National Lutheran News

ELCA CHURCH COUNCIL REMINDS BISHOPS OF PROPER “LIMITS IN [THEIR] AUTHORITY”

Worries by some lay people about whether ELCA bishops may get too much authority, now that an accord with the Episcopal Church has been approved, and an extraordinary ordination in St. Paul, Minnesota, have prompted the denomination’s Church Council to speak out on the “limits in the authority of synodical bishops.”

Meeting in Chicago April 6-7, the Council approved a seven-point resolution which, among other things, reminds synod bishops (and retired bishops) of their promise, when installed, to discharge their duties “in accordance with the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, and in harmony with the [ELCA] constitution.”

The resolution also underscored the limitations of authority for synod bishops, and reminded retired bishops not to interfere with or compromise their successors’ work.
Bishop Donald J. McCoid, who leads the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, chairs the ELCA Conference of Bishops, and serves as an advisor to the Church Council, said the resolution was not intended as a reprimand to ELCA bishops.

Said McCoid, “Mutual respect and mutual integrity between and among the members of the Conference of Bishops are crucial.”
Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson said the context for the resolution is “broader than one event.”

He named current discussions within the ELCA comparing the authority of Lutheran bishops and Episcopal bishops in the United States. He also referred to the ordination of Anita Hill, installed in April at St. Paul-Reformation Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“The new relationship with the Episcopal Church has raised fear in some people” in the ELCA about the “power” of bishops, Anderson said. He stressed that ELCA bishops do not continue in that role after their elected term, nor do they have authority outside their territorial jurisdiction.
Anderson said, “Bishops do not have some personal power to exercise in any territory of the church.” He applied these standards to three former ELCA bishops who participated in the ordination of Anita Hill.

Said Anderson, “We are not judging the ordination itself, but the actions of individuals.”

Four “ordinators” participated in the service for Hill: the Rev. Lowell Erdahl, former bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod; the Rev. Paul W. Egertson, bishop of the ELCA Southern California (West) Synod; the Rev. Stanley E. Olson, former bishop of the Pacific Southwest Synod of the former Lutheran Church in America; and the Rev. Krister Stendahl, former bishop of the Diocese of Stockholm, Sweden.