In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will begin with a word of tremendous gratitude.
At the end of this year, Eileen Heffner will retire after nearly 27 years of faithful service at the ELCA churchwide organization. We give thanks to God for her, and especially for her ministry with Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations. She is beloved by all of us, and her legacy will be lasting. As we give thanks for her ministry, we also give thanks for her joy as she anticipates pursuing other interests and passions in retirement. You can send your greetings to Eileen Heffner, ELCA-OPB, 8765 W. Higgins Rd., Chicago, IL 60631. Her last day is Dec. 19. Godspeed to you, Eileen, as you enter this time of transition, and thank you.
I am very pleased to share the good news that earlier this month the ELCA Church Council unanimously recommended the proposed “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment: A policy statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” for adoption by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. The document reflects the collective wisdom of many who participated in the process of review and revision earlier this year. A new structure, as well as clarified content, have emerged. You will soon be able to access the document here.
The sixth modern Parliament of the World’s Religions took place in Toronto, Canada, Nov. 2-6, with the theme “The Promise of Inclusion: The Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation, and Change.” The ELCA was represented by several leaders, professors, practitioners and activists who led workshops, plenaries and network meetings. The proposed policy statement was lifted up, as well as the ELCA’s work through inter-religious coalitions, including the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign: Standing with American Muslims, Upholding American Values. The Rev. Dr. Michael Trice, associate dean of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue at Seattle University School of Theology (and former director of ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations), serves as secretary for the Parliament, and provided a tremendous amount of leadership to ensuring a smooth and successful event. Congratulations, Michael, and thank you. Information about the Parliament, as well as videos of plenaries and sessions, are available here.
There have also been very difficult dimensions of our work. In early fall, we became aware of the grave reports that the Trump administration would halt U.S. humanitarian assistance to the East Jerusalem Hospital Network, which includes Augusta Victoria Hospital, a ministry of the Lutheran World Federation. The ELCA Conference of Bishops issued a strong statement. On the basis of this statement, we were able to engage our partnerships with leadership from The Episcopal Church and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to raise our collective concern and join together in advocacy. Together our bishops made this statement. We will continue to build upon this work together in the coming weeks.
The devastating impact of the anti-Semitic massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh, was felt by all of us. As a church, through the leadership of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, we have recalled the commitments in our 1994 Declaration of the ELCA to the Jewish Community. Bishop Eaton issued this statement. The Monday and Tuesday following, we happened to be hosting the Jewish-Christian dialogue of the National Council of Churches and the National Council of Synagogues at the Lutheran Center. It was a tender, but vital, time to be together in prayerful conversations as Christians and Jews.
Next year we will enter into several anniversaries of our full communion agreements. We have learned much from living into these partnerships, including how we implement them! Significant work has been initiated with regard to updating the “orderly exchange” documents for our full communion agreements. Starting with the companion to the Formula of Agreement, a group from the four churches (ELCA, PCUSA, RCA and UCC) met over the past year to revise the “Orderly Exchange of Ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament.” The result is a document that includes updated language from each church about its own polity, as well as an updated section on “The Principles and Implementation,” reflecting the collective ethos and experience of the churches. This will soon be available online. The intention is to update each of the Orderly Exchange documents in the coming months
In our next newsletter, we will provide information about upcoming events, opportunities and new resources. For now, save the dates for the 2019 National Workshop on Christian Unity in St. Louis, April 1-4, and Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C., April 5-8.
We give thanks for you, and for the partnership we share in ecumenical and inter-religious relations.