CHICAGO — The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met here Sept. 26–Sept. 30 under a theme from 2 Corinthians: “We have this treasure in clay jars.” The conference, an advisory body of the ELCA, comprises 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and the secretary. The conference welcomed 13 new bishops elected since the last conference meeting in March.
“Thanks to the work of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of God’s people, the Conference of Bishops is now more diverse in more ways than it has ever been,” said the Rev. William O. Gafkjen, bishop of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod and chair of the conference. “This is such an important gift, both because of the particular gifts and experiences each member of the conference brings and because it uncovers assumptions, challenges disparities and inequities, and calls for repentance and transformation in a church unaccustomed to such blessed diversity.”
In a report to the conference, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton addressed the actions taken by the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, held Aug. 5-10 in Milwaukee. “I am convinced that the decisions we took were gospel-based — both judgment and promise — not a flash-in-the-pan, reflexive attempt to seem ‘relevant,'” said Eaton. Alluding to Acts 15:28, Eaton continued, “‘It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us’ to take these steps.”
During the meeting, the presiding bishop and the conference issued a letter to President Trump urging him to restore funding to the Augusta Victoria Hospital and the other hospitals in East Jerusalem. “We are concerned about the impact that cuts in U.S. humanitarian assistance for the West Bank and Gaza are having on cancer patients and others treated in these facilities,” the bishops wrote. Augusta Victoria Hospital is owned and operated by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and supported by the ELCA and several other member churches of the LWF. The letter is in response to the memorial addressing the Augusta Victoria Hospital that was adopted by the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
The conference voted to recommend that the Church Council, at its November 2019 meeting, work in new and concrete ways to give priority to this church’s response to the global crisis of
climate change. They also voted to commend the “Memorandum of Mutual Recognition of Relations of Full Communion” for adoption by the Church Council at the upcoming meeting.
The conference considered proposed ordination rites being developed in response to the assembly’s decision to ordain ministers of Word and Service. No decision was made about a possible recommendation to the Church Council for adoption of these rites.
The Rev. Tracie L. Bartholomew, bishop of the ELCA New Jersey Synod and vice-chair of the conference, was elected to a four-year term as chair of the conference. The Rev. Patricia A. Davenport, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, was elected to a four-year term as vice-chair. Both positions are effective Jan. 1, 2020. Gafkjen has served as conference chair since 2016.
In other business, the ELCA Conference of Bishops received:
- A report on the three-year Leadership Initiative, which is focused on encouraging lay and rostered leaders across the ELCA.
- An update on the ongoing development of the resource “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God,” which articulates the church’s hopes and expectations for its leaders.
- A report on the conclusion of Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA. The campaign ended June 30 with a total impact of $250 million, including $195 million in cash gifts and gift commitments, as well as $55 million in planned gifts to campaign ministries.
- A training session presented by Aubrey Thonvold, executive director of Reconciling Works, that focused on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.
- A report from the director for Mission Support, the financial offering from congregations that is shared with synods and the churchwide organization
- Reports from the ELCA presiding bishop, vice president, secretary and treasurer, and updates from the Conference of Bishops’ various committees.
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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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