The Rev. Randall Lee, former ELCA executive for ecumenical relations, dies

The Rev. Randall Lee, former director for ecumenical and inter-religious relations at Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) churchwide ministries, died on July 4 at the University of Wisconsin Hospital inMadison, Wis. Lee, 56, was a member of First English Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.

Lee served as pastor at three ELCA congregations –Bethel Lutheran Church in University City, Mo.; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Luke in Chicago; and Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston, Ill. He also served at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, one of eight ELCA seminaries, and held positions at Evangelical Lutherans in Mission and Aid Association for Lutherans (now Thrivent Financial for Lutherans) before becoming executive assistant to the ELCA secretary. He was appointed director for ecumenical affairs and inter-religious relations for ELCA churchwide ministries in 2002.

“Randy Lee was a highly respected ecumenical and inter-religious colleague globally,” said the Rev. Donald McCoid, current ELCA executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations.

“He provided great leadership in ecumenical dialogues, and he was a leader in the National Council of Churches and The Lutheran World Federation,” said McCoid. “His work in coordinating the statement on the episcopacy for The Lutheran World Federation was widely received and appreciated. He was a friend who exhibited a strong commitment to the unity of the church.”

The ELCA is the Federation’s only member church from the United States. The Lutheran World Federation also expressed gratitude for the substantial contributions Lee made to international ecumenical dialogue, particularly relations with Roman Catholics.

“Ecumenical partners always spoke very highly of Randy’s theological insights, relational sensitivities and commitment to greater expressions of unity in Christ’s church,” said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop. “He exemplified graciousness in receiving ecumenical guests, always recognizing that friendships and theological dialogues are both essential to deepening unity.”

Lee is survived by his parents, Raymond and Marilyn Lee.

Funeral services were held July 9 at noon at First English Lutheran Church. A prayer service was also held July 9 at ELCA churchwide ministries in Chicago.

Exodus of undocumented immigrants comes to a halt after Supreme Court decision, says ELCA synod bishop

 Since the Supreme Court’s decision June 25 to uphold some of Arizona’s 2010 immigration law (Arizona SB 1070), the “exodus of undocumented” immigrants from the state has stopped, according to the Rev. Stephen Talmage, bishop of the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod based in Tucson, Ariz.

Leading up to and after the signing of the law, Talmage said about 200,000 of the estimated 450,000 undocumented people left Arizona from the end of 2008 to the beginning of 2010.

“As has been attested in our congregations (in ministry with) Latinos, many in those communities live under a cloud of fear,” said Talmage. “The loss of job opportunities, the political climate, and inconsistent practice among various law enforcement agencies have deeply reinforced a message that Arizona is not the place to come.”

Since the decision, “most undocumented immigrants are taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude in light of the law’s effect being dependent on a lower court’s lifting of the stay on the ‘papers please’ provision, and no one knows when that will be,” said Talmage.

“The Department of Homeland Security has directed immigration officials in Arizona not to deport undocumented persons identified through enforcement of SB 1070, unless they meet the agency’s priorities of being dangerous criminals, recent border crossers or repeat immigration violators,” he said.

“Among elected state officials, pending on what side of the debate one’s on, (some) claim victory for the state to enforce current laws and protect its border when the federal government fails, while others continue to raise the caution flag for the potential of racial profiling,” Talmage said. “All sides continue to plead for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform.”

At the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod’s Assembly May 30-June 1, a majority of voting members passed a resolution stating that Arizona’s SB 1070 is inconsistent with their “collective Christian belief and witness and harmful to the practical concerns and needs of Arizona.” The assembly concluded that immigration is of significant importance to its territory, which covers Arizona, Nevada andUtah, and regarded the case ofArizona vs. United States as a matter of federal law.

The action also calls upon members and congregations of the synod to encourage their leaders in the federal government to work for bipartisan immigration reform that is “comprehensive, fair, humane, compassionate, and which safeguards the unity of families.” The resolution was forwarded to the Arizona governor, the president of the Arizona Senate, the speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives and to all members of the state legislature.

To date, Talmage said his office has heard back from only a couple of elected officials.

“The debate will continue. The impact is unknown,” said Talmage. “Our synod and our state are still deeply divided on the issue. But it is hoped that recent actions can be an impetus for mobilizing leaders on both sides to work together to resolve a decades-long failure of our federal government to address a major issue that impacts communities, congregations and families.