Title: ELCA Council Hears Presiding Bishop's Call To 'Moral Deliberation' ELCA NEWS SERVICE
November 15, 2006
ELCA Council Hears Presiding Bishop's Call To 'Moral Deliberation' 06-175-JB
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- In the wake of the mid-term congressional elections, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) said he hopes ELCA congregations can become places of "moral deliberation" before the country turns its attention to what may be a contentious political environment leading up to the 2008 elections.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson made the comment in his Nov. 11 report to the ELCA Church Council, which met here Nov. 11-13. The council is the ELCA's board of directors and serves as the legislative authority of the church between churchwide assemblies. Assemblies are held every other year; the next is here Aug. 6-11, 2007.
Practicing moral deliberation is not natural for ELCA congregations, Hanson said. "Can we model communities of reconciliation without abdicating our prophetic voice? I think we can," he told the council.
Hanson also commented on the murders of two Lutheran pastors in El Salvador and recent significant losses in ELCA membership, in his council report.
The presiding bishop said he is "deeply troubled" by the murders of the Rev. Francisco Carrillo and his wife, the Rev. Jesus Calzada de Carrillo, Lutheran pastors serving in El Salvador. Both were killed Nov. 4 by three unknown young perpetrators.
"I can tell you that this is a painful blow to an already discouraged Bishop Medardo Gomez, who bears the weight on his shoulder of being a prophet in that society," Hanson told the council. Gomez is bishop of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod.
"In many respects Medardo is a voice that the people still look to to call them to the pursuit of justice," Hanson said. "We need to remember the El Salvadoran Lutherans in a very difficult time," Hanson said.
Referencing a loss of nearly 80,000 baptized ELCA members in 2005 and some 275,000 members since he became presiding bishop in 2001, Hanson said he wonders if the church has become ambivalent or suspicious about numerical growth.
"It doesn't seem to be a scandal in this church," Hanson said of the membership losses. He said some people try to explain the losses by blaming changing demographics or simply cleaning membership rolls. Others say it's "admirable," blaming "consumptive consumer-oriented churches" that sell out the gospel, he said. Some even suggest that a faithful church is a declining church, Hanson told the council.
"I know congregations that are faithful to the gospel and to a cruciform life of discipleship and worship centered around the means of grace (that) are growing in membership and don't hold up decline as evidence of faithfulness. We need to ask ourselves: 'Have we become a church of low expectations?' I don't think we expect much from the Holy Spirit. I really don't," Hanson said.
He also said he doesn't believe the church expects its members to invite others to church and it doesn't expect pastors to "be evangelical leaders of congregations in mission." Many congregations are not prepared to receive such leaders, he added.
The ELCA Conference of Bishops, an advisory body of the church, is planning significant discussions at its spring 2007 meeting about membership losses and future growth.
Presiding Bishop Focuses on Five Strategic Directions
Hanson focused most of his report on the five strategic directions of the ELCA, affirmed by the 2005 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. He also commented on the writings of Christopher Lasch, who was a social critic and historian. Lasch wrote about the differences between "nostalgia" and "living memories," which Hanson said contain some important lessons for the church.
+ Supporting congregations: Hanson said recent churchwide activities related to this strategic direction are the ELCA's new worship resource, "Evangelical Lutheran Worship," Christian education, communication planning, mission funding and a new churchwide initiative that will focus on biblical education, "Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible."
"When I think of 'living memory,' I think immediately of Evangelical Lutheran Worship," Hanson said. "This is not a book about nostalgic worship. This is a book that embraces the living memory, the treasury of this church's worship life, its hymnody, its prayer (and) multiple settings of the liturgy."
The upcoming "Read the Bible" initiative is important because many ELCA members don't know much about what is in the Bible, Hanson said.
"That's just becoming apparent more and more as I listen to pastors. It's difficult, they tell me, to pastor a congregation that (doesn't) know the biblical story, that seems too busy to take time for Bible study," he said.
"If we don't know as a people the story of what God has been up to in the past, if we don't know the parables ... how are we ever going to bear witness to what God is up to today?" Hanson asked.
Hanson said he had concerns about ELCA congregations and whether they "welcome" visitors and potential new members.
"I have to tell you (that) I have heard some pretty discouraging stories from pastors, often first-call pastors, or pastors new to a call, that they find the communities they've been called to serve very unwelcoming," he said, adding that perhaps the art of welcoming people is becoming lost in today's busy society.
"I think most congregations perceive themselves as welcoming communities but (don't) know what the gift of hospitality looks like, and it takes practice," he added.
+ Assist the church to grow in evangelical outreach: Hanson cited recent churchwide activities such as mission developer training, collaboration on new congregational starts, the Mission Investment Fund, a recent African National Leaders Summit and synod gatherings focusing on prayer and revival.
+ Step forward as a public church: Hanson cited recent activities in this area such as a pastoral letter he issued with the Rev. Frank T. Griswold, former presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, on the Millennium Development Goals, Middle East statements and the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative, immigration reform efforts and the international AIDS Conference in Toronto. Hanson attended the conference as did many young adult Lutherans, he said.
There is "a growing awareness in this church that we must join together with others in confronting the HIV/AIDS pandemic," Hanson said.
In addition to his suggestion that ELCA congregations become places of moral deliberation, Hanson said he hoped the ELCA can renew and increase its commitment to the World Hunger Appeal and the Stand With Africa campaign.
+ Deepen global ecumenical and interfaith relationships: Hanson recounted his recent visits in his role as LWF president to Indonesia, India, Hungary and Romania, the opening of a Christian-Muslim center at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, a Global Mission Event, the ELCA Youth Gathering in San Antonio, and participation in the investiture of the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, who succeeded Griswold as presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church.
+ Bring forth faithful, wise and courageous leaders: Hanson recounted churchwide events on diversity in leadership development, and theological reflection on the vocation of leadership. Both events were held in Chicago in September.
Hanson noted that in 2007, at least 11 bishops have said they will not be available for re-election. The Rev. Lowell G. Almen, who has served more than 19 years as ELCA secretary, also announced he will not be available for reelection. Hanson said the church is entering a time of transition and must assist its leaders to "end well" so that their successors can "begin well."
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