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Wednesday, August 15, 2007


ELCA Churchwide Assembly - four more items

Four more items relating to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Chicago last week:

1) My friend, the Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), addressed the assembly on Thursday. Melissa Ramirez Cooper's ELCA news release captured many of the quotes which I wrote down and have now lost. Here are a few examples:
* "I call on all religious leaders -- Christians, Muslims and Jews -- to become our allies for justice and humanity. No religion has a monopoly on hate or extremism. It is time that religion become part of the solution rather than part of the problem."
* "It is time that the US government recognized that it would be in its best interest to become an honest broker" for peace in the Middle East.
* "the Lord and Savior himself taught us to speak out on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized, to care for humanity and to speak for justice."
* "Working for justice is not political ... it is biblical and spiritual."

2) If you go to www.elca.org/assembly/photos, you will find two of me and one of Trinity's Joe Kovatch. They are all on Wednesday, August 8 - go to www.elca.org/assembly/photos - Wednesday, August 8. For Joe's photo try this URL - http://photos.elca.org/gallery/3166816#181779815 and for my photos try try these URL's - http://photos.elca.org/gallery/3166816#181881854 and http://photos.elca.org/gallery/3166816#181877294 . That may or may not work since I believe the photos come up in somewhat different order each time they are viewed. Joe's photo was on the first page of Wednesday photos and mine were later in the day, pages 9 & 12, but that may have changed. Tuesday's photos include several of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Claire S. Burkat who preached at noon worship that day.

3) The news media have reported the assembly's actions on homosexuality fairly accurately, I believe. Print media have done a better job than television, partly because they have the space to explain the assembly actions which were not simply a yes or no. The article in Sunday, August 12, "Chicago Tribune" newspaper, "Lutherans ask bishops to keep gay clergy in ministry - Vote urges bishops to avoid discipline," appears to be quite accurate in reporting the nuances of the assembly's actions. You can find that article online at www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chicago/chi-lutheranaug12,1,1736466.story?ctrack=3&cset=true .

4) Before the assembly, I attended some of the ELCA Worship Jubilee, www.elca.org/worship/jubilee . Unfortunately, I tried to save money by not staying at the assembly hotel downtown and by staying in the suburbs at a much cheaper hotel and taking public transportation. This sounded like a good idea until I took public transportation and found that the journey took nearly two hours each way! That also meant that I could not attend evening activities at the Jubilee because the last buses left Navy Pier too early. I did attend one wonderful worship service and four workshops ("Worship in the Emerging Church," "Mission-Connected Worship," "Paradigms of Hospitality - Beyond Strategic Friendliness," and "Gathered for Worship in a Wounded World"). I brought some good materials back from those workshops.

One more assembly-related posting is coming.

Living in God's amazing grace,


Monday, August 13, 2007


Saturday afternoon at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Somehow, by the grace of God and the good leadership of Bishop Hanson with the fine support of other churchwide staff, the assembly finished its business on Saturday afternoon.

The major item left on the agenda was a resolution of support for Lutherans in Palestine. The resolution, with several amendments, was approved. In it, ELCA members are urged to support Lutherans in Palestine not only with prayer but also with "pocketbook," purchasing products produced by Palestinians and avoiding products produced in the illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian territry. (I'm not sure there are any products produced in these illegal settlements, but the resolution was important symbolism for our support for our sister and brother Lutherans in Palestine). I cannot find the text of that resolution, but will share it later if/wehe I can find it.

The recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Committee on ELCA Financial Support were also approved. So were several resolutions for the assembly Reference and Council committee - nothing of major import from my vantage point. There were reports from Lutheran Disaster Response and Lutheran Services in America.

Before he closed the assembly, Bishop Hanson asked us to share with folks around us what were the images we were taking home from this assembly. I took home, again, the realization of the wonderful ministry we are able to do together in our church, both at "home" in North America and around the world.

I will have some further reflections to share in a follow up note.

Living in God's amazing grace back home in Lansdale,


Saturday, August 11, 2007


Saturday morning at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Saturday morning at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly was focused on elections and sex!

David Swartling was elected at the new ELCA Secretary on the 5th ballot. Swartling is an attorney from Seattle and a most gracious man. He was immediately installed into this new office at noon worship today. Amendments to the ELCA Constitution and Bylaws were also approved this morning. We also heard a wonderful report on ELCA Multicultural Ministries. Much singing and praying as usual, too.

