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Thursday, August 27, 2009

 

A Million Minutes for Peace

I've joined "A Million Minutes for Peace," a grassroots effort to get 1,000,000 people to stop at 12 noon on the United Nations International Day of Peace, September 21, to pray for one minute for peace. You can join at www.odysseynetworks.org .

I am also one of the bloggers for this effort. You'll find my first blog response on the "Million Minutes for Peace" website that Odyssey has created. We were asked to respond to this: "A common mantra in the peace-making community is “in weakness is our strength.” Have you found this to be true in your experience as a peace builder?"

Here is my response:

+++++

One of my favorite Christian New Testament texts is found in 2 Corinthians 12:10 - “Therefore I am content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (NRSV). A great and favorite text. And, maybe, a helpful path to peace.

St. Paul wrote these words to the new Christians at Corinth when they were having another church fight, this one over spiritual gifts and some in the congregation who were bragging about their spiritual gifts (“We have them and you don’t!”). Using his own ongoing poor physical health as an example, Paul makes the point that God responded to Paul’s own weak health and Paul’s pleas for physical healing by telling him, “My grace if sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, when the military power of the former USSR was perceived to be very strong, I got to know the Rev. Dr. Arvids Ziedonis Jr., a Lutheran pastor and Russian professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Dr. Z, as we called him, would often say that the USSR would one day soon collapse from the inside, that its “power” was really a hollow shell. People laughed at him. Lots of people. Called him names even.

After the fall of the “Iron Curtain” in 1989 and the fall of communism and the breakup of the USSR I saw Dr. Z and asked him, “What’s it like to be right?” He just smiled at me.

Turns out, of course, that Dr. Z was right and the USSR was never very “strong!” And so many dollars and lives were spent (by all “sides” in the so-called Cold War) to respond to what turned out to be a lie!

St. Paul writes that true strength is to know and accept one’s weaknesses. To pretend to be strong is an invitation to disaster. Just ask the leaders of the former USSR!

For us, as people of faith, true strength comes not in military might, real or perceived, or any other show of strength and power. No, true strength comes from what we Lutherans love to call God’s grace, God’s unconditional love for all people. That makes our survival as individuals and peoples a matter of faith, not strength or power.

I know this to be true in my own life. In my own times of weakness, I find my strength in God and other people. And, if I let it, my own weakness becomes my strength. In those times, I find that I do not need anything else to survive and even thrive – just God’s love and the love of others who have also responded to God’s love.

I think this is true for people and even nations. I know it is true for me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

 

ELCA Churchwide Assembly columns in the Lansdale "Reporter" newspaper

In addition to the seven columns I wrote for the Reading "EagleTimes" newspaper, I penned three similar columns for the Lansdale "Reporter" newspaper. Not sure how long they will keep them on their website, but here are the URL's:

* "Lutheran assembly considering policy changes" - http://www.thereporteronline.com/articles/2009/08/18/life/doc4a8a95ec31e93405952721.txt

* "Lutherans approve statement on sexuality" - http://www.thereporteronline.com/articles/2009/08/21/life/doc4a8ea8eb30b89711386520.txt

* "Lutherans open ministry to gays, lesbians" - http://www.thereporteronline.com/articles/2009/08/25/life/srv0000006208357.txt

They edited them a bit and wrote the headlines.

Monday, August 24, 2009

 

Reading "EagleTimes" newspaper columns from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

I wrote seven columns for the Reading "EagleTimes" newspaper from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, August 17 -23, 2009 in Minneapolis. Here are the links for each day's columns:

Monday - "Lutheran convention to focus on gay clergy - http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=152842

Wednesday - "Lutherans respectful in debating sexuality" - http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=153137

Thursday - "Lutheran assembly agrees to disagree on homosexuality" - http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=153323

Friday - "Lutherans okay pact with Methodists" - http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=153473

Saturday - 'Controversal action was really no surprise" - http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=153628

Sunday - "Lutherans work on after media leave" - http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=153740

Monday - "Lutheran leaders call for unity as assembly closes" - http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=153805

The newspaper wrote the headlines and did minimal editing. The copy if very close to what I had on my blog each day.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

 

Saturday at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Although the secular news media may have lost interest in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly following the much-reported decision on Friday to open the professional ministry in the ELCA who are in "publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships," the assembly continued the important work of the church as it met in Minneapolis on Saturday.

Among the many assembly actions today were these:

* The re-election of Mr. Carlos Pena, a businessman from Galveston, Texas, to a second six year term as the ELCA Vice President. The ELCA Vice President is a volunteer position and must be held by a lay (non-clergy) person and, as such, is the highest elected lay position in the church. Pena was re-elected on the fourth ballot. (Carlos preached at my 2006 installation as Senior Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale. He and his wife, Diane, are dear friends).

* The approval of a process which will lead to a social statement on Justice for Women to be presented to the 2015 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

* A call for a social statement on Human Disability.

* The approval of church constitution amendments which will require that 10% of those who served on congregation, synod and churchwide councils be ages 18 - 30. (Our Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod led the way in this action by allowing congregations to send one additional youth or young adult voting member to each synod assembly, an action which dramatically increased the youth and young adult participation at the 2009 Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly).

*Affirmation of the ELCA's continued strategy for peace in Israel and Palestine - see www.elca.org/peacenotwalls .

* Approval of the ELCA's budget for 2010 and 2011.

You can read more about any of these actions online at www.elca.org/assembly/actions.

Actually, these assembly actions do not capture the sense or focus of the assembly. Each day has major time spent in worship and prayer and some days include a major Bible study presentation. Saturday included the announcement of the first-ever ELCA video contest winners - 224 videos on the theme of "God's work. Our Hands." from individuals and congregations were submitted and 20 finalists named. The winning videos from a congregation and an individual came from Minnesota and Florida. You can view all of the entries online at http://www.godsworkourlands.org/ or www.elca.org/videocontest . The Odyssey Networks provided the cash prize for the congregation winner. (I serve as the ELCA's representative to the board of the Odyssey Networks - http://www.odysseynetworks.org/ .)

The assembly concludes on Sunday with worship and any remaining business items.

 

Friday at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

"ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans" is the headline of the ELCA News Service news release summarizing the actions of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly meeting in Minneapolis this week for Friday, August 21.

It is a good headline and a good summary of the debate on these issues which occurred at the assembly on Friday. The assembly spent almost all of it plenary (business) time on Friday discussing and debating and then voting on these actions.

During the day on today, the assembly approved a series of resolutions which have the affect of opening the pastoral ministry in the ELCA to pastors and other professional leaders who are in "publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships." This is a change for the church which, until these votes, required its pastors to be in heterosexual marital relationships or, if they were homosexual or heterosexual and unmarried, to be celibate.

Of the four votes on this topic, the closest came on a resolution to find "a way for people in such publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professsional leaders (pastors) of this church." That vote was 559 yes and 451 no.

A substitute resolution to preclude "practicing homosexual persons ... from the rostered leadership" of the ELCA failed in a 344 yes and 670 no vote. This resolution was made by Albert Quie, a lay voting member from the ELCA Minneapolis Synod and the former governor of Minnesota. An attempt to require a 2/3 vote for approval of the resolutions also failed by a vote of 407 yes, 576 no. A similar effort to require a 2/3 vote for approval for these resolutions had failed earlier in the assembly. The assembly did approve, by a vote of 771 yes and 230 no, a resolution committing the church to respect the differences of opinions on the matter and honor the "bound consciences" of those who disagree.

The assembly paused often for prayer throughout the day.

This action came as no surprise to those of us who have been following this activity throughout the ELCA. Many ELCA synods (35 or so I believe), including the Northeastern and Southeastern Pennsylvania Synods, had approved resolutions endorsing this change at their 2009 spring synod assemblies and the vote on the Churchwide Assembly rules on Monday evening, endorsing a simple majority for these changes rather than a 2/3 vote, had indicated the direction the assembly appeared to be taking. The Council of my own congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, took action at its May meeting endorsing this change.

Following these votes, in moving, pastoral words addressed both to those who were celebrating and those mourning this action, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson concluded, "We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross -- where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

 

Thurday at the ELCA Churchwide Assemby

Voting members at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly meeting in Minneapolis this week spent the morning on Thursday, August 20, informally discussing the proposals before the assembly that would provide "ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships" and if people in these relationships can serve as professional leaders (pastors and other rostered positions) in the ELCA. Voting members met in small groups and then in informal plenary discussion (no votes). These actions are scheduled to come to a vote at the assembly tomorrow, Friday, August 21.

15 "implementing resolutions" related to the "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust" sexuality statement approved on Wednesday were approved by a vote of 695 to 285. These resolutions give direction to various ELCA ministries in relation to this new social statement.

The major item approved by the assembly on Thursday was the action declaring the ELCA in "full communion" with the United Methodist Church. "Full communion" makes exchange and sharing of clergy possible and encourages cooperation in many other areas. The proposal was approved by a strong vote with 958 voting yes and 51 no. It had been previously approved by the United Mehodist Church. The ELCA already has similar agreements with the Episcopal Church, the Moravian Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ. You can read more online at www.elca.org/fullcommunion .

All 65 ELCA synod bishops had recommended a resolution "that the ELCA in assembly commit this church in all of its expressions to the premise that "each person should have ready access to basic health care services that include preventive, acute, and chronic physical and mental health care at an affordable cost." It was approved by a vote of 799 to 126.

The results of the second ballot for ELCA Vice President were announced: Current VP Carlos Pena received 657 votes, short of the 733 needed for election on this ballot. However, this should be enough votes to assure him election on the next ballot.

After dinner, I attended the reception for the eight ELCA seminaries and then called it a day!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

 

Wednesday at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

On Wednesday, August 19, the proposed Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) social statement, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," was approved by voting members of the assembly meeting in Minneapolis by a vote of 676 to 338, exactly the 2/3 vote that was needed for approval! I have been involved in the process leading to this vote since 1993. I will have more reflections later on this historic vote and my small role in the process leading to it.

Before this vote, the assembly spent several hours in debate on the statement, extending the afternoon plenary (business) session into the evening to allow for more debate time. There were several minor amendments made to the social statement and much discussion. A key "sticking point" for some was the social statement's section on homosexuality which indicates that there is no consensus on this issue in the ELCA. However, homosexuality is only a small section of the social statement, the majority of which supports traditional marriage and family, opposes sexual abuse and exploitation and much more. You can read the full statement online at www.elca.org/faithfuljourney . The Congregation Council at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, where I serve as Senior Pastor, voted in May to endorse this social statement. I also wrote about it in the "Journal of Lutheran Ethics" - www.elca.org/jle - in February and June of this year.

The assembly met on Wednesday afternoon through terrible local weather including a tornado which touched down in the convention center area, damaging the steeple of Central Lutheran Church next door. There was also some minor damage on the convention center itself, although that damage was not near the area we were meeting. For an hour or so the assembly voting members were asked to stay in the meeting room, which we were told was one of the safest places in the area.

Before the social statement vote, there were a number of items of other assembly business items:

* The first ballot for ELCA Vice President was held. The ELCA Vice President is a lay (non-clergy) volunteer position with a six year term. On the first (nominating) ballot, assembly voting members could nominate any one of the nearly 5,000,000 ELCA lay members! Current ELCA Vice President Carlos Pena, a business man from Galveston, Texas, received 607 votes, but that was short of the 686 (a 3/4 majority) needed for election on the first ballot. The second ballot, also needing a 3/4 majority, will be held on Thursday. (Mr. Pena preached at my 2006 installation as Senior Pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale).

* A resolution to approve a three-year, $10 million fundraising campaign for the ELCA's HIV and AIDS strategy was approved. More online at www.elca.org/aids .

