ELCA Church Council meets under Future Directions 2025

By Candice Hill Buchbinder, ELCA News

The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met at The Lutheran Center in Chicago April 5-8. The council, which serves as the ELCA’s board of directors, convened under the framework of ELCA Future Directions 2025.

In her report, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton emphasized that the work of the churchwide organization, including that of the council, is guided by “ways to live into and implement the five goals that we set as a church together in Future Directions 2025.”

“This church spent a good deal of time and invested in heartfelt conversation and prayerful conversation trying to discern what God has been calling us to do,” said Eaton. “As we look at those goals, how are they lived out, (how do they) enhance and support our two foci of vital congregations and leadership?” she asked.

Eaton went on to say that the council will play a significant role in helping the church determine how to make vital congregations and leadership a priority and will also play a role in discovering ways to build on these efforts.

Related to the fifth goal of Future Directions 2025 that states “a well-governed, connected and sustainable church,” the council approved a proposal from the board development committee to create an ELCA governance policy manual. As a first step in the process – and to help build consensus around their shared understanding of roles and responsibilities – the council discussed ways to strengthen governance of the ELCA in order to provide for clarity in roles and authority, strong relationships and shared leadership, and a culture of willing accountability. It also appointed an ad hoc committee to oversee the development of an ELCA governance policy manual.

In further conversation around Future Directions 2025, the council continued a discussion on sustainability and church structures that began during the November 2017 meeting.

In other business, the council:

  • received an introduction to a draft of the inter-religious policy statement by the inter- religious task force. A final statement for consideration by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly will be presented at the council’s November 2018 meeting;
  • engaged in a discussion on gender identity and next steps in the council’s decisions on existing gender-identity definitions and policies. The council was asked to study gender identity and review existing ELCA definitions and policies through a 2016 Churchwide Assembly memorial and a resolution on gender identity;
  • held a hearing on the draft social statement on women and justice. The proposed social statement will be presented to the council’s April 2019 meeting for consideration by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly;
  • received a report of the Theological Education Advisory Committee;
  • affirmed the 2018-2019 operational plan of the churchwide organization;
  • approved the policy and procedure for the allocation of “where needed most” dollars in Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA;
  • voted to refer the proposed recommendations from the Entrance Rite Discernment Group to the Office of the Secretary for preliminary work on possible amendments to the constitution, bylaws and continuing resolutions. The council encouraged the group to share the report with the whole church and present final recommendations at the November 2018 meeting;
  • approved the creation of a task force of council members, churchwide organization staff and liaison bishops to consider a future ELCA campaign and a strategic focus on generating additional revenue for the church. The council also authorized the executive committee to appoint members to the task force. The task force will present a timeline at the council’s November 2018 meeting and a report at the April 2019 meeting;
  • elected Sonja Wolfe, Kenosha, Wis., to the council for a term ending in 2022;
  • approved a council-designated fund of $2.75 million representing the excess revenue over expenses from fiscal year 2017 to be released to fund the post-retirement medical benefit obligations of the churchwide organization; and
  • approved the “Political and Civil Human Rights: Equal Access and Participation” social criteria investment screen requested through a 2016 Churchwide Assembly memorial regarding “justice for the Holy Land through responsible investment.”

The council also received:

  • reports from the officers, its committees, the churchwide organization administrative team and the Conference of Bishops;
  • reports from the ELCA Ethnic Associations, including a follow-up on the Multi-Cultural Summit. The council also discussed how the voices of the ethnic associations can be more representative during council meetings;
  • updates on Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA; and
  • greetings from ecumenical partners.

The council also shared congregational vitality learnings.

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