By Candice Hill Buchbinder, ELCA News
The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approved recommendations and implementing strategies to help sustain theological education across this church when it met here April 7-10. The council, which serves as the ELCA’s board of directors, also took action on a variety of matters designed to help move the church’s mission and ministries forward.
Key among the recommendations put forward by the Theological Education Advisory Council (TEAC) was the creation of an advisory committee to the Church Council. A working group was created to develop implementing strategies for the TEAC recommendations. In its report, the working group charged the new advisory committee “to sustain a robust network of theological education for the ELCA and to prioritize and to oversee the implementation of the TEAC recommendations.”
Authorized by the ELCA Church Council in 2013, TEAC was established to address in a holistic way issues on theological education, leadership development, candidacy, call and rostered leaders.
“We’re taking a look at the need for theological education as well as the way we deliver theological education across this church,” said the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop, in her opening report to the council. “The effort is for us to understand and recognize all the ways we deliver theological education and try to be more coordinated about it.”
Introducing the working group’s proposal to the council, the Rev. Dr. Robin J. Steinke, president of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minn., co-chair of TEAC and a member of the working group, described a leading question received during TEAC’s work. “Multiple times during every meeting we were asked this question – what does the mission of the gospel require of us to do in this time for the sake of the mission of the church?”
Presenting the proposed recommendation to establish an advisory committee, Steinke emphasized the Church Council’s role in theological education. “What we heard over the last 2½ years is this church has a stake in theological education for the sake of the future mission and ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Steinke said. “And if that is true, then you all have a really important role in oversight.”
The Budget and Finance Committee, in addressing the funding implications of the TEAC recommendations, offered thanks to TEAC and the working group for their “vision and contributions to our church as we seek to address in a holistic manner issues in leadership development, theological education, candidacy and call and the rosters of this church.” The committee also acknowledged “with thanksgiving the $15.7 million in FY15 churchwide funding in support of leadership priorities of this church including theological education and formation for current and emerging leaders.”
In her report to the council, Eaton identified five major initiatives across the church. In addition to theological education, the initiatives include Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, Mission Support strategy, and becoming a multicultural church.
“If we want to become truly multicultural, we have to be honest about racial injustice in our church and in our nation. That’s how we start,” said Eaton. “I think this is probably the most difficult and among the most critical things that we do as a church.”
The fifth initiative – Called Forward Together in Christ – was approved by the Church Council at its November 2015 meeting. Led by Eaton and in collaboration with the ELCA Conference of Bishops, the process is designed to invite the 3.7 million members of the ELCA into conversations to provide ideas and feedback about the future directions and priorities of this church.
Eaton told the council that by their approval the church will “develop a process to take a look at our priorities and the future God is calling us to in this church and find ways together to listen to the Spirit.”
During the meeting, the council participated in facilitated conversations, sharing ideas about the future of the ELCA. At its November 2016 meeting, the council will consider and approve a statement to articulate and decide future directions and priorities for the church.
The Church Council also voted to recommend action to the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly to approve the Accompany Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) strategy. AMMPARO is a commitment by the ELCA, as a church in the world, to accompany vulnerable children today and in the future. The strategy will respond to the situation in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that has led to the migration of children and their families through Mexico into the United States.
In other business, the council:
- Received an invitation by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to study the significance of the Lutheran communion for the LWF member churches.
- Recommended the following budget proposals for adoption by the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly: current fund spending authorization of $65,296,005 for 2017; current fund income proposal of $64,057,220 for 2018 and $64,151,175 for 2019; ELCA World Hunger income proposal of $24,800,000 for 2017; $25,000,000 for 2018; and $25,000,000 for 2019.
- Approved a revised 2016 fiscal year ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $22,000,000.
- Received a final report from ELCA Vice President Carlos Peña, who will not seek a third, six-year term. A new vice president will be elected at the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
- Adopted amendments to the ELCA constitution and bylaws that change the name of the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit to Domestic Mission unit.
- Received the 2015 ELCA Churchwide Organization Operational Plan Report.
- Recommended adoption of Rules of Organization and Procedure for the 2016 Churchwide Assembly.
- Recommended action to the Churchwide Assembly to amend the ELCA constitution related to college corporation meetings.
- Approved amended Policy and Procedures for Review of Liturgical Material.
- Elected members to the board of directors of Luther Seminary, Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and Trinity Lutheran Seminary; to the board of trustees of the ELCA Endowment Fund; and to the Committee of Hearing Officers.
The council also received reports from the church’s treasurer, secretary and executive for administration, and the ELCA Conference of Bishops. It received updates on Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, greetings from ecumenical partners and ethnic specific ministry associations, a primer on Federal Chaplaincy Ministry, and Church Council roles at the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.