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

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.


ELCA leaders visit U.S. State Department to make nutrition a priority for mothers, children

A group of ELCA leaders met with staff of the U.S. State Department Feb. 1-2 to help make nutrition a priority and support the “1,000 Day Movement” — an international initiative to promote maternal and child nutrition in the 1,000 days between pregnancy and age 2. At the meeting ELCA members, along with other religious leaders, learned about the government’s work on nutrition in the United States and overseas.

“The death of a child is tragic, and the permanent (cognitive and physical delay) of millions of children every year is preventable,” said the Rev. Jessica Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod, who attended the meeting.

Crist said the movement brings together public and private, faith-based and secular organizations “to advocate for focused attention on the first 1,000 days of life. Simple, inexpensive measures like prenatal nutrition, breast feeding, clean water and hand washing can make the difference in the lives of millions of children worldwide. And the difference is not only personal — it affects the whole society.”

The State Department has $95 million budgeted for this work in countries that have agreed to make maternal and infant nutrition a priority, said Crist. “In contrast, Americans spend $1 billion on Super Bowl snacks in one night.”

Organized by Bread for the World, the meeting at the State Department included conversations with staff of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Global Health Initiative and the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Other ELCA members at the meeting were Sharon Heck, Whittier, Calif.; Gaylord Thomas, Chicago; and staff from Women of the ELCA and the ELCA Washington Office.

Women of the ELCA passed a resolution at their 2011 convention that commits the organization to supporting the 1,000 Day Movement. “Women of the ELCA has been working with Bread for the World in leading an ecumenical effort to assist Christians to live out the 1,000 Day commitment,” said Inez Torres Davis, director for justice, Women of the ELCA.

ELCA members team-up for Souper Bowl of Caring

As football fans tune-in Feb. 5 for the NFL’s Super Bowl championship game, faith groups will have a victory of their own that day with the Souper Bowl of Caring — a national, ecumenical effort that raises millions of dollars for hunger-fighting organizations.

While 100 million viewers are expected to celebrate the game with abundant food and friendship, nearly 1 billion people in the world will spend the day hungry.

More than 2,000 ELCA youth groups are registered for this year’s Souper Bowl of Caring. On the day of the event, the youth collect food and dollars in large soup pots from parishioners. Congregations are encouraged to select local organizations to receive half of what is raised and to send the other half to ELCA World Hunger.

Gifts to ELCA World Hunger support the projects of this church that respond to hunger and poverty in more than 50 countries, including hundreds of soup kitchens and food pantries in the United States.

In 2011 ELCA congregations collected more than $800,270 in cash and food items for 1,644 charities. About 21,646 pounds of food was collected. Individual congregations report the results of their collections at the Souper Bowl of Caring website. More than $81 million has been earned since the movement began in 1990.

ELCA member awarded the 2012 Caldecott Medal

Chris Raschka, a member of Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, an ELCA congregation in New York, has been awarded the American Library Association’s 2012 Caldecott Medal for his children’s book, “A Ball for Daisy.” Raschka, author and illustrator, also won the medal in 2006 for his illustration of “The Hello, Goodbye Window” and earned the Caldecott Honor in 1994 for “Yo! Yes?”

According to St. Olaf College’s news service, Raschka, named Chris Durnbaugh while a student at St. Olaf, dabbled in art while majoring in biology. St. Olaf is one of 26 colleges and universities of the ELCA.

“I would not have dreamed in a thousand and one years that 25 years hence I would be writing and illustrating children’s books,” Raschka said in a 2008 profile story in St. Olaf Magazine. “My education there prepared me perfectly for what I do now.”

Portland Monthly magazine honors ELCA pastor

W.J. Mark Knutson, pastor of Augustana Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Portland, Ore., was named one of “The 50 Most Influential Portlanders” in the January 2012 issue of Portland Monthly magazine. The magazine noted the congregation’s growth in membership and that it’s a multiethnic, multicultural congregation dedicated to justice and peacemaking.

“I’m always glad to see faith leaders lifted up in the context of the wider community, churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, which are all vital in weaving just and fair communities where all have life. It’s why faith communities exist,” said Knutson in response to the acknowledgement.

Knutson has been pastor of Augustana since 1996. In 2009, he was honored as Ecumenist of the Year by the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and received the Distinguished Ministry of Parish Pastor Award by Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, an ELCA seminary in Berkeley, Calif.