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Saturday, August 22, 2009

ELCA ASSEMBLY ACTION

Several people have asked more about the actions at the ELCA churchwide Assembly being reported today on the Internet and news outlets.

Below is the Press Release and a message from Bishop Hanson.

On Sunday August 30th from 8:30AM to 9:30AM I will be in the sanctuary to summarize the actions and answer any questions that you may have as best as I can.

What I will not do is to answer questions through email on this subject.

I encourage people to come to the gathering on the 30th or set up a time to meet with me should they desire to discuss the actions taken this week.
What the ELCA needs now is prayer, both for those who finally see the light of justice and welcome dawning for them and for those who are struggling and coming to terms with a church that perhaps seems different and more difficult than they once thought.

Both those relieved by the actions taken today and those saddened by them cling to the Holy Scriptures and the cross of Christ with humility and grace. May it ever be so for all.

Pastor Keith



ELCA NEWS SERVICE

August 21, 2009
ELCA Assembly Opens Ministry

to Partnered Gay and Lesbian Lutherans
MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) - The 2009 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted today to open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships. The action came by a vote of 559-451 at the highest legislative body of the 4.6 million member denomination. Earlier the assembly also approved a resolution committing the church to find ways for congregations that choose to do so to "recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships," though the resolution did not use the word "marriage."


The actions here change the church's policy, which previously allowed gays and lesbians into the ordained ministry only if they remained celibate. Throughout the assembly, which opened Aug. 17, the more than 1,000 voting members have debated issues of human sexuality. On Wednesday they adopted a social statement on the subject as a teaching tool and policy guide for the denomination. The churchwide assembly of the ELCA is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands." Before discussing the thornier issues of same-gender unions in the ordained ministry, the assembly approved, by a vote of 771-230, a resolution committing the church to respect the differences of opinions on the matter and honor the "bound consciences" of those who disagree.


During the hours of discussion, led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson, the delegates paused several times each hour for prayer, sometimes as a whole assembly, sometimes in small groups around the tables where the voting members of the assembly sat, debated and cast their votes. Discussion here proved that matters of sexuality will be contentious throughout the church. A resolution that would have reasserted the church's current policy drew 344 votes, but failed because it was rejected by 670 of the voting members. Pastor Richard Mahan of the ELCA West Virginia-Western Maryland Synod was among several speakers contending that the proposed changes are contrary to biblical teaching. "I cannot see how the church that I have known for 40 years can condone what God has condemned," Mahan said, "Nowhere does it say in scripture that homosexuality and same sex marriage is acceptable of God."


But others said a greater acceptance of people who are gay and lesbian in the church was consistent with the Bible. Bishop Gary Wollersheim of the ELCA Northern Illinois Synod said, "It's a matter of justice, a matter of hospitality, it's what Jesus would have us do." Wollersheim said he had been strongly influenced by meetings with youth at youth leadership events in his synod, a regional unit of the ELCA. Some speakers contend that the actions taken here will alienate ELCA members and cause a drop in membership. But Allison Guttu of the ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod said, "I have seen congregations flourish while engaging these issues; I have seen congregations grow recognizing the gifts of gay and lesbian pastors." During discussion of resolutions on implementation of the proposals, Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the ELCA Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod asked that the church make clear provision in its policies to recognize the conviction of members who believe that this church cannot call or roster people in a publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationship. A resolution that the denomination consider a proposal for how it will exercise flexibility within its existing structure and practices to allow Lutherans in same gender relationship to be approved for professional service in the church. That resolution passed by a vote of 667-307.-----

***
After the ministry policies vote on Friday evening, Bishop Hanson delivered the following message:
I want more time to think about words from one you have called to serve as pastor of this church. I have been standing here thinking about my 23 years as a parish pastor and how differently I would go into a context if I was gathering with a family or a group of people that had just experienced loss, or perhaps were wondering if they still belonged, or in fact felt deeply that ones to whom they belong had been severed from them. That would be a very different pastoral conversation. And I would probably turn to words such as Romans 8:

“Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who was at the right hand of God, who intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”

But then I thought, “What if I were going into a family or a group, a community that had always wondered if they belonged and suddenly had now received a clear affirmation that they belonged?” All of the wondering about the dividing walls, the feelings of separation seem to have dropped away. That would be a very different conversation. I would probably read to them out of Ephesians [chapter 2]:

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.”

But then I thought, what if those two groups were together, but also in their midst were those who had not experienced loss or the feeling of the dividing wall of separation coming down, but were wondering and worried if all that had occurred might sever the unity that is ours in Christ and might wonder if their actions might have contributed to reconciliation or separation? If all those people were together in a room, I would read from Colossians [chapter 3]:

“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

That passage gives invitation and expectation that those deeply disappointed today will have in this church the expectation and the freedom to continue to admonish and to teach. And so, too, those that have experienced reconciliation today, you are called to humility. You are called to clothe yourselves with love. But we’re all called to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, remembering again and again that we are called in the one body. I will invite you tomorrow afternoon into important, thoughtful, prayerful conversations about what all of this means for our life together. But what is absolutely important for me is that that’s a conversation we have together.

I ended my oral report with these words: “We meet one another finally, not in our agreements or our disagreements, but at the foot of the cross — where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ.”
Let us pray. O God, gracious and holy, mysterious and merciful, we meet this day at the foot of the cross and there we kneel in gratitude and awe that you have loved us so much that you would give the life of your Son so that we might have life in his name. Send your spirit this night, the spirit of the Risen Christ that has been breathed into us. May it calm us. May your Spirit unite us. May it continue to gather us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Information about the 2009 Churchwide Assembly is at http://www.elca.org/assembly on the ELCA Web site.

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