MILWAUKEE — The 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly began its fourth day on Aug. 8 with a greeting from Dr. Agnes Abuom, the first woman and first African to serve as moderator of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee. Speaking about the WCC campaign “Thursdays in Black: Toward a World Without Rape and Violence,” she told the assembly, “The time has come, and now is, for us as the church to reclaim our prophetic role in speaking truth to power on behalf of the victimized and vulnerable.”
Following her address, the assembly approved a resolution to endorse the WCC Thursdays in Black campaign. To commemorate the vote, a photo was taken of the assembly, most of whom were dressed in black to observe the campaign.
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton then gave her report to the assembly, which focused on the five goals of Future Directions 2025,: A thriving church; an equipping church; a welcoming church; a visible church; and a well-governed, connected and sustainable church.
Eaton told the assembly, “The church’s unique mission is to preach the gospel purely and to administer the sacraments rightly. No other institution has been called by God to this ministry. The church is God’s creation. The church is not what we do, it is not the organization we have created and maintain. The church is what God has made us – Christ’s body in the world.”
Recalling what the ELCA constitution says about how this church participates in God’s mission in the world, Eaton said, “This church shall respond to God’s love ‘to meet human needs, caring for the sick and the aged, advocating dignity and justice for all people, working for peace and reconciliation among the nations, and standing with the poor and powerless and committing itself to their needs.’ Luther put it this way, ‘The church that preaches the gospel in all its fullness, except as it applies to the great social ills of the day, is failing to preach the gospel.'”
Eaton also lifted up examples of “what God is up to in the world and in this church,” including, The Neighborhood Church in Bentonville, Ark., a growing mission congregation; the Youth Leadership Summit that brings together youth leaders from each synod to share God’s love and grace and learn about the needs of the world around them; the Welcome Church in Philadelphia, a worshiping community that welcomes all to join, especially those who are experiencing homelessness; the ELCA’s AMMPARO initiative, where the church helps returning migrants discover meaningful work and hope in their communities; and the “Hope in the Heartland” event in South Dakota that connected more than 100 congregations of 100 members or fewer for ongoing collaboration to share ways to help build a sustainable and connected church.
The assembly also took action on the policy statement “A Declaration of Inter-religious Commitment,” which underscores the ELCA’s long-standing commitment to inter-religious relations and provides a framework for common application and theological reflection across the varied contexts of this church.
In its greetings from ecumenical and inter-religious guests, the assembly heard from Bishop W. Darin Moore, presiding prelate of the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism.
“We heard with hope your declaration to people of African descent, including the repudiation of complicity when the church has been silent in the face of racial injustice,” Moore said. “It is noteworthy that a church whose membership is 94% white, and a church whose membership is 95% black are in continuing conversation one with the other, building trust and deepening our relationships.”
Pesner said, “I am so honored to stand with you and this Churchwide Assembly as you ratify your commitment to public policy, to overcoming white supremacy, to interfaith relationships even deeper. And we need you now, oh Lutheran family, more than ever. We can only beat back racism with justice. And we can only do it when we come together.”
In key action, the assembly voted to adopt “A Declaration of Inter-religious Commitment.” Following the vote, Bishop Patricia Lull, chair of the task force that developed the statement, said, “Our church has just declared that, because we are Lutheran, we are called to the work of inter-religious relations. As we are called, so also are we sent.”
In other action, the assembly:
• Approved the triennium budget proposal. It includes a current fund spending authorization of $68,378,325 for 2020, a current fund income proposal of $68,553,034 for 2021 and $68,507,018 for 2022; and an ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $21.5 million 2020, and an income proposal of $21.5 million for 2021 and for 2022.
• Voted to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance in the ELCA for the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9—the nine people who were shot and killed June 17, 2015, during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
• Adopted a resolution to condemn white supremacy, calling all ELCA congregations to engage in “study of the structures and rhetoric that empower and fuel racism and white supremacy and to take to heart the teaching of Scriptures, so we may all be better equipped to speak boldly about the equal dignity of all persons in the eyes of God.”
• Cast a second ballot for secretary. There was no election.
Live video of the plenary sessions is accessible at elca.org/cwa.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with nearly 3.5 million members in more than 9,100 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands.,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.
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