PASTOR MEGAN’S MUSINGS. . .
This past August, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend the 2013 Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) Church Wide Assembly in Pittsburgh PA. This is a gathering of people of various ages, genders, races, that come together to celebrate the past, and more importantly, work toward the future of the ELCA. The assembly is made up of nearly 1,000 voting members, church wide staff, resource people, many volunteers and special guests and speakers from various religious organizations around the world. We were greeted this week by leaders from the Catholic church, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches and leaders from Jewish and Sikh worshiping communities. The week is spent hearing reports about how the ELCA has been doing God’s work with our hands, and taking action to determine how we will continue to do so in the future. This is done by voting on proposed actions, social statements, campaigns, and leadership. This was a wonderful opportunity for many reasons and I would like to spend this month’s newsletter sharing some highlights of the assembly with you.
One of the most wonderful parts of this assembly was the effort made by our church to make sure that everyone has a voice at the table. We as a church are making an effort to listen to the many wonderful voices that make up the ELCA. This includes hearing from high school students, young adults, people from different ethnic backgrounds, people whose first language is not English, the elderly, the disabled, pastors, lay people (basically anyone not a pastor) and anyone else who wants to speak up. I was truly impressed at the wide range of thoughtful and intelligent comments and questions that came from a wide range of people. The Voting membership of this assembly had nearly 17% youth and young adults, 10% people of color or whose native language was not English. It was made up of 40% women and 60% men, and just in case you are thinking that this whole church-wide thing is a bunch of pastor’s sitting around making decisions for everyone else to follow, you should know that 60% of the voting membership is made up of lay people. I find this incredible because it tells me that the ELCA wants to be the kind of church where everyone has a voice. It wants to be a church that works to meet God’s challenge to us that we embrace all people and are always listening to and are aware of new voices crying out to be heard. We are not perfect in this effort. However, as I listened to such a wide range of people speak and be heard, I was proud to be a part of a church that is genuinely trying!
Another amazing thing that happened during this assembly was the election of a new Presiding Bishop for the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton. Bishop Eaton is the 4th presiding Bishop for the ELCA and the first woman elected to this role. What was truly amazing about her election was that it was not the result of campaigning or politics. Rather, the election process is very spiritual. One candidate even took time to remark that the assembly needed to know that all the candidates loved and cared for each other. There would be (and truly was) no ill will towards the one who was elected. In truth, it was more about answering a call then electing a leader. The question was what is God doing in the church, and who is God calling to be our public leader at this time? The process of voting for presiding bishop (and all other voting really) was deeply rooted in prayer and worship. In fact, the assembly took the time to pray together before each vote, and as cynical as I can sometimes be about elections and politics, I found these elections to be amazingly genuine. The people elected were called and happy to serve, and the people who were not were supportive of them and open to other ways that God was calling them to serve. It was truly beautiful and humbling to be a part of this process, and I can only hope that this spirit of service and call will be a part of election beyond the church.
The last thing I would like to write about for this article is the amazing and bold action taken by the assembly approving two very important things. The first was a social statement on The Church and Criminal Justice called “Hearing the Cries.” This action calls on members of the ELCA to recommit themselves to hearing the cries of people working in and effected by our criminal justice system in America. It calls us to visit the prisoner, reach out to the victim, support people working in the system, and work to fix the flaws and prejudices that are within it. If you would like to read the social statement or a summary of it (and I would recommend you do), I invite you to visit www.elca.org and click on the tab labeled “what we believe,” then click on “social statements”.
The second action I would like to talk about is the decision of the assembly to embark on the ELCA’s first ever major fundraising campaign in celebration of the ELCA’s 25th anniversary. This will be a five-year campaign which will start in 2014 and focus on raising funds to reinvest in developing worship communities both domestically and internationally, educating leadership both clergy and lay, expanding our global mission (particularly in the areas of world hunger and malaria prevention and treatment), and developing programs to support church leadership from youth, young adults and people with disabilities. In total, the campaign hopes to raise
$198 million to support and grow these ministries. The vote to accept was not taken lightly. The questions of if we could raise this money, and if now was the best time to undertake such a campaign were considered seriously. I personally spoke to why we needed to take this bold action, saying that even in the face of difficult financial realities, campaigns like this challenge us to look at our personal and congregation finances and think about how we CAN be a part of doing this amazing and important work. It is opportunities like this that invite all 4 million Lutherans in the ELCA to pull together in order to do amazing things. Once again, you can find more information about the 25th anniversary campaign at www.elca.org.
I could go on and on about this… and in truth, I probably will in future sermons, writings and conversations. Yet, what I truly hope everyone reading this will take away from it is that we are all a part of something amazing. We as members of the ELCA are part of a church that is working to answer God’s call that we do justice and share the good news of His love with the world. Let me stress, we are NOT a perfect church! No church is. But after this week at the assembly, I can say with renewed energy how proud and grateful I am to be a part of the ELCA. Our theme for this year’s Sunday school is “Creating the Kingdom.” It will focus on how God is working through us to create His kingdom right here, right now, through acts of justice, kindness and love. As I look at what the ELCA is doing, I am reminded that together we are changing the world. I invite you to join me in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the ELCA by looking for ways that God is creating the kingdom through you and those around you every day! If you would like to learn more about anything mentioned in this article, I invite you to go to www.elca.org or to simply give me a call!