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    Always Being Made New

    ELCA assembly acted on Israel and Palestine proposals and more

    Posted on August 17, 2013 by assemblynews

    The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is committed to supporting a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine and took measures to ensure that commitment Aug. 17 during the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly here.

         The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, met here Aug. 12-17 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The theme for the assembly was “Always being made new.” This year marks the 25th anniversary of this church.

         Voting members considered a series of proposals — known as memorials from the ELCA’s 65 synods — throughout the week. With an 812 to 45 vote, voting members approved a memorial designed to continue this church’s awareness-building, accompaniment and advocacy on behalf of peaceful resolutions in the Middle East.

         The action commits this church to learning more about the experiences of both Palestinians and Israelis and their mutual fears, aspirations and hopes; work to convey the concerns and perspectives of Israelis and Palestinians that dispel stereotypes and caricatures and promote better understanding; lift up the voices within both communities, especially those of victims of violence, that seek peace with justice through nonviolent responses to the conflict; continue to help alleviate the humanitarian needs; support U.S. funding that promotes peace and cooperation for all parties; and to continue to pray for brothers and sisters in the Middle East and for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.

         The action also calls for evaluating possibilities for investing in specific Palestinian economic endeavors and other projects that would promote peace and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians; and to provide a report with recommendations to the April 2014 meeting of the ELCA Church Council.

         During the week, voting members received greetings from the Rev. Munib A. Younan, president of the Lutheran World Federation and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land; Rabbi Steve Gutow, president and CEO, Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, former secretary General, World Sikh Council – American Region.

         Prior to the churchwide assembly, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S.

    Hanson joined 29 other Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry welcoming his “announcement on July 19 that agreement has been reached ‘that establishes the basis for resuming direct final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.'”  The leaders said they “are committed to mobilizing broad public support for active, fair and firm U.S. leadership for peace,” offered their prayers for his efforts and said they are prepared “to activate members of synagogues, churches and mosques across the country to support bold American leadership.

         Other memorial topics considered at the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly include:


    + Addressing community violence. With a 834 to 41 vote, the assembly moved to encourage ELCA members, consistent with their bound consciences, to contact their elected officials and advocate for passage of legislation that promotes universal background checks, prevents gun trafficking and requires the reporting of lost or stolen guns to law enforcement so that violence in our communities might decrease. In its action, voting members also moved to lift up the ELCA social messages on suicide prevention, community violence, and mental health and to call upon congregations and synods to engage their members on ways to prevent suicide.


    + Comprehensive immigration reform. The assembly approved with an 828 to 40 vote to advocate for the adoption of comprehensive immigration reform legislation that supports an earned pathway to lawful permanent residency and eventual citizenship; ensure humane and just enforcement of U.S. immigration laws; protect families from separation; provide resources and protections to integrate of refugees and others; and to ensure the protection of U.S. citizen and migrant workers. The action included a call to ELCA rostered leaders to promote an understanding of welcome; encourage congregations to engage in prayerful, reasoned discussion and education about immigration; call on the ELCA presiding bishop to continue communication with members of U.S. Congress on reform. In a separate but related action, the assembly moved to declare Sunday, June 22, 2104 as “Refugee Sunday.”


    + Communion practices. With a 688 to 193 vote, the assembly requested a process to review the ELCA’s guiding documents on communion practices and to bring a report and possible recommendations to the April 2014 meeting of the ELCA Church Council. Through its action, the assembly also invited congregations, synods and the churchwide organization into conversation and study on the Use of the Means of Grace.


    + Same-gender couples and their families. The assembly approved with an 825 to 68 vote to affirm this church’s commitment to ensuring pastoral care for same-gender couples and their families — a commitment outlined in the ELCA social statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.” The commitment recognizes “familial relationship as central to nurturing and sustaining trust and security in human relationships and to advocate for public policies that support and protect families.” The action invites and encourages conversation in this church on changing family configurations and their impact on society and the ministry of this church, and it requests the authorization of a group to explore this and bring a report and possible recommendations to the 2014 fall meeting of the ELCA Conference of Bishops and Church Council regarding next steps in carrying out the commitment to pastoral care for same-gender couples and their families.

         With a 787 to 41 vote, the assembly approved six memorials en bloc on topics addressing fossil fuels, hydraulic fracturing, immigration detention, gender identity discrimination, the uniting American families act and the social statement on criminal justice. In a separate action, the assembly approved Aug. 16 the ELCA’s 12 social statement: “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries.”

