The 2019 ELCA Churchwide assembly took place August 5-10th in Milwaukee, WI. Your voting members, part of 900 from across our church, for this assembly were elected by the NT-NL Synod assembly in April of 2018. These members were VP Tom Blaney, Pr. Kristin Klade and infant daughter (Cook Children’s, St. Matthews & Kyrie, Fort Worth), Ms. Shirley Wilson-Sigler (St. Lukes, Richardson), Mr. Don Heller (Bethel, Avoca), Mr. Tom Blaney Jr. (Rejoice, Frisco), Ms. Bianca Blaney (Rejoice, Frisco and LuMin, UT-Austin), Pr. Edy Santos (Adviento, Arlington).
The most inspiring and exciting events of the assembly were the celebrations and kick off of the events in the coming year, honoring 50 years of the ordination of pastors who are women to Word and Sacrament ministry in the ELCA and predecessor bodies. These celebrations were highlighted by a worship service including a procession of women clergy that brought tears to the eyes of all in the room.
The generations of women who have served passing by the gathered community, including 104 year old Maria de Jesus, was awe inspiring. (Pastor de Jesus is shown here meeting Pr. Kristin Klade and her infant daughter. Her son Pr. Miguel de Jesus was a colleague when I served in the Greater Milwaukee Synod.)
It was a great privilege to be there and see so many trusted friends and colleagues be celebrated, as well as celebrate the 23 women who are also now currently serving in the conference of bishops. It was also a great thrill for me to hear from and meet the Rev. Elizabeth Platz, who was the first woman ordained by one of the ELCA predecessor bodies. Rev. Platz addressed the assembly and then was at a reception where my spouse and I got to meet her and speak with her briefly. The courage and tenacity of Rev. Platz and all women who have chosen to serve their church as ministers of Word and Sacrament is both a source of inspiration as well as a challenge to myself and our synod to continue to raise up and support women in ministry.
In the coming months, more resources will be released for congregations wishing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of women serving as ordained pastors of Word and Sacrament. A series of bible studies, which NT-NL’s own Rev. Kendra A. Mohn, PhD took part in authoring, have been released and are available for congregations. Our 2020 NT-NL synod assembly will also highlight this celebration as part of our work as we give thanks for and look forward to continuing to honor the call of women to serve as rostered and ordained ministers in our church.
Another major change was that the assembly authorized the rite of entrance for deacons (rostered ministers of Word and Service) to be called “ordination” not “consecration.” This is a major change in our polity and understanding of the rosters of our church and comes after many years of study and discernment. What this most critically means is that going forward, deacons will be considered “Clergy” for the purposes of accounting for assembly registration (synod assembly must be 60% lay and 40% clergy) and also for positions reserved for lay representation. This is a big step in honoring the work of deacons amongst us.
A number of important actions took place at this assembly:
- Reelected on the first ballot the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton to a six-year term as ELCA presiding bishop.
- Elected Deacon Sue Rothmeyer to a six-year term as ELCA secretary. Rothmeyer, currently serving as executive for administration with the Office of the Secretary, was installed during the assembly’s closing worship on Aug. 10 and will begin her term Nov. 1.
- Approved the social statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action” and its implementing resolutions. The social statement, in part, names patriarchy and sexism as sins and calls the church to action on a range of issues, including gender-based violence, workplace discrimination and economic inequality.
- Adopted “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment,” which will serve as church policy for inter-religious relations. The policy statement was adopted with the witness of 39 ecumenical and inter-religious guests in attendance.
- Approved the triennium budget for 2020-2022, which includes a current fund spending authorization of $68,378,325 for 2020, a current fund income proposal of $68,442,034 for 2021 and $68,507,018 for 2022; and an ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $21.5 million 2020, and an income proposal of $21.5 million for 2021 and for 2022.
- Adopted the “Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity in the ELCA,” which consists of a report and recommendations on how the ELCA exhibits authentic diversity and formulates goals for racial diversity and inclusion.
- Witnessed the presentation of the “Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent,” which was accepted by the Rev. Lamont A. Wells, president of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA), and members of ADLA.
- Adopted 26 memorials en bloc, ranging in topics from gun violence to engagement in the Holy Land and gender identity to seminary tuition.
- Adopted a memorial that affirms the ELCA’s long-standing commitment to migrants and refugees and declares the ELCA a sanctuary church body.
- Adopted a memorial that calls for the development of a social statement and social message on the relationship of church and state.
- Adopted a memorial to encourage all synods and congregations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ELCA’s ordination of women in 2020, the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women of color in the Lutheran tradition, and the 10th anniversary of the ELCA’s decision to remove barriers to ordination for people in same-gender relationships.
- Adopted a memorial to support the vision and goals of the Poor People’s Campaign that align with the ELCA’s social teachings.
- We honored our Federal Chaplains and learned about a new prayer book for prison ministry.
- Adopted a series of amendments to the “Constitutions, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” including one that makes ordination the entrance rite for ministers of Word and Service, and an amendment to no longer count deacons as laypeople for representational principles.
- Adopted a resolution that committed the ELCA to support the World Council of Church’s “Thursdays in Black” campaign toward a world without rape and violence.
- Adopted a resolution to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance in the ELCA for the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9—the nine people who were shot and killed June 17, 2015, during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
- Adopted a resolution to condemn white supremacy, calling all ELCA congregations to engage in a “study of the structures and rhetoric that empower and fuel racism and white supremacy and to take to heart the teaching of Scriptures, so we may all be better equipped to speak boldly about the equal dignity of all persons in the eyes of God.”
- Celebrated the end of Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, which concluded June 30 with nearly $250 million raised in cash, multiyear commitments and planned gift commitments. At the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, voting members approved the $198 million campaign to help sustain and grow ministries of the church.
- Elected members to serve on the ELCA Church Council, churchwide committees and churchwide boards, including Portico Benefit Services, the Mission Investment Fund and 1517 Media.
In 2021 we will elect members of the NT-NL synod to serve as voting members at the 2022 Churchwide Assembly which will be held in Columbus, OH. This is an amazing, inspiring, sometimes frustrating (doing a meeting with 900 voting members means we don’t all agree and sometimes action feels like it takes hours to accomplish), but always inspiring time of being church together for the sake of the world. I am grateful for our voting members and their families. If you have questions about any of the actions taken or want to learn more, see the ELCA website or contact me at BpGronberg@ntnl.org.