By: Rev. Marie C. Jerge, Bishop
The highlight of this fall Conference of Bishops meeting was the installation of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton at the awesome Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago. It was a joyous worship service. The music was outstanding. People gathered from around this church and around the world. Bishop Phaswana from the Lutheran Church of South Africa was among those invited to lay on hands. I had the privilege of meeting him at the 100th Anniversary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe in 2003.
Vice President Tom Madden was able to be present. It was fun to connect briefly with two of our ministry candidates who are studying at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Becky Lohrmann and Becca Truland.
Worship is always central to our work together and I was privileged to serve as the Assisting Minister at our Sunday morning Eucharist, as Bishop Mark Hanson preached and Secretary-Elect W. Chris Boerger presided. Our chaplains and morning preachers were bishops from Region 4 (Texas, Arkansas-Oklahoma, Nebraska…).
A banquet honored this year’s Fund For Leaders scholarship recipients. These ministry candidates are among the brightest and best and it is a delight to meet them and encourage them in their journey.
We recognized the impact of many transitions. We bid farewell to Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and Secretary David Swartling, and welcomed 13 new synodical bishops to the conference. As always we heard reports from the officers as well as Pr. Jeff Thiemann of Portico Benefits. We had significant conversation and some decisions around a wide variety of topics.
- The Word and Service Task Force continues its work as we move toward bringing together the current lay rosters (Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers, and Deaconnesses) into one. We shared our hopes, wonderings and fears in regard to these decisions. One item of conversation will continue to be whether these persons will be ordained.
- The Theological Education Advisory Committee reported on its work and provided a framework for conversation around the strengths, weaknesses and hopes for the future of theological education.
- We were informed of upcoming changes in information technology. Many are excited that we will be eliminating Formatta and going to Adobe for static files and fillable web-based forms for others. This change will better mesh with Apple products. They are paying attention to security issues and are working on a website renovation.
- We heard updates on the progress of the Capital Campaign for the ELCA and outlined a series of questions for bishops and synodical leaders to consider. (n.b.- This is on the agenda of the Synod Council meeting in October.)
- We began to address the follow up required by actions of the Churchwide Assembly. Consultation has been requested on a wide range of topics: the configuration of families, the Book of Faith initiative, the Voting Rights Act, Communion Practices, Confirmation Ministry, Term Limits, and American Indian and Alaska Natives.
- Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson offered his report with deep thanks for his years of service. He spoke of some recent initiatives in ecumenical (particularly with the Roman Catholics), interfaith (particularly with Jewish leaders) and global relationships. He encouraged us to pay attention to “unfinished business” that needs tending: the Peace Without Walls Initiative and our relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, mission support and mission funding (churchwide and synod) and our capacity for mission, and our commitment to diversity and persons of color and our willingness to address racial inequities. He also looked ahead to the challenges facing this church in reaching out to young adults. He quoted a college professor on the Theological Education Advisory Committee who said, “How do we share the wellspring of reconciliation and hope that flow from God’s grace in Christ in a culture afraid of doctrine, disengaged from institutions, distrustful of leaders and increasingly pluralistic?” A challenge indeed!
- Treasurer Linda Norman reported that regular mission support was doing very well until mid-summer. Since then we have been in a slump. World Hunger giving is also down significantly, but our biggest months are yet to come. Thankfully several unexpected bequests and major gifts will help us to meet all our commitments for 2013. However, planning for 2014 may be impacted. Mission Funding for the long term is an ongoing concern.
- As we continue to live into the decisions made at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, bishops engaged in conversation regarding the placement of gay and lesbian pastors who are in publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same gender relationships. We also discussed ongoing care for and conversation with those of our church who hold opposing views on these issues. It has been hard to keep up with the changes in state laws (in some places) regarding the option of marriage and how our congregations and pastors are responding to these options. We’re committed to continued conversation and consultation.
- The Bishop’s Academy will meet in January in Savannah, Georgia focused on the theme Good News From, With, and For the NONES. Plans are being made for the Bishop’s Academy to meet in Germany in 2015 in preparation for the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.
- We updated documents that relate to Corporate Social Responsibility and how this church advocates for key social issues within the corporations where we have investments. We reviewed four documents that were sent to the Church Council for adoption.
- Secretary David Swartling gave reports and invited extensive feedback regarding the 2013 Churchwide Assembly. He also reported on a wide variety of statistics. Among them he indicated that 23% of ordained persons on are roster are now women. That is the highest percentage in ELCA history. There has also been an increase in the number of ELCA ordained persons of color. The number of disaffiliations (congregations leaving the ELCA) has slowed significantly, although several bishops reported that there has been a recent upswing in first votes.
- The very first conversations began as we plan for the 45th and 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in this church. Of particular concern is gathering statistics to study how we progress in this area and in gathering some of the history of the early days from folks who are now retiring and beyond.
- We were introduced to Stacy Martin, the new Director for Advocacy in the ELCA’s Washington Office.
I serve as the Chair of the Synodical Churchwide Relations Committee for the Conference of Bishops. We met for one afternoon and I spent a lot of time during the Conference engaging in follow up conversations to assist in healthy communication among the different partners in this church
Seminary candidate assignments took place as well. Pr. Peggy Wuertele, Region 7 Coordinator, and Bp. Sam Zeiser, Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod, represented Region 7. There were 158 vacancies open for First Call candidates and 69 candidates available across the whole church. Upstate New York was not assigned anyone at this time, but we had very few full-time first call openings available.