    New ELCA secretary installed, assembly closes with worship

    Posted on August 17, 2013 by assemblynews

    William Chris Boerger, a member of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Snohomish, Wash., was installed as secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Aug. 17 during the closing worship of the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

                The 952 voting members and others of the 4-million-member ELCA met Aug. 12-17 in assembly at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center here under the theme, “Always being made new.” The churchwide assembly is the highest legislative authority of the ELCA. The denomination is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

                Boerger was elected Aug. 16 and will take office Nov. 1. Previously he served two six-year terms as bishop of the ELCA Northwest Washington Synod based in Seattle.

                In her sermon, the Rev. Jessica Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod and chair of the Conference of Bishops, used the image of a Virginia creeper vine and its branches to describe the work of this church.

                “With Jesus as our stem, our root, our source of being, we branch out.  We climb, we twine, we go forward.  We find different places to hold on to, different connections to make.  Sometimes we go out on a limb, literally. We are the church, the body of Christ, the ones called on to bear fruit because we are connected to the source, the vine, Jesus.”      

                Crist spoke of the relationship of the vine to the branches and the branches to each other, comparing it to the interdependence of this church and the impact the 4-million members have on one another.

                “The branches are wholly dependent on the vine. But the branches are also dependent on one another.  We talk about that as interdependence.  No member of the body can declare itself independent of the others.  No member is self-sufficient.  And no member is superfluous.  This tent is big enough for everyone.  Everyone is welcome in this church,” she said.

                Crist said the “branch would not be what it is without this deep presence of the vine. And the vine would not be what it is without this deep presence of the branches.  And that’s what it takes to bear fruit” in emphasizing how the church can grow and sustain members.

                “While we bear fruit at different rates and in different settings, what we do matters. If one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer.  If one congregation or synod is going through strife or grief, we all suffer. We are in this together.  A congregation splits, and the pain is felt across the body.  A new congregation comes together, and we rejoice across the body,” she said.

                Crist said that because the members of this church serve in many different locations and situations, not all ministries would grow in the same manner.

                “These different circumstances are going to produce fruit differently.  We don’t always remember that when we are talking about congregations, ministries. Some bear fruit and some do not.”

                She said “it is God who does the pruning, not us. It is God who decides what bears no fruit and has to be eliminated, and what bears good fruit and has to be pruned.”

                In her sermon, Crist spoke of finding surprising fruit -or renewal- in unexpected places.

                “My husband and I decided to celebrate an anniversary by planting a tree in our front yard.  It was an ornamental crab apple, the kind with kind of purplish leaves.  One year when we weren’t paying attention a green-leafed shoot came up.  And while we debated what to do with it, it just kept growing.  Pretty soon we had a two-toned tree in our front yard. But a funny thing happened.  We started to get apples on the green-leafed part of the tree.  Real apples, not the inedible ornamental ones.” 

                Crist said the churchwide assembly provided members an opportunity to “encourage one another, to share our stories, to watch the fruit growing.”        

                “We are here, my friends, to talk about growing apples.  We are here to talk about growing fruit on the vine. We are here to encourage one another, to share our stories, to watch the fruit growing. And we are here to share the joy of being part of this great web of being that is this ecosystem of vine and branches.  We are here to be reminded again and again of our deep rootedness in and dependence on Jesus, the Vine, the source and origin of meaning and purpose for us.  Jesus, the Vine, whose life gives us life, whose strength gives us strength, whose energy gives us energy, whose centrality focuses our lives.”

    ELCA Secretary receives Servus Dei medal

    Posted on August 17, 2013 by assemblynews

    Swartling receives Servus Dei from Bp. HansonELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson presented the Servus Dei Medal to ELCA Secretary David Swartling during the 2013 Churchwide Assembly Aug. 17. The Servus Dei Medal honors officers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at the completion of their terms and continues a tradition that was begun in its predecessor church bodies. The Servus Dei Medal was presented to Swartling in recognition of his leadership within this church and in thankfulness for his six years of service as secretary.

    “I give thanks to God for this dedicated servant of the gospel who is deeply rooted and always being made new,” said Hanson.

    Swartling told the assembly it was a bittersweet moment realizing he won’t be with the assembly again in this setting, but he leaves with confidence that this church is in “good hands” moving forward.

    He reminded the assembly of the 3 R’s he spoke about earlier in the week, saying this is a church of the resurrection, a church of the reformation, and a church of reconciliation.

    Swartling and his wife Barbara were given a standing ovation by the assembly.


