ELCA congregations receive Energy Star rating, honored at the White House

Four ELCA congregations were recognized this fall at the White House for their achievements in energy efficiency.

More than 25 congregations from across the country were honored, including Elim Lutheran Church in Duluth, Minn., First English Lutheran in Columbus, Ohio, First Lutheran Church in Bothell, Wash., and Reformation Lutheran Church in Media, Pa., for achieving the Energy Star designation, a nationally recognized energy performance measurement.

Both the 2009 and 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assemblies accepted proposals designed to encourage congregations to reduce their usage of carbon-based fuels and take better care of God’s creation, making energy conservation and efficiency a priority for the church.

“The four ELCA congregations honored are just a small sample of ELCA congregations doing critical work to protect God’s earth, not only through energy conservation efforts but also by planting community gardens, taking measures to protect their local air and water, and incorporating thanks and praise for God’s creation into their worship,” said Mary Minette, who serves as director for environmental education and advocacy at ELCA churchwide ministries.

The Rev. Jim Hagen, pastor of Elim Lutheran Church, was unable to attend the event but was grateful for the honor. “It was exciting,” said Hagen in an interview. “It was great to get this recognition.”

In the past six years, Elim has made a number of improvements to their building including replacing their boilers, light bulbs and roof with more energy efficient options.

“It made sense for us,”Hagensaid. “In the winter time we’ve reduced our heat bill. It’s half of what it was before.”

“There is a growing understanding that care of our neighbor, which is so rooted in our Lutheran traditions, and care of the earth are inextricably linked,” said Minette. “Energy conservation is good stewardship of both financial resources and God’s gift of creation.”

ELCA-sponsored consultation in Bogota, Colombia, examines leadership development

For the first time, leaders representing Lutheran churches, seminaries and other educational institutions across Latin American and the Caribbean gathered Aug. 7-11 in Bogota, Colombia, to explore new models of leadership development to shape the kinds of lay and ordained ministries that would strengthen the capacity for mission in the 21st century.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) sponsored this consultation, creating space for a dialogue that also addressed the changing religious landscape in Latin America and the Caribbean. Leaders from ELCA churchwide ministries, seminaries and others from the United States attended the consultation. 

According to the Rev. Raquel Rodriguez, a critical objective of the consultation was to sketch out a roadmap of some strategic directions and priorities around leadership development that would deepen Lutheran theology and practice, yet contemporize that theology to meet the new realities of churches in the region.

Theological institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean are becoming more ecumenical, witnessing an increase in the number of Pentecostal students in enrollment, for example. While this new reality is providing a valuable exchange of perspectives among the students, the responsibility of fostering a Lutheran denominational identity is falling on individual churches. 

Rodriguez, who directs the Latin America and the Caribbean desk at ELCA churchwide ministries, said that there’s a sense of urgency in which the ELCA’s companion Lutheran churches are observing different models of leadership training, particularly as congregations are looking for a more structured approach to ministries like diaconal services, liturgy and arts, church administration and more.

“I was inspired by the courageous way in which these colleagues are addressing many of the same issues we face (in the United States) in preparing leaders for the church of the 21st century,” said the Rev. Michael Cooper-White, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, one of eight ELCA seminaries. “It was a privilege for me to represent the seminaries of the ELCA in this historic gathering of theological educators and Lutheran church leaders from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said. 

The consultation sets a precedent for the mutual sharing of needs, experiences, ideas and perspectives among leaders of our global companions, churches and institutions, allowing us to take seriously the unique leadership needs of our companions and to be more effective in our accompaniment, according to Tammy Jackson, who directs the International Leadership Development program at ELCA churchwide ministries.

As follow-up to the consultation, a committee was formed to assist the participants from both the Centers for Theological Formation and Lutheran churches in the region to continue the dialogue and work on specific recommendations that would hold a mutual accountability and responsibility among all in the training of leaders for ministry, said Rodriguez. The committee will also oversee the development of a concept paper by church representatives on what it means to develop a Lutheran identity in their context and to oversee the deliberations on topics such as sustainability of churches and the Centers for Theological Formation, she said. 

There are more than 20 Lutheran denominations across Latin America and the Caribbean that are members of The Lutheran World Federation — a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. The federation has 143 member churches in 79 countries all over the world. The ELCA is the federation’s only member church from the United States.

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.

Body of missing retired ELCA pastor found

The body of James Schwartz, a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), was found April 7 about 10 miles from his home. Schwartz had been missing since Oct. 19 and was last seen by his wife at their home in Village of Oak Creek (Sedona), Ariz. According to local news reporters, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office Forest Patrol Unit initiated search efforts.

The body was found by a committed searcher, who felt God’s call to continue the search and went on one more hike the Saturday before Easter, according to the Schwartz family.

Schwartz served as pastor of Christ Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Sedona, from 2001 to 2011.

Recapturing the word evangelical

If ever a word has been hijacked and politicized and changed from its original meaning, it is the term “evangelical,” according to the Rev. Herbert Chilstrom, the first presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). When the ELCA was formed nearly 25 years ago, Chilstrom said the word “evangelical” was deliberately included in the name of the church.

“We did so to make it known that anyone who embraces that fundamental focus on Jesus Christ is welcome to be a member of one of our congregations: old, young, Democrat, Republican, Independent, African American, Caucasian, Hispanic, straight, gay, single, married – yes, anyone,” Chilstrom wrote in a March 6 letter to the editor of Green Valley News in Green Valley, Ariz.

