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Sharing Our Story of Churchwide Assembly

Sharing Our Story of Churchwide Assembly

By Deacon Kathleen Cartledge

Tuesday’s worship at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly included a procession of the Deacons of the ELCA, ELCA Chaplains and the opportunity for Deacons to assist in remembering our Baptism and serve as Communion Assistants with the Chaplains. Chaplains were recognized by the Assembly for the incredibly important work that they do in prisons, military and other settings. Deacon Sarah Bowers, who serves in a non-congregational setting in South Carolina, preached in worship and proclaimed that in Christ we say “No” – No to death and Yes to life in each moment of our daily living! As Chaplains serve in a variety of settings, so do Deacons and some Pastors. As Deacon Sarah brought God’s Word, proclaiming our saying No to death, she was a vibrant reminder that as Deacons, we say yes to life wherever we are called – living out God’s call to Word and Service alongside Word and Sacrament in our partnership in Ministry that bridges life in Church and world. Serving as a Communion Assistant and sharing the presence of Christ was a powerful reminder that all of us together bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the world. For we are Church – the hands and feet of Christ – sharing God’s overwhelming radical love with everyone.

By Heber Rast

As I return from the 2019 Churchwide Assembly, I am energized by the realization of the many ways that our ELCA serves as a true “neighbor” to so many people throughout the world. We as a church body do so much good to help the less fortunate in so many ways. We are truly a “serving” church to so many people in different and difficult situations. I am proud to be a member of a church body that is not afraid to step out in faith to tackle social ills that plague our society today. Whether we agree or not with everything our church does, we should be proud that we are willing to discuss and take a stand.

It was especially meaningful to me to see the completion and overwhelming approval of the Women and Justice social statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action.” My seven years of serving on this Task Force has been a time of reflection, discernment and growth in my faith and understanding of who is “my neighbor” in so many ways. The fact this the statement received 97% approval by the voting members was extraordinary. My hope is that we use this document as a teaching aid for all congregations to help us alleviate the injustices surrounding these issues.

My closing thought on the worship experiences: WOW!!!

By The Rev. Emily Edenfield

Sisters and brothers, it was good to gather with God’s people during Churchwide Assembly. One of the highlights for me was being part of the celebration for the upcoming 50th anniversary of women’s ordination. On Friday morning, my fellow pastors and I put on our stoles and processed into worship. We were a 450+ powerful crowd. Friday night included a banquet in honor of our sister pastors. Speakers include Elizabeth Platz, the first woman ordained in the Lutheran Church in America, and several others who have preached the word and presided over the sacraments in God’s holy church. (In 1970, the first women were ordained in the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church, both of which later merged into the ELCA.) My own call story begins with the 30th anniversary of women’s ordination, at which my pastor invited me to preach. I was surprised and honored and I felt a call to keep on preaching from that very morning. When I got to seminary, I found out that some of my classmates had been discerning a call to pastoral ministry for years. When they had been youth, there were no women pastors for them to look up to. I know the blessing that comes from having people like me in congregational leadership from my developing years. Even fifty years later, we are still living into the generational shift that female pastors have brought. When I got to Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, the Holy Spirit surprised me with a roommate: Jackie Utley. Jackie and I are fairly different in some ways. For starters, at the time, I was Lutheran and she was Pentecostal. I was coming from the North and Jackie had to explain to me some of the realities of her experience being African-American in South Carolina. But we have always been sisters. She and I walked together in that procession of pastors. We worshiped and sang together on that day, as we have many times before. It has only been 40 years since the ELCA first had a woman of color become a pastor. It has only been 6 years since Jackie was the first African-American ordained in the South Carolina Synod. My life is better because she is in it and our church is better because of her life and witness. When we left the banquet Friday night, we were filled with the good news of what God has been doing through our female pastors in all these many years. We were also invited to think of two things: what we can do to support women in pastoral ministry and how we have been shaped by the female pastors in our lives. I know I would not be here without many of the women who came before me. How about you?

