Counting Down to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Yes, I’m a Churchwide Assembly geek.

As a two-time voting member at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, and an intrigued watcher of the webcasts and news reports, it is clear to me that predicting the outcome of anything at the Assembly is dangerous and foolhardy.  But that is not to say that there are not some things that can be watched and anticipated.  I’m offering some observations and preview of some of what I’ll be watching next week as our church is in Assembly.

Election of a Presiding Bishop – Bishop Marc Hanson is making himself available for re-election.  The church uses an “ecclesiastical ballot” system for election, which makes for an interesting dynamic.  Although I suspect that Bishop Hanson will be re-elected, it will be interesting to note who else receives a significant number of votes.  Having said that, it is not out of the realm of possibility for a new Presiding Bishop to be elected. Some popular candidates 6 years ago are not likely to garner significant support because of their age.  We have had in recent years any number of Synodical Bishops retire, or face term limits.  I’m going to be watching for a strong showing of people who have a more “conservative” theological orientation.   Assembly watchers will also be looking for the strength of those early votes  in order to gauge the theological orientation of the Assembly, which will impact other decisions before the body.

Election of Secretary – The position of Secretary of the ELCA is a significant position, and has been held by Lowell Almen since the inception of the ELCA (nearly 20 years).  I’ve no clue where this election is headed.  Pastor Almen has served well, and the person elected will certainly shape the ELCA in some significant ways.

Recommendations of the Church Council – Each Assembly, the ELCA Church Council brings forth a series of recommendations.  This year, we see items related to:

  1. Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible
  2. Reception of Evangelical Lutheran Worship
  3. Mission Funding
  4. A Social Statement on Education
  5. World Hunger Appeal
  6. Churchwide Strategy on HIV and AIDS
  7. Full Communion with Moravian Provinces
  8. Amendments to the ELCA Constitution and Bylaws
  9. 2008-2009 Budget

What I’ll be watching out of these:

  • There is a suspicion among some that the Bible initiative is “stacked” against a traditional reading of scripture and a weakening of the authority of scripture.  I’ll be interested in how this debate plays out.  I don’t imagine the recommendation failing, but there may be some interesting amendments proposed and possibly passed.
  • Evangelical Lutheran Worship (the hymnal) has begun to be used in congregations around the country.  Objections to this recommendation of Church Council will likely revolve around encouraging the use of what some refer to as the “name of God” (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), rather than some of the language contained within this worship resource.
  • Mission Funding has been in decline since before the beginning of the ELCA.  In 1965, Mission Support made up 17.7% of Total Giving.  In 2005, it made up just 6% of giving.  This is a cultural change, and there are some challenging implications for funding churchwide ministries given  this ongoing trend.  I’m not anticipating lengthy discussion.
  • The Social Statement on Education will likely have some amendments made, so that the Assembly makes it its own document, but I anticipate it will pass.
  • Typically, the other items are routinely handled.  We’ll see.

Memorials from Synods – Report of the Memorials Committee
The first round of action will be for certain groups to petition to remove material from en-bloc status.  As a way of speeding up action at the Churchwide Assembly, Memorials are grouped, and the Memorials Committee makes a recommendation for action to be taken collectively (en-bloc).  The Assembly will vote on requests to consider particular Memorials individually.  I’d anticipate some action on removing from en bloc Memorials related to “Restraint in Discipline Proceedings”.  I don’t know if the removal from en bloc will succeed.  The Memorials Committee has recommended that separate action and debate take place on 7 items, and all will generate their fair share of spirited debate.  Those items relate to:

  1. Support for Congregations Assisting Returning Veterans
  2. Criminal Justice
  3. Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
  4. Iraq War
  5. Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships
  6. Standards for Rostered Leaders
  7. Referrals to the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality

I’m watching these debates with considerable interest.  The debates give me some good clues as to what the “mood” of the ELCA is at this time in our life together.  It gives me some indication about the passions and the intensity of those passions within our church.  In many ways, what happens at Churchwide Assembly affects us in only minor ways, but they contribute to the climate in which we operate.

I’d recommend that if you are interested in the Churchwide Assembly, that you explore the ELCA Website devoted to the Churchwide Assembly.  Alternatively, return here as the week progresses for updates, observations, and comments.

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