But “ask most anyone on the street to define ‘evangelical’ and they will tell you it represents someone who is opposed to gun control, abortion and birth control; someone who favors tight immigration restrictions and prayer in the public schools. You get the picture. The press relentlessly speaks of the ‘Evangelical Block’ when it writes and broadcasts items about some members of the Republican Party and other conservative movements,” he wrote.

The root meaning of the word “goes back to the New Testament and the Greek language in which it was written,” wrote Chilstrom “Its meaning is almost disarming in its simplicity. It describes one who believes the Good News about Jesus Christ.”

Click here for the full text of Chilstrom’s letter, made available at LivingLutheran.com.

ELCA responding to recent storms in the Midwest and South

According to a March 6 e-Alert from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), congregations and ELCA Disaster Response are providing spiritual care, coordinating volunteer work through local partner agencies and laying the groundwork for further response in areas impacted by recent storms.

Between Feb. 22 and March 3, at least 64 tornadoes killed more than 50 people and injured many more in 14 states. Hundreds of homes, farms and businesses were damaged or destroyed.

Gifts to ELCA Disaster Response designated for “U.S. Severe Spring Storms” will be used entirely (100 percent) to help families whose lives and livelihoods have been impacted by the storms.

ELCA presiding bishop chairs search for National Council of Churches transitional general secretary

ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson is chairing a search committee for a “transitional general secretary” to lead the National Council of Churches — an ecumenical Christian body representing 45 million people in more than 100,000 congregations across the country. The ELCA is the only Lutheran church with membership in the council.

The search was announced Feb. 29. The former general secretary, Michael Kinnamon, left the post Dec. 31 for health reasons. Clare Chapman, Esq., is interim general secretary. Hanson said the search committee hopes to present a candidate to the council’s governing board by June 2012.

The announcement coincides with the formation of the council’s 16-member task force charged with “re-envisioning and restructuring” the 62-year-old organization. Kathryn Lohre, who directs ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations and is president of the council, called the appointment of the new task force “a signal of the rebirth” of the National Council of Churches.

Lohre is the first ELCA member to serve as president of the communion.

After fatal shooting, ELCA congregation in Chardon, Ohio, offers gathering place for students

Celebration Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Chardon, Ohio, is providing a safe place for teenagers to gather following a Feb. 27 shooting at a local high school. According to news reports, witnesses say the alleged shooter shot five people in the school’s cafeteria. Three students have died.

According to the Rev. Laura Barbins, pastor of Celebration, classes at the high school are scheduled to resume Friday. In the meantime, “We’re offering our church building as a safe place for students to gather and process what happened. No parents are allowed,” she said.

Barbins said the congregation gathered for prayer on the day of the shooting and will participate in a Feb. 28 ecumenical service at St. Mary Catholic Church in Chardon at 7:00 p.m. (EST). While the victims and the alleged shooter are not members of Celebration, “Our members know their families,” said Barbins. “Chardon is a small community, and we know one another.”

ELCA considering ways to address social concerns

An ELCA task force charged with addressing how this church responds to social concerns met for the first time in January. According to the Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, the scope of task force’s work is much bigger than reviewing the process for developing ELCA social statements and messages.

“Lutherans have a long history of responding to social concerns, both with our hands and with our voices,” said Kleinhans, who serves as task force chair. “I’m excited about the opportunity we’ve been given to think creatively and passionately about how this church will continue to live out its calling.”

According to Kleinhans, Lutherans have had a commitment to addressing social concerns since the Reformation.

It “is a good time for us to examine what we have been doing in the ELCA and consider how we want to continue for the future — how we live our mission forward,” she said.

Currently, social statements are developed through years of study, conversation and discernment and are resources to assist Lutherans in their moral deliberation and govern ELCA institutional policies and guide advocacy work.

The development of social statements and messages are only one way of approaching social concerns.

“We also address social concerns through education and encouraging ELCA members to live out their own vocation in society,” she said.

The 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted “Genetics, Faith and Responsibility,” the ELCA’s 11th social statement. In a separate action, the assembly authorized the establishment of a review process of current procedures for the development and adoption of social statements.

No new proposed social statements will be considered until completion of the review. According to the 2011 Churchwide Assembly action, the development of a social statement on criminal justice and a separate statement focusing on justice for women may continue without alteration.

Task force members were appointed in December 2011. It is anticipated that the task force will bring a report to the ELCA Church Council in November 2012.

Members of the task force are:

+ Per Anderson, Moorhead, Minn.
+ Paul G. Archer, Dearborn, Mich.
+ Linda Bobbitt, Thornton, Colo.
+ the Rev. Wm. Chris Boerger, Everett, Wash.
+ Rebecca J. Brakke, Dallas
+ Sylvia Bull, Princeton, N.J.
+ the Rev. Margaret E. Herz-Lane, Baltimore
+ the Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Waverly, Iowa
+ Christopher Meade, Geneva, Ill.
+ Arthur Norman, Valdosta, Ga.
+ the Rev. Fred S. Opalinski, Reading, Pa.
+ Rose Stephens-Booker, Arlington, Va.
+ Suzanne G. Wise, Siler City, N.C.
+ the Rev. David B. Zellmer, Sioux Falls, S.D.