Grace, mercy, and peace to all the children in the faith of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.
“I think it’s important when we organize our work together that we understand that we are church first. And we need to be clear that our lives are formed by word and sacrament, that we gather as the beloved children of God around the means of grace, that our lives are in Christ.” These are the words of our Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, from her report at the ELCA National Churchwide Assembly that took place in New Orleans, Louisiana August 8th-13th.
These words that I have quoted, spoken by Bishop Eaton, highlight her four point focus of the past three years since being elected to the office of Presiding Bishop at the last Triennial Churchwide Assembly. That focus being: We are church. We are Lutheran. We are church together. We are church for the sake of the world. It was with this focus in mind that the 945 voting members, plus visitors and guests, gathered together to conduct the business of the national church.
For one week we all gathered together for daily worship, fellowship, and voting on the key actions that were before this triennial assembly. For me this was a wonderful, eye-opening experience in which I gained a deeper appreciation for how the church operates on the national level. While I was in New Orleans, however, there was one question that was going through my mind, and I am sure my mind was not the only one with this question: How does all this affect the people back in the communities we all represent? In the same report I quoted from above, Bishop Eaton answers this question by saying it is up to us, the voting members, along with visitors and guests, to bring these actions back to our communities; to talk about them, and to figure out ways in which they apply to our own contexts. It is with this in mind that I write to you all in this month’s newsletter. Through my monthly newsletter articles over the coming months it will be my intention to begin these conversations in our context, keeping in mind that this is just the beginning of these conversations.
Over the coming months I will be highlighting the actions that came before the national church assembly. Actions like the acceptance of proposals like the “Declaration on the Way,” a document marking the path toward greater unity with the Catholic Church; and AMMPARO, or Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation, and Opportunities, a commitment to uphold and guarantee the basic human rights and safety of migrant children and their families from Central American’s Northern Triangle and Mexico. The assembly also approved the unification of the lay leader rosters formerly known as Associates in Ministry, Deaconesses, and Diaconal Ministers into one signal new lay roster now known as Ministers of Word and Service. On top of all that the assembly approved proposals such as deepening relationships with historic Black churches; toward a responsible energy future; repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery; peace with justice in the Holy Land and justice for the Holy Land through responsible investment; a call to discernment on U.S. foreign and military policy; welcoming refugees; and supporting military personnel, veterans, and their families. Obviously there was quite a bit from this assembly that should be talked about, and in these newsletter articles I will only be able to scratch the surface. It is my hope that these conversations will continue to happen through our work and ministry here in the churches of English and St. Luke Lutheran, part of the Eastern North Dakota synod, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
As Bishop Eaton said in her report, we organize and work together because we are church first, and we are church together. For us in rural North Dakota it may seem as though we have little to nothing to do with what goes on at the national level. The truth is, however, we do not live in isolation. What affects our brothers and sisters in Christ across our nation and world also affects us here in rural North Dakota. This is the mindset I have as we begin these conversations of these actions, as we too strive to understand what it means for us to be church together; to be church for the sake of the world.