Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day Six

by Phil Soucy

I would like to report at the outset that the Presiding Bishop, in accordance with the agenda for the assembly laid out weeks ago, took the entire assembly to Central Lutheran today for worship at 11:30 a.m. Throwing caution to winds (yes, Virginia, that reference is deliberate), the assembly had to cross the very same ground that the tornado touched down on. They were in the previously "so-called targeted" area including Central Lutheran for nearly an hour, and then retraced their steps to the Convention Center. The sky remained blue, tornado-less and cloudless, the sun shining brightly. So much for that...

That "weather" pattern was not prevalent throughout the morning in the assembly hall as "greetings" were brought to the assembly by Reverend Dr. Gerald Kieschnick, President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. More accurately, he was greeted warmly and humorously in the name of the Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America by Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. The Reverend Dr. did not smile, but began his message by quoting Paul in 2 Corinthians 15: "...we implore you, on behalf of Christ: be reconciled to God. For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. What a blessing it is to know that our sin is forgiven, removed from us as far as the east is from the west because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ on Calvary's cross..."

At that point I realized that the exchange of commemorative plaques was probably off...

Getting into stride, he later quoted from the Kolb-Wengert translation of the Formula of Concord on doctrinal controversy and discord, to wit: "...for these controversies are not merely misunderstandings or semantic arguments where someone might think that one group had not sufficiently grasped what the other group was trying to say or that the tensions were based upon only a few specific words of relatively little consequence. Rather, these controversies deal with important and significant matters, and they are of such a nature that the positions of the erring party neither could nor should be tolerated in the church of God, much less be excused or defended. Therefore necessity demands explanation of these disputed articles on the basis of God's word and reliable writings so that those with a proper Christian understanding could recognize which position regarding the points under dispute is in accord with God's word and the Christian Augsburg confession and which is not. And so t
he Christians of good will, who are concerned about the truth, might protect and guard themselves from the errors and corruptions that have appeared among us..."

His was a serious message of rebuke, delivered somberly and, as he said, " deep humility with a heavy heart and no desire whatsoever to offend. The decisions by this assembly to grant non-celibate homosexual ministers the privilege of serving as rostered leaders in the ELCA and the affirmation of same-gender unions as pleasing to God will undoubtedly cause additional stress and disharmony within the ELCA. It will also negatively affect the relationships between our two church bodies. The current division between our churches threatens to become a chasm..."

Bishop Hanson replied graciously " the same spirit of high humility and clarity in which you addressed us, I want you to hear, in my humble voice my deep commitment that the shared confessions that hold us together as Lutherans I hope and pray will be strong enough for us to continue to be in conversation and that the cries of the world that we have heeded together, in spite of these difficult times of acknowledging our differences, the cries of the world that have called us to join together as Lutheran Services in America, Lutheran Immigration Refugee Service, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response and military chaplains, that even as we take and hear your honest voices about our actions, you hear our honest commitment to be in conversation and together responding as your board of directors did this week in response to LMI, so that with Lutheran voice and humility and capacity we might proclaim Christ through our deeds of service. Bring my commitment to your church."

I am aware that a casual reading of these reports would lead to the conclusion that we are one-subject Lutherans. I have per force of the issues before us, the church, and the assembly concentrated on that subject, seemingly to the exclusion of all others. But I know you and those who surround me in this work are Lutherans, loving our church and vitally interested in the gamut of the work done for others by the ELCA.

This assembly dealt with amazing issues of vital important to the life of the church and its present and future mission to its members and those it is in service to in the world, using our hands to do God's work. All done as Mother Theresa once said, "Not because we want anything, but because they need it."

The assembly voted that youth (under 18 at the time of their election or appointment) and young adults (18-35) should comprise 10% of boards, committees and assemblies at the congregation, synod, and churchwide level.

The assembly has ordered a Social Statement be created on Justice for Women and presented for adoption in 2015 to help the church and its members in moral deliberations, to govern the ELCA's institutional policies and to be a guide in the church's advocacy work concerning women. Social Statements take a minimum of 5 years in preparation; there are two other social statements in the queue for 2011 and 2013.

The assembly said in unequivocal terms that basic health care and mental health care should be available to all at an affordable cost.

The assembly approved a budget for 2010 that is $76.69 million, a 6.4 percent decrease over 2009. This is based on estimated giving levels in 2009.

All of these things are important to us as Lutherans. It really is all about our hands doing God's work.

Look for a communication from Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of Lutherans Concerned in the next few days reflecting on the events of the assembly and the future they bode. In the meantime, continue your prayers for the church, all its members, and its leaders as the decisions of the assembly are turned into actions for the mission of the church to the world.

This is the last of these blogs from the assembly. It has been an honor to try to help you see in a small way the assembly through a rear-view mirror.

One last observation: in the hotel we stayed in the sign on wall informing what was going on in the venue. As we arrived last weekend it said that "Flexible meeting space was available." Now at this end of the week it notes that "Transformance seminars" are beginning. Indeed, they are... Peace and Blessings...

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