Author Topic: Plenary 4, Wednesday morning  (Read 1495 times)

Richard Johnson

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Plenary 4, Wednesday morning
« on: August 14, 2013, 08:13:36 AM »
There were hearings last night, but I didn't partake. Walked over from the hotel with a lay member from Iowa who reported that the hearing on the 25th Anniversary Campaign (of all things) got quite contentious, with a large number of people resentful of yet another "special giving" program--specifically from a stewardship perspective that emphasizes undesignated first-fruits giving, rather than "fund this program" appeals.

This fellow's view of the election is that a lot of people expect Hanson to be re-elected, but just decided they'd like to hear some different voices before we get there. There might be some wisdom in that. Someone reminded me yesterday that Carlos Pena looked like he was going down as Veep at his last election, and then recovered. Seems like a lot will depend on the speeches we're going to hear this morning.

Veep Pena began by announcement that there are now four nominees. Responses from the other three were read:

Barbara Lundblad: "This has been a very surprising afternoon . . . I was suddenly flooded with memories of the constituting convention in 1987 . . . After much thought and prayer, I've made the decision not to return the forms required . . . God has wonderful adventures in store for me, but being the presiding bishop is not one of them."

Peter Marty: "It is an honor and a surprise to be on the nominating ballot. I do love this church . . . I'm quite certain that others feel the call to this office more immediately than I do . . .

David Lose: "While I am both honored and humbled . . . I feel very much engaged by my callings as a teaching and theologian . . . in my current roles at Luther Seminary and Kairos and Associates . . . I will simply not complete the forms required to be considered further."

Pena noted that the names will remain on the ballot, despite their refusal to return the biographical forms.

There will be four questions, chosen by the Executive Committee from among questions submitted by members of the assembly. Answers limited to 90 seconds. They will speak in rotating order chosen randomly.

First up is Ann Svennungsen. She is Bp of Minneapolis Area Synod (the largest ELCA synod, I believe). Concordia, Moorhead. Luther Seminary. Ordained 1982. Share a personal faith story: Comes from last 18 months when my parents died. When my father died, we had holy communion with the pastor, the next day I asked a couple of yes and no questions: Do you know that I love you, and your sons love you? He said yes. Do you know that God loves you, and nothing can celebrate you from God's love? He said, Yes! Isn't that amazing. [Time called]

Elizabeth Eaton, Bp. of NE Ohio synod. College of Wooster, Harvard Divinity. Ordained 1981.
A year ago I took the plunge and started to work with a spiritual director. Have learned "I'm falling and I'm not afraid."

Mark Hanson. Augsburg College, Union Seminary. Ordained 1974. Recalled standing before a judge with his 13 year old son. Feeling of having failed my son, but knowing God had not failed him. "God had claimed him in the grace of God" etc. A year ago he finished college and he has a job; God did not forsake him and will not forsake me either.

Jessica Crist-Graybill, Bp. of Montana Synod. Yale College, Harvard Divinity. Ordained 1979. 28 year ago my husband diagnosed with nasty brain tumor. We had young children, hopes, dreams, plans. We had medical care, we had alternative health care, but more important we had prayer--from all kinds of people, all over the world. It was difficult but he got better. I don't know why some live and some die, but I don't want to do either without prayer.

Next question: What do you see as the major challenges in the ELCA and what gifts would you bring to this role?

Eaton: My fear is that lately we've been sliding into being generic Protestant denomination. Our challenge is to regain our distinctive Lutheran voice. My gift right now is that I'm clueless and I'm in God's hands.

Hanson: First challenge: how do we talk more freely about our faith?

Crist: We're in a different place than we were 25 years ago. Everything has changed. We're sure what we aren't, but not so sure what we're going to become. I serve a synod where we had massive turmoil after 2009. I bring the experience of patience, discernment, listening, trusting.

Svennnungsen: We have a gift: the gospel. People are waiting for the gospel, this welcome with no exceptions. I bring passion for gospel, for faithful and good leaders who can speak the gospel, and a passion for these communities where life is formed and changed.

