Lutheran Church Convenes for Annual Meeting

“Embody the Word” was the theme for the 16th ELCA Churchwide Assembly held Aug. 8-12 at the Greater Columbus (Ohio) Convention Center. Eight hundred voting members were in attendance.

In her welcome, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton acknowledged that the assembly was gathering on the original and ancestral homelands of the Shawnee, Miami and Kaskaskia peoples. “We give thanks for their presence here since time immemorial,” she said.

The assembly also recognized the 35th anniversary of the adoption of the ELCA’s constitution in Columbus. “On April 30, 1987, the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches united to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” Eaton said. “This is a time for us to look back at the people and events that have helped shape our lives.”

During the week the assembly received a presentation on the “Declaration of the ELCA to American Indian and Alaska Native People” adopted by the ELCA Church Council in September 2021. The declaration was part of the implementation of the 2016 Churchwide Assembly’s resolution to repudiate explicitly and clearly the European-derived doctrine of discovery.

Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery task force members gave examples to the assembly of what the ELCA has been doing to live out the declaration, closed with remarks by Vance Blackfox, who began last year in his newly created position as ELCA director for Indigenous ministries and tribal relations. “It’s time to make a change,” he said.

Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, then addressed the assembly “on behalf of 574 sovereign Tribal nations.”

A communion service on Aug. 10 centered Native voices as the assembly marked the repudiation (an article in Living Lutheran’s October issue will feature this service).

Among assembly actions, voting members passed a memorial to establish a Commission for a Renewed Lutheran Church. The commission will consider statements of purpose for the church and its organizational structure.

A nonlegislative session was also held in which Eaton issued an apology on behalf of the ELCA to Iglesia Luterana Santa María Peregrina, Stockton, Calif., following the abrupt removal of their pastor on the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe last year, along with a public commitment to be an anti-racist church.

The next assembly will be in Phoenix in 2025.

Addressing the assembly, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton reported on the ways in which the church has changed and adapted during the pandemic and shared that the ELCA has distributed more than $1.5 million to its synods through COVID-19 response grants.

“This was an entirely and very different time for all of us, and it required all kinds of ingenuity and skill and dedication and strength and perseverance and stamina,” Eaton said. “Worship, Bible study, checking in on members and neighbors, hunger ministries, serving communities, prayer groups, open-air worship—that all became more visible in our communities, and we never shut down.”

Eaton also emphasized the ways in which the ELCA has sought to become a more innovative and authentically diverse church. As part of her report, churchwide staff talked about their areas of work, including Kimberly Jackson, director of leadership development and co-convener of the Collaborative leadership development group, and Rebecca Payne, program manager for the Congregations Lead Initiative.

“When I think about innovation, I also think about transformation,” Eaton said. She then invited Nicolette Marie Peñaranda to share about her work as ELCA program director for African Descent Ministries, which is establishing and supporting a group of five new-start congregations across the U.S.

“As you can see, the church never closed,” Eaton said. “As I have said before, if God still has a use for an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America witness to the gospel, then we can’t be stopped.”

In her first report to a churchwide assembly as secretary, Sue Rothmeyer talked about how words matter when it comes to the church’s governing documents but how “the Word matters even more.” While giving a brief overview of the steps involved in amending the ELCA’s constitution, she encouraged the opportunity the assembly has every three years to ensure the ELCA’s constitution serves the church as a living—rather than fixed—document.

In his report to the assembly, Carlos Peña, interim ELCA vice president, shared the actions brought forward to the assembly by the Church Council. One of the first recommendations was the call for the election of the vice president by ecclesiastical ballot.

Peña reported that another recommendation was a proposed bylaw amendment to allow for the inclusion of advisory members to the Church Council. The proposed amendment stated that the categories for the advisory members shall be set forth in continuing resolutions.

“The intent of the bylaw is for Church Council to hear from the voices frequently marginalized,” he said. “Council is aware that it needs greater diversity and cultural awareness that our elected leadership does not always embody.” Because continuing resolution amendments can be adopted by the Church Council, the proposed amendment “allows Church Council to be flexible and adjust categories as needed in the future,” he added.

The council also affirmed a redesign to strengthen the churchwide organization and align the ELCA “for the purpose of activating all ELCA members so more people know the way of Jesus and discover community, justice and love,” Peña said. “Let us envision a world experiencing the difference God’s grace and love in Christ make for all people and creation.”

Lori Fedyk, ELCA treasurer, expressed gratitude on behalf of the ELCA for the “steadfastness and generosity” that congregations displayed in their giving over the past three years, especially considering the pandemic.

Louise Johnson, ELCA executive for administration, also talked about the ELCA’s goal of engaging 1 million new, young and diverse people: “This work is not about people in the pews or dollars in the plate but about our deep calling to make disciples of all nations, to activate each of us so that more people know the way of Jesus and discover community, justice and love.”

Source: Living Lutheran