Chicago’s Navy Pier was the site of the 2007 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. From August 6 through August 11, this national expression of our Lutheran heritage re-elected the Reverend Mark Hanson as Presiding Bishop, elected David Swartling to replace retiring Secretary Lowell Almen, adopted budgets, and deliberated. Although sexuality topics dominated news coverage, the list of matters of concern to this assembly covered a much wider range of issues, including:
- The assembly endorsed “Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible,” a five-year initiative to promote study of the Bible;
- The assembly adopted a social statement, “Our Calling in Education,” which addresses issues of children’s faith formation, equitable access to education, quality of U.S. public schools, and support for Lutheran schools, colleges and campus ministries;
- The assembly accepted a report with recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Committee on Mission Funding, appointed to study the ELCA’s funding policies and practices;
- The assembly directed the ELCA Church in Society program unit to develop a social statement on criminal justice for consideration by the 2013 Churchwide Assembly;
- The assembly extended the ELCA’s full communion relationship with the Moravian Church in America to the East West Indies and the Alaska Provinces of the Moravian Church in America by a vote of 999 to 23;
- The assembly received Evangelical Lutheran Worship “with thanksgiving” as our primary worship resource;
- The assembly called for a churchwide strategy for responding to HIV and AIDS to build on and deepen current denominational engagement with the pandemic in the United States and around the world;
- The assembly invited renewed efforts by members and congregations to “reach and surpass, as soon as possible,” a goal of $25 million in annual giving to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal;
- The assembly urged Lutherans to study the situation in Darfur, Sudan, and advocate to federal officials on behalf of Darfur;
- The assembly opposed “any escalation of the war” in Iraq and asked this church to call on the U.S. government to “take immediate and comprehensive steps to end the violence and establish a peaceful, stable, and just society in that country”;
- The assembly urged ELCA congregations and other Lutheran agencies to provide a “welcoming and supporting environment for returning military veterans”;
- The assembly called on the ELCA to recommit to this church’s strategy for engagement in Israel and Palestine, including a call for economic initiatives;
- The assembly referred all memorials from synods regarding same-sex blessings and ELCA clergy standards to the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, and added an amendment to its referral on clergy standards, directing the task force to “specifically address and make recommendations to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on changes to any policies that preclude practicing homosexual persons from the rosters of this church”;
- The assembly urged its synods and bishops to “refrain from or demonstrate restraint in disciplining” people and congregations that call otherwise-qualified candidates in mutual, chaste and faithful committed same-gender relationships, and it urged restraint in disciplining rostered leaders in committed same-gender relationships;
- The assembly asked synod bishops to discuss their accountability “to the adopted policies, practices and procedures of the ELCA” and requested that a report be brought to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. (For a more detailed summary, go to http://www.elca.org/assembly/summary/)
In this issue we present a wide variety of eye-witness accounts of the assembly. Before the assembly took place we solicited reports from all of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod Churchwide Assembly Voting Members. Two have replied: Mary Anderson and Pastor Jennifer Moland-Kovash. From across the Atlantic, MCS rostered Pastor William Strehlow (who followed the assembly through streaming technology) offers a view from someone looking on a long way from home.
Benjamin Dueholm raises some interesting questions while commenting on worship at the assembly. The implications of this assembly for the future of the ELCA are addressed by two clergy from other synods (Pastor Sara Gausmann and Pastor Robert White) whom we have included in order to present perspectives from the wider Church, as befits an issue devoted to the Churchwide Assembly.
Beyond our coverage of the Assembly, we welcome the comments of our synod’s Bishop, the Reverend Wayne N. Miller, as he suggests something akin to the Ignatian Discipline as a way of centering ourselves in our reconciliation to God and one another through Jesus Christ. In addition to these words of pastoral counsel, we also have four other articles off the topic of the assembly.
In their regular columns, Benjamin Dueholm offers an ecumenical summary of other denominational assemblies over the summer and Pastor Frank Senn responds to a reader’s comments on Canonical Exegesis. Joyce Bowers offers a reflection on Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity. Pastor Antonio Cabello continues the theme of the previous two issues of Let’s Talk by offering an appreciative critique of Hispanic ministries in the Metropolitan Chicago Synod.
We have three responses from readers: Pastor Daniel Johansson, Todd Schichner (both of whom address the previous issues on Latino-Hispanic Theology and Ministry) and Pastor Robert Goldstein (who takes exegetical issue with a previous article, thus fulfilling the title, theme and purpose of this publication, Let’s Talk).