By The Rev. Jackie Utley

First and foremost, it was a privilege and a joy to have attended the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, as a voting member, in addition to having the honor of presiding in the Wednesday Holy Communion worship service. I experienced the Holy Spirit at work in various ways. In particular, as an African American female I sat and heard the Church of which I am a member referred to often as being one of the “Whitest” churches in America. Therefore, I did not take it lightly that one of the items in the order of business was that a Declaration to People of African Descent be presented to the representatives of the African Descent Lutheran Association of the ELCA. I was deeply moved to tears to learn that this declaration was established by members of the ELCA Church Council to develop a document that expresses a confession of this church’s bondage to the sins of slavery, racism, discrimination, white supremacy, quietism, and begins the work of repentance. What a working of the Holy Spirit! Whereas this apologetic confession might be viewed by many as unnecessary, it is a “recommitment to the process of right and equitable relations within this church, and the flourishing of Christ’s church universal,” and is for me, even more affirming of my Call to serve as a leader in the ELCA. Thanks be to God!

By David Pursey

At the 2018 South Carolina Synod Assembly, I was elected as a voting member to the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. I was extremely blessed and honored to be a voting member. My first experience as a voting member to Churchwide Assembly proved to be quite inspirational. When I registered for the Assembly, I volunteered to assist with the Assembly in a variety of different tasks. However, I never heard or received any communication confirming I was selected. As the time passed and the Assembly commenced, the entire subject went straight out of my thoughts. On returning to my hotel room on Wednesday evening, I discovered an email sent just hours earlier. It referenced my selection as a Communion Minister, followed by an apology that an email failed to go out earlier regarding this subject. At first, I thought the email was in error, because it was not addressed to me. However, after further investigation and contact with the sender, it was indeed sent to me. I was invited to be a Communion Minister the following day at worship. Many times in my life, I have served as a Liturgical Assistant or Liturgist. The times I assisted with the Eucharist, I always held the chalice of wine for intinction, common cup, or poured from the chalice. At this particular worship service, I was asked to distribute the bread (body of Christ). As the congregation sang, our group moved to a designated area of the huge ballroom we used for worship. The journey seemed so sacred and my heart raced in anticipation for the commencing of The Feast. It was a very emotional moment for me as I stopped and prepared to commune the first person. I was overcome by the Holy Spirit as a teardrop slowly fell from my eye. My thoughts were… “Christ, am I truly worthy to present your body to your disciples?” The Holy Spirit whispered, yes, my son, you are my beloved child I created and you are worthy. A few more teardrop flowed down my face. Soon, I had hands in front of me, patiently waiting to commune. I looked straight into their eyes, making eye to eye contact. “The body of Christ given for you!” Wow! I felt a rush of warm air go through me and I got goosebumps. My body felt light and it seemed like I was floating. The folks continued to come to commune. I felt so unworthy as I communed some 10 Ministers of Word and Sacrament. I spoke to myself, asking the Lord how He could use me to commune those that were “set apart” for Word and Sacrament. It was a powerful experience I will treasure the entire remainder of my life. God used me to present a very special gift of His body to those who communed. I was overwhelmed with joy and thanksgiving for this opportunity. This experience was unique. It reminded me of the Bible verse when Jesus says “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Me, a lay person (last) communing pastors (first). Thanks be to God for the many blessings He gives me daily. This was a very special blessing.

By Deacon Katie Holland

“Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”
Isaiah 58:6

At the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, these words were with me from Tuesday on. Given the violence, ugly speech, and disconnectedness that faces our world, I was stunned nearly every time that there was a vote at the one mind the assembly seemed to have. “Faith, Sexism, and Justice”, the ELCA Declaration to People of African Descent, the Social Statement on Human Rights, the Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment, and various other statements and resolutions (the one on becoming a Sanctuary denomination being one), the commissioning of a Social Statement on Church and State – all of these spoke in a clear, loving voice that the role of Church as the ELCA is to love others without reservation, without exception and to engage in the world. Many times during our plenary sessions someone would step to the microphone and change wording that made whatever we were working on both stronger and more inclusive. I was humbled, moved, educated, and stirred by the breath of God.

The votes for the documents mentioned above passed with overwhelming support-not a scanty majority and in those moments where the majority was strong and jubilant, Bishop Eaton reminded the majority again and again to be respectful of those who had not voted that way—not to be arrogant, but to understand that though this had passed, there were those who didn’t agree. In this way, even in disagreement, she is a model of Christian leadership. As I began the trip down from this lofty Lutheran mountain, I began to feel overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done and the question remains with me: “Is this not the fast I choose, to loose the bonds of injustice?” I am excited about the good work I witnessed and am energized and renewed in a way I did not expect. God always has surprises.

By The Rev. Alejandro Mejia

It was amazing to see how God is using this church in order to impact lives through the various ministries not only here in the US but abroad too. The commitment of this church with social justice is definitely a true expression of who we are as Lutherans and the way to put the gospel into action.

