Friday, June 24, 2011

ELCA Ecumenical Partner Report to TEC's Executive Council

I am honored to serve as The Episcopal Church's ecumenical partner, elected by its Executive Council, to the Church Council of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and this is the report that I gave at the Executive Council meeting of June 15-17, 2011.

Respectfully submitted by Lelanda Lee
on June 18, 2011

Only highlights were given orally at the Executive Council meeting
to avoid duplication of information shared in discussion.

The link to the ELCA LIFT Report is at

·      The ELCA Church Council meets twice a year, typically in April and November. The last meeting was in April.
·      This year is a Churchwide Assembly year with the meeting scheduled in August in Orlando. In the past Churchwide Assembly has been every two years, but there is a proposal for this year’s Churchwide Assembly to approve becoming a triennial meeting, like our General Convention, after 2013, in response to budget realities.
·      When the Secretary, Carlos Pena, who presides over the meetings, asked for a show of hands of who would be attending as a voting member of Churchwide Assembly, only one hand went up. That piqued my curiosity, and I surveyed some members at lunch. What I learned bowled me over! The general response was that Council members had their opportunity to voice their opinions in Council and that being a voting member at Churchwide Assembly allows others to voice their opinions.
·      The ELCA has for the past year been engaged in a reorganization following a year-and-a-half task force study called the LIFT Report – Living Into the Future Together. The study was shaped by two questions: What is God calling this church to be and to do in the future? What changes are in order to help us respond most faithfully? The task force intentionally titled its task “renewing the ecology.”
·      That consultation involved a significant two-day meeting last August, which I attended and to which other ecumenical partners including the United Methodists and the Presbyterians were also invited. The reorganization, or redesign as the Lutherans call it, was in response to a revisioning of the church that turns the organization upside-down, if you will, with more resources flowing to synods and congregations and fewer resources flowing to the churchwide organization. The revisioning has been about focusing in on mission and ministry and being and doing church most intentionally at the local, congregational expression of church.
·      That has meant significant reductions in staff at the church center in Chicago, cutting deeper than we cut, and cutting into representation also, with the painful elimination of the support given to advocacy groups such as the ELCA women’s and ethnic representatives’ attendance at Church Council meetings. The ELCA budget now reflects an increase in rental income due to the availability of whole floors of space open for leasing to others. The changes are visible to the casual visitor, who now is greeted by the receptionist on the 11th floor instead of a receptionist for the whole building on the ground floor.
·      The LIFT report looked at the trends of the times that dictate change in the churches, as identified by Phyllis Tickle in her book The Great Emergence and by others. You will recognize these, because we have talked about them here in our own Council meetings:
·      Declining participation in Christian churches;
·      Growth in “no religious affiliation;”
·      Becoming more “spiritual” and less “religious;”
·      Influence of individualism on Christian identity and community life;
·      Increasing social, cultural and religious diversity in the U.S.;
·      Growing influence of Hispanic/Latino religious faith;
·      Identifying a new stage of life: “Emerging Adulthood;”
·      The rise of a distinctive post-boomer faith and spirituality;
·      Changing structures and patterns of family life in the United States;
·      Rediscovering the impact of parents and families on faith practice;
·      Living in a digital world;
·      Educating in new ways; and
·      Increasing numbers of adults 65 and older.
·      The LIFT task force also pointed to specific strengths within the ecology of the ELCA:
·      The ELCA’s history and practice equip it to offer its distinctive gifts to the world.
·      The various interrelated constituencies within this church possess a tradition of active and effective worship and service.
·      The tradition shows itself in an active posture that seeks to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ in all its rich dimensions.
·      The church’s service agencies reach one in fifty-five American households annually.
·      Partnership activities have produced a reputation for leadership in ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue.
·      The ELCA seeks to be a public church as it speaks to the issues of its day while remaining faithful to its confessional heritage.
·      I think it is noteworthy that the ELCA has been self-reflective, methodical and honest in its assessment of where it finds itself as a church in 2011, recognizing:
·      The declining membership in the ELCA and lower attendance at worship.
·      The ethnic diversity of the United States population is not reflected adequately in this church.
·      Membership is aging.
·      While individual contributions increase, overall financial giving is lower in both designated and undesignated contributions. As a result, there is decreased support for regional and national expressions of the church.
·      The most recent national and global recession also is reflected in church finances.
·      The LIFT project is not a process peculiar to the ELCA. Nearly every mainline church (including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Christian Church [Disciples of Christ], Seventh-day Adventist, Southern Baptist Convention, The United Methodist Church) in the United States has been or is examining what changes are necessary as they confront a radically changing environment. In addition, many religious groups formerly seen as prospering in the current environment also are finding that circumstances are leading them to reexamine their institutions.
·      The LIFT report findings and recommendations will be brought to the ELCA’s churchwide assembly in August for action by the wider church.
·      The proposed recommended Social Statement on Genetics was approved to be sent on to the churchwide assembly for consideration and adoption. It is a process that has taken nearly ten years. In response to the Draft of 2010 alone, the task force received feedback at 48 synodical hearings as well as from hundreds of written responses or reflections from across the country. Several members of the task force individually read each written communication. They sought to hear the concerns behind different and, sometimes, contrasting opinions so that they could revise the draft into the strongest and clearest possible proposed social statement. That process is not unlike what we have sought to do in our own context with our D020 task force asking for feedback on the proposed Anglican Covenant.
·      The ELCA has entered into a Joint Mission Statement of the ELCA and African Methodist Episcopal Zion. This Joint Mission Statement is an example of things rising up from the grassroots. It was through a friendship and pulpit exchange at a local Lutheran and a local AMEZ church that the impetus for such a relationship originated. This was brought to the attention of the Presiding Bishop and the Church Center, and follow-up led to this historic agreement.
·      As Pastor Kathryn Tiede reported, I have been invited by the ELCA Church Council’s Anti-Racism Team as well as by their newly hired Anti-Racism Officer Judith Barlow-Roberts to participate in providing Anti-Racism training at their November Church Council meeting. It is our hope that we will be able to collaborate in other ways to do anti-racism work together as two churches in mission partnership.
·      It is ironic that I borrowed the Process Observation form from the ELCA, that our Anti-Racism Team placed more words and process around the use of the form, and now I am invited to bring it back to ELCA. This is an example of how ecumenical sharing can happen and not only at the Presiding Bishops’ level, but also at the level of church people working together wherever they find themselves. This represents a real richness in relationship, and you could see how excited Kathryn Tiede is about the relationship and its possibilities.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Response from an Executive Council Member


