ELCA NEWS SERVICE
March 10, 2006
ELCA Presiding Bishop Reviews Churchwide, Global Joys, Concerns 06-035-JB
LAKE GENEVA, Wis. (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), reviewed a variety of joys and concerns in his March 4 report here to the ELCA Conference of Bishops. He offered several observations about what is happening throughout the ELCA, the reorganization of the ELCA churchwide organization, concerns about the current political situation in Israel and the West Bank, and his experiences at the recent World Council of Churches Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
The ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church, consisting of the ELCA's 65 synod bishops, presiding bishop and secretary. It met here March 2-7.
Hanson is leader of the 4.9 million-member ELCA, based in Chicago, and the 66-million member LWF, a global communion of Lutheran churches based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Hanson reported his activities in each of five "spheres" of his work as presiding bishop.
+ Synods and congregations: Hanson said the theme of this work is "a gospel-centered, mission-minded church tending to a diverse and changing context."
"The reality of that topic consumes most of my time," Hanson said. He asked the bishops to think about what it means to be a "contextual church in a Lutheran key" and what it means to be evangelical."
"I think we are culturally shy about that word (evangelical), and we don't claim it," he said.
The 65 ELCA synods usually meet annually in assembly. This year Hanson's synod assembly video presentation will focus on each of the words in "Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," a condensed version of his report to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly in Orlando, Fla. "It has been fun to talk about this in congregations," he added.
+ Institutions and agencies: A theme of this work is "stewarding our ecology of our interdependence," Hanson said. Hanson was a keynote speaker at the "Connecting Institutions" conference in Florida that highlighted relationships between the church and Lutheran institutions and agencies.
A deepening interdependence of the church with Lutheran institutions and agencies "is the biggest change I have seen in my time as presiding bishop," Hanson said.
+ Churchwide organization: The churchwide staff is both "gifted and focused," Hanson said. In recent years, he said, the staff has been distracted by the ELCA Studies on Sexuality, a downturn in income to the organization, layoffs, restructuring and the "unknowns" that come with reorganizing.
"We are now on the other side of that. We are now claiming the gifts of this wonderful staff, and we are focused on the mission," Hanson said.
"The greatest challenge we face now is: What are we not going to do so we can be focused? I need your help to determine what we're going to disengage from," he told the conference.
+ Public arena: Hanson said the theme of this area of his work is "possibilities and ambiguities." The ELCA has much work to do in the area of moral deliberation, he said.
"We are still a long way from determining how a congregation can be a place of moral deliberation," Hanson said. The ELCA has for too long bought into the idea that a normal congregation is one that is "tension-free," he said. Hanson said it can be healthy for a congregation to discuss issues that may result in disagreements, and it must learn to deal with such issues in a constructive way.
+ Ecumenical and global church relationships: "This is a high-stakes time" in the Middle East, Hanson said, noting the "complexity" of the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections and the upcoming Israeli elections. Hanson quoted the Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, who said the future of Christianity in the Middle East is at stake, the presiding bishop said.
In the region "we need to continue to be engaged in a humanitarian way," Hanson said.
In addition the future of Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem is important to the future of the region, Hanson said. The hospital, operated by the LWF, is part of a court case in which the Israeli government is seeking payment of employer's taxes. The hospital has been exempt from the tax since 1967. Hanson said the case is now scheduled to be heard by an appeals court in May. This week several Lutheran partners, including the ELCA, were represented at a consultation on the hospital situation in Geneva.
Hanson offered some comments on the WCC assembly from which he returned last week. Highlights were a presentation by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on "Christian Identity and Religious Pluralism," small group Bible studies and conversations on current and emerging ecumenical and global issues, Hanson said. Disappointments were "the unwillingness of this significant gathering of Christian churches to engage fully what the rise of Islam in its varied expressions means for us and this world" and "woeful silence" on HIV/AIDS, suffering and conflicts in the world, he said.
Hanson led the conference through discussions on the situation in the ELCA Grand Canyon Synod, where Michael Neils resigned as bishop last month because of misconduct. The Rev. Alton Zenker, former bishop of the ELCA Central-Southern Illinois Synod, is serving as interim bishop. Several local meetings have been set with synod pastors to discuss concerns and the election process for a new bishop, Zenker reported. The election will take place at the synod's assembly May 24-26, and Zenker will remain as interim bishop until Aug. 1. Installation of the new bishop is scheduled for Aug. 20.
Zenker expressed the synod's appreciation to the churchwide staff for its help during the transition and to conference members for their expressions of support.
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