Freed & Renewed in Christ: 500 Years of God’s Grace in Action
South Carolina Synod Members share Reflections & God-Moments from the 2016 ELCA Assembly
Attending the 2016 Churchwide Assembly was an experience filled with images, texts and sounds. The range of presenters, delegates, and guests constantly highlighted the diversity of Christ’s church around the world, not just our own little corner of it.
On any given day, one might hear from Lutheran Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, be witness to a moving presentation on just how far Lutheran/ Roman Catholic dialogue has come in the last few years, or attend a worship service featuring preaching, art and music from all parts of the globe. Attendees prayed, sang, attended Bible studies and considered how our Lutheran perspective can provide a needed voice on sobering contemporary issues, ranging from immigration to fossil fuels to the needs of our military veterans.
On a more practical, down-to-earth matter, the Assembly approved a change years in the making when it created a new roster of leaders for the church: a roster of those who engage in a ministry of “Word and Service”. For almost three decades, the ELCA has maintained three “lay rosters” – Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses. These leaders have ministered in greatly varying ways in local congregations, social service agencies, chaplaincy, and in other areas. You may recognize them as the full-time leader in your church who serves as a Director of Christian Education, church musician or youth minister. Beginning in January 2017, these three rosters will be combined into one, and those on the existing rosters will be known formally as “Deacons” of the church. Thus, the ELCA will have Pastors as our ministers of Word and Sacrament and Deacons as our ministers of Word and Service. You will surely be hearing more about this change in the coming months.
It is a humbling and joyous experience to witness the work and reach of this church and to participate in its decision making process. Thank you for the privilege of representing the South Carolina Synod at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly.
~Dr. Susan McArver, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia
When Four Equals Two”
Even as I write this, our gathered Churchwide Assembly has just passed a motion to establish a single unified professional Roster of Word and Service and to unify the three current existing lay professional rosters of Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers, and Deaconesses. Part of the motion includes a new title for this, roster, that of “Deacon”. Related changes to our ELCA, Synod and model constitution for congregations were also made.
I am very excited to finally see the fruit of many years of conversation in the ELCA about the lay rosters and about rostered ministry in the church in general. Now we have two rosters in the ELCA; ministers of Word and Sacrament (pastors) and ministers of Word and Service (Deacons). It will take a little time to adjust to being Deacon Andrew More, but I am sure I will, and my role and my call in my current setting will not change. I will still be a servant of God’s church, called to minister to His people.
~Deacon Andrew More, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Columbia
—–Historical “God moment” at our Churchwide Assembly happened today, August 9th. We are living in a kairotic moment in the church today. We are having OPEN and forward moving conversation with our Catholic brothers and sisters and finding common ground on aspects of our traditions. And there’s even a book written about it stating the work of these disciples giving of their time to have these conversations! This doesn’t mean we are in full communion yet, but we are getting to a point in our lifetime where we are having dialogue and moving forward together. This brings me hope! Everyone should read, “Declaration on the Way,” to learn more about these conversations with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.
What a blessing the Global Mission Sponsorship breakfast was this morning! We heard there were 85 young adults being sent out to do Global Mission this year! I also heard that because of a lack of faith and a lack of education, young people living in the South Sudan live in violence. Just imagine what positive impact our Young Adults in Global Mission will make for these children AND for the whole world. To use Dr. Rich Melheim’s words, “In order to make a difference for the children around the world, we must first make a difference in the world around the children.” Our ELCA is doing just that! Our ELCA and SC Synod believe in a both/and practice…..we graciously give here in the states AND across the globe! Praise be to God for blessing us so that we can bless others!
During this Churchwide Assembly, I became even more acutely aware of ministry that is going on around the globe on my/our behalf through our prayers and financial means. While I can’t be in New Guinea at a Lutheran church developed by a Lutheran Missionary, my prayers and offerings can. While I can’t be in Allendale, SC for a Summer Arts Camp to teach children in poverty, my prayers and offerings can. Being a part of our Synod and Churchwide assists me, my faith, and God’s grace to be in action every single day on my/our behalf. Thanks be to God!
~Deacon Lexanne Graves, Living Springs Lutheran Church, Columbia
—–There were many occasions during the Churchwide Assembly that warmed my heart, and I would like to share just one of those. Captain Timothy Eichler is an ELCA pastor who serves in the Chaplain Corps of the US Navy. During his address to the assembly, I gained a newfound respect for the work that chaplains do in their various contexts. In many ways, chaplains are the expressions of the church that do the ministries mentioned in Matthew 25: feeding the hungry, hospitality to the stranger, looking after the sick, and visiting the prisoner. This is done by chaplains serving in calls to the military, first responders, healthcare, prisons, seafarers, and more.
The most powerful part of Captain Eichler’s speech was how those whom the chaplains bless are so often the ones who bless others. He gave the example from September 11, 2001. A Lutheran chaplain for the FDNY met the firefighters at the towers as the trucks arrived. Using oil, he gave the firefighters the sign of the cross on their foreheads, led them in prayer, and sent them into the buildings. Many of those rescued reported how scared they were, but when they saw the cross of oil still on the firefighters’ foreheads, they were given reassurance that God had not abandoned them in the midst of the horror.
I am thankful for the various ways that we can be the church together. We are the church as congregations, as a synod, and as the ELCA. God does amazing work through all three of these expressions (remember: you are a part of all three), and I am excited to know that God will continue in the future to do amazing work through our work together as the church.
~Pastor Kris Litman-Koon, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Columbia. (Visitor to Assembly)
The phone rang just as I was packing up to leave the church office. I have to confess I sighed as I greeted the caller, hopeful this wouldn’t take long. The voice on the other end belonged to my friend, Kevin, director of worship for the ELCA. He knew I was serving as a voting member and wondered if I would fill in for someone leading worship who had to cancel at the last moment. “Would you be willing to preside at the Eucharist at Churchwide Assembly?” My heart was all in a tizzy. It would be such a cool, once in a lifetime opportunity, but I know how clergy can critique other clergy. The snarky comments, the sarcastic asides, would I risk being vulnerable to the criticisms I knew I would rightly face? Then I realized I was just thinking about me, focusing on me, my worries, my pride, when really this was a gift from God. Would I be willing to empty myself of my worries and simply be a vessel? I said yes. While I have to admit I was terrified, the love and support of my bishop and our team, allowed me to focus on Christ at work through ALL of us at Assembly and in worship. It was one of the most sacred moments of my life and I thank God, for indeed, it was a duty and a delight.
~Pastor Mary Finklea, Cross and Crown Lutheran Church, Florence
—–It was a Holy Ground moment when the presence of Christ was so real that I felt I should take my shoes off. I had been asked to serve as the Chaplain for the Vice President Candidates throughout this assembly, and it was a privilege and honor to meet those who were nominated and to pray with them each day. When the 4th ballot was cast and Mr. William Horne was elected as our next Vice President, I had the opportunity to greet him just as he came off the stage from accepting his position. And then I turned and witnessed Mr. Carlos Pena, our current Vice President, embrace Mr. Horne. Tears filled both men’s eyes as well as my own, and probably everyone who stood nearby. We were witness to two very strong and dedicated leaders passing the baton, and in doing so, recognizing the holy calling they share. Our church is blessed by strong and faithful leaders who are willing to give their time and talents to call us together in the name of Jesus. These leaders know that Christ is at the center of who we are and they will lead us step by step boldly forward in a mission for all God’s people.
~Pastor Ginny Aebischer, SC Synod Assistant to the Bishop