definitely Abled Leadership Event (DAYLE) will be held July 15-18.     

DAYLE is a leadership event designed to "bless and empower" gifted young people with a range of physical, cognitive and emotional differences. MYLE is a "multi-ethnic and multi-generational" event designed to equip young leaders to help lead their congregations into "fuller inclusion as a diverse church in a diverse world."     

The announcement for the 2012 ELCA Youth Gathering was made in Charlotte, N.C., during the Feb. 4-8  ELCA Youth Ministry Network's "Extravaganza" for youth workers.


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February 3, 2010

Funeral, burial for Ben Larson Feb. 6


A service of "song and prayer" for Benjamin Judd Larson will be held Feb. 6 at 1 p.m. at First Lutheran Church, Decorah, Iowa. Immediately following the service Larson, 25, will be buried in Phelps Cemetery, Decorah. Larson, a seminary student, was killed in the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti.

The Luther College Nordic Choir will sing at the service and internment. Larson was a member of the choir while a student at Luther College, Decorah.

"On Jan. 31 the remains of our son, Ben Larson, arrived in Dover, Delaware," said April Ulring Larson, Ben's mother, in a Feb. 3 statement:"Ben left the dear people of Haiti and began his journey home from Haiti to Dover, to Philadelphia, to Minneapolis, and finally to Decorah."

In her statement, April thanked people for the compassion expressed to the people of Haiti and the "compassion for our family. We continue to covet your prayers for us and for the recovery of Haiti."

April is senior pastor at First Lutheran Church, Duluth, Minn., and former bishop of the La Crosse (Wis.) Area Synod. Ben's father is Judd W. Larson, interim pastor at Our Saviors Lutheran Church, Duluth.

Ben's body was recovered Jan. 28 from the collapsed St. Joseph Home for Boys, Port-au-Prince, by a local work crew that went inside the rubble to find him. He was in Haiti with his wife, Renee Splichal Larson, and his cousin, Jonathan Larson. All three were inside St. Joseph Home for Boys at the time of the earthquake. Renee and Jonathan were trapped in the building but managed to escape. Ben was buried as the building collapsed.

Ben was teaching theology to Lutherans in Haiti at the time of the earthquake. He was a senior at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. Renee and Jonathan are also senior seminary students at Wartburg.

Ben's "earthly journey in Christ comes to an end and he rests in God's arms until Jesus comes again," said April. "We remember words from the hymn that Ben so dearly loved and requested for his funeral 'some day,' 'Lord Jesus, You Shall be My Song.'"

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