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Church body embraces adapting to change

ELCA gathers in assembly in Orlando

Tammy Pust, a voting member from St. Paul, said the most important thing accomplished at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s biennial assembly August 15-19 was the openness to change that participants displayed. “Many valuable things were accomplished at the General Assembly,” she said, ticking off adoption of the recommendations of the so-called LIFT task force, the commitment to support the ELCA Malaria Campaign, and the increased involvement of young people. But, she said, “The most important thing we accomplished was this: We had a very honest and direct conversation about our shared belief that we need to do things differently.”

Pust, an attorney and a member of Roseville Lutheran Church, Roseville, Minnesota, explained: “The policy-making and financial structures that have supported the ELCA in the past are not the ones we can rely on in the future.

“In this world of email, texting, and Twitter; in this world where parents are pulled in many directions and families are hungry for time; in this world where more people are raised unchurched than are raised Lutheran; we need to be sure that the ELCA is structured in a way that will allow the church to spread the Good Word to people exactly where they are.”

The 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly experienced a noticeable increase in participation by youth and young adults. Photos provided by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The attorney concluded: “I am really proud to be part of a church that could gather and acknowledge change is happening and that change is good.”

Changes in structure

Meeting in Orlando, Florida, the assembly got a running start in dealing with change when it adopted the recommendations of the LIFT (Living Into the Future Together) Task Force. That group had been asked to evaluate the churchwide structure of the ELCA that was put in place when the synod was created in 1988 and to see if there were changes that could make it function more efficiently and save money.

The four task force recommendations adopted call for:

* Changing the frequency of churchwide assemblies from every two years to every three years, beginning after the 2013 meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;

* Eliminating all “program committees” and undertaking a search for new ways to obtain input from across the church;

* Giving permission to expand the Church Council, which governs the church between assemblies, from 35 members plus the four synod officers to 45 members plus the officers.

* Giving synods permission to establish new networks or coalitions across synod lines.

The Rev. Wayne Peterson, pastor of St. Barnabas Lutheran in Plymouth, Minnesota, pointed out that the switch of assembly meetings to every third year will permit the holding of a meeting of one churchwide organization every year — the assembly, Women of the ELCA, and church youth.

The Rev. Jay Carlson, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran in Minneapolis, thought that passage of a social statement on genetics was the most important achievement of the assembly. Carlson said he was especially inspired to hear scientists and genetic counselors say the statement affirms their work as a Christian vocation. Peterson added that there were positive words about the social statement from both farmers and agribusiness representatives on one hand and genetic researchers on the other. He said that the statement was “very affirming of the scientific point of view” and that it “raises questions we should ask rather than telling people what to do and not do.”

Voting members participate in floor debate at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

Peter Aldrich, an 18-year-old voting member from Holy Trinity, Minneapolis, noted that the assembly set a record for the highest percentage of youth and young-adult voting members at 13 percent. A freshman at Grinnell College in Iowa, Aldrich said the assembly was one that broke down barriers rather than polarizing people. And he found adoption of the new ELCA Malaria Campaign to be an important step.

The ELCA had voted two years ago to continue involvement in the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI), designed to bring an end to malaria in Africa. But that program would have required the ELCA to raise $30 million in four years as it teamed up with Lutheran World Relief, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and the United Nations Foundation. The new campaign cut the amount the ELCA must raise to $15 million over four years and splits it away from its LMI partners. The ELCA Campaign will be run as a complement to its World Hunger program.

Thirty-seven synods submitted memorials calling for action on the problem of bullying. The Minneapolis and St. Paul Area Synods and the other four synods in Minnesota were among them.

There was no memorial on the restoration of funding for campus ministry programs, but the discussion indicated action in the future was possible.

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