Lutherans and Mennonites celebrate a covenant of peace

This piece originally appeared on Mennonite Church USA’s website at

Reconciliation recounted at regional ELCA gathering

SOUTH BEND, Indiana (Mennonite Church USA) — Events in Stuttgart, Germany, in 2010 brought Lutherans and Mennonites to tears and embraces in northern Indiana this month.

During the June 9–11 annual assembly of the Indiana-Kentucky Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in South Bend, Indiana, more than 500 synod members and 25 local Mennonites heard the story of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation that happened between Lutherans and Mennonites at the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) assembly in 2010, regarding the historic persecution of Anabaptists by Lutherans.

“The drama and significance of this 30-year process of reconciliation moved the audience,” said André Gingerich Stoner, director of interchurch relations for Mennonite Church USA, who shared the story along with Kathryn Johnson, director of ecumenical and inter-religious relations for the ELCA, during a presentation to the assembly on Saturday morning, June 11.

Johnson told about the hard work done by Lutherans who grappled with the history of persecution of Anabaptists and moved from statements of regret to a posture of repentance. For the 2010 LWF assembly, Lutheran leaders had prepared an action asking forgiveness “from God and from our Mennonite sisters and brothers.”

She shared that at the LWF assembly, LWF President Bishop Mark Hanson had unexpectedly asked Lutherans to express their support for this action by kneeling (rather than raising cards). He also asked ecumenical guests to support the action by kneeling. Johnson recounted how Mennonites at the gathering had shared words of forgiveness and presented a footwashing tub to Bishop Hanson inscribed with the words, “From this day forward, let us love and serve the Lord.”

“Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we moved in a remarkable fashion from repentance to reconciliation,” Johnson said. “No one who was present in that hall that day doubted that the Holy Spirit had been at work.”

It is this action, Johnson continued, “that we seek to bring home to our synods, to our congregations, to the lives of our communities together.”

“This process of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation is not just a matter of the past or an academic exercise for historians and theologians,” Stoner told listeners at the synod’s assembly. “The work that has been done can change us — both Mennonites and Lutherans. It can free us and help us to be more fully who God intends us to be.”

  1. Nelson Kraybill, president of Mennonite World Conference and lead pastor of Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Indiana, also brought greetings to the synod assembly. Reflecting on the steps of repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, he expressed appreciation for the theologians and leaders who led that process.

“Now it falls on us — pastors like you and me, leaders in all levels of our churches and regional bodies — to resolve that we will love and respect each other and find ways to collaborate for peacemaking and proclamation of the gospel,” he said.

Kraybill held up the example of Leymah Gbowee as an inspiring model of Lutheran-Mennonite collaboration. A Lutheran leader from Liberia who studied conflict transformation at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, she courageously organized women to bring an end to the civil war in Liberia and in 2011 received the Nobel Peace Prize.

A “pick-up” choir of more than 20 local Mennonites from eight area congregations led singing during the presentation and a closing communion service that followed. At the end of the presentation, the Mennonite choir members invited participants to join them in singing the first verse of a hymn written by Menno Simons: “We are people of God’s peace as a new creation. Love unites and strengthens us at this celebration. Sons and daughters of the Lord, serving one another, a new covenant of peace binds us all together.”

Following the assembly, 15 Lutheran and Mennonite leaders toured Menno-Hof in Shipshewana, Indiana, and also celebrated plans for a new exhibit. While some of the exhibits at this Amish-Mennonite interpretive center vividly tell stories of Anabaptist persecution by other Christians, the Menno-Hof board recently approved the development of an exhibit that will tell the story of the recent repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation with Lutherans and other Christians.

Video of the June 11 session at the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod assembly can be found online (starting at 54:30).

Cultivating relationships

Stoner noted that Lutherans and Mennonites have been in dialogue for several decades about the historic persecution of Anabaptists by the Lutheran Church. Mennonite Church USA and the ELCA conducted a formal dialogue from 2002 to 2004 that contributed to the reconciliation at the global level. In 2012, a daylong event at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart brought together national, regional and local representatives from each denomination, including the ELCA bishop and Mennonite conference leaders from the region.

Stoner was invited to attend the Indiana-Kentucky Synod assembly in Indianapolis in 2015 as an ecumenical guest. When Bishop Bill Gafkjen told him the 2016 assembly was planned for South Bend, one county away from a large Mennonite community, they began to plan for some kind of encounter between Mennonites and Lutherans.

