Reflections on the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly

2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly
New Orleans, LA - Aug 8 – 13, 2016

Dear Friends,

God’s grace and peace be with you. I thank God for you and for the continued ministry you do as God’s people in the Allegheny Synod. As you know we have recently completed the 2016 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in New Orleans, LA. I wanted to share with you some of the highlights of the Assembly and of the work that went on there. These are just highlights of our work and our time. If you have specific questions about the Assembly please let me know. I will be happy to discuss any of this with you once I return to the office on Aug. 23rd.

I want to begin by recognizing that Pastor Dena Gable, of the Levansville/Bakersville parish in Somerset county, was elected to serve on the ELCA Churchwide Council. Pastor Dena will go to Chicago twice a year to take part in Churchwide Council meetings. We thank her for her willingness to serve.

Business at the Assembly:

Unification of the Lay Rosters – Previously the ELCA had three ways in which lay persons could be set apart for ministry in the church. This was by joining one of three lay rosters as either a Associate in Ministry, Diaconal Minister, or Deaconess. The Assembly voted to unify these into one single roster which will be known as the roster for the ‘Ministry of Word and Service’. Ministers of this roster will be known as ‘Deacons’.

Reception of Declaration ‘On the Way’ – as we move into the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation intense work has happened to bring us closer together with other church bodies. The ecumenical document “Declaration On The Way: Church, Ministry, and Eucharist”. This document harvests all of the agreements between the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Roman Catholic Church over the past 50 years. What this demonstrates are the many and various ways that Lutheran and Catholic theology and understanding of the Holy Eucharist agree and with each other. This hope is this document will make the way forward for Catholics and Lutherans to share in the Holy Eucharist. We are not there yet, but this is a major step forward toward Christian fellowship.

Repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery – A memorial was accepted by the Assembly, which repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery. This was the rationale used by Europeans, which was supported by the church at the time, to take land from American native peoples for themselves. The argument was that the Europeans were civilized and God fearing people, therefore the Doctrine stated it was fine for them to take the land from people who it characterized and ‘godless’ and ‘savage’. This view of our native sisters and brothers led to horrible treatment, abuses, and terrors being unleashed on the native people. With this memorial, our church said this was wrong. It was wrong for God’s people to look at others as less than and sub-human, and use God’s name to justify our actions. More than anything it acknowledges that wrong was done and for that we as God’s people are are sorry.

Officially adopted AMMPARO strategy - We have seen an influx in the numbers of minor children who are crossing our border to gain shelter from violence in their home countries. Our church has been committed to working with these children and helping shelter these minor children who are often travelling alone. To this end, the ELCA has developed the AMMPARO strategy. AMMPARO is an acronym for Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities. This program works to train volunteers to serve as advocates to minor refugees, to help facilitate the process in the immigration court, and works to get children out of detention centers and into temporary housing while they await their court dates. This is a humanitarian effort to care for children who otherwise have no voice. Our church has consistently worked to care for and see that these children get the just, fair, and legal treatment they need.

William Horne elected as new VP – William Horne of Clearwater Florida was elected to serve as the next Vice President of the ELCA. Mr. Horne is a retired Air Force Colonel who currently serves as the City Manager for Clearwater, Florida. He has been a member of the ELCA Churchwide Council and has been very active in the work of the Florida/Bahamas Synod and the greater ELCA.

Portico Investment screens – There were a number of resolutions and memorials that dealt with how Portico (our ELCA Pension Fund) invests their funds. Primarily these dealt with our investment in fossil fuels and our relationship with the state of Israel. There was much debate on the floor over these resolutions. In the end on both the issue of fossil fuels and Israel, the Assembly voted to encourage continued screening of where money is invested.

Special Guests:

Greetings from Churches around the World 

We were honored to have several special guests join us from around the world. Presiding Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Canada, Honduras, Papua New Guinee, and the Central African Republic joined us to bring greetings from their people.

The General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation also came and spoke on the work that we do across the world as Lutherans together.

Finally, we received a video greeting from Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Michael Curry. Bishop Curry was unable to join us because of a health consideration.

Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee – the Keynote speaker for our Assembly was Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee. Mrs. Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her work to organize Christian and Muslim women in Liberia to work together to end the Liberian Civil War. She continues her work as an activist for peace and speaks all over the world about the need for ordinary people to work together to bring about positive social and political change.

It was a very busy week. I want to thank our voting members who took the trip and gave a week of their time to the business of the church. Thank you to Tyler Graham, Pastor Bob Way, Pam Way, Linda Schul, Megan Flower, Pastor Traci Bowman, Marlin Plymette, and Pastor Katie Maul. If you see any of our voting members please join me in thanking them for their time and service.

May God continue to bless and keep you.

In Christ

+Bp. Michael