The Conference of Bishops began their annual March meeting with retreat day, retreat day, requested by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. An outside facilitator led us in activities that helped us to build a stronger sense of team, to identify shared concerns, reflect on past history, and vision for the future. We have quite a few new bishops and it’s important for us to be “on the same page” as we move forward. One of the activities was building a time line that included what was happening in the world/ community. One of the surprising insights for me was the impact of 9/11 and the number of wars in which the US has been engaged.
Relationships and Prayer are as important as the business conducted at these meetings. We bid farewell to 3 Bishops who we know are leaving office – Bill Rindy (Eastern North Dakota), Greg Pile (Allegheny), and Peter Rogness (St. Paul Area). In 2014 there will be sixteen bishop elections, with at least five synods electing new bishops. We also included in prayer the families and friends of two members of the churchwide staff who had died in recent days – Pat Dever of the Mission in Investment Fund (MIF) Staff and Pastor Peter Perella, who had been the ELCA Executive for Worship. I added the families of Pastor W. Donald Miller and Pastor Keg Gahagen to the prayer list. Worship was led by the Bishops of Region 5.
One very informative lunch meeting featured, Chaplain Michael J. Pollitt, National Director of Chaplains Services, Department of Veterans Affairs, highlighting the work being done with veterans and their families. The Eastern Washington Idaho Synod is working with the VA to pilot some training programs for clergy in rural areas to work with groups of returning veterans.
Discussions: Working groups solicited input from the bishops as they planned next steps and final recommendations on a variety of topics including:
Always Being Made New – the Campaign for the ELCA is a five year capital campaign seeking to raise $198 million to support new and expanded churchwide ministries above and beyond those supported by regular weekly offerings. This Campaign was authorized by the Churchwide Assembly in August of 2013 to benefit the mission of the church in four major areas: Congregational Ministries, Leadership, Hunger and Poverty, and Global Church. Several of these projects overlap with ministries that are near and dear to Upstate New Yorkers – the Malaria Campaign and the ELCA Fund for Leaders to name just two. The campaign opened at the beginning of February as promised. However, different synods will engage the campaign in different ways over the course of the five years. The Upstate New York Synod Council has invited Andrew Steele and/or other campaign folks to a meeting in the fall of 2014, as we didn’t want to push this campaign before completing our own Feed the Roots of Leadership Campaign, which concludes at our Synod Assembly in June. The latest case statement was shared. It can be viewed here. This statement will be sent hard copy to every pastor/congregation very soon. I encourage you to look it over, get involved if you wish, but its okay to put it aside for now knowing that you will be hearing more about it in the future. Information regarding the campaign may be found at http://www.elca.org/Our-Work/Campaign-for-the-ELCA.
Lutheran World Federation Consultation. Our guests included General Secretary, the Rev. Martin Junge, Bishop Cindy Halmarson (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada), and Bishop Ndanganeni Phaswana (Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa.) This begins a consultation process with us, the Church of Sweden, and the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY). The EECMY discontinued altar and pulpit fellowship with the ELCA and the Church of Sweden after our two communions made decisions to ordain/commission/consecrate candidates in publically accountable, life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships (ELCA) and marriage equality (Church of Sweden). This is a painful disruption of relationships in the LWF. It is hoped that through this process we may listen to one another and move toward the restoration of altar and pulpit fellowship.
Eucharistic Hospitality. This was the one of what will be many conversations that were called for by the Churchwide Assembly in asking for a review of “The Use of the Means of Grace,” our current document regarding the Sacraments. A study group met for an initial meeting and shared some of the emerging themes: Changing contexts are creating changes in practice. Jesus Christ is center of the Sacraments. Baptism and Communion go together. There is a deep need in this church to teach what we do and why we do this. The ecumenical horizon is important to consider. Copies of “The Use of the Means of Grace” document were distributed and we were encouraged to engage with groups in study of this existing document. Several other papers were shared as well. (N.B. In the Upstate New York Synod I have invited the Deacon Committee to be one place where these conversations will take place. I will also distribute the articles to our Conference Deans to encourage further conversation within the Conferences during the coming year. Mcj)
Word and Service Task Force. A report from this group was recently sent out to all rostered leaders. Currently, there is a working document related to the educational process and theological preparation. The task force is also working on guidelines for internship and on what type of entrance rite (Ordination? Commissioning? Consecration?) may be appropriate for the one lay roster. The hope is to submit a draft proposal to the Conference of Bishops and Church Council in 2015 in preparation for action at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly.
