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.
EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA (ELCA)
ECUMENICAL PARTNER REPORT
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 http://bit.ly/cE6PUZ
· 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.