Northern Indiana is one of a number of regions in the United States where there is a significant presence of both Mennonites and Lutherans, including more than 80 Lutheran congregations and a Mennonite college, seminary and agency offices.

“This was a remarkable opportunity for Lutherans and Mennonites in a regional setting to live into this new place in our relationship,” Stoner reflected.


—Mennonite Church USA staff

ELCA and The United Methodist Church partner on HIV and AIDS strategy

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The United Methodist Church have formed a partnership to collaborate on strategy and projects that will focus on reducing stigma and discrimination experienced by people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.

“This epidemic must be addressed by the church through education, awareness, capacity building and stigma reduction,” said Dr. Ulysses Burley, program associate, ELCA strategy on HIV and AIDS.

Burley shared the ELCA’s efforts to combat HIV and AIDS during the February meeting of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund Committee at the Hollywood United Methodist Church in Hollywood, Calif. Burley told those gathered that “while 37.4 million people are infected worldwide, in the U.S. 44 percent of persons currently living with HIV and AIDS and 44 percent of the newly infected are African American.”

“At the end of the three-day meeting we affirmed a new way forward together. The United Methodist Church Global AIDS Committee voted to adopt the stated goals of the ELCA’s HIV and AIDS Strategy,” said Burley.

The ELCA’s goals include stopping the spread of the epidemic through prevention, treatment and care; eliminating the stigma experienced by those who are HIV-positive; and reducing the conditions of poverty that contribute to the spread of the disease.

“As the ELCA and United Methodist Church continue the journey of putting full communion into operation on the ground in ministries which expand our capacity, this joint HIV and AIDS partnership can be a tremendous inspiration and aspiration,” said the Rev. Stephen P. Bouman, executive director for ELCA congregational and synodical mission. “We hope that it will be a blessing for so many with the HIV virus and their loved ones. It is what a church committed to following Jesus through the cross to the empty tomb does in this world.” |

The ELCA and The United Methodist Church have been full communion partners since 2009. Full communion is not a merger between denominations. It is a relationship based on common confessing of the Christian faith and mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing of the Lord’s Supper. The churches worship together and may exchange clergy.

The ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, retired Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, welcomed the new agreement saying, “If we are to champion global health and address diseases of poverty, then we must move beyond denominational silos to find ecumenical and interreligious approaches to ending AIDS in our lifetime.” Affirming the ELCA’s strategy, Swenson noted that The United Methodist Church has many congregations in the southern U.S. where the ELCA is less concentrated and HIV and AIDS is most concentrated. Swenson and Burley emphasized these are “the areas where the need for faith-based AIDS ministry is greatest, particularly ministry that would reach people of color.”

“Our full communion partnership is seen at its best in this sort of collaboration; we can build on our complementary strengths in order to accomplish in mission what neither of us could do on our own,” said Kathryn Johnson, director, ELCA ecumenical and inter-religious relations.

More information about the ELCA’s HIV and AIDS Ministry is available at


Ulysses Burley recognized for ELCA work in minority health care

Dr. Ulysses Burley, program associate for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) strategy on HIV and AIDS, has been selected as one of the National Minority Quality Forum’s 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health. This is the first year the award is being presented.

The National Minority Quality Forum aims to eliminate disparities in health care in minority communities. The forum provides assistance to health care providers, administrators, policy makers and community and faith-based organizations in delivering appropriate health care to minority communities.

“This is special for me considering my difficult and prayerful decision to depart from clinical medicine fulltime and reimagine public health in this faith-based context of a more holistic approach that focuses on spirituality, relationships, community and the social determinants of health in my work with the ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS,” said Burley. “This award is a victory for the tireless and sometimes unseen work for health equity that happens outside of hospitals and laboratories, and inside the homes, churches, and communities of those in greatest need.”

Burley and other award recipients will be recognized at the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust’s awards dinner in Washington, D.C., in April, which is National Minority Health Month.

Burley is a graduate of Morehouse College in Atlanta and the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. Although his primary training is in scientific research and clinical medicine, Burley has dedicated much of his time to social justice advocacy through the church and community. His primary work with faith groups has been in the area of HIV and AIDS awareness, but it also includes mass incarceration, gender and racial justice, food security, and peace in the Middle East.