Women and Justice. There is an upcoming meeting of synodical process builders in each synod, to assist with encouraging conversation and gathering input. The Social Statement that is being developed is targeted for action at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. (N. B. Upstate New York Process Builder is the Rev. Paula Gravelle. She will be present at our Synod Assembly.)
Mission Funding Think Tank. This group is thinking through the changes in the way that people give to the church and how we might make changes in the ELCA. The ELCA continues to have a great track record for unified mission support, especially in comparison to other mainline denominations, but it is eroding as designated giving is increasing.
Theological Education Advisory Committee. We reflected on the first round of listenings that were done across this church. Several pastors from Upstate New York participated in this. The report is available to anyone who wants to see it.
Reports: From our officers and others:
Bishop Eaton’s report focused on her four priorities:
- We are church – We are church first. At the center of our life together is worship and at the center of our worship is the crucified and risen Christ. We are in the faith formation business; not to get more members, not to get more market share, but to know Christ and Christ crucified.
- We are Lutheran – We have a distinctive voice that has something to add to the ecumenical, interfaith and secular conversation. This is not to say that we have a corner on the truth, but our understanding of grace, justification, law and gospel, theology of the cross, two kingdoms and service to the neighbor needs to be articulated more clearly. With humility we can be unapologetically Lutheran. To that end we will be starting an all-staff study of the catechism.
- We are church together – This should be scripturally and theologically self-evident, but our lived experience is something else. We can no longer afford to live in isolation from or in competition with each other – not in congregations, not in synods, not across the church. Despite some sense of disconnect and distrust that individual members and congregations have with the synod and the greater church, together we know we can do so much more than we can do separately.
- We are church for the sake of the world – It’s not just about us. We have not been redeemed just so we can sit at home and think wonderful, lovely thoughts about Jesus. From worship we are sent out into the world to introduce people to Jesus and to serve the world God so loves. Read more for other reports and items that were considered.
Treasurer Linda Norman – All reports that follow are prior to audit. Income from congregations through synods in the form of Mission Support income for the year was $48.8 million, a decrease of $1.1 million or 2.2 percent compared to the prior year. However, overall the operating revenue of the churchwide organization increased $0.4 million or 0.6 percent, and was in excess of expenses by $2.8 million for the year ended January 31, 2014. Income from endowment distributions of $2.3 million, bequests and trusts of $5.5 million, investment income of $2.9 million and other income of $2.3 million, resulted in favorable variances to the budget.
Income from the Mission Investment Fund of $2.0 million was favorable to fiscal year 2012 by $0.5 million. Income from Vision for Mission of $1.4 million and Global Church Sponsorship (including missionary sponsorship) of $3.0 million, were behind budget by $0.3 million and slightly ahead of fiscal year 2012.
Total contributions to ELCA World Hunger for the year were $18.7 million – a slight increase over year 2012, but slightly unfavorable to budget. The ELCA Malaria Campaign received gifts of $4.4 million during the year and has raised $11.0 million campaign-to-date.
ELCA members contributed $10.0 million for the Lutheran Disaster Response, primarily $2.4 million in support of Pacific Typhoon Response and $2.1 million in support of the ELCA’s response to domestic tornadoes. Total giving compares to $7.8 million in revenue for fiscal year 2012, which included $1.1 million for U.S. Severe Spring Storms.
Secretary Chris Boerger – reported on:
- the upcoming review and revision of the Manual of Policies and Procedures for the Management of the Roster.
