I am long delayed in getting this post written and posted online. Between last month and this month, much life has happened, including eight days of vacation with my husband. Much as I love the "stop everything normal and get outside of your life" aspect of vacations, I am also enough of a contemporary American to resent being taken away from the everyday work of my life even as I am thoroughly enjoying my vacation experience of being physically and mentally away from work, volunteering and family. My husband and I have always said that there should be no line of demarcation between "my real life" and "work life," and I feel that especially intensely these days. I am always grateful for the work that God has given to me.
In March, 2009, the ELCA Church Council authorized Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson to convene a study group in conjunction with its Executive Committee and the Conference of Bishops for the purpose of surveying the environment in which the church finds itself today. Executive for Administration, the Rev. Wyvetta Bullock, stated that the LIFT task force grew out of changes in the world and the ELCA after its first twenty years, evolution of relationships domestically and globally and changes in giving patterns and philanthropic support.
The LIFT project calls the ELCA to answer two key questions: (1) What is God calling this church to be and to do in the future? and (2) What changes are in order to help us respond most faithfully? The scope of the LIFT task force is framed by four key areas: Identity, Mission, Relationships and Sustainability, which includes funding, governance and administration. Please read the charter here for detailed information about this effort, which will culminate in a report to the 2011 Churchwide Assembly.
Pastor Bullock led the Church Council in a small group discussion of two questions, which raised the following points:
What do you believe are the most important questions LIFT should address?
§ Lack of knowledge/transparency on how the Church Council works for the people in the pews.
§ The need for better ways to define and articulate what our common identity and mission are as ELCA Lutherans. People in the pews ask, “What’s the ELCA to me?”
§ What work is essential to the church? At what level is it best done? How do we connect it to the people?
§ Pastors are gatekeepers. If pastors aren’t supportive, then thoughts wouldn’t be communicated to the people.
§ The jargon that we use is a barrier to communications.
§ What about using streaming video of church council meetings?
§ We get letters asking us to overturn what happened, and we don’t have that ability/capacity.
§ What does it take to become a fully informed member of the ELCA?
§ If we want to flatten the way we do things, why don’t we have a churchwide assembly that involves one from each congregation and make it as fun as youth assembly?
§ Are there new ways to organize beyond the congregation?
§ How do we live into being more inclusive, especially around immigrant communities and what they bring to the church?
What thoughts or ideas do you have about how the governance of this church could be improved?
§ Are assemblies and the frequency of meetings appropriate for the needs of the church?
§ Look at changing old ways, such as the number of synods. Fortify what we have instead of doing away with things.
§ Evaluate socio-economic factors. People who don’t have the economic means might not be able to participate.
§ Are councils and the congress of bishops appropriately integrated? For example, include the vice presidents of synods, too.
I am excited to participate in the next LIFT conference in August as part of the ELCA's ecumenical partnerships and to represent The Episcopal Church as designated by our presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.
On April 20, 2010, subsequent to the recent ELCA Church Council meeting, futurist Ozan Sevimli of the World Bank made a presentation to the LIFT task force, which may be downloaded here. I highly commend this six-page document, which highlights the global repercussions of the current economic crisis and its impact on world poverty and comments on denial, sacred cows, change leadership and seminaries within those contexts. Mr. Sevimli describes the global and generational world today and suggests that so-called imaginary sacred cows "blind us and distract us" and cause "many of our churches to be inward looking instead of being outward looking."
I must point out that one cannot discuss the work of the LIFT task force without also looking at the 2007 Blue Ribbon Committee on Mission Funding, which addresses an ongoing concern for all Christian denominations today: shrinking giving and dollars for mission work.
From an Episcopal point of view, the questions that my colleagues and I continue to ask at all levels of the church's leadership are "Why are today's church members no longer feeling connected to our churches?" and "How do we change how we 'do' church so that we become relevant to our members and their lives?" We believe that we must answer those questions at the same time we are studying and enhancing our stewardship efforts regarding such typical church subjects as pledging, tithing, legacy giving, oblation and gratitude. It is not enough to address funding issues without focusing in on the very structures and philosophies of the way in which we organize ourselves to be the missional church for the sake of the world. And we need to eliminate "We can't, because . . . " from our thinking and conversation and instead, ask, "How can we . . . ?"
Giving for mission is so much more complex and comprehensive than merely writing checks or changing wills to give dollars. The ELCA Church Council and Conference of Bishops are engaging in one-on-one stewardship conversations and a focus on telling Stories of Faith in Formation. Storytelling is clearly a foundational piece in any effort to transform an institutional culture. Storytelling is an important element of approaches such as Appreciative Inquiry and Public Narrative. Stories connect people to each other, across generations and cultures. The sharing of stories is a renewed emphasis on the interconnectedness of the people of God that churches serve and embrace as members. It's an affirmation of the importance of each person's experience and that these experiences have basic elements in common while differences could be categorized as stylistic or contextual. And just as our stories are interconnected, so, too, should be the application of our personal resources to the common good that surrounds and undergirds our interconnectedness.
Presiding Bishop Susan Johnson's Remarks
Bishop Susan Johnson, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), also attended the ELCA Church Council meeting as an ecumenical partner. I was eager to converse with her about the reported discussions that the ELCIC has held with The Anglican Church of Canada, The Episcopal Church's counterpart to our north. The two Canadian churches are in conversation about the possibility of sharing headquarters space in the nation's capital in Ottawa. Currently The Anglican Church is headquartered in Toronto, and the ECLIC is located in Winnipeg.
I am particularly interested in this subject, because our respective denominations, the Lutherans and the Episcopalians/Anglicans have laid off large numbers of staff and vacated significant space in our headquarters' buildings resulting from budget cuts caused by declining pledge and investment income. Ownership and pride in a sole proprietary headquarters space is one of those sacred cows that must be reviewed with a sober eye and "let go of" so as to get out of the way of God's mission. We as the church must begin to renew our faith by living into the theology that "God's mission has a church" and that "the church is mission."
Bishop Johnson remarks covered a number of topics, which included:
• The ELCIC is following in the footsteps of the ELCA and released its first draft of a proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality on April 15, 2010, which will be addressed at its National Convention in 2011.
• The ELCIC is undertaking a review of the structure and size of its synods to realign itself to be a more responsive "church in mission for others."
• The theme of its forthcoming National Convention in 2011 will be "Covenant People in Mission for Others."
• Ongoing work and conversation is taking place with regard to "treaty living" with indigenous peoples, which builds upon the ELCIC's 2007 renewal of its pledge to continue its work on human rights and justice issues for native peoples.
• Bishop Johnson and the ELCIC are focused on calling people to spiritual renewal in an age where people are consumed by the consumer culture, which means an emphasis on regular attendance at corporate worship, daily personal prayer, regular study of scripture, regular and appropriate giving for mission, and a commitment to sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Johnson closed her remarks with the story of St. Augustine, who had two daughters named Anger and Courage: Anger that things are the way that they are and Courage to make things the way that they ought to be. Bishop Johnson suggests that we eschew anger rooted in hopelessness and proclaim hope and use anger and hope appropriately.
I am going to close this post here, and I now recognize that I have one more post on the April ELCA Church Council meeting that I want to write. But it will have to wait while I catch up on some other writing that I want to share on this blog. Thanks for reading! And remember to feel free to comment here, too.