Finally, a bit of time to get caught up on my blogging from the ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
Wednesday, August 10, was an important day at the assembly.
The most exciting, even emotional for many here, event of the day was the approval of “Declaration on the Way: Church, Ministry and Eucharist”
Here is what I wrote about this agreement for the Reading Eagle/Times newspaper (with thanks for much of this copy to the ELCA News Release written by Candace Buchbinder) –
“Healing 500 Years of Division”
The Rev. Eric C. Shafer
Many of us know something about the Protestant Reformation, how, beginning in Germany with Martin Luther in 1517, various groups, “protesting” then policies and activities of the Roman Catholic Church, left that church to form what we now know as the modern “Protestant” churches – Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, United Methodist, among many others.
What is less well known are the more recent efforts to heal these nearly 500 year old divisions.
This week, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), meeting under the theme “Freed and Renewed in Christ – 500 Years of God’s Grace in Action” in their triennial assembly in New Orleans, took an important step toward this healing.
By a vote of 931 to 9, the assembly overwhelmingly accepted the “Declaration on the Way,” a new ecumenical document that marks a path toward greater unity between Roman Catholics and Lutherans. The document includes 32 “Statements of Agreement” that state where Lutherans and Roman Catholics agree on topics about church, ministry and the Holy Communion. The document also explores differences that remain which include full sharing of Holy Communion and the ordination of women.
“Dear sisters and brothers, let us pause to honor this historic moment,” said ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton addressing the assembly following the vote. “Though we have not yet arrived, we have claimed that we are, in fact, on the way to unity.”
“This ‘Declaration on the Way’ helps us to realize more fully our unity in Christ with our Catholic partners, but it also serves to embolden our commitment to unity with all Christians,” said Eaton.
To honor the occasion, Eaton presented a gift of communion ware made especially for the assembly to Bishop Denis J. Madden, auxiliary bishop for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, and co-chair of the ‘Declaration on the Way’ task force.
“I feel so privileged and so grateful to have spent these few days with you. Speaking with you, sharing time with you, and praying with you,” Madden said. “I thank you for allowing me and my colleagues to join you in the Eucharist celebrations which have been a great joy and always a remembrance that soon we will be celebrating these together as one body.” Madden later added, “I so look forward to that day” (of full sharing of Holy Communion together). “We are on the way to unity – we are moving in that direction.”
Madden added that an immediate next step will be to get the ELCA assembly-approved document into the hands of all Roman Catholic bishops in the United States. Eaton noted that one of the ELCA’s next steps would be sharing it with partner churches throughout the world through the Lutheran World Federation. However, both indicated that the “success” of any movement toward unity would need to happen at a local level with ELCA and Roman Catholic congregations studying, serving, working and worshipping together. And, that any movement for healing of the divisions between Lutherans and Roman Catholics must begin with “friendships and relationships” among pastors and priest and members.
The assembly expressed gratitude for this pioneering ecumenical text and commended the declaration as a resource “for the common life of the church as we approach (the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in) 2017 and beyond.” Concerning the Statement of Agreements, the assembly’s action to receive the 32 common affirmations “recognized that there are no longer church dividing issues’ between Lutherans and Catholics with respect to these statements.
The full document can be downloaded at here.
Here’s my photo of Bishops Eaton and Madden with the chalice referenced above –
Another major legislative action was the approval of AMMPARO – the ELCA’s strategy to Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities.
AMMPARO (a Spanish word for protection or refuge) is an ELCA strategy based on commitments to uphold and guarantee the basic human rights and safety of migrant children and their families; to address the root causes of migration in countries from Central America’s Northern Triangle and Mexico and the treatment of migrants in transit; to work toward just and humane policies affecting migrants in and outside the U.S.; to engage as a church with all of its companions, affiliates and partners to respond to the migration situation and its causes; and to advocate for migrant children and their families. (Again, thanks to Candice’s news release). More on AAMPARO here.
The other major action item was the approval of the ELCA’s Churchwide budgets for 2017, 2018 and 2019. (It is very sad to see the continuing decrease in ELCA churchwide income).
Only one “Memorial” was approved on Tuesday, this one on “Deepening Relationships with Historic Black Churches.” You can read it here.
In addition, there were greetings from ecumenical and interfaith partners (Christian, Jewish, and Muslim). This remark by Rabbi David Sandmel, Director for Interfaith Affairs for the Anti-Defamation League, elicited a standing ovation – “Jews, Muslims and Christians must stand together against hatred, especially hatred because of religion.”
There were reports from Portico (the ELCA Board of Pensions), ELCA World Hunger, the ELCA Treasurer, Church World Service, the Lutheran World Federation, Military Chaplains, and the ELCA Secretary.
The Presidents of the twenty-six ELCA Colleges and Universities who were in attendance were introduced as were all eight of the Presidents of ELCA Seminaries.
I spotted Dr. Rebecca Bergman, President of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota and took a quick “selfie” –
Bergman is the daughter of the Rev. Dr. Harold S. Weiss, retired Bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod – I served on Bishop Weiss’ staff from 1983 – 1992.
I also got a photo of Drs. David Lose and Michael Cooper-White who are leading their two seminaries (Philadelphia and Gettysburg) into a new single seminary –
I will write about the election of a new ELCA Vice President in my Thursday blog.
I ended Wednesday with a brief stop at the ELCA Colleges & Universities and Seminaries reception and the Ecumenical & Interfaith reception followed by a late supper with the Rev. Callista Isabelle, Chaplain of Muhlenberg College.
Still at it….