NEW ORLEANS – Lifting up the central Lutheran theme of God’s grace in action through God’s church, members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are gathering under the theme, “Freed and Renewed in Christ: 500 Years of God’s Grace in Action.”
The assembly – the highest legislative body of the ELCA – is meeting Aug. 8-13 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The assembly will also include preparations for observing the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.
In her remarks at the opening plenary, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop, said, “We have come here after a difficult summer overwhelmed by violence and heartache. Now more than ever, we are in need of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our midst. I pray that we will surround one another in prayer and love while we are together to do God’s work at this assembly.”
A key action of the assembly is consideration of the Word and Service task force recommendations that the three rosters of church lay leadership be unified into a single body known as deacons. The Rev. William O. Gafkjen, bishop of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod, chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops and chair of the Word and Service Task Force, introduced the recommendation.
“The spirit of this common commitment of ours undergirds the recommendation from our Church Council that we combine three current lay rosters of Associates in Ministry, Deaconesses and Diaconal Ministers into one, new roster of ministers of Word and Service to be called deacons,” said Gafkjen.
“This is an ‘adaptive’ change. It’s rooted in what we believe and think about who we are and how we live and work together for the sake of God’s mission in the world,” said Gafkjen. “It’s about how we are equipped and called to live and serve together as God’s cross-marked Spirit-sealed believers, bearers and ’embodiers’ of good news, the best news, in a torn, tumultuous and terrified world. This is about Jesus Christ crucified and risen for the life of the world.”
During the plenary, the assembly received an update on the ELCA’s first major fundraising campaign, Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA. Approved by the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the campaign seeks to raise $198 million to help extend the ministries of this church.
Christina Jackson-Skelton, executive director of ELCA Mission Advancement, reported that as of June 30, – 29 months into the campaign – the ELCA has received $92 million dollars in cash and multi-year commitments. In addition to these funds, Jackson-Skelton reported that members have made planned-gift commitments totaling $21 million – gift commitments that will extend the impact of this campaign many years into the future.
In closing her report, Jackson-Skelton offered the assembly “a word of deep gratitude to God for you. Your generosity and vision inspire us, and it is our privilege to be working beside you on behalf of this church to make all things new through Christ.”
The Rev. Ronald Glusenkamp, director for the ELCA Campaign, told the assembly, “Since the last churchwide assembly in 2013, we have called upon many ELCA members, pastors, congregations, bishops, synods and lay leaders to join us in this journey to the finish line. Already, we have witnessed amazing generosity and support leading to incredible growth across our church.”
Emphasizing that “together we can do more,” Glusenkamp told those gathered about the ministries impacted by gifts from ELCA congregations and synods.
“These gifts come in all shapes and sizes – big, small and in between. We know that Jesus receives these, blesses them and the impact is multiplied,” said Glusenkamp.
Among other key actions that the 980 voting members of the assembly will consider include:
- Electing an ELCA vice president. Carlos Peña, the current vice president, has decided not to seek a third term. Pena has served for 13 years.
- Voting on the recommendations for the ELCA Strategy to Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO).
- Considering the “Declaration on the Way,” a document that draws on 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue in preparation for the Reformation anniversary.
An assembly schedule is available at ELCA.org/CWA-2016/Schedule.