Question 3: There were more questions related to youth/young adults than any other topic. How would you lift up and equip young adults?

Hanson: We're all concerned about passing the faith to the next generation. Wherever I go, I try to listen to them. I hear them say "I want to be part of a church that cares for justice, that sees that youth are leaders today, not tomorrow." Think about ministry to military--young adults. When I'm asked about signs of hope, I say, "go out, listen to a young adult."

Crist: As parent of two young adults, I've asked them that question.  They are looking for good preaching, excellent worship, ability to serve. Names various ELCA ministries with young adults (eg  Lutheran Volunteer Corps, Young Adults in Global Mission)--we're establishing a pilot program for returning YAGM volunteers in our synod.

Svennungsen: Deeply grateful for my opportunities to work with young adults and youth. Just last week three seminarians came to my office to talk about what the synod could do about climate change. I'm delighted by these opportunities. Our young people are looking to belong, then behave and believe.

Eaton: We need to talk to young adults, listen to them, instead of just telling them what marvelous programs we have for them. We need to avoid ecclesiastic equivalent of "You're in my pew." Youth are not the future of the church, Jesus is the future of the church.

Fourth question: How do you see God making all things new in light of the decline of mainline Christianity?

Crist: "It says 'making all things new,' not 'making all things big.' We're not called to success, but to faithfulness." We have a lot of resources for faithful living. May be declining numerically, but our congregations are resources in our communities. Let's live in the in between, in faith and hope in the God who died for us and for the whole world.

Svennungsen: I've been visiting all the 150 congregations of our synod, and I'm amazed at the new things God is doing. God is doing a new thing; signs of life all over the place. We need to look for those signs of life, willing to take risks, willing to fail, willing to try new things. What we share is this good news that sets people free.

Eaton: History of Christian movement is series of boons and busts. When it's easy to be Christian, church grows; when more difficult, those numbers fade away. It's not easy to be a Christian--message is simple, but not easy. In our culture "welcome Jesus as personal Lord" often promises an easy life. What we need to claim is that being Christian is being counter cultural, and embracing that, being honest.

Hanson: Maybe we should take the observation as a moment to ask, "What went wrong? How did we fail to articulate the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus?" This is a time of repentance--a time of saying, "It isn't working the way it once did." Our past prepares us, but we can't relive it. Let us be who God has called us to be: a people grounded in God's grace, set free to serve the neighbor.

Pena: Since there is time, I want to ask one more question (which members haven't seen in advance): "If you could have a beer with any theologian, dead or alive, who would it be and why?"

Svennungsen: Martin Luther. I stood with Gerhard Forde in Erfurt 20 years ago and was amazed in a new way at how one person, one disciple, could so clearly and passionately proclaim the theology of the cross. I continue to be so grounded in the works of Luther; he wasn't perfect, far from it. But I agree that this is our charism [i.e. theology of the cross].

Eaton: I was going through the list: St. Paul, but he probably didn't drink. Forde, but I probably couldn't get a word in edgewise. Carolyn Mays, one of our youth members, because she gave me an insight into the book of Hosea. I think I'd like to have a beer and conversation with my mother.

Hanson: My father-in-law, a prairie populist pastor, never went to high school but had call to be a pastor in North Dakota. He read all the time. At his farewell as a bishop he wanted the speaker to be the chief of police of Minneapolis. My father-in-law died in the faith that he lived so passionately. Always wanted to stay in parsonage so he could smoke a cigar and drink some scotch.

Crist: The woman in Mark who washed Jesus' feet, about whom it was told that her story would be told in honor of her. I'd like to listen to her story. I'd like to hear about her service, her witness, and the next part of her story from her lips wet with beer.

Observations: Hanson easily the most polished (but then you would expect that), but it is basically the same thing we've heard for 12 years; the question is, with so many "newbies" out there, how many of them are as tired of it as some of the rest of us? None of the others really hit the ball out of the park, seems to me, but none of them flopped, either. The next ballot will be fascinating.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2013, 09:00:12 AM by Richard Johnson »
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS