From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Holy Spirit At Work, Next Two Years Difficult, Says ELCA Presiding

Date Wed, 20 Aug 2003 15:41:11 -0500


August 20, 2003

Holy Spirit At Work, Next Two Years Difficult, Says ELCA Presiding Bishop

     MILWAUKEE (ELCA) - Members of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA) will enter the "next stage" of
conversation about the place of people who are gay and lesbian in
the life of the ELCA with "a new sense of confidence that the
Holy Spirit is at work."  Those were among the remarks Aug. 17 of
the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, in the closing
moments of the 2003 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
     The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of
the ELCA, met here Aug. 11-17 at the Midwest Airlines Center.
There were about 2,100 people participating, including 1,030 ELCA
voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly was "Making
Christ Known: For the Healing of the World."
     Following a worship service at the assembly, Hanson said
three voting members spoke with him about their experiences here.
Each said they knew their work would include the business of the
church, but shared that they didn't know it would be a "spiritual
experience," Hanson said.
     "That was my hope and has been my fervent prayer for weeks
coming to this assembly," Hanson said.	"We would so ground
ourselves in worship each day, be so reminded through
proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, that we would be
so clear about the gifts of the Holy Spirit . that we would be
free to confront the questions and issues that divide us. I
believe God has been at work at our daily worship."
     One key issue before the ELCA is its studies on sexuality.
In 2005, a final report with recommendations on questions about
homosexuality will be presented to the churchwide assembly in
Orlando, Fla.  The studies are to address whether or not people
in committed homosexual relationships should be ordained and
whether or not the ELCA should have an official policy on
blessing same-gender relationships.  The assembly here affirmed
the time line for the homosexuality studies, and declined to
delay the final report until 2007, when the assembly is expected
to consider a social statement on human sexuality.
     "I know that these next two years are going to be extremely
difficult for this church," Hanson told the assembly. "[They will
be] difficult because most of the 5 million members of this
church don't know how in their own primary relationships to talk
openly and faithfully about [their] own human sexuality, to say
nothing about finding a way to talk about the sexuality of one
     The culture has "taken away" sexuality from people of faith,
he said.  The culture has "trivialized it, commercialized it and
objectified it," he said.
     "I think we as a church body are saying to the culture that
we are going to take back the gift that God gives all of us in
creation: the gift of sexuality . mysterious, powerful, wonderful
gift that it is," he said.  "We are going to find a way,
sometimes fumbling, sometimes with clarity, in the context of
Scripture and our confessions to talk about what it means to be
faithful stewards of this gift."
     Hanson said he trusts that the Holy Spirit will guide the
ELCA to 2005 and bring the church to "decisions that this church
will believe [are] reflective of the conversation we have had,"
he said.
     In his concluding remarks, Hanson also said:
     + that churches in rural settings are "the backbone" of the
ELCA and he hoped members there understand the church will not
turn its back on them.	Hanson said he is encouraged by the
creativity of rural ministries, which have developed "new
patterns" of ministry, responded to droughts and adapted to
change in rural economies.  The church will continue the Small
Town and Rural Ministry program, continue domestic grants as well
as support efforts of synods in transformational ministry, he
said.  "We know that you are faced with enormous changes, but you
are also blessed with fantastic gifts.	I see our rural synods
not in a panic mode of survival but in a renewal mode of ministry
and mission proclaiming Christ," Hanson said.
     + he hopes congregations are involved in strengthening local
ecumenical relationships by proclaiming Christ, witnessing,
building communities of justice and peace, and sharing resources
for ministry.  "I hope each of you [is] finding ways to reach
across the street and down the road to sisters and brothers in
Christ," Hanson said.
     + the ELCA will continue its commitment to engage in
"altar and pulpit" fellowship with other Lutheran church bodies
that uphold the unaltered Lutheran confessions.  "We regard the
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) as being one of those
church bodies, though they do not regard us thusly," he said.
"There are serious, serious, serious issues between us."  In
November, ELCA and LCMS representatives will continue
discussions, he said.  ELCA representatives will be prepared to
discuss ecumenical relationships, while LCMS representatives have
been requested to address an action of their 2001 convention in
which that church said the ELCA is not an orthodox Lutheran
church body, Hanson said.
     + the next two years "hold daunting changes" for the
churchwide organization, he said.  The changes will be good for
some people and not good for others, he said. Hanson was
referring to the ELCA Plan for Mission, affirmed by the 2003
assembly.  The assembly authorized the presiding bishop and staff
to reorganize the churchwide budget and structure to fit the
     Hanson thanked the 2003 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voting
members and staff for their work, calling the assembly a "most
marvelous week."
     "This is a grace-centered, Christ-centered, Holy Spirit-
filled church for which I am so privileged to be called into
leadership," he concluded.

Information about the ELCA Churchwide Assembly can be found at  on the Web.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

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