“The ELCA Strategy on HIV and AIDS is a strategy that focuses on and is committed to key populations of greatest impact which overwhelmingly include people of color,” said Burley. “Despite the fact that the ELCA is an overwhelmingly white church, it recognized the need for cultural competency in the work of HIV and AIDS and made way for me, a young male of African descent, to move this ministry forward, and now that work has been recognized as some of the most important work being done in this country around improving the health of minority communities.”


ELCA supports Churches Uniting in Christ

In support of Churches Uniting in Christ and the group’s work in addressing racial justice, a delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) attended the communion’s January plenary meeting in St. Louis. Comprised of 10 Christian churches, Churches Uniting in Christ is committed to expressing unity and combating racism. The ELCA is the group’s partner in mission and dialogue. The event, held primarily at St. Peter African Methodist Episcopal Church, focused on issues surrounding race and reconciliation.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, who joined the ELCA delegation to St. Louis, recalled that 50 years ago the group, known at the time as Consultation on Christian Unity, “had as a goal the recognition of each other’s ministry by the members’ churches. That was achieved at the meeting in St. Louis and is a significant step in the ecumenical journey,” said Eaton. “But for me, it was equally significant that Churches Uniting in Christ recommitted itself to work for racial reconciliation believing that the church has a word to speak to the culture.”

“As a partner in mission and dialogue, the ELCA has valued the exchange of gifts we have experienced with Churches Uniting in Christ,” said Kathryn Johnson, director, ELCA ecumenical and inter-religious relations. “At this meeting, we were grateful for the opportunity to join in the opening worship, where the gospel was preached in stirring and challenging ways, and a wide range of church traditions came together to be fed at Christ’s table.”

Member churches are the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the International Council of Community Churches, the Moravian Church (Northern Province), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.

“Gathering at a warmly hospitable AME (African Methodist Episcopal) congregation in St. Louis, we were able to have important conversations about the work of anti-racism to which we are called, as well as about mutual recognition of ministry and other matters,” said Johnson.


ELCA pastor honored with award for work with homeless

The Rev. Violet Little, pastor of The Welcome Church  in Philadelphia, is one of seven winners of the 2013 Purpose Prize, which honors people over the age of 60 who use their experience to make a difference against social problems. Little founded The Welcome Church, a new ELCA ministry that serves people who are experiencing homelessness.

“Some have said I am a voice for the voiceless, but that’s not true,” said Little. “People experiencing homelessness have voice; the key is how we can be better listeners.”

At a Dec. 5 ceremony in Sausalito, Calif., Little will receive a $25,000 award from, a nonprofit organization that supports people who use their life experiences to work for a society’s greater good.

Little began working with people experiencing homelessness after she got to know women who were sleeping and washing in the restrooms at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, which she visited on her daily commute. She initially organized a drop-in center at Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion in Philadelphia’s center city, known as the Welcome Center.

“People who live on the streets are always being rousted and asked to move on,” said Little.

The Welcome Center offers community members a safe place to spend a couple of hours having tea, napping and more. Little began providing pastoral care there, including hospital visits and even presiding at a wedding. As the center grew, Little organized support from the ELCA Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion and other center city churches to form The Welcome Church, where she serves as part-time pastor along with Presbyterian and Episcopal clergy. The ELCA has a full communion relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and with The Episcopal Church.

The Welcome Church is mobile — worship services will spontaneously take place in public places, including rail stations or under bridges. Many downtown churches offer Bible studies and refreshment and will provide medical care when needed.

“These are people who know they’re hungry for more than a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich,” Little said.

The Welcome Church offers help finding housing, with local churches contributing welcome home kits to help members settle into apartments. A new social enterprise called Welcome Threads is producing original T-shirts and hand-woven products and offering members job skills and the chance to earn a little money.

On Tuesdays, The Welcome Church gathers at Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion for what members call their Tuesday banquet. “Everything we do centers on the table as a symbol of home,” Little said. “Tea is out, and members bring what they can – some mint, some rescued bread, or cookies, and of course, the sacramental bread and wine.”

Little wants the Purpose Prize to amplify the voice of The Welcome Church community. Much of the award will be dedicated to an “I Have a Dream” fund, through which The Welcome Church will give grants to other congregations “to stimulate people’s imagination of how to live out (the Rev.) Martin Luther King’s vision of justice in their setting,” Little said.