The assembly has completed action on matters relating to synod memorials (resolutions) on homosexuality. Most synod resolutions were referred to the ELCA Human Sexuality Studies task force for their review (no action specified). The effort to change ELCA's rule regarding the rostering of pastors in committed homosexual relationship did not prevail. A further attempt to get a moratorium on discipline for the next two years also did not prevail. What was finally approved was this resolution:

"...the Churchwide Assembly prays, urges, and encourages synods, synodical bishops, and the presiding bishop to refrain from or demonstrate restraint in discipling those congregations and persons who call into the rostered ministry otherwise-qualified candidates who are in a mutal, chaste, and faithful committed same-gender relationship..." A second part of this resolution used the same worded to refered to rostered leaders instead of congregations.

This, combined with a change in one referral to the Sexuality Studies Task Force directing them to come to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly with recommendations on rostering of homosexual pastors in committed relationships, is progress. Certainly not as much as I had hoped, but some progress nonetheless. And, it really helps bishops, like our own Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Claire Burkat, respond to the nearly 100 rostered leaders who "came out" during this assembly and, without this resolution, might have faced discipline after this assembly.

So, I guess this glass is half full. I must say, that, right now, it feels more like half-empty. Some of those who do not want any change in ELCA policies on homosexuality got really nasty in today's discussion. I have always been proud of this church. During today's discussion, I was not proud....

I'll get over it.

Yet to be voted on are resolutions on Isreal/Palestine, Disaster Response, the the Blue Ribbon Mission Funding recommendations. Those are all to come up later this afternoon.

The assembly e-maiil center will close soon and the hotel's business center may not be open enough time for me to write again today, but I will try.

Today, I feel as if I am only living in God's amazing grace,



Friday at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Friday was another very full day at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Let me try to recap the day for you.

Elections: Much to my surprise, my dear friend, Michael Cooper-White, was elminated for ELCA Secretary on the 4th ballot - see www.elca.org/news/Releases.asp?a=3692 . The fifth ballot, scheduled for this (Saturday) morning, is between Mr. David Swartling and the Rev. Paul Schreck. Swartling had the 50% needed for election on the 5th ballot on the 4th (when he needed 60% for election), so unless something changes dramatically, he will be elected today. He is a layman from Seattle, a lawyer and a very fine person. I was not elected to the board of Augsburg Fortress, the ELCA Publishing House.

Sexuality issues: The assembly did not approve a resolution to change ELCA standards to allow gay and lesbian rostered persons in committed relationships to remain on the ELCA clergy roster. However, as soon as that was defeated, two other resolutions were proposed, one to delay discipline on these matters until the ELCA Human Sexuality social statement comes to the 2009 assembly and another to direct the ELCA Human Sexuality social statement task force to address these issues. I beleive both have a good chance of passing today.

Otherwise, there were lots of greetings (Lutheran Men in Mission, Women of the ELCA, Lutheran Youth Organization, and the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod). There was afternoon Bible study, noon worship and lots prayer and singing during business sessions. The ELCA budget was approved without debate. An ELCA Social Statement on Education was also approved (see www.elca.org/news/Releases.asp?a=3694 ).

The day ended with a celebration of Lowell Almen's 20 years as ELCA Secretary and then a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ELCA. The 20th ELCA anniversary banquet last evening featured the "Bottle Band" from St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Illinois, the congregation where Kris and were members while we lived in Chicago. The Bottle Band (they play music on empty beer and wine bottles!) has appeared on the David Letterman show - I believe you can find links to video on that appearance on St. Luke's Web site - www.stlukespr.org .

I'll try to post some refletions over the noon hour today. The assembly e-mail center, where I've done much of my writing this week, closes at 2:00 p.m. and the hotel's business center closes at 5:00 p.m. today, so I'm not certain when I can next write reflections.

Tired, but still living in God's amazing grace,


Thursday, August 09, 2007


Thursday at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

I am rushing to write a quick summary of today's activities at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly before this evening's many activities.

Today we heard the results of the first ballot for ELCA Secretary, had the second ballot and heard its results and then heard Q&A with the top 8 nominees for ELCA secretary. Michael Cooper-White, my choice on these first two ballots, is in the lead with 277 votes on the second ballot. He and the other 7 nominees all did very well in the Q&A session which ended today's business. You can read more about this election process at www.elca.org/assembly/news . That's where you can see the names of the other nominees. (I received 3 votes for ELCA Secretary on the first ballot and made sure to removed my name from the ballot before the second ballot).

We also voted on what is called the "Common Ballot" with nominees for many ELCA boards and committees. These are all volunteer positions. I am nominated for the board of Augsburg Fortress, our ELCA publishing house. There are three nominees for one board position on my "ticket." We'll see those results tomorrow.