    2013 Churchwide Assembly elects William Chris Boerger ELCA Secretary

    Posted on August 16, 2013 by assemblynews

    On the 5th ballot William Chris Boerger was elected ELCA secretary by the 2013 Churchwide Assembly. Boerger was elected by a vote of 489 to 376. 867 votes were cast and 434 votes were needed for an election.Chris-Boeger

    ” I am aware of the tremendous responsibility and I will do my best to fulfill that responsibility,” said Boerger to the assembly following the election results. Boerger is on leave from call.

    Proposal for ELCA’s first ever major fundraising campaign is approved

    Posted on August 16, 2013 by assemblynews

    Voting members of the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved with a 671 to 242 vote a proposal for the ELCA’s first major fundraising campaign. The five-year campaign, to begin in 2014, is designed to increase this church’s capacity to renew and start new congregations, educate and develop its leaders, bolster its global mission efforts and expand the impact of its relief and development work. The campaign proposal was introduced to the assembly Aug. 13.

    In their action, voting members thanked the 4-million-member ELCA for their ongoing stewardship and generosity through regular offerings that support the breadth of ministry across this church and to invite every congregation, synod, related ministry and individual member to make a contribution toward the campaign in order to achieve its goal of $198 million over the next five years.

    ELCA Presiding Bishop-Elect Elizabeth Eaton spoke in favor of the campaign. “This is an exciting step for the ELCA,” said Eaton. “Even though I’m inheriting it, I say let’s go for it.”

    Voting members requested that the ELCA Church Council monitor and evaluate the implementation of the campaign on an ongoing basis with annual reports to the council and to each assembly through the completion of the campaign. They encouraged conversations across this church on ways that the campaign can be implemented to take advantage of synergies among all expressions of this church, and to “thank God for 25 years of interdependent ministry in the ELCA and to step forward boldly in order to seek to reach more communities with the good news of Jesus Christ, train more leaders who will become missionaries, pastors and lay leaders and contribute to the alleviation of hunger and poverty.”

    Anticipating the campaign proposal, voting members approved an amendment designed to involve young adult and youth leaders. Specifically, the amendment will add an additional campaign priority of encouraging, recognizing and forming lay youth and young adult leaders and add an additional $4 million to the campaign goal to meet this priority. Another amendment approved will add a $4 million stretch goal for disability ministry.

    Implementing resolutions approved for social statement on criminal justice

    Posted on August 16, 2013 by assemblynews

    Voting members of the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved a series of implementing resolutions accompanying “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” — a social statement on criminal justice adopted Aug. 16. With a 891 to 22 vote there were 11 recommendations approved, some were amended:

    The recommendations call this church to:

    + call on ELCA members through prayer, discernment, ministry efforts and public action to hear the cries, offer hospitality, accompany and advocate on behalf of those whose lives are caught up in or committed in service to the criminal justice system;

    + call on the expressions of this church and other related ministries and organizations to advocate for system reform consistent with the principles and recommendations set for in the social statement;

    + encourage ELCA congregations to work with victims, victim advocates and victim support organizations to grow in sensitivity and response to the harm caused by crime and to grow in awareness to restorative justice practices;

    + encourage congregations to consider becoming sites of ministry and action for the incarcerated and their families;

    + hold in prayer the ministry of ELCA chaplains and pastors serving in all correctional facilities or serving with law enforcement agencies and to support prison ministry;

    + enlist the aid of leaders in creating and maintaining a resource database in which members, pastors and others can turn to for information that supports ministry to people and action toward reform of the criminal justice system;

    + develop additional liturgical resources for those involved in the criminal justice system;

    + direct ELCA advocacy ministries to coordinate efforts to develop a social investment screen on private prison operations;

    + assess the feasibility of developing a social message on U.S. national drug policy;

    + utilize the recommendations of the ELCA Addressing Social Concerns Review Task Force in the process of disseminating and implementing this social statement; and

    + establish and oversee a process of implementation and accountability for this social statement that provides a report on implementation to the Church Council in 2017.

    Fourth ballot for ELCA Secretary

    Posted on August 16, 2013 by assemblynews

    Michael-Cooper-WhiteChris-BoegerThe 4th ballot results for ELCA Secretary are as follows :

    + Cheryl Stuart, vice president for the ELCA Florida-Bahamas Synod:  242 votes

    +Willim Chris Boerger, currently on leave from call:  388 votes

    + Michael Cooper-White, president, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg:  282 votes

     914 votes were cast; 549 votes (60%) were needed for an election.  There is no election. Moving forward is William Chris Boerger and Michael Cooper-White.


