Saturday, August 13, at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

As I’ve noted in a previous blog post, I volunteered at this assembly to help in the “security” team with Kathie Bender-Schwich and David Swartling, among others.  I had to leave the assembly on Friday.  David sent me this wonderful quick unofficial summary of Saturday’s assembly activities:

“Miraculously, the Assembly ended almost exactly on time, perhaps because of the boisterous recessional hymn at worship, “When the Saints Come Marching In”!  The last plenary began with small group discussion of “Called Forth Together in Christ.” Having worshiped and conversed on Gospel, the Assembly turned to law in the form of remaining resolutions and memorials. And, these involved provocative and far-teaching topics.  Following up on earlier discussions on inclusivity and diversity, a motion calling for anti-racism training every two years for rostered leaders in synods was adopted. Several memorials addressing peace and justice in Israel and Palestine also were passed, including one calling for development of an investment social screen addressing human rights issues.  Another memorial called upon the ELCA Church Council to initiate a conversation on the effects of war on returning veterans and their families.  In conclusion, the Assembly expressed its appreciation to the officers, staff, and assembly planners, as well as to the City of New Orleans for its gracious hospitality.  Many voting members expressed appreciation for the upbeat and positive sense of the Assembly.”

Looking at the final session’s legislative updates online, David summed up the assembly action on Saturday morning quite well:  Memorials/Resolutions were approved including:

  • Toward a Responsible Energy Future
  • Justice in the Holy Land through Responsible Investment
  • Call to Discernment on U.S. Foreign and Military Policy
  • Supporting Military Personnel, Veterans and their Families
  • Resolution (reform) on (the) Call Process (for pastors and deacons)

There were also a series of resolutions of thanks to churchwide officers (Presiding Bishop, Secretary, Vice President, Treasurer) and churchwide staff and to all of our New Orleans area hosts and volunteers.

You can find a complete list of all assembly memorials, resolutions and elections here.  The ELCA’s summary of the assemblies’ “Key Actions” can be found here.

My column in the Reading Eagle Newspaper was used in their Saturday, August 13, edition.  You can read it here.  My second column in the Reading Eagle newspaper was used in their Saturday, August 20, edition. You can read it here.  My column in the Santa Monica Daily Press  newspaper was used in their Thursday, August 25, edition.  You can read it here.

I close with gratitude to the churchwide staff who all welcomed me warmly into their assembly “family” for this week of long but wonderful volunteer days!  Thank you.

The assembly is now over and I am still at it…


Friday, August 12, at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

Friday, August 12, was a very full day at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly!

Perhaps most exciting was the election of Mr. William B. Horne II as the new ELCA Vice President.  Here’s a “screen shot” of Mr. Horne as he spoke to the assembly:


Horne was elected with 565 votes, more than the 60% (of the 901 votes cast) needed for election on the 4th ballot.

The ELCA Vice President (a volunteer (unpaid) lay (not ordained) position) serves a six year term and chairs the ELCA’s board of directors (the ELCA Church Council) and represents the church in/at many places/occasions.

Horne is the City Manager of Clearwater, Florida and a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Clearwater.  He has served on the ELCA Church Council and many positions in the Florida-Bahamas Synod and his home congregation.

Upon election, Horne said, “Brothers and sisters, I love this church.  I love you.  We have lots of work to do, and I know that our dedication and commitment to each other and our hard work will make the ELCA what God wants us to be.  Thank you very much.”

Also approved on Friday was a major report on those who serve as non-ordained church professionals, currently in three “rosters” – Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers, and Deaconesses.  The actions approved by the assembly bring these three rosters into one called “Ministry of Word and Service.”  All on these rosters can be called “deacons.”

This puts the ELCA closer in practice to many other Christian churches which use the term “deacon” to identify those professional (not volunteer) leaders who are not ordained clergy.  The name of the ordained clergy roster was also changed to “Minister/s of Word and Sacrament.”

The Rev. William O. Gafkjen, bishop of the ELCA’s Indiana-Kentucky Synod, and co-chair of the task force that put these recommendations together, said, “I can imagine all sorts of new and creative possibilities for pastor and deacons working and leading side by side, each with their own particular gifts and call.”

