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Saturday, September 01, 2007

 

ELCA Churchwide Assembly - one more time

I wrote a column for the local daily newspaper, "The Reporter," which was published on Saturday, August 25, 2007. Here is the copy for that article:

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Prayer holds our church together

If you Google “Lutheran” and “homosexuality” you will come up with more than 250 news stories from the past two weeks related to this topic following the actions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA’s) churchwide assembly (convention) which met in Chicago earlier this month. I was a voting member (delegate) to this assembly, the biennial business meeting of the ELCA, which, with nearly 5,000,000 members, is the largest Lutheran church in North America.

What most secular media missed was “the rest of the story” as radio commentator Paul Harvey would say. Most of the week long assembly was not about debate on homosexuality. We spent much of our time in worship, singing and prayer, conducted elections, and heard inspirational reports of this church’s work in the US and the Caribbean.

Here are a few of the key decisions from this important gathering:
• ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson was re-elected to a second, six year term as Presiding Bishop.
• A Bible study initiative, “Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible” was endorsed.
• A social statement, “Our Calling in Education,” was adopted.
• A churchwide strategy for responding to HIV and AIDS was approved.
• The assembly called for more study and involvement in the situation in Darfur, Sudan, and declared its opposition to “any escalation of the war” in Iraq.

The assembly did spend time debating our standards for ordaining pastors. The specific debate was whether our church should change its current policies which do not permit homosexual persons who are not celibate to be pastors. The assembly did not approve any change in policies at this time, but asked that recommendations come to the next biennial meeting in 2009 on this subject when a full social statement on Human Sexuality is scheduled to come before the assembly. A further action asked our regional bishops to consider restraining from disciplining pastors in homosexual committed relationships until that time. You can read more of these actions and others online at www.elca.org/assembly.

Much has been written about division in our church, and many other churches, around the homosexuality issue. However, I am holding one image in my heart and mind from the assembly. It is an image that was caught by an Associated Press photographer.

Whenever there was debate during the assembly, voting members lined up at microphones to speak for or against particular items before the assembly. If you were in favor of the topic being discussed you went to a green “yes” numbered microphone and if you were against the topic being discussed, you went to a red “no” numbered microphone. 14 green and red microphones were paired so there were seven sets of microphones throughout the assembly floor.

During the homosexuality debate, the most contentious at the assembly, we paused every twenty minutes for prayer. The Associated Press photographer caught one group of voting members, clearly on opposite sides of this issue, in a prayer huddle at the debate microphones during one of these prayer breaks. I know several of the folks in this photo, pictured arm and arm, and they disagree strongly about this issue. But, there they were, praying and hugging each other.

And, that is a story so often missed in the church and homosexuality discussion. There are good Christians with strong views on all sides of this issue. We can and do live and pray together as we discern what our church’s stand on these issues should be. If we continue to pray and talk together, these do not have to be church-dividing issues.

Whatever our view on contentious issues before our churches, we continue to have our unity in Jesus Christ, our risen Lord and Savior.

The Rev. Eric C. Shafer
Senior Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church
Lansdale
eshafer@trinitylansdale.com

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My Trinity August 18/19 sermon, "So Great A Cloud of Witnesses," includes the incident and photo mentioned in the article above. That sermon, with the photo, is online at www.trinitylansdale.com/sermons/20070818-19ecs.pdf .

Always living in God's amazing grace,

Eric Shafer

Comments:
thanks for telling about the photographer capturing the moment of prayer. as an episcopalian I have seen the press stress what divides more than what brings together.

and your travels in the new post was an adventure.. I like the part about having to climb the stairs after a long day.
 
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