The Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approved the redesign of the first-call process and continued discerning the church’s future priorities in a process known as “Called Forward Together in Christ” when it met here Sept. 27 – Oct. 4.
The conference, an advisory body of the ELCA that includes 65 synod bishops, the ELCA presiding bishop and ELCA secretary, gathered for worship and study and to continue its conversation on a variety of church matters, such as theological education, pastora l care and more.
“Even as we engaged the serious and important matters that we and the rest of the church face these days, the spirit of this Conference of Bishops meeting was especially positive, even joyful at times,” stated the Rev. William O. Gafkjen, bishop of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod and chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops.
“We spent significant time discussing the emerging future directions priorities, as well as topics like the implementation of the recommendations of the Theological Education Advisory Council, and we also continued to take significant steps forward in building strong and mutually beneficial working relationships with staff of the churchwide organization, members of the ELCA Church Council and seminary leaders,” he said.
After a year of discernment, the Conference of Bishops approved the redesign of the first-call assignment process. The team, led by the Rev. Patricia Lull, bishop of the ELCA Saint Paul Area Synod, and a representative bishop from each of the nine regions, presented six recommendations for the new process.
The recommendations include:
- acknowledging that not all candidates should be open to service to the whole church but rather to be as open as possible, acknowledging gifts, family circumstances and other factors that root candidates in particular places at the time of assignment;
- recognizing that some candidates need not be available for service across the ELCA, a diocesan option will be added to the current assignment process;
- recognizing the role that bishops play in the current assignment process, a map indicating the synods in which first-call candidates have been placed in each of the past five years will be shared with the Conference of Bishops at their semi-annual meetings;
- recognizing that more information about first-call vacancies is helpful to candidates, a map of projected vacancies will be shared with candidates before they complete their paperwork for assignment;
- recognizing that not all candidates enter the assignment process with an openness to service wherever needed in the ELCA or with stated preferences, the assignment consultation will focus exclusively on candidates who are open to service in a variety of synods; and
as a test of how efficiently bishops are working to distribute candidates available for service across the church, synods will be asked to provide a ranking of desired candidates in excess to the number that will actually be assigned to that synod.
“This redesign, which will be implemented both carefully and as soon as possible, is more transparent, tends more carefully to the intersection of the needs of candidates and the needs of the church, and takes into account the many cultural, church and other changes that now make up the world in which we live but which were unanticipated when the soon-to-be-former assignment process was designed 30 years ago,” Gafkjen said.
Introducing the “Called Forward Together in Christ” sessions, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop, asked, “How do we build accountability through governance? How can the Conference of Bishops model accountability? And how do we move forward beyond discussion?” The conference spent three sessions over two days devoted to group discussion and further exploration of the published consultation paper and the summary of responses gathered from Churchwide Assembly, Grace Gathering and surveys.
In other business, the ELCA Conference of Bishops:
- continued discussion on theological education in small-group discussion with seminary presidents on the funding of seminaries;
- received an update on ELCA Mission Support experiments among five synods. Mission Support is the financial offering from congregations shared with synods and the churchwide organization;
- learned about the changes and added wellness value of care coordinators for 2017 from Portico Benefit services;
- engaged in conversation about the church’s interreligious calling and commitments;
- received an update on Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA. To date the campaign has received $95 million in cash gifts, $5 million in multi-year commitments, and $22 million in planned gifts. Combining cash gifts and multi-year commitments for a total of nearly $95 million, the ELCA is 48 percent of the way toward the $198 million goal by 2019; and
- received reports from the presiding bishop, vice president, treasurer and secretary and updates from the Conference of Bishops’ committees.