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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.


Nice Blog Eric. It sounds like you'll have an eventful week. I like you viewpoint. Safe travels and keep us up to date.
Julie Kinzel
I found your blog when looking for a staff person's e-mail on the Trinity website - good idea to have your blog link out there next to your name.

Thanks for highlighting what took place during the Assembly. It is nice to see that our church is making so much of this information available for our consideration. I found this article referencing the case against Pastor Schmeling, with a large number of links to additional material.

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