Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Bishop Hanson and other responses

I have been very moved by the beautiful words of our presiding bishop - Mark Hanson. These words were spoken immediately after the vote was concluded on the final resolution. Here is the link:


For those of you who may appreciate an overview - here is a list of the actions taken by the ELCA assembly last week:

1. The Social Statement on Human Sexuality was adopted by 2/3s of the assembly.
The church affirmed that in the future implementation of any changes and commitment adopted, it will make decisions so that all in this church bear the burdens of the other, and respect the bound consciences of all.
This resolution committed the church to finding ways “to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.
The assembly was asked whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professional leaders of this church.
The last resolution outlined the specifics of how this church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all. In our discussions it is important I believe to understand exactly what the content of the resolutions are. I pray that we can proceed with love.

I would also like to share some comments by others:
1st the pastoral letter from our Bishop - Warren Freiheit:
A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Warren Freiheit, of the Central/Southern Illinois Synod

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
The first question that was asked of me during the election process at the 2000 C/SIS Assembly was "What is your favorite Bible verse and why?" It didn't take me long to respond with Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God." Those words came to me this last week as we met at Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis , following the passage of the Social Statement of Human Sexuality and its implementing resolutions, together with the passage of the four rostering recommendations. That Bible verse has served as an anchor for me through much of my ministry, knowing that when I am overwhelmed it is time for me to be still, and listen to God as well as to others around me.

Many seem to be overwhelmed with questions and emotions following the Assembly as we recall a familiar phrase from Luther's Small Catechism that asks, "What does this mean?" It is my prayer that as we deal with this question and how it pertains to our lives, individually and corporately, that we do so by listening before we make far-reaching decisions. It is my fervent prayer that we proceed with love and respect for one another even though we may react differently to the decisions made by the Churchwide Assembly.

While in Minneapolis , I have been unable to receive e-mails and because of an ordination on Sunday, August 23, I will be unable to return to the office until Tuesday, August 25. I anticipate a great deal of correspondence once I return to the office, and I welcome your input as to how we may engage in effective dialogue in the coming weeks. Even though the resolutions have passed, there will be no immediate changes until after the Church Council meets and acts on these resolutions in November. It is my hope that we can use this time to address what the resolutions say, as well as to what they do not say. And it is my hope that we can also use this time to recommit ourselves to our mission and grow in our understanding of encouraging and loving our neighbors.

In light of Bishop Hanson's emphasis on prayer for the 50 days preceding the Assembly, I would like to encourage prayer for at least these first 50 days following the Assembly. I would encourage your prayer for the ELCA in all of its expressions, and for God's guidance as we proceed in our effort to Glorify God and serve God's people.

Bishop Warren Freiheit

and from Pastor Kay Richter, Minneapolis, MN

Personally, I think it is important for all of us to remain calm amid any storms that might arise. There will be grieving among those who disagree with the decisions. There will be rejoicing among those who feel that they are finally being welcomed after a long period of exile. And for congregations that include both the grieving and the joyous, we need to remember that we are all in this together. This is not "the church" turning against some among us, because we ARE the church. We need to carry one another's burdens and to be gracious and loving to one another in the midst of deep, deep emotional responses.

Because ultimately, we all find ourselves kneeling at the foot of the cross, confessing our own brokenness and begging for love and forgiveness from the one who died to set us free from sin and death. THAT has not changed. The ground at the foot of the cross is and always will be level ground. We are all broken. We are all saved by the one who was willing to be broken in our stead.

One emphasis of the Assembly was that although we disagree about these decisions, we AGREE about many more things! We saw report after report, statistics upon statistics, and videos and speeches that reminded us of the MARVELOUS things that are happening through the ELCA and our partners in ministry. We heard about a typhoon that hit Taiwan (I think) earlier in the week and within 24 hours received a report from Lutheran Disaster Response that help was ALREADY on the ground in that area. Even as a tornado touched down on the building where we were meeting, and damaged the church building where we would have other events during the week, the offerings brought in over $60,000 for the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, and that doesn't count the funds raised by the concert on Friday night. We were reminded of the powerful work being done through the HIV/AIDS initiative. We heard stories of flourishing ministries within ELCA congregations and new mission starts where the Gospel is being preached to those who had never heard it before.

Again and again and again, at the CWA (ELCA Church-Wide Assembly or CWA for those of you who might not be from the ELCA), it was emphasized that those who were debating were ALL being faithful to Scripture and listening for the voice of God calling them to certain actions. We prayed frequently during the debate -- about every 20 minutes. (There are pictures on the ELCA web site of the times of prayer ... some of the Friday pictures even include our ECSW voting members!) We worshiped daily and waited for the Holy Spirit to act among us. It is disconcerting when we disagree on important matters. And yet, we are a family -- brothers and sisters -- children of the same heavenly Father, and we need to find ways to disagree without condemning or despising one another. Jesus prayed that we might be one, as he and the Father are one.

The Holy Spirit can give us unity within diversity. "Unity does not require uniformity." And, considering how many different languages were spoken during worships and plenary sessions -- all from ELCA ministries -- it was easy to see that there is a great deal of diversity within our church body.

I think a very important thing to keep in mind is that for most congregations, in the most practical ways, very little will change. The call process still happens the same way -- no congregation will have a gay or lesbian pastor forced upon them. Congregations have their own choice about welcoming the blessing of a same-gender, committed relationship -- they will not have it forced upon them from "above" or "outside".

The CWA decisions give the congregations who WANT to call a pastor who is open about a gay or lesbian partnership permission to do so without discipline and congregations who CHOOSE to have ceremonies for blessing a same-gender relationship can now do so openly without disciplinary action against them.

And amid the interesting statistics, many synods had sent Memorials to CWA asking for a 2/3 super-majority to pass the Recommendations on Ministry, as was required for the Social Statement to be adopted. Three of the four recommendations passed with a 2/3 or greater majority vote. (The recommendation on ordination was just over 60% of the vote ... which is higher than the 57% received when the ordination of women was approved in the 1960's.) The Social Statement received *EXACTLY* 2/3 of the vote when it was passed.

As the Rev. Dr. Diane Jacobson said about the Book of Faith Jubilee, "We prayed and invited the Holy Spirit to be among us, and wouldn't you know it! The whole Trinity showed up!" I believe the same is true about CWA. When we gather in God's name, God has promised to be present. I believe God came and dwelt among us and within us during the Assembly.

I will post more responses as I find them. I am also writing a pastoral letter to my new congregation which i will post soon. I invite your feedback.

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