“People think of this as a community of scarcity,” Little said. “But it’s really a community of great abundance, because God is at the center.”

The ELCA continues to make the start of new ministries a priority. Since the beginning of the ELCA 25 years ago, more than 470 new ministries have organized as congregations across this country. Today more than 50 percent of ELCA new congregations are emerging from diverse socio-economic groups, ethnic and multicultural communities and growing young populations.

Portico trustees announce annuity increases for 2014

At their Nov. 1-3 meeting in Minneapolis, trustees of Portico Benefit Services approved an annuity increase for members who receive ELCA Participating Annuity payments. The trustees’ action is the second consecutive increase in two years and is the highest percentage increase since 2002. The interest-crediting rate for members with bridge accounts was also approved with an increase. A ministry of the ELCA, Portico provides retirement, health and related benefits and services.

The annuity increase is calculated based upon the Funded Ratio of the ELCA Participating Annuity Investment Fund as of Sept. 30, 2013. Changes to annuity payments and the interest-crediting rate will be effective January 2014. The trustees’ action included:

• Increase ELCA Participating Annuity payments to 3.0 percent
• Establish the ELCA Participating Annuity bridge account interest-crediting rate to 7.6 percent
• Retain the dividend-eligible annuity payments at their 2013 level, and a lump-sum cash dividend of 21.7 percent to be paid out in January 2014.

The Rev. Jeffrey Thiemann, president and CEO of Portico, said the annuity adjustment of 3 percent is nearly triple the amount from last year. “The improved state of the fund allowed us to increase member payments even more this year,” he said. “We know that our members appreciate having a healthy fund that allows both an increase in payments and gives them confidence in receiving income for life.”

The annuity increase is calculated from an approved formula that distributes one-third of the surplus in the fund to members, which is represented by any excess in the Funded Ratio above 1.000. The 1.091 Funded Ratio at Sept. 30, 2013, enables the 3 percent annuity increase for 2014. Annuity payments can be adjusted up or down every year, depending on investment performance and mortality gains and losses.

Agreement reached in ELCA Board of Pensions lawsuit

According to an October 2013 news release from Portico Benefit Services, an agreement has been reached in the 3-year old lawsuit against the ELCA Board of Pensions following the judge’s finding that the vast majority of annuitants “were helped, not harmed, by [the Board’s] challenged actions and did not suffer the ‘same injury’ that Plaintiffs claim to have suffered.”

The lawsuit was filed in Hennepin County District Court in Minneapolis in December 2010 by four ELCA pastors who claimed that reduced annuity payments, attributed to major market losses sustained in the market recession of 2008 and 2009 that caused a funding shortage in the ELCA Participating Annuity Investment Fund, were improper.

“We’re pleased that our policies and practices have been upheld,” said Jeff Thiemann, president and CEO of Portico Benefit Services. The ELCA Board of Pensions became Portico Benefit Services in November 2011. “Our number one priority has always been, and will continue to be, caring for our members by fulfilling the fiduciary responsibility that we have for them.”

Thiemann added that the agreement affirms that the plaintiffs will continue to be treated in the same manner as all other annuitants.

“The decisions made by our trustees and management team on the previous annuity payment reductions have been difficult, and we recognize the impact on our members. In the long run, those tough decisions allowed the fund to become more stable, and it now enjoys fully funded status. This gave our trustees the opportunity to increase annuity payments in 2013,” said Thiemann.

Welcoming a new partner

For the first time, the board of trustees of Augsburg Fortress Publishers — the publishing ministry of the ELCA — welcomed a full communion partner to serve on the board when it met Oct. 18-19, 2013, in Minneapolis.

New board members include the Rev. Pam Smith, pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Clearwater, Fla.; Mark Brokering, vice president of content strategy and acquisitions, Safari Books Online, Mill Valley, Calif.; and the Rev. Sharon Rader, retired bishop of the United Methodist Church. The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church, marking the ELCA’s sixth full communion relationship and the first for the United Methodist Church.

The addition of ecumenical positions to the board is in response to a number of governance amendments adopted by the 2013 Churchwide Assembly in an effort to strengthen full communion partnership relationships.

“I affirm the ELCA on being very intentional about full communion partner relationships and making sure they are not just documents on a piece paper,” said Rader. “The ELCA is leading all of us in making the words on paper a reality.”