A highlight of today's agenda was the presentation by the Rev. Dr. Munib Younan, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. I cannot find my notes from his speech and may share some quotes with you on another day. We heard the Report of the ELCA Secretary (filmed at Trappe Church) and reports from the ELCA World Hunger Appeal and Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. There were greetings from full communion partners and a vote on expanding our full communion relationship with the Moravian Church in North America plus greetings from the Lutheran World Federation, the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. There was another Bible study, wonderful noontime worship and much praying and singing.

This afternoon we spent more than one hour debating the various memorials (resolutions) from synods relating to homosexuality. The Memorials Committee recommendation that the memorials relating to same sex blessings (several memorials which recommended opposite actions) be referred to the ELCA Human Sexuality Study Task Force. That recommendation passed without debate. Then we moved to the various synod resolutions about allowing homosexual persons in committed same-sex relationships to remain on the ELCA clergy roster. The Memorials Committee recommended that these resolutions also be referred to the Human Sexuality Task Force with no action at this time. While that recommendation was under discussion, a substitute was proposed that would change ELCA ordaination standards in this matter immediately, allowing these persons to be on the clergy roster, the content of 21 of these synod resolutions. When the time for discussion ended, BOTH of these actions were still on the floor. Long lines of speakers remained at the microphones when the time elapsed for discussion. We'll continue with that discussion tomorrow.

I am off to a reception honoring the Lutheran World Federation on its 2007 60th birthday.

Continuing to "live in God's amazing grace,"


Wednesday, August 08, 2007


Wednesday at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Many folks have asked me here how it is to be a voting member (delegate) rather than a staff member as I have been for all of the past ELCA assemblies. They are used to seeing me runnnig around the assembly plenary hall with two sets of headphones, (usually in a suit and running shoes!) trying to stay on top of all the assembly communication needs. I am happy to say that that is my former life! This time I am enjoying sitting and listening, singing and praying and voting. My assembly days are not much shorter, I've found. We have sessions mornings and afternoons and many evening activities. So, I'm sleeping more than at past assemblies, but still not much more!

Today the assembly heard Bishop Hanson's Presiding Bishop's report as well as a keynote from Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro. Those fine presentations filled most of the morning session. We did have time to pass resolutions on the war in Iraq (opposing further escalation) and Genocide in Darfur, Africa. Both passed overwhelmingly without debate. We also approved the ELCA Strategy for HIV/AIDS and later asked the ELCA Church Council to find $1 million for this effort. We began discussion on the Blue Ribbon Committee on Mission Funding and heard reports from the ELCA Treasurer, the Mission Investment Fund, and Justice for Women. We heard the second Bible study (Galatians 1: 1 - 10) and heard greetings from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. The day ended with college corportation meetings for four of our ELCA colleges which must have official meetings here at the assembly.

A motion from the floor changed the day's agenda so that we had the first ballot for ELCA Secretary this afternoon instead of Friday. The ELCA Secretary is a full time, paid, Chicago based postion, open to any member, lay or ordained, in the ELCA, all 4.9 million of them! The Rev. Dr. Lowell Almen has held this position for all of the ELCA's 20 year history and has announced his retirement. Similiar to the bishop's election, except with many more possible nominees, the first ballot becomes a nominating ballot. We will see the results posted in the hotel lobby later this evening. The second ballot should happen Thursday morning after folks who are here have been given the chance to remove their name. The third ballot will be limited to the top seven from the second ballot. This is an exciting election with, I believe, no front runner. (I voted for my dear friend Michael Cooper-White on the first ballot for secretary). More on this election as it unfolds.

Perhaps, the most interesting agenda item today was what was called a "quasi committee of the whole" this afternoon to discuss the various synod resolutions (memorials) relating to homosexuality. This was open discussion, alternating between speakers favoring the recommendation of the Memorials Committee to delay these resolutions until 2009 when they could be part of the Human Sexuality Social Statement due at the assembly and those wanting this assembly to vote on these resolutions at this assembly. The key issue is a desire by some (many?) to change ELCA standards to allow ordained pastors in committed homosexual relationship to remain as ELCA pastors, something that currently is not allowed. Or, to wait to vote on this possible change as a part of the larger sexualtiy discussion at the 2009 assembly. (Our SE PA synod asembly approved a resolution asking for this change at this assembly, a position I personally also favor). There was no vote, just a series of "pro" and "con" two minute statements, some of which were quite moving. There appeared to be many more speakers (only 30 or so could be heard) waiting to speak in favor of change now, but I certainly could not tell if this means the assembly is leaning this way. We will see when official debate on the resolutions comes on Friday.