I have not remained purposefully silent through the public debate that has ensued since the Executive Council’s Chair for its Standing Committee on World Mission, Rosalie Simmonds Ballentine, remarked in her report to Council last Friday, June 17, 2011, that her committee would not – yet – release the report it requested and received from the General Convention’s Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons on the proposed Anglican Covenant.

I did not return home until 2:00 AM Saturday morning after the close of the 3-day Executive Council meeting on Friday afternoon and have been engaged over the weekend in supporting my husband’s self-employed consulting, from which we derive our family’s livelihood. I now have the time to write a response, which I feel called to do, because I do take seriously the honor, privilege and responsibility given to me when I was elected to serve as the lay representative to Executive Council from Province VI. Whether or not anyone agrees with me is of minor import compared to the right of the members of the church to have access to its elected leaders and their thinking.


The Constitution and Canons report on the proposed Anglican Covenant was dated February 15, 2011, and posted to the Executive Council’s Extranet (online community) that evening. The Executive Council meeting was held on February 16 through 18 in Fort Worth. The Standing Committee on World Mission did – not – report on the proposed Anglican Covenant or any reports associated with it in plenary session at that Executive Council meeting.

(Much of the work of Executive Council and certainly most of the detailed discussion about that work takes place within the five standing committees of Council, which meet simultaneously during allotted committee time, which has recently been running about 50% of the time allotted for the entire 3-day Council meetings. Budget considerations after General Convention 2009 have necessitated a reduction from 4-day to 3-day Council meetings. Occasionally two or more of the standing committees may meet jointly over a specific topic for a specified time period.)

An excerpt from the approved Minutes of the Standing Committee on World Mission for the February 16 through 18, 2011, meeting reveals:

“D020 TF      [T]here is nothing to report because responses are not due until Easter but the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons has sent a report on how adopting the covenant will affect the constitution and canons. There has been conversation about whether these responses will be posted. All the committee was doing was creating framework for EC’s response.”

It is my understanding as a Council member that the D020 Task Force will be working throughout the summer to prepare a report for Executive Council on the proposed Anglican Covenant, taking into account all the feedback that it has requested and received from throughout The Episcopal Church. World Mission Chair Ballentine indicated that the Constitution and Canons report – would be appended – to the report to Executive Council and – released with the final approved report.

Both the Constitution and Canons report and all the various feedback from the members of The Episcopal Church are – ingredients – that will contribute to that final approved report from the D020 Task Force, but none of them are – in and of themselves – the report – nor do they stand alone without context. Thus, I do support Chair Ballentine and the Standing Committee on World Mission in their judgment and process for carrying out their oversight of the D020 Task Force’s work in moving towards producing a final report for Executive Council’s consideration at its October 21 through 24, 2011, meeting in Salt Lake City. The Standing Committee on World Mission does have a plan to release the Constitution and Canons report as part of the final approved D020 Task Force report.