    Presiding Bishop tells assembly about “God’s Work. Our Hands. Sunday

    Posted on August 16, 2013 by assemblynews

    Hanson t-shirtELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson reminded the 2013 Churchwide Assembly that on Sunday Sept. 8 the ELCA will observe the 25th anniversary of this church with a dedicated day of service. Wearing the bright, gold t-shirt designed especially for the day of service, Hanson told the assembly, “As we continue to celebrate our 25th anniversary year as the ELCA, we have a unique opportunity to recognize and celebrate how we are one church, freed in Christ to serve and love our neighbor. On “God’s work. Our hands. Sunday” we’ll have a dedicated day of service to do just that, together as 4 million baptized believers in nearly 10,000 congregations, 65 synods and the churchwide expression. We’ve already heard from hundreds of congregations from across this church, indicating their participation and excitement for this day of service,” he said.

    Hanson told the assembly that as of this week, more than 55,000 t-shirts have been ordered “to help make our witness known in communities across this country.”

    “You work every day to welcome your neighbors and make your community a better place from preparing and delivering meals to helping a child learn how to read. Together, as one body, we will share God’s love and do God’s work of restoring and reconciling communities in Jesus Christ’s name,” Hanson said.

    Assembly adopts: The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries

    Posted on August 16, 2013 by assemblynews

    Criminal Justice Social statement approvalVoting members of the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries” — a social statement on criminal justice — Aug. 16 with an 882 to 25 vote. The social statement was formally introduced to the 952 voting members Aug. 13.

    The assembly made two amendments to the statement — the first was to substitue a paragraph that now begins: “Confession is one ‘mark of the church'”, and the second amendment was adopted to correct what appeared to provide an editorial comment in the text.

    The call for a statement on criminal justice emerged from concern among ELCA members over the “massive levels of incarceration in the United States,” said Cynthia Osbourne, chair of the ELCA task force charged with leading this church in a study about criminal justice and the development of a proposed social statement. She introduced the social statement to the assembly earlier this week.

    While commending positive aspects of the system, the statement conveys dissatisfaction with many areas about the criminal justice system that urgently need reform.

    The statement affirms the fundamental principles of the U.S. criminal justice system, such as due process of law and the presumption of legal innocence, and it also recognizes serious deficiencies — overly harsh sentencing and persistent inequalities based on race and class. It calls ELCA members to ministry and compassion through some practices: hearing the cries of those affected, accompaniment, hospitality and advocacy. It asks members of this church to recommit themselves to visiting the prisoner; correct the flawed criminal justice system; participate in God’s work with hands and hearts and to hear the cries of people affected.

    ELCA Churchwide Assembly receives Malaria Campaign report

    Posted on August 16, 2013 by assemblynews

    Jessica Nipp HackerA report on the ELCA Malaria Campaign was given to the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly Aug. 16. by Jessica Nipp Hacker, ELCA Malaria Campaign coordinator.  Through the campaign, rolled out by the 2011 Churchwide Assembly, ELCA members have committed to raise $15 million by 2015 to partner with Lutheran churches in Africa in their efforts to prevent and treat malaria and to educate communities about the disease.

    Nipp Hacker reported to the assembly that to-date the campaign has raised $8.7 million – more than halfway to the goal of $15 million.

    “Our challenge today is to finish the campaign strong. In order to meet our goal of $15 million by 2015, we need to raise $6.3 million in the next two years.  I know we can do it,” Nipp Hacker said.

    Nipp Hacker shared with the assembly some of the success stories of the campaign and the impact the members’ donations have made to help contain the deadly disease.

    “Our companions in 12 countries in Africa are leveraging our generosity into real results. Their comprehensive, community-based malaria programs are already beginning to change lives, and to change communities, all over sub-Saharan Africa,” she said.

    Nipp Hacker provided the following highlights of the campaign:

    + More than 7,000 staff and volunteers have been trained to educate their communities about malaria prevention and control.

    + The Kapiri Health Center in Malawi reported a 90% decrease in cases of severe malaria since the program began.

    + These malaria programs have so far reached 1.7 million people.

     The assembly watched a video field report from the Lutheran Malaria Program in Zambia.

    Nipp Hacker concluded her report saying,” So many lives are being saved. Just a year ago, a child in Africa was dying every 45 seconds of malaria.  Thanks to the work of Lutherans and millions of others across the globe, that death rate has slowed dramatically.  Now we lose one child a minute.  Much progress has been made, but I’m sure we all agree that our work is not complete until no children are dying from malaria.”