Hello, Columbus

Started by Richard Johnson, August 08, 2022, 06:27:19 PM

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Richard Johnson

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly meets August 8-12 in Columbus, OH—returning, as the ELCA celebrates its 35th anniversary, to the city where it was officially constituted in 1987. The assembly gathers, Living Lutheran breathlessly tells us in the first sentence of its article on the event, on the "original and ancestral homelands of the Shawnee, Miami and Kaskaskia peoples." (Lest you wonder, the assembly takes place in the Greater Columbus Convention Center, not in a bark or reed house.) The theme is "Embody the Word," a theme which somehow is based on Luke 24.45, "Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures."

This will be the first assembly in three years, not because of the COVID pandemic but because in 2019 the ELCA moved to a three-year cycle rather than the biennial assemblies that had been its practice up to that time. The pandemic, however, will impact how the assembly proceeds. All participants will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, and visitors are "encouraged" to watch the livestream (which, one supposes, is a nice way of saying that visitors are "discouraged" from actually visiting). Furthermore, legislative hearings and Bible studies will take place virtually in the weeks prior to the assembly. This makes one wonder exactly how the time normally taken up by these things will be used, but no doubt they'll think of something.

The most significant election being held this year will be for vice president. William "Bill" Horne, elected to that position in 2016, died last year; the previous veep, Carlos Peña, has been serving as interim. This was the scheduled year for an election anyway, so whoever is chosen will serve a full six-year term. There will also be all the requisite elections for members of the church council and all the various boards; this is always one of the least edifying aspects of an assembly, since members are voting for people they've never heard of based on minimal information.

What, no social statements?
Hard to believe, but there won't be any social statements debated this year. There is one in process on church, state, and civic participation, but it's not due until 2025. No doubt there will be a progress report of some kind. The assembly will receive a presentation on an already issued "Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People," and hear an address from Fawn Sharp from the National Congress of American Indians.

There will be a raft of constitution and bylaws amendments presented for approval. As is typical, most of these are simply editorial changes. For example, the ELCA will be bending over backward to use "inclusive language." Remember when that meant always saying "he or she shall do such and such"? Now "he and she" are out the window and we get "the bishop [or whomever] shall do such and such." Instead of a "balance of men and women" among churchwide staff, there will be a "balance of genders." Former representational protocols calling for 50% men and 50% women now lower the percentages to "at least 45%" of each. This, the explanatory paper tells us, will "provide contextual flexibility and make calculations simpler." No doubt that is true, but does anyone doubt that the primary reason is to allow for people who decline to "identify" as either male or female? We're going to be non-binary now. The only question is whether someone will raise the objection that this limits the representation of non-binary people to no more than 10% (which it does, obviously). I'mm sure someone will raise this.

On leave from call
As Forum Letter has reported previously, there has been a lot of discussion across the church regarding the process by which clergy are (or are not) granted the status of "on leave from call." Some of this was a result of some pastors being administratively defrocked when bishops and synod councils refused to grant them that status after they had left a call (as in the case of Pr. Nelson Rabell- González). Some was an increasing unhappiness over the inflexibility of the three year limitation for on leave from call status.

There have been memorials percolating in various synods to address this issue, and a handful have been approved by synod assemblies this spring. As far as I can tell, there is some variety in the precise wording and the scope of these different proposals, but you can expect that the issue will be taken up in Columbus. It should make for an interesting discussion. Most likely there will be a motion to refer this to some agency, either the Church Council or the Conference of Bishops (or the "appropriate churchwide unit," which is what we call things now). There will be pressure, though, to act more immediately on at least certain aspects of this policy; some, for instance, want an immediate end to the three-year limitation on the on leave from call status.

The elephant
As far as I can see, no other major issues are on the horizon—except, of course, the elephant in the Convention Center, which is the still unfolding disaster in the Sierra Pacific Synod. On social media there are calls for a vote of no-confidence in Bp. Eaton for her handling of the situation with Bp. Megan Rohrer. Such a vote is not going to be on the agenda, and it seems unlikely that any effort to put it there will succeed. But that's not to say there won't be a ruckus of some kind, officially or unofficially. Whatever has happened in the disciplinary case, there is a lot of anger about the whole situation, and it is hard to believe it won't erupt in some form in Columbus. ELCA leaders will be under pressure to allow for some kind of discussion. Maybe that's how they'll fill the time they've gained by moving the Bible studies and hearings to a pre- assembly virtual format. In any event, the show will go on. For the first time in many years, Forum Letter will not be offering live, in-person coverage. I will, however, be glued to the livestream, and we'll have a place in Forum Online for real time commentary. If you don't have the time (or the patience) to watch everything, come on over to get updates and join the conversation.--Richard O. Johnson




The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

Brian Stoffregen

There are memorials from synods for a reconstituting the ELCA.


"The basic idea behind the "Reconstitution Resolution" (the version out of the Delaware-Maryland Synod is below) is to ask the Churchwide Assembly to create a committee to review the ELCA constitution for the next 3 years, specifically to find ways to change the ways that congregations, synods, and the national offices relate. The research will then be presented at the 2025 Churchwide conference and used as the basis for a new constituting convention. That will start soon after.


It will be long, intense work, but when done it will help the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to avoid the horrible tragedies that have befallen it in recent years and bring the church into the 21st century."
I flunked retirement. Serving as a part-time interim in Ferndale, WA.

James S. Rustad

Quote from: Brian Stoffregen on August 08, 2022, 08:12:01 PM
There are memorials from synods for a reconstituting the ELCA.

"The basic idea behind the "Reconstitution Resolution" (the version out of the Delaware-Maryland Synod is below) is to ask the Churchwide Assembly to create a committee to review the ELCA constitution for the next 3 years, specifically to find ways to change the ways that congregations, synods, and the national offices relate. The research will then be presented at the 2025 Churchwide conference and used as the basis for a new constituting convention. That will start soon after.

It will be long, intense work, but when done it will help the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to avoid the horrible tragedies that have befallen it in recent years and bring the church into the 21st century."

Sounds more like rearranging the deck chairs.
"Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem." -Thomas Jefferson

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