Worship today included a fine sermon by Dr. Almen. Tonight the assembly is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Lutheran Campus Ministry as well as the ministry of ELCA colleges and universities.

Another full day, also full of inspiration!


Tuesday, August 07, 2007


First report from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

I am finally finding both the time and the available (free) computer with internet access to write some reflections from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly meeting on the Navy Pier in downtown Chicago from August 6 - 11.

The assembly opened yesterday (Monday, August 6) with a wonderful service of Holy Communion with ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson preaching. Wonderful music, good preaching, Holy Communion, 1,500+ voices - what more could one ask for?

This service was followed by a quick dinner and then the first Plenary (business) session Monday evening. Major business this first evening was the adoption of the assembly rules and order for business. There was only one minor change to the assembly rules so we quickly moved to the first ballot for ELCA Presiding Bishop.

Similar to a synod bishop election, this was an "ecclesiastical" ballot, that is the first ballot was a nominating ballot and any ELCA pastor could be nominated. We voting members (delegates) were invited to write the name of any ELCA pastor (all 19,000 of us) on that ballot. This balloting ended the session.

Today's morning plenary session (Monday, August 7) began with assembly action to accept the new "Evangelical Lutheran Worship" (ELW) as the official worship book for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. That resolution was overwhemingly approved with no debate. We did have a chance to sing several ELW hymns! See www.elca.org/assembly/votingmatters/EvangelicalLutheranWorship.pdf .

We then heard the report of the first ballot for Presiding Bishop. A 3/4 majority was necessary to elect on this ballot. Bishop Hanson missed that 3/4 by only two votes, when he received 765 of the 1013 votes cast! 101 pastors received one or more votes. Those present were then allowed to withdraw before the second ballot. Most of the other nominees who were present withdrew. This plenary session ended with the Second Bishop Ballot.

Before that ending, the assembly also approved a second major action: "Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible," the new Bible reading and study program/process that will be implemented across our church over the next five years. The document is online at www.elca.org/assembly/votingmatters/BookofFaith.pdf . Much more will be coming our way on this exciting program but you can read more now at www.elca.org/bookoffaith . Every congregation will have the chance to become an ELCA "Book of Faith Congregation."

We also heard the presentation of the ELCA budget for 2008/2009, a moving greeting from an ELCA military chaplain and the first presentation of all the items coming before the assembly from the ELCA Church Council.

Our Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Claire S. Burkat was the preacher for today's noon Service of Holy Communion, another wonderful worship experience. Bishop Burkat's sermon is or will soon be online at www.elca.org/assembly/worship/ .

When we returned from lunch, the results of the second ballot for ELCA Presiding Bishop (3/4 again needed for election) were waiting for us at our places. Bishop Mark S. Hanson was elected to a second six year term as ELCA Presiding Bishop with 888 votes of the 1027 cast (86%!) Bishop Hanson responded that he was deeply moved by this strong affirmation of his call as ELCA Presiding Bishop.

Other business this afternoon included the introduction of the ELCA Social Statement on Education, "Our Calling in Education" - see www.elca.org/assembly/votingmatters/OurCallinginEducation.pdf and the introduction of an ELCA Churchwide Strategy on HIV-AIDS - see www.elca.org/assembly/votingmatters/ChurchwideStrategyonHIVandAIDS.pdf . There was time to approve two Memorials (resolutions) from ELCA synods, one on support for military veterans as they return home from military service and other callnig for the ELCA to develop a social statement on Criminal Justice for presentation to the 2113 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

This evening we have hearings on various assembly agenda items.

Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land is here at this assembly. When I greeted him this morning, he sent his special greetings to Trinity members and made it a point to tell me how important his January visit had been for him.

One story: Yesterday, a pastor from the New England Synod stopped me as I walked by her. She told me that some years ago I had been at their synod assembly and had spoken on stewardship. In that speech, I had stated that Kris and I had begun our giving to our congregation at 10% of our income and had tried to move up from there and added special giving and giving other charities after/above this tithe (10%) to our congregation. This pastor told me that she thought to herself, "Well, if he can do that, so can I!" and she began tithing and trying to move up from that point. She proudly told me that her giving has now reached 20% of her income! And, I don't even remember saying what she remembered! Shows again that what we do and say as Christians, remembered or not, can have important results and responses!

I'll try to blog again soon and do hope to share some reflections on the ELCA Worship Jubilee which I attended here over the weekend. Remember that assembly plenary sessions for the rest of this week can be viewed live online at www.elca.org/assembly most every morning and afternoon.