* The first report of the Memorials (resolutions) Committee brought three resolutions to a vote, all of which were approved. One of the these memorials (assembly resolutions) was on "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" which noted "this church's historical commitment to immigrants and refugees," urged a "comprehensive reform of immigration policies and processes in the United States" and called for "the suspension of immigration raids until such comprehensive reform is enacted." The vote to approve this resolution was overwhelmingly positive, 873 yes to 82 no. More at www.elca.org/memorials .

* There were greetings from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and ELCA military chaplains. The ELCA Treasurer, Christina Jackson Skelton, delivered her report as did the assembly's Youth Convo. There was a Bible study led by Luther Seminary Professor Dr. Diane Jacobson - Jacobson is also director of the ELCA's Book of Faith (Bible) Initiative. There were college corporation meetings for four ELCA colleges.

My evening ended with dinner with Beth Lewis, CEO of Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, and her husband, Rick Rouse, and Michael Cooper-White, the President of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. Mike is also my roommate at this assembly (I snore, he does not!)

 

Tuesday at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

The agenda at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis on Tuesday focused on introducing many agenda items that will come to a vote later in the week - the ELCA budget, elections, funding for an HIV/AIDS strategy and the proposed social statement on human sexuality.

The assembly spent about 90 minutes in an open discussion (no votes) on "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust," the proposed social statement. Again, I heard few new arguments, but, again, the discussion was full and respectful. A final vote on this document may come today. You can read it online at www.elca.org/faithfuljourney.

One important agenda item that did come to a vote on Tuesday was a new "Lutheran Malaria Initiative," the church's cooperative effort, working with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Lutheran World Relief and the United Nations Foundation, to end malaria in Africa by 2015.The effort will be called "NothingButNets" and will be a grass-roots campaign for $10 donations to provide treated bed nets for African families. You can read more at www.elca.org/malaria.

I was pleased to share lunch with Mark Ramseth, President of Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, and dinner with Roy & Betsy Riley (Roy is Bishop of the ELCA New Jersey Synod).

There is more online at www.elca.org/assembly, including live video of every assembly plenary (business) session.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

 

More from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on Monday

The 11th ELCA Churchwide Assembly began with worship at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, August 17, 2009. It was a wonderful worship experience for me - grand music (many musicians plus the National Lutheran Choir) and fine preaching by Bishop Hanson.

In his sermon, Bishop Hanson noted, that, as the assembly proceedings begin, "it is important that fears are recognized and named" and "to recognize what fear and anxiety can do to us." "Fear nurtures the suspicion and cynicism that lead us to act in ways that are downright mean-spirited and anti-neighborly. Fear can drive us to make demands of others for our own security rather than faith freeing us to serve others with confidence and humility." But there is more to the story than fear in this assembly, Hanson said. "We will tell the story of Jesus Christ who is present in this assembly," he said. "This is the story that is waiting to be told about us." "Christ is the source of our joy" and "the source of our peace" in a world without peace, Hanson said. "And into that world Christ sends you and me and all gathered for this assembly," he said. "The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is a sent church," sent to "share the good news and remember the poor." (Thanks to Melissa Ramirez Cooper of the ELCA news service for these quotes).

Before worship I had lunch with Ms. Marcia Holman, who, with her husband, Mark, is one of our ELCA missionaries in Jerusalem (the Holmans are supported by my congregation, Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale). After worship, I had a quick dinner with dear friends Rebecca and Stephen Larson (Rebecca is Executive Director of the ELCA Program Unit for Church in Society and Stephen is Senior Pastor of St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Illinois).

The first plenary (business) session began at 7:00 p.m. and lasted until nearly 11:00 p.m. The first hour or so was instruction and introduction to the assembly's agenda, but most of this long evening session, as expected, was spent in debate over the assembly's rule which called for the vote on the proposed changes in ELCA ministry policies to be by a simple majority (this is the vote which would allow people in committed same-gender relationships to be professional leaders in the ELCA). More than an hour of debate later, the assembly voted NOT to change from the recommended simple majority to a 2/3 majority. 57% of voting members favored staying with the recommended rule for a simple majority. In my opinion, this will make the recommended changes in ministry policies more likely to be approved later this week. The debate was marked by civility and fairness. While I did not hear any new arguements on either "side" of this debate, there was full discussion with all points of view welcomed and heard.

A short night of sleep followed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

 

ELCA Churchwide Assembly Monday - Registration, Worship & Rules

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly does not begin any business sessions until this evening. Before that time, voting members and visitors will be registering and worshipping. Registration opens later this morning and worship (Holy Communion) begins at 4:00 p.m. The opening Plenary (business) session begins at 7:30 p.m. and is scheduled to end by 9:30 p.m.

In some past assemblies the Monday evening opening plenary session has been short and quiet. However, this year the assembly rules, which call for a simple majority vote on the proposed changes in ministry policies relating to allowing "people in publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professional leaders of this church," will certainly be challenged by those who wish these proposed changes to need the approval of a 2/3 vote of the assembly. Many who wish to see a 2/3 vote are opposed to these changes, but some who favor the changes, also favor a 2/3 vote because they are concerned about the possible controversy a close simple majority vote may cause.

Pre-assembly news media coverage of the ELCA assembly has focused, no surprise, on the gay and lesbian issues before the assembly. As I've read these reports online, most seem to be correct in their reporting. The Minneapolis "Star Tribune" newspaper had a front page feature news story yesterday, "ELCA Convention: Lutherans strive to avoid split on gay issue." You can read it online at http://www.startribune.com/lifestyle/faith/53304992.html?page=1&c=y .

A brief item is in today's Reading "EagleTimes" newspaper about my blogging from the assembly - http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=152842 .

Sunday, August 16, 2009

 

ELCA Churchwide Assembly this week

I am here in Minneapolis this week for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA's) biennial churchwide assembly which begins tomorrow (Monday) evening at the Minneapolis Convention Center. I am registered as a "Congregation Observer" which means I do not vote but have a seat and receive assembly materials. I am also writing for the Reading "Eagle/Times" and the Lansdale "Reporter" newspapers.

Most of the attention at this assembly will be around the "Report and Recommendations on Ministry Policies," four recommendations that were directed by the 2007 assembly to "specifically address and make recommendations to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly on changes to any policies that preclude practicing homosexuals from the rosters of this church." In four stepped resolutions the assembly will be asked if it is ready to find "ways to allow congregations and synods that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships" and if people in these relationships can serve as pastors and other professional leaders in the ELCA.

The votes on these four resolutions are scheduled for Friday morning but the first action related to them will occur during the opening assembly business session on Monday evening. At that session, I'm told, there will be an attempt to change the assembly rules, which currently call for these resolutions to be approved by a simple majority, to require a 2/3 vote for their approval. This change must be approved by a 2/3 vote so I doubt if it will happen.

Before Friday, the assembly will also vote on a proposed social statement on sexuality, "Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust." That vote is scheduled for Wednesday and must be a 2/3 majority (all ELCA social statements require a 2/3 vote for approval). If approved, this will be the ELCA's tenth social statement. Social statements are written to help church members respond to issues in church and society.

More on both the social statement and ministry policy changes can be found at www.elca.org/faithfuljourney .

Of course, the ELCA churchwide assembly will be dealing with many other matters, some mundane (if still important) like budgets and consitution changes, and some not mundane such as "Confessing Our Faith Together," the proposal for "full communion" with the United Methodist Church (allowing the exchange of pastors and encouraing more cooperation among congregations) and action on further development of a Lutheran Malaria Initiative and funding for the ELCA's HIV and AIDS strategy plus a proposal to develop a social statement on justice for women. You can read more online at www.elca.org/assembly .

I will be posting daily reflections here and adding assembly actions as soon as possible.

Eric