As a reminder, here is the then-current timeline for response from The Episcopal Church to the proposed Anglican Covenant, as cited in the D020 Task Force June 2010 Study Guide:

•       June 2010: a study guide with questions will go out to deputations and dioceses for use with the goal of receiving responses back from them by Easter 2011 (24 April)
•       October 2010: the task force will remind deputations of engaging with the study questions and the Easter deadline
•       24 April 2011: deputations return their responses to the D020 Task Force
•       June 2011: the task force submits a draft report with accompanying resolutions to Executive Council for input
•       October 2011: the task force submits a final draft with resolutions to Executive Council for acceptance
•       December 2011: the task force submits its report for inclusion in the Blue Book.”


The issue of openness to and access of the entire Episcopal Church with regard to Executive Council is one that is taken seriously by members of Council. In the current environment of reduced resources and heightened anxiety about the future of our beloved church, I have observed repeatedly at instances of private conversation or executive session some one or two of our members raising her or his hand to question the chair as to the necessity of being in private conversation or executive session. Council members do share and raise concerns about openness and access.

The reasons for private conversation and executive session have been legitimate ones: discussions of personnel issues, lawsuits and potential lawsuits, and potential for physical harm to members of the church. No actions, i.e., votes, are taken in private conversation or executive session.

It is my personal observation that 3-day meetings to do the work set before Executive Council three times a year produce “killer” meetings which do not allow adequate time to read, reflect, discuss, pray, discern and digest our work. I am, however, not advocating for a return to 4-day meetings, because our budget concerns are real, and there are adjustments that can be made in how we approach our work. Council members make many personal sacrifices to serve on Council, and I do not find the sacrifices associated with a 3-day meeting unreasonable.

At the Council meeting of last week, there was no dinner away with the local diocese and only three reports from non-members of Council, because Council had previously requested more written and fewer in-person reports, whenever appropriate, to effect better use of limited time. This resulted in no whole-Council evening meetings and allowed for a few sub-committees to utilize that evening time for their work.

The newly adopted Rules of Order appended to the newly adopted revised Bylaws of Executive Council now require all reports and other written materials to be reviewed as part of the work of the next Council meeting to be submitted to the Secretariat 30 days prior to that meeting to facilitate translation. That 30-day period will allow all Council members the opportunity to read, reflect and ask questions about those reports and written materials in advance of each Council meeting, making Council members more uniformly prepared by the time we meet in person.

A piece of wisdom generated by staff, specifically the Rev. Margaret Rose, “Assume positive intent,” is slowly working its way into the psyche of Council and staff, as we live into our interdependence. Council and staff are comprised of very dedicated, conscientious, gifted, caring, strong-willed and unique individuals who are also profoundly human in all of our quirks and foibles. So, too, are all the members of The Episcopal Church who observe and participate in our life together as leaders, staff and members. Thus, I want to point out that I do not find personal attacks on the character, ethics or work ethos of Council members to be an appropriate addition to the sacrifices that Council members willingly and gladly make to serve on Council. Likewise, I do not experience any Council member bearing any attitude of superiority to the members of The Episcopal Church whatsoever.

It is not easy to work and live in a fishbowl, and that is and always has been the life of elected leaders and staff in this and every other organization. One large difference in the life of the church is that each and every one of us is intrinsically bound to our church in ways that transcend our reason and our emotions because of our call to be members of the Body of Christ and our love of our Lord and His Earthly Spouse, the Church.

We are not easy on each other, because we care deeply. But perhaps we could stop when we reach the brink of blaming, name calling and shaming.

We work hard, but sometimes not hard enough by either our own or others’ standards. And perhaps those are the times when we need to rely on prayer for the realities and sensibilities of others and to ask for patience, peace and understanding that follows the example of the Peace of God that we exchange with one another in every Eucharistic celebration.

When we each speak our own truth, I truly believe that the act of that speaking does have the ability to lift up the entire Body and call us to our better selves, to do better, to speak better, to be better. Would that our speaking of our truths also be spoken in such loving kindness that the words and the truths soothe our souls, enlarge our energy and capacities, and cause the love within us for each other to blossom forth to overflowing.

I believe that I speak for my fellow Council members when I say that we do welcome the thoughts of the members of The Episcopal Church, because we learn and grow from what each of us brings to the table and we are propelled to do better.

God’s Peace to each of us,

Lelanda Lee
Member, Executive Council,
Lay Representative from Province VI,
and Lay Deputy, Diocese of Colorado

(cross-posted to the HoB/D - House of Bishops/Deputies - list)