Living in God's Amazing Grace,


Thursday, August 02, 2007


Heading to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

I have wanted to get started writing regularly here on my blog and next week's ELCA Churchwide Assembly is a good excuse to (finally) get started.

On Friday morning, August 3, I fly to Chicago to be a voting member for the 2007 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly which will take place August 6 - 12 on Navy Pier in Chicago. I'm heading out early to attend the ELCA Worship Jubilee taking place on the Navy Pier from August 3 - 6. Assuming I can find a computer with internet access, I intend to blog here regularly from the assembly.

I have attended every ELCA biennial assembly from the constituting convention in Columbus, Ohio in 1987 through every assembly since that time. In 1987, 1991 (Chicago), and 1993 (Orlando) I was a volunteer on the assembly communication staff. Beginning in 1993 (Kansas City) through the remaining assemblies - 1995 (Minneapolis), 1997 (Philadelphia), 1999 (Denver), 2001 (Indianapolis), 2003 (Milwaukee) and 2005 (Orlando again) - I was on the churchwide staff and was responsible for communication at the assembly. In 1995 I also chaired the assembly planning committee. This year will be my first as a voting member and not as a staffer.

Why "assembly" and "voting member?" There's actually much thought behind these terms. When the ELCA was formed in 1987, it was set up as a church in three "expressions" - congregation, synod and churchwide. Each expression of the church assembles - the congregation each Sunday, the synod each year and churchwide every two years. And, these expressions were set up to be interrelated and not complete without each other. In each, the community assembles and, at times, the members of that community vote. Hence the terms assembly and voting member (rather then convention and delegate or representative). Churchwide was also deliberately chosen rather than national since, among other reasons, our church includes congregations in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Bahamas and Bermuda. ELCA Secretary Lowell Almen states it far better than I can online at www.elca.org/assembly/votingmatters/RoleofAssembly.html .

This assembly has many important items of business before it. What will be of most interest to the secular media is the matter of homosexuality. This item was not scheduled to be on the assembly agenda this year (it was a major item at the 2005 assembly. A proposed social statement on human sexuality, which will certainly include material on homosexuality, is scheduled to come before the 2009 assembly). However, this changed with the Bradley Schmeling discipline case (Atlanta) when an ELCA discipline panel voted 7 - 5 to remove Schmeling as an ELCA pastor (because he was in a long term, commited homosexual relationship, something not currently allowed for ELCA pastors who must be single and celebate or married and in a traditional marriage to remain on the clergy roster). However, this same discipline committee also asked the church to change this standard. The assembly, after votes from many synod assemblies including our Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, will now take up this matter. I intend to vote in favor of such a change.

However, "sexy" (forgive the pun) that agenda item may be, there are several others that interest me more. I am very much in favor of the proposed "Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible" Bible literacy initiative and am excited to see the introduction to this intiative at the assembly. There are many other social justice resolutions that interest me greatly - resolutions on the War in Iraq and HIV/AIDS and Palestine/Israel, for example.

The election of a new ELCA Secretary will also be most interesting and even could be exciting. The ELCA Secretary is the second highest full time ELCA officer after the ELCA Presiding Bishop. (While there is a lay ELCA Vice President, that is a volunteer and part time position). The Rev. Dr. Lowell Almen has held this position for the entire 20 year history of our church. Now he is retiring. While Dr. Almen is ordained (and male and white) the ELCA Secretary position can be held by any active ELCA member. Assembly voting members can write the name of any ELCA member on the first ballot, called an ecclesiastical ballot. The second ballot includes everyone named on the first who has not withdrawn. Then the third ballot includes only the top seven from the second. And so on until the fifth ballot which is between the top two, unless there are ties. It will be interesting to watch this balloting process.

The ELCA Presiding Bishop is also up for election, but Bishop Hanson has announced that he is willing to serve another term, so I see no reason that he will not be reelected, perhaps as early as the first or second ballot.

There is always wonderful worship (11:00 a.m. each day), great Bible studies and other speakers, many fine reports, hearings, workshops and just good conversation. Assembly plenary sessions will be web cast live (www.elca.org/assembly/video) on Monday evening, August 6, and then every morning and afternoon Tuesday through Saturday, August 7 - 12. Unfortunately, worship is not web cast, but I beleive the sermons will be posted on the assembly site after they are shared in worship. The theme of this assembly is "Living in God's Amazing Grace - Thanks be to God!"

I'll try to write reflections as often as I can during the assembly. Once the assembly meeting area opens on Monday afternoon there will be a computer center that I know I can use. I'll send reflections from the ELCA Worship Jubilee (www.elca.org/worship/jublilee) if I can get to a computer over the weekend.