ELCA WILL VOTE ON PLAN ALLOWING EXCEPTIONS IN METHODS OF ORDAINING FUTURE PASTORS
After two hours of vigorous and sometimes intense discussion, the board of the ELCA’s Division for Ministry agreed, during a March 9-11 meeting in Chicago, to support guidelines that would help some seminary graduates receive ordination outside the historic episcopate.
The board’s recommendation was accepted by the ELCA Church Council during an April 6-7 meeting in Chicago, and will be sent to the ELCA Church-wide Assembly as a proposed bylaw change.
The Council vote was 26-6 with one abstention. Voting members at the Churchwide Assembly, scheduled to meet in Indianapolis during August, would have to approve the proposal by a 2/3 vote in order to put it into effect.
The proposed bylaw would permit ordinations without bishops present “in unusual circumstances.” The change is intended as a response to supporters of the WordAlone Network, dissidents who believe any pastor in the ELCA should be able to preside at an ordination without a bishop present.
The ELCA/Episcopal ecumenical accord, approved by the ELCA two years ago and the Episcopal Church last summer, stipulates that in the future all Episcopal and ELCA ordinations will be solemnized only when bishops from both de-nominations are present.
Joseph Wagner, chair of the ELCA Division for Ministry, said the proposed guidelines, approved by a 10-7 vote and recommended to the Church Council for approval, were “a realistic middle ground” between those who support CCM (Called to Common Mission, the ELCA/Episcopal agreement) and those who have joined the WordAlone Network.
Bishop Donald McCoid, chair of the Conference of Bishops, said, “There is strong support among the [ELCA] bishops for CCM.” He said the proposal should not be viewed as “backing away” from CCM, but rather “it’s about how we can bring the ELCA together and seek unity within the church catholic.”
Prior to the council’s vote, the Rev. Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, communicated by letter with ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson “serious concerns” about the proposed bylaw. Said Griswold, “[It] seems to imply the certainty of planned exceptions.” He said it could be interpreted as “a unilateral alteration of the mutual commitment that both our churches have solemnly made.”
The Rev. Dee H. Pederson, a Church Council member from St. Cloud, Minnesota, said she had received numerous positive responses to the proposed bylaw before the council meeting. CCM opponents told her the bylaw is a clear signal that their concerns were being heard, she said.
Rejecting CCM outright, members of WordAlone gathered March 25-27 in Phoenix, Arizona, for a spring convention. The 592 voting delegates, including many from Minnesota and Wisconsin, heard executive director Mark Chavez tell them, “If we act now, courageous seminary graduates refusing to be ordained into the historic episcopate will have a place to serve God and share in ministry within the Lutheran Church.”
WordAlone now reports support from 150 ELCA congregations in 25 states.