Other “Memorials” (synod assembly recommended actions) and Reference & Council resolutions (actions proposed by members of the churchwide assembly) approved today included:

  •  Justice for the Holy Land through Responsible Investment
  • African Descent Lutherans
  • Welcoming Refugees
  • Anti-racism training

This is NOT a complete listing.  Other memorials/resolutions were either referred to the ELCA Church Council or held over for debate in the final assembly plenary session on Saturday.


The assembly also heard a keynote address from Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee of Liberia (pictured above) and held a banquet to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation coming in 2017.

Thursday, August 11, at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly

There was only one “plenary” (business) session at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly on Thursday, August 11th.

The session began with the seven people who had received the most votes on the Second Ballot for ELCA Vice President addressing the assembly.  The session ended with a vote (Third Ballot) to narrow this group to three.  The results were reported immediately – Those who will be on the 4th ballot tomorrow, Friday, are listed here with their 3rd ballot votes:

  • William Horne – 378 votes
  • Cheryl Stuart – 155 votes
  • Becky Blue – 115 votes

Horne is the City Manager of Clearwater, Florida.  Stuart is an attorney in Tallahassee, Florida.  Blue is a clinical nurse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  All three are active in their congregations and synods.

The other reports today were from the Presiding Bishop and the Churchwide organization.

ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton reviewed her four ELCA emphases:

  • We are Church
  • We are Lutheran
  • We are Church Together
  • We are Church for the Sake of the World

She noted that we are  (or, at least, should not be) “not defined by our culture or cuisine.”  And, “there is no such thing as a solitary Christian or a private religion.”

In a private interview, Bishop Eaton had shared with me that, in her first three years as ELCA Presiding Bishop, she has continually been surprised at the scope of the ELCA’s work, calling it “breathtaking.” “This church does so much and so very well.”  She noted her pleasure in the realization that most Lutherans are now NOT of European descent and specifically mentioned a recent meeting of the Lutheran World Federation Council in Wittenberg, Germany where she experienced a Lutheran Bishop from Malaysia preaching from the same pulpit where Martin Luther once preached!

Voting members spent Thursday afternoon in “God’s Grace in Action Afternoon.”  The Rev. Jesse Jackson was part of one of these afternoon sessions and got to meet Bishop Eaton.  Here’s a photo of Eaton and Jackson with Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod Bishop Claire Burkat on the left.


During his workshop Jackson noted that “”We need each other like never before … but the good news is we have each other.”

My synod (Southwest California) meets for dinner this evening and I will be pleased to join them.

Tired today, but still at it….

Wednesday, August 10 at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Part 2

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….


ELCA Assembly – mostly introductory presentations

There were two plenary (business) sessions today (Tuesday, August 9th) at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans.  Almost all of them were introductions to plenary business items which will come up later in this assembly – the churchwide budget, the “Declarations on the Way” proposals for continued dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, the proposal for focused work on immigration issues, especially children called the Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) proposal.  More on AMMPARO in a later blog.

The “Declaration on the Way – Church, Ministry and Eucharist” includes 32 “declarations” where the ELCA and the Roman Catholic Church are in agreement (while acknowledging some of the major areas where we are not including shared Holy Communion and the ordination of women).

ELCA Vice President Carlos Pena was presented the “Servus Dei” medal, the ELCA’s way of honoring retiring ELCA officers.  (I used to take care of getting these made for retiring ELCA officers).

080916 - New Orleans, LA - The 2016 Churchwide Assembly. Vice President Carlos Pena gives report and receives Servus Dei. Mark Hanson and Denis Madden introduce Declaration on the Way.

One “Memorial” was approved (that’s “church-speak” for an assembly resolution for follow up action by the ELCA Church Council and staff). It was on what is called “The Doctrine of Discovery,” a term that, frankly, was new to me this year.

Here is some of the language in this assembly-approved resolution – “To repudiate explicitly and clearly the European-derived doctrine of discovery as an example of the “improper mixing of the power of the church and the power of the sword” (Augsburg Confession Article XXVIII, Latin text), and to acknowledge and repent from this church’s complicity in the evils of colonialism in the Americas, which continue to harm tribal governments and individual tribal members.”

My bishop, the Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin, the first American Indian bishop in the ELCA, spoke in favor of this resolution which was overwhelming approved.  Here is a photo of Bishop Erwin speaking in favor of this resolution –


There were lot of greetings/reports today – Women of the ELCA, ELCA Conference of Bishops, Augsburg Fortress (now 1517Media), and Bishop Mendardo Gomez of the Lutheran Church in El Salvador.