This has been possible with only 2% of the benevolence coming from the offerings in the whole churchwide organization. I can’t imagine the wonderful things that could happen if that amount would increase by 1% or even more!

I was also impressed by the participation of more than 16% of the total voting members being young adults, and their passion for the church and commitment to the gospel.

Finally, the apology to the African Descent community was a God moment. There is enough grace for all. For those who have hurt and for those who have been hurt. Apologizing is a recognition of that grace as it is receiving an apology. There is still a long way to go, 96% of the ELCA is white in the midst of a society that is changing and becoming more diverse.

I thank God for giving me this to represent our synod once again, and bring the voice of the Hispanic immigrant community to the table.

By The Rev. Jorge Leone

What a wonderful experience, to have participated in the church national assembly; and at the same time to witness the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in all those who brought forward resolutions and statements that define us as a living church; a church that fulfills God’s clear mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves.
All resolutions taken by an absolute majority seek that we be the hands to do the work that our Lord entrusts to us, that we have the courage, discernment and strength to fight with love for a more human, equitable and just world.

In the case of apologies to the African-American community for the complicit silence of the church for 400 years in the face of crimes committed against them, having enslaved them and caused them to suffer unimaginably as a result of the greed of its oppressors, the response of those who received the apology touch me deeply and made me reflect.

They said they had carefully weighed whether or not they would accept apologies because they did not want this to be just empty words; that the apology should be accompanied by concrete and sincere actions that were truly a reflection of the will for change expressed.

Our church, we, become aware that we must raise our voices without fear to defend what is right and denounce all that is against the divine mandate.

At this time, as we have seen in the actions of the assembly, we become aware of the terrible, inhuman and misguided policies and measures against Latino immigrants, separating families, inflicting unimaginable pain and suffering on so many creating hard-to-overcome trauma in young children; all this evil proceedings caused by electoral ambitions.

It is our obligation to continue to protect the foreigner, the weak, the oppressed, the discarded, the abused, the poor, and bring the liberating justice message of Jesus Christ to our brethren, in our own churches, to many who have closed their minds and hearts towards our brothers who were born elsewhere, have another skin color or speak another language.

And we must be courageous and denounce what is wrong to prevent us from having to apologize to our Latin brothers for our silence in the not too distant future.

Each of the statements and resolutions taken in the assembly are like the bricks that are the foundation for our community of faith, uniting us to feel that together We Are Church.

Que maravillosa experiencia, el haber participado y al mismo tiempo ser testigo de la inspiración del espíritu santo en todos aquellos que sacaron adelante resoluciones y declaraciones que nos definen como una iglesia viva; una iglesia que cumple con el mandato claro de Dios de amar a nuestro prójimo como a nosotros mismos.

Todas las resoluciones tomadas por absoluta mayoría buscan que entre todos seamos las manos que realicen el trabajo que nuestro Señor nos encomienda, que tengamos el coraje, la valentía , el discernimiento y la fuerza de luchar con amor por un mundo mas humano, equitativo y justo.

En el caso de el pedido de disculpas a la comunidad afroamericana por el silencio cómplice de la iglesia durante 400 años ante los crímenes cometidos en contra de ellos, al haberlos esclavizado y haberles hecho sufrir de manera inimaginable como resultado de la avaricia de sus opresores, la respuesta de quienes recibieron la disculpa me emociono y me llamo a la reflexión.

Ellos dijeron que habían sopesado cuidadosamente si aceptarían o no las disculpas porque no querían que esto fuera solamente palabras vacías; que la declaración de disculpas debía venir acompañada de acciones concretas y sinceras que realmente fueran un reflejo de la voluntad de cambio expresada.

Nuestra iglesia, nosotros, tomamos conciencia que debemos levantar nuestras voces sin miedo para defender lo que es justo y denunciar todo aquello que está en contra del mandato divino.

En este momento, tal como hemos visto en las acciones de la asamblea, tomamos conciencia de las terribles, inhumanas y equivocadas políticas y medidas en contra de los inmigrantes latinos, separando familias , infringiendo dolor y sufrimientos inimaginables a tantas familias, creando traumas dificiles de superar en niños pequeños; todo este maligno proceder causado por ambiciones electorales.

Es nuestra obligación continuar protegiendo al extranjero, al débil, al oprimido, al descartado, al abusado, al pobre, y llevar el mensaje de justicia liberadora de Jesucristo a nuestros hermanos, en nuestras propias iglesias, a muchos que han cerrado sus mentes y corazones hacia nuestros hermanos que han nacido en otra parte, tienen otro color de piel o hablan otra lengua.

