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!


Jerusalem – Goodbye for Now


Our time in Jerusalem is drawing to a close – we leave early tomorrow morning.

We have accomplished our initial purpose, completing the videotaping of our “Stations of the Cross:  A Biblical Devotion” video Bible study.  Now Tim must edit it into a finished product.  You can view the introduction here.

Today we went to the overlook (Old City from the Mt. of Olives) where I took the above photo.  Tim also took my photo from that spot and I took one of Tim working


Of course, my favorite photo from our time here is the one I’m now using for my Facebook photo, a photo from the children’s cancer unit at the Augusta Victoria Hospital:


It was a pleasure also to produce video for the Lutheran World Federation/Jerusalem (Mark Brown) and its Augusta Victoria Hospital.  As Tim finishes editing these videos I will link them here.  We also were privileged to produce video for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and Bishop Munib Younan.  Some of those videos are now up on You Tube and I’ll add others as they become available.  Here’s the list thus far with the links embedded:

I was also able to produce a video greeting for my congregation, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California. (view it here).  This trip would not have been possible without Mt. Olive’s support.  Tim and I are very grateful to our wonderful Holy Land hosts, especially Mark & Susanne Brown, Carrie Smith and Bishop Younan.

Watch for more video as well as two newspaper columns – I’ll post links here when they are “ready for prime time” viewing.

Now a long trip home.

Still at it…

New Leadership – Consistent Vision



Tim and I spent Monday with the leadership, staff and patients at the Augusta Victoria Hospital (pictured above) on the Mount of Olives here in Jerusalem.

The Lutheran World Federation’s Augusta Victoria Hospital (or AVH as it is known here) has a more than 65 year history of serving the Palestinian people, a Christian hospital serving all people of all faiths.  That vision along with high quality health care has only been strengthened in recent years.  AVH is the first and only hospital to provide radiation therapy for cancer patients in the Palestinian territories and is the only medical facility in the West Bank offering pediatric kidney dialysis, making it distinct among the few hospitals which serve the millions of Palestinian people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.  More on AVH here.

Continuing that vision is the hospital’s new Chief Executive Officer, Walid Nammour, who we interviewed and accompanied as he interacted with patients and staff around the hospital.  Here he is with a toddler dialysis patient and his grandmother:


In addition to Nammour, we interviewed three patients:  a young cancer patient, a young adult dialysis patient, and an older dialysis patient.  All were high in their praise for the staff and care at AVH – through our Arabic translator we heard words like “family,” “caring,” and “high quality.”  In recent years the hospital has begun to transport patients and their families by bus from Palestinian areas which have been nearly cut off by Israeli internal check points.  All of those we spoke with have benefited from this transportation, although their travel from home to the hospital is still far from easy.

Here are photos of the patients we interviewed:


Our time at AVH ended with an interview with Mark Brown who has served as the Lutheran Federation’s Jerusalem representative for more than ten years.  Here is Brown with Nammour:


Then we hurried off to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity evening prayer service at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City.  In other areas of the world, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was celebrated last week, but in Jerusalem, because the Armenian Christians celebrated Christmas and Epiphany last week, this observance was postponed one week.  Each evening there is a prayer service at one of the Christian churches in the Old City.  Redeemer’s service on January 25th brought together an international congregation with parts of the service in English, German, Swedish, Danish and Finnish.  The church was full and the music was wonderful.  A link to Tim’s video from this service is here.

ChristianUnity Service

A very full day.

And, of course, we are still at it….

A Restful Sunday

Tim and I got a day of much-needed rest today – no interviews or videotaping!


We began the day with worship at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Redeemer is a ministry partner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the English-language Lutheran congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). ELCA missionary Carrie Ballenger Smith serves as pastor there.

I was honored to be asked to assist with Holy Communion and read the Old Testament lesson.  Here’s a photo:


Worship in Redeemer’s St. John’s Chapel was filled today with visiting groups from Luther Seminary in St. Paul and the University of Notre Dame.

Thanks to Tim, I was also able to send a video greeting back to worship at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California, where I serve as Senior Pastor.  You can view that video greeting here.

Still at it…

Hope in Palestine

It is not uncommon to hear from Palestinian Lutherans that they are not optimistic about the future of Israel/Palestine relations but they remain hopeful because of their faith in Jesus Christ.  And because that is the only way to survive in a very difficult situation.

Hope was certainly a theme of today’s time in Palestine as we visited briefly with Walid Nammour, Chief Executive Officer at the Augusta Victoria Hospital and then headed to Ramallah for videotaping of stories at the Lutheran School of Hope.  More on Augusta Victoria Hospital will come on later days.

At the Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah we visited an Environment Club recycled art project activity, listened to the school chorus sing their school song, watched the wonderful student dancers and even got to observe a German language spelling bee (students speak Arabic, English, and German). The Lutheran School of Hope has 458 students, 22% are Christian and 78% are Muslim.

Here are three photos from our time today at the Lutheran School of Hope:

HopeSchoolEcologyClub copy

Students making art projects out of recycled plastic bottles.  Hope School has one of the 26 Environmental Clubs sponsored by the ELCJHL’s Environmental Education Center.  There are also clubs at the other ELCJHL schools.


The Lutheran School of Hope Chorus singing their school song for us.


And the school dancers performed for us.

You can read more about the Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah here.

Earlier today Tim finished editing the introduction to our “The Stations of the Cross: A Biblical Devotion” video Bible Study.  I think it turned out quite well – you can view it here.

Tired today, but still at it…