August 28, 2013 by Pastor Ben McIntire
“For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” — 2 Corinthians 5:14-17
“Change!? We don’t want to change anything!”
And yet the theme of the 2013 Churchwide Assembly of my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), was “Always Being Made New” as we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ELCA. I was privileged to be elected as one of the voting members from Western Iowa Synod, along with 952 other voters of this Assembly in Pittsburgh and witnessed some of the ways that our church continues to change and be made new.
The most historic action of the Assembly came in the election of our Presiding Bishop. If you are unfamiliar with the church structure, the nation is divided up into synods led by bishops, and then the Presiding Bishop is elected and called by the Churchwide Assembly to be the leader of the whole ELCA at the national level. For twelve years (two terms) the ELCA Presiding Bishop has been Mark Hanson. He was up for re-election to a third term, but as we progressed through a number of rounds of voting, his vote tallies shrank from over 400, to 300, to 200. It became clear that although the members of the ELCA have appreciated his leadership through some incredibly difficult and divisive times in our church, most felt it was time for a change of leadership, for a new leader to come forward as we leave the past behind and step into a new chapter of mission and ministry. That new leader is Elizabeth Eaton, the bishop of the Northeast Ohio Synod: a faithful and eloquent leader with a wonderful vision for the church, and the first woman to be elected Presiding Bishop of the ELCA. God is doing a new thing in our church.
Other new creation took place in the Assembly as well. A new social statement on criminal justice was adopted, which lays out the ELCA’s treatment of issues like care for victims of crime, injustice and inequalities in the legal system, fair and unfair sentencing practices, and ministry to perpetrators of crimes.
Looking ahead to the future, the Assembly also passed the 25th Anniversary Fundraising Campaign, a five-year campaign to raise $198 million toward ministries like renewing and planting new churches, global missions and relief work, educating new church leaders, developing youth and young adult leaders, and disability ministry. You can find a more complete summary of the 2013 Churchwide Assembly’s actions on the ELCA website.
I appreciated the opportunity to be away from my usual work in order to participate in this historic event, and I want to thank all those from Salem who covered for me while I was gone. As a pastor who is leading worship services nearly every week of the year, one of the best things about attending an Assembly like this is the chance to get to worship without being up in front and worrying over the details and the sermon. It is true renewal for a church leader to simply stand in the congregation and worship. And at a gathering like this the music, preaching, and liturgy are always excellent. Not to mention, receiving Holy Communion at the center of each day, six days in a row—truly a life giving experience.
Coming home and diving back into congregational life at the beginning of a new school year makes me excited for all the new things that God will be doing through my church this year. I hope you and your faith community will be stirred up to new missions as well. As always, it is a privilege to be a part of God’s mission with you!
Heavenly Father, thank you for making human beings a part of your work in the world. Help us to reach out across the false boundaries of religion, denomination, race, class, or gender to participate in your Kingdom as it comes into our world. In Jesus’ name, Amen.