Y debemos ser valientes y denunciar lo que está mal para evitar que en un futuro no muy lejano, tengamos que pedir perdón a nuestros hermanos latinos por nuestro silencio.

Cada una de las declaraciones y resoluciones tomadas en la asamblea son como los ladrillos que son el cimiento para nuestra comunidad de fe, uniéndonos para poder sentir que todos juntos nosotros somos iglesia.

By Deacon Deborah Poole

On Friday, an important vote was taken at Churchwide assembly. The vote was to change deacons from being consecrated/commissioned to being ordained. It needed a 2/3 vote and was passed with 88% of the vote. What does this mean? It doesn’t change much for those of us who are already deacons. However, we can now say that we are ordained deacons; ordained to Word and Service ministry. New deacons will now be ordained. The word means “to be set apart.” As the vote results were displayed on the screen, I found myself in tears, as I felt that I and so many other deacons were finally affirmed in our ministry in that moment. We are theologically educated and serve in so many different calls; yet were never quite understood or fully accepted, i.e. “Don’t you want to be a REAL pastor?” I couldn’t help but remember a time when I was dismissed by pastors and lay people alike; some even going so far as to refuse to take communion from me. And then last week, I was given the opportunity to administer communion at Churchwide Assembly! We have come a long way and it has taken a long time -26 years for me. And we still have work to do!

By Deacon Lexanne Graves and Dr. Susan McArver

“Deacons in the ELCA will now be ordained. So what does this mean?”

Before 2016, the ELCA had four rosters or categories of ministers:roster of Ministers of Word and Sacrament (pastors), who came onto the roster via the entrance rite of Ordination, three lay rosters: Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses, who came onto the lay rosters via the entrance rite of either Commissioning or Consecration.

Three years ago, in 2016, the Churchwide Assembly voted to combine all of the lay rosters into ONE roster of Ministers of Word and Service. These ministers are now called Deacons. Having only two rosters rather than four clarified the ministry of both and strengthened their service in mission to the Gospel.

Since 2016, a task force has been studying what “entrance rite” should be used when deacons enter onto the Word and Service roster: should they be ordained or consecrated? The task force examined carefully biblical and historical precedents and examined the practice of other Lutheran bodies throughout the world and also those of our ecumenical partners.

One thing became clear: there is no word for “ordination” in the Bible, but since the New Testament, men and women have been set apart for public service to the church by the laying on of hands and the saying of prayers. Other Lutheran bodies in the world (Germany, Sweden, Brazil, and others) already ordain their deacons. Our ecumenical partners – the Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Reformed, United Church of Christ, and the Moravian Church – all ordain deacons, although the definition of who deacons are and what they do differs slightly in some of those churches.

After prayerful study and consideration, Voting members to the recently concluded 2019 Churchwide Assembly voted overwhelmingly that in the future, when a person enters the roster of Deacon, they will enter through the rite of ordination.

Pastors and deacons will still continue to have different duties. As Dr. Susan McArver of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (who also served on the Entrance Rite Discernment Group task force) has noted, “This does not mean that deacons will administer the sacraments. That is the role of pastors. Deacons have a different role – connecting the church and world in an intentional way. But both ministries will now enter their respective rosters through the same rite.”

Deacons who are already on the roster of Word and Service will not be “entranced” again onto their roster. They have already been set apart. If asked, however, they will henceforth be able to state that they are on the roster of ordained deacons.

If you’d like to read more, you can go to There are some great “Frequently Asked Questions/FAQs” to be found there, along with other resources.

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This is Christ’s Church. There is a place for you here.

We are the church that shares a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. Liberated by our faith, we embrace you as a whole person–questions, complexities and all. Join us as we do God’s work in Christ’s name for the life of the world.

Contact Information

ELCA South Carolina Synod
1003 Richland Street
Columbia, SC 29201
Telephone 803-765-0590
Fax 803-252-5558

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This is Christ’s Church. There is a place for you here.

We are the church that shares a living, daring confidence in God’s grace. Liberated by our faith, we embrace you as a whole person–questions, complexities and all. Join us as we do God’s work in Christ’s name for the life of the world.

Contact Information

ELCA South Carolina Synod
1003 Richland Street
Columbia, SC 29201
Telephone 803-765-0590
Fax 803-252-5558

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