Sunday, April 10, 2011

ELCA Church Council Spring Meeting, Day 2

Mosaic at The Lutheran Center
As the ecumenical partner sent by The Episcopal Church's (TEC) Executive Council to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) Church Council, I attend their twice-yearly meetings at the Lutheran Center near Chicago's O'Hare Airport. My counterpart, Pastor Kathryn Tiede from Minnesota, attends TEC's Executive Council thrice-yearly meetings, which alternate between Baltimore and Salt Lake City this triennium. Our churches fund each other's representative's visits, valuing the exchange of ideas and observations of the other church's life and processes. 

ELCA's Kathryn Tiede & TEC's Lelanda Lee
Kathryn and I have enjoyed getting acquainted with one another's church, sharing our observations and developing a friendship grounded in our Christian service. As a matter of good stewardship, we are collaborating on collecting our observations to produce a report to our churches, targeted for spring 2012. Kathryn has also invited me to participate with the ELCA Church Council's Process Observation team, on which she serves, to prepare a training for Council members in November 2011 when newly elected members attend their first Council meeting. Process Observation is a tool to help the Council members reflect on their challenge to be intentionally inclusive in thought, word and deed as a church that is 97% White.

Yesterday was Day 2 of the Spring ELCA Church Council meeting, which was entirely spent in four packed plenary sessions. I live Tweeted yesterday's meeting, confining my Tweets primarily to giving a "tone" picture of the day's activities. As a guest at their meeting, I did not feel comfortable writing about intense discussions while they were in process and incomplete, on the fly. In addition to reports from the Presiding Bishop, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary and Executive for Administration, much of the discussion time was devoted to unpacking the report of the LIFT (Living Into the Future Together) Task Force. I'm going to attempt now to share a few quick observations of the day. I will follow up after the weekend meeting is over with some more observations.

Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson opened the meeting with his address to Council. He reflected on how the outgoing class of 2011 Council members were elected in 2005 at a contentious time and how their six-year term has been defined by Social Statements, including the one on Human Sexuality adopted by their Churchwide Assembly in 2009. He pondered with Council how the ELCA will be defined as a church going forward and what the cathartic sparks will be in the future. He pointed to the lessons of perseverance and accompaniment of brothers and sisters through crisis into restoration such as the experience of Haiti and the presence of the Lutheran Church there through and after the 2010 earthquake.

Bishop Hanson talked about his recent visit to Haiti and how Haiti could easily be defined by its rubble and ruins, but instead its church leaders have chosen to be defined by restoration, because they are people of the resurrection. It is the 400 tents housing 10,000 people on top of the ruins of the former Italian Embassy and the vision of a vocational training school where now stands the remains of a former sugar factory that give rise to the promise of resurrection and a new identity for the people of Haiti.

Choosing relatedness rather than focusing on differences is a counter-cultural way for the ELCA to define itself. As Bishop Hanson puts it, it is about the ability to be present at the complex and challenging intersections of life and death where Lutherans can choose to be enriched rather than being divided.

Pastor Andre Lavergne of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) represented their Presiding Bishop at this Spring meeting of the ELCA Church Council. In the Fall, the ELCA sends a representative to the ELCIC Council meeting. ELCIC Presiding Bishop Susan Johnson has called their church to renewal, and because of their smaller size, they are able to be nimble in adjusting to changing demographics and resources. Martha Gardner of the TEC's Executive Council is the ecumenical partner to the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), which had its first joint Council meeting with the ELCIC last week.

The ELCIC's human sexuality Social Statement will be coming to their churchwide assembly this year. Pastor Lavergne described the document as being more descriptive than proscriptive. Two drafts have previously been referred to their Faith, Order and Doctrine Committee. The first part of the Statement affirms that matters of human sexuality ought not to be divisive. Another part addresses the ordination of LGBTs and says that sexual orientation ought not to preclude ordination or taking a call. Since civil marriage is legal for LGBTs in all Canadian jurisdictions, Pastor Lavergne pointed out that Canada's landscape is different than that faced by American churches. A final part of the Statement will address issues such as sexual harassment, exploitation, trafficking, etc.

Arielle Mastellar, one of two youth advisors to the ELCA Council, who will be retiring after this meeting, gave a five-minute Dwelling in the Word reflection on the parable of the sower. She reflected on the kind of soil that she is at different occasions in her life and asked Council members, "What kind of soil are you?" Her reflection built upon the ongoing challenge to ELCA members to live into being a restorative and fertile ground on which the church and its people can continue to live into the future, and lifts up the theme of this summer's Churchwide Assembly in Orlando - "Freed in Christ to Serve."

There's more to report from yesterday, but I've run out of time this morning and will post more later this weekend when I get home to Colorado.

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