ELCA World Hunger leaders passionate about ending hunger, poverty

Showing a passion and commitment toward eliminating hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world, ELCA members are on the front lines of this church’s efforts to raise awareness, multiply ministry and increase advocacy efforts.

At the ELCA World Hunger Leadership Gathering July 11-14 in Des Moines, Iowa, more than 70 hunger leaders from across the ELCA’s 65 synods met to share ideas and discuss ways to increase their capacity in helping to eradicate hunger and poverty.

“By sharing our ideas, the effect we can have through our volunteer network is multiplied,” said Mikka McCracken, program director for ELCA World Hunger constituent engagement and interpretation. “The work and mission of ELCA World Hunger depends on individuals, congregations and synods throughout this church. ELCA World Hunger leaders are often on the forefront of inspiring, engaging, leading and truly multiplying those efforts. We are so thankful for their tireless work and vision.”

Under the theme “Loaves and Fishes: Multiplying for Mission,” participants attended sessions geared toward enhancing hunger advocacy that is already being carried out by the leaders in their congregations and neighborhoods.

“They invite others into our common work and service together. From coordinating local food pantries and hosting hunger awareness meals to advocating for better child nutrition policies and hosting hunger education events, ELCA World Hunger leaders share the story of the ELCA’s work to eradicate hunger and poverty,” said McCracken.

Participants also had the opportunity to learn about food security and sustainable farming practices from Iowa-based scientists and researchers, including a keynote speech by Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, head of the World Food Prize located in Des Moines. The prize, founded by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Norman Borlaug, recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of those who improve the world food supply.

“Building a network of leaders who understand and who can communicate the work of ELCA (World) Hunger in the areas of relief, education, advocacy and development strengthens the ability of this church to respond generously and effectively to the needs of a hungry world,” said the Rev. Paul D. Ostrem, assistant to the bishop, ELCA Southeastern Iowa Synod. The synod hosted the event.

Ostrem says these opportunities are important because they “help participants understand the ways that partnerships among nonprofits, business interests, educational institutions and research entities build capacity for food production and distribution throughout the world and will give opportunities to reflect on both the opportunities and the challenges new technologies may bring to the church and the world.” 

“We were pleased to be hosted by the Southeastern Iowa Synod,” said Daniel Rift, director for ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal. “In many ways the Lutheran church in this country has its roots on the farm. To see some of what is shaping the production of food and the important connection to lives and livelihoods is a gift.”

ELCA World Hunger works to address the root causes of poverty and hunger through a comprehensive approach of relief, education, advocacy and development. For more information on how to become a hunger leader or connect with a synod team, email ELCA World Hunger at

ELCA Foundation enters into partnership with Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest

The ELCA Foundation has entered into a partnership with the Texas-based Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest, an agreement considered to be historic for enhancing the financial ministries of the ELCA.

“I’m excited for the expanded capacity this partnership will bring to both Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest and the ELCA Foundation in strengthening our ability to serve the wider church,” said Annette Shoemaker, director for the ELCA Foundation. The ELCA Foundation offers gift planning and endowment services that support the church’s partners, churchwide ministries, synods and congregations. 

“When two strong Lutheran entities combine to work together, the impact is huge for the Lutheran community,” said Mark Armstrong, interim executive director for the Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest. “It opens up endless possibilities and resources that better allow us to assist Lutherans in their dreams and goals of stewardship gifts to Lutheran agencies, which in turn allows these Lutheran agencies to further carry out their dreams of helping and assisting Lutherans through their programs and ultimately strengthening the overall church.”

With this partnership the ELCA Foundation will add a regional gift planner to the Southwest foundation staff, extending service to all three ELCA synods in the state — Northern Texas-Northern Louisiana Synod, Southwestern Texas Synod and Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod. 

“I’m excited about this new spirit of partnership. I believe this will increase our capability to grow generosity, and support synodical and churchwide ministry,” said the Rev. Michael W. Rinehart, bishop of the ELCA Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.

“It is a very historic time in the life of Lutheran Foundation of the Southwest,” said Armstrong. “Our work has been akin to a pebble being thrown into a pond, and we watch as our work creates ripples radiating out across the pond. Now with this partnership, the ripples will be stronger, radiating out farther. The pond is now a lake.”