Preview of Assembly (Part 2)

Started by Richard Johnson, August 06, 2016, 04:11:53 PM

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Richard Johnson

Continued from previous

So much for goals
There will be other interesting issues, of course. There is a recommendation to finally set aside the ELCA's unrealistic goal to reach a membership figure of 10% people of color and/or primary language other than English. It was put in there back in the beginning, with the expectation that the goal would be reached in ten years. Ten years has come and gone a couple of times now, and we're no nearer the goal than we were in 1988. In its place the Church Council proposes that we say "this church commits itself to ethnic and racial diversity," and instructs "each expression of this church" (which means national, synod, and congregation) to "annually assess its ethnic and racial diversity when compared to the demographic data of its community or territory."

"Each expression" means congregations (as well as synods and national), and that seems just about as unrealistic as the 10% thing, but you know what will happen. A question about it will go on the annual congregational report form; in some synods, the bishop will hector congregations to do a formal annual assessment. It's not really that hard to download the demographic information, but it is just one more thing, and pastors will generally probably just make something up that sounds right. It might be more useful to add a question about whether the congregation has the weekly Eucharist; that one could be answered pretty quickly, and it might even spark a pastor here and there to think, "Yeah, we need to do that."

Monkeying with synods
It is proposed that synods be given permission to meet triennially. It was changed a few years back from annually to biennially, but apparently people are coming to the realization that most synod assemblies are a waste of time and money. No doubt the latter waste is the stronger motivator, as synods continue to have to tighten their belts. It does make one wonder, though, about just how much "walking together" entitles a bunch of congregations to call itself a synod.

There's a proposal to make synod vice-presidents automatically part of the synod's group of voting members to the churchwide assembly—reducing even further the number of voting members actually elected directly by synod assemblies. In larger synods that doesn't make much difference; smaller synods may balk a bit at one more rule telling them who they have to send to churchwide. (In fairness, the proposed language provides a mechanism by which synods can decline to do this; that seems unlikely in most cases, however.)

Radical hospitality for snowbirds
Another proposed change to the model constitution for synods sets up a new category of members called "seasonal members." This seems to be aimed at snowbirds—those good Lutherans from up north who swell the worship attendance of Sunbelt congregations for about five months of the year. Seasonal members would have "limited voting rights" in the Sunbelt congregation—i.e., they could vote on pretty much anything other than pastoral calls or disaffiliation from the ELCA; they couldn't be elected to serve on the Congregation Council, a call committee, or as a synod assembly voting member.

Seems a little odd to me, but then I'm neither a snowbird nor a Sunbelt congregation member.

Grace gathering
I should say something about the "Grace Gathering," a sort of ELCA pep rally that will overlap with the churchwide assembly to which all ELCA members are invited. Funded in part by Thrivent, the event will include some activities in common with the assembly itself; participants will join the assembly for some worship, and they get to be present in the session when Presiding Bishop Eaton gives her report. At other times participants will be involved in workshops, experiential learning, and some other gatherings with a keynote speaker. Several of the workshops are on themes related to the coming 500th anniversary of the Reformation. You can access more information at It will be interesting to see how many this attracts.

We'll be offering live coverage of the assembly over at Forum Online. No doubt there will also be live streaming of the plenary sessions, if you're really desperate for entertainment the second week of August. And of course we'll have a complete wrap-up, probably in our October issue.  —by Richard O. Johnson, editor

Copyright 2016 American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. All rights reserved.
The Rev. Richard O. Johnson, STS

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