A “memorial” on fossil fuels was debated and an amendment proposed but there was not enough time to finish action on this proposal.

There are at least four current churchwide staff here at this assembly (several others are back at the churchwide office in Chicago) who were part of the ELCA communication staff while I was serving in Chicago (1992- 2006).  Here is a photo of three of them with me –

20160809_124639 (1)

Karen Dersnah, Paul Edison-Swift, Elisa Alvarez and me. Missing is Frank Imhoff who is also here.

And, we are all still at it….

The ELCA Assembly Begins

The 2016 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly began officially this evening (following opening worship this afternoon) with a session that set up the rules and agenda for the remainder of the assembly.  After a welcome from the host synod (the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod) there were two major reports, the introduction of the assembly proposal to unite the ELCA’s three lay professional rosters (Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers, and Deaconesses) into one (Deacons) and a progress report on the “Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA” capital funds campaign (now at $92 million, 46%, of its $198 million goal – 272,000 gifts thus far).  The evening ended with the first ballot for ELCA Vice President.

The ELCA Vice President is a volunteer (non-paid) lay (non-clergy) position.  Any active ELCA member (and the ELCA has more than 3.5 million members) can be nominated on the first ballot.  Thus, assembly voting members were asked carefully to list a first and last name with middle initial and any more details they could provide on the first (written) ballot which closed this assembly session.  The next ballot (there will be at least five) is scheduled for tomorrow.  Every name from the first ballot will appear on the second unless the person removes her/his name before that ballot is cast.  It is what we call an “ecclesiastical ballot” which means it is a nominating ballot (there are no advance official nominees).

My tasks here are several but most revolve around helping the assembly manager, Mary Beth Nowak, in any way I can.  For all of the assembly that means I will be helping with door monitoring and security.  Today it also meant distributing items (before the session) for voting members (there were four items to be distributed on the tables before the session for the 1,000 or so voting members) and collecting ballots, among other duties.  I also had a chance to interview ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton – watch for that interview in a later blog post.

I am working with Kathie Bender-Schwich (former ELCA Assistant to the Presiding Bishop) and David Swartling (former ELCA Secretary) in the door monitoring and security tasks.  Here is my silly “selfie” of the three of us:


We are three “formers” and we are all still at it…

ELCA “Church Speak”

Like many groups, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has its own internal language, especially as it relates to its organization and structure.

The ELCA is made up of congregations (10,000+ of them), synods (that’s our name for a regional grouping and there are 65 of them in the USA and the Caribbean), and churchwide (that’s our name for the national organization).

A “synod” is similar to a diocese in the Roman Catholic or Episcopal tradition.  The literal translation of the word “synod” is “walking together” which well expresses the hopes for this level of organization, providing a way for congregations to walk (work) together in ministry.  The ELCA’s 65 synods were set up to reflect where congregations are concentrated.  Thus, Pennsylvania has seven synods (lots of Lutherans there) and California three (not as many Lutherans in California and one of the California synods includes Hawaii and another northern Nevada).  My congregation, Mt. Olive Lutheran in Santa Monica, California, is part of the Southwest California Synod which is the greater Los Angeles area.

“Churchwide” is the term we use for the national church.  We do not use national since the ELCA includes congregations not only in the USA but also in the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Bahamas and Bermuda.  (I believe there is also one Slovak-Zion Synod congregation in Canada, but that is something for another blog post!)

With me so far?

Each synod gathers once/year in a synod assembly.  We use “assembly” rather than convention to emphasize how we “do” church, that is, the believers “assemble” in congregations each week, once/year as a synod and once/three years as a church.  That’s also why we use the term “voting members” rather than “delegates” for those who represent us at synod assemblies (each congregation gets two non-ordained voting members, one male and one female, plus its pastor or pastors as voting members at their synod assembly) and at the churchwide assembly (each synod elects voting members to represent them at the churchwide assembly, 60% of which must be non-clergy).  We call it “one church in three expressions.”

I know this can be confusing to those who are not church geeks but its purpose is to emphasize the inter-connectedness of the ELCA, one church in three expressions and to hold up for congregations that they (we) are part of something larger than ourselves.  Our ideal is that each of these “expressions” of the church (congregation, synod, churchwide) are “the church.”  Thus, we do not have “delegates” representing our congregations at the synod assembly or our synod at the churchwide assembly, but each expression is the church whenever and wherever it “assembles.”