- the decreasing numbers of congregations who have disaffiliated from the ELCA in the past five years: 2009 – 10; 2010 – 302; 2011 – 298; 2012 – 49; 2013 – 16. The total is 675.
- The ongoing development and growth of online digital storage (SODA) that is available to synods for archiving data, minutes, insurance policies and more.
Vice President Carlos Pena – Reported on his participation in the World Council of Churches, 10th Assembly in Busan, Republic of South Korea, in October 2013. The theme of the assembly was “God of Life, lead us to justice and peace.” And he quoted from 52 Great Prayers, a resource produced by our own Immanuel Lutheran Church, Webster!
Portico Benefit Services – Pr. Jeff Thiemann, CEO, gave a report on Health Care Reform and gave a breakdown of Portico Plan options selected for 2014: 3% chose Platinum; 93% Gold; 3% Silver; and 1% Bronze. He sees overall job as creating communities of health and wellness. He gave a legislative update on the much publicized case on housing allowance in Wisconsin. He reminded us that the effect of this decision is stayed, pending a decision by the Court of Appeals in the Seventh District, and this decision does not extend to a church-provided parsonage but is limited to compensation excluded from federal income tax as housing allowance. This advocacy is done through the Church Alliance, a coalition of the CEOs of 38 church benefit programs. He also reported that in 2014 a new initiative will have the option for members to sign up for long term care insurance. This should be available for enrollment from June 1 – August 31. Watch for materials.
Other topics that were discussed:
Assignment Process – the Bishops are constantly in conversation about revisions to this process to better service this church and its ministry candidates.
The Placement of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer candidates for ministry. Guests who are part of Proclaim and the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries joined the bishops for conversations about how placement is going across this church and to share best practices as well as concerns.
Ecclesiology of the Global Church. This task group is charged with reviewing the governing documents of the church (inclusive but not exclusive of Chapter 3 of the ELCA Constitution) for the purpose of addressing and affirming its connection to the Lutheran World Federation. Final report should be provided to the churchwide assembly in 2016.
Ecumenical Committee. Reminded us to plan for the 500th Observance of the Reformation. “Declaration on the Way to Unity” and “Conflict to Communion” are documents of importance with the Roman Catholic Church which can be seen at http://www.lutheranworld.org/content/lutheran-roman-catholic-dialogue.
Technology – work continues to move all the forms into a web-based system in place of formatta. It has been much more difficult than anticipated, but hopefully will be on-line soon.
Roster Committee. This committee gives recommendations for COB vote for: synods requesting extensions of On Leave from Call status for rostered leaders, three-year waivers for specific ministry calls, non-stipendiary calls, and removal from the roster of those who are beyond the maximum On Leave from Call period.
Academy Committee. The Bishop’s Academy for January 2015, in recognition of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, will be a trip to Germany with the theme: “The Impact of Lutheranism from the Reformation through the Peaceful Revolution to the ongoing Reformation of the 21st Century Church.” The current itinerary lists visits to sites in Prague, Dresden, Torgau, Wittenberg, Leipzig, Eisleben, Erfurt, and Berlin.
Bishop Stacy Sauls, Chief Operating Officer of the ECUSA, whose position is similar to Pr. Steve Bouman, Director of the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, shared what the Episcopal Church USA is doing in the area of mission. We are part of several cooperative efforts at the churchwide level – particularly the training and support of military chaplains and the development of Latino missions. We are also in conversation regarding shared campus ministries.
Executive for Synodical Relations, Pr. Walter May. He reminded us of the Synod Vice-President’s gathering to be held in the Fall of 2014 and a possible Bishops’ Associates gathering in February 2015.
Pastor Eric Wester, Assistant to the Presiding Bishop and Director of Federal Chaplaincies. Our current numbers of pastors and seminary students in federal chaplaincy ministries are: Total military chaplains: 152 (52 active duty and 100 Reserve and Guard) Veterans Affairs chaplains: 31 (12 full-time and 19 part-time) Bureau of Prison chaplains: 4 (all full-time)