Let’s call it hopeful language!

Thus, beginning tomorrow, Monday, evening the ELCA will gather in its churchwide assembly for 6 days of business, worship, Bible study and service.  Whenever the assembly is in business or worship session, you can follow it live here.

Today I will help wherever I am needed, first setting up the plenary hall and acquainting myself with the internet “feed” technology so that I can help when the feed begins tomorrow evening.

I leave you with one of Kris’ favorite photos from my time on the churchwide staff.  This one was used in the Chicago Reader when they interviewed me for a column in which they criticized the local Chicago media for their lack of religion coverage, a column called Sleeping Through the Sermon.


Here in New Orleans, ready to help where/when I can and “still at it”…

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in Assembly

On Saturday, August 6, I head to New Orleans, Louisiana, where I will be volunteering at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s 2016 churchwide assembly.  I will be helping any where they need me and will be writing material for two newspapers, the Reading (Pennsylvania) Eagle Times and the Santa Monica Daily Press.  I hope to blog here each day to share with you what is happening at and around this every-three year gathering.

I have been privileged to attend every ELCA churchwide assembly since this church began in 1987.  After a constituting convention in 1987 in Columbus (where, with Sonia Solomonson, I wrote and edited the official convention summary which became a fold out poster), I have attended each assembly.  I was a volunteer in communication for the 1989 (Chicago/Rosemont) and 1991 (Orlando) assemblies, the director for ELCA Communication for the assemblies in 1993 (Kansas City), 1995 (Minneapolis – I headed the overall planning for this assembly), 1997 (Philadelphia), 2001 (Indianapolis), 2003 (Milwaukee) & 2005 (Orlando), a voting member for the 2007 (Chicago) assembly and then news media for the assemblies in 2009 (Minneapolis), 2011 (Orlando) & 2013 (Pittsburgh).  This year, the first on a new three year cycle of meetings (instead of two), I am a volunteer helper as well as a news media person.

Here’s a photo from the 2005 Churchwide Assembly in Orlando:


Some of these assemblies were exciting and dramatic with votes on major social statements (abortion, the death penalty, sexuality, racism) – part of the social statement on sexuality was approved (2/3 vote needed for approval) by a one vote margin in 2009!.  The most unexpected assembly was the 2013 election of our current Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, the first woman to hold this office.  Our 1999 decision to be in “full communion” (exchange of clergy and much more) with the Episcopal Church was controversial at the time and our 2009 decision to open the ordained clergy roster to gay and lesbian pastors in long term committed relationships was electrifying.

You can read my newspaper columns from the 2009 ELCA Assembly here and from the 2011 ELCA Assembly here and from the 2013 ELCA Assembly here.

This year’s assembly promises to be a less dramatic, but, hopefully, no less interesting.  There is an important election – the ELCA’s Vice President, a volunteer (unpaid), lay (non-ordained) position.  The current Vice President, my friend Carlos Pena, has decided not to seek re-election after 13 years in office.  Similar to the election of the Presiding Bishop and Secretary, there are no advance nominees – for the Vice President, the first ballot is a nominating ballot and can include the name of any of the 4,000,000 plus laypeople who are part of our church!  This process will probably take all week long to complete!  There will many resolutions, most of which have come out of synod assemblies.  There will be an action on the church’s “roster” of professional lay workers (currently diaconal ministers, deaconesses, and associates in ministry) placing them on a new roster of “deacons.”  A number of activities will be “ramping up” to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation coming next year in 2017.

You can watch the assembly business sessions and worship live online here.  The first session is Monday evening, August 8.

Here are photos of me with two of our former ELCA Presiding Bishops.  Chilstrom brought me onto the ELCA staff as Director for Communication and Anderson continued that appointment and added me to his executive staff.

First with Corinne & Herb Chilstrom –


And, with H. George Anderson –

HGeorgeAnderson (3)

Watch for my daily posts beginning Sunday!

Many assemblies, and I am still at it….

Two newspaper columns

I promised to add links to the two newspaper columns I wrote following my January time in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Santa Monica Daily Press (California) newspaper used all of the copy I sent them!  You can read this column here.

The Reading Eagle (Pennsylvania) newspaper was not able to use all of the copy, but did publish most of my column.  You can read it here.

I am most grateful that my column appeared in these two newspapers!