calendar August 20, 2013 in Bishop, Bishop messages, ELCA, Faith in action, Mission

ELCA Always Being Made New

The ELCA’s theme, “Always Being Made New,” was lived out at the Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh Aug. 12-17. The Assembly elected a new Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton; Bishop Burkat says that our new bishop will lead us with courage, wisdom, wit, and a deep and faithful engagement with the witness of the ELCA for a new time.”  The Assembly also approved a social statement on the criminal justice system, and authorized the ELCA’s first major fundraising campaign.


Dear partners in mission,

“Always Being Made New” was the theme of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh last week. From the huge projection screens at the front of the hall to colorful banners hung on streetlights surrounding the convention center, voting members were continually reminded that “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything becomes new!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

A New Presiding Bishop

That theme resonated and came to life throughout the week in ways that none of us could have anticipated. The most startling and exciting new thing that happened at the Assembly was the election of a new Presiding Bishop. The incumbent, Bishop Mark Hanson, had made public that he was open to serving a third term. As the first and then second ecclesiastical ballots were announced, we all became aware of new and viable candidates being lifted up.

BishopEatonOn the fifth ballot, we elected The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, bishop of Northeastern Ohio Synod, as our presiding bishop. She will be installed October 5 in Chicago and will begin her term November 1. (Learn more at

I have known and admired Bishop Eaton for seven years as together we served in the Conference of Bishops. She will lead us with courage, wisdom, wit, and a deep and faithful engagement with the witness of the ELCA for a new time.

It became clear as the candidates addressed the Assembly several times that Bishop Eaton was connecting with voting members. She spoke directly to the experience of our church in the years since the 2009 decisions. She observed the tendency of the church to have answers instead of listening to the stories and hearing the needs of the people. She shared her conviction that the key to our church’s renewal begins with recapturing clarity of our Christian identity that is distinct from culture, a servant theology of the cross in a culture of glory.

Bishop Hanson was incredibly gracious and welcoming to Bishop Eaton, and expressed confidence in her leadership: “This call process was a call process for new leadership. In our history we have never looked back. We have always looked ahead.”

It was evident throughout the Assembly that the election of a new presiding bishop did not in any way diminish the great love and admiration the people at the Assembly have for Bishop Hanson. After his address, and on several other occasions during the week, the applause was continuous and thunderous.

Hanson2013Bishop Mark Hanson has faithfully led this Church through a most difficult decade. I have never met a leader who spoke extemporaneously with such passion for the Gospel, prophetic wisdom, and pastoral sensitivity than Bishop Hanson. I have seen him address lay and rostered leaders, ecumenical, world leaders and global partners with the same attention and engagement that he has shown to children, teenagers and those new to the faith. It has been an honor and privilege to listen and learn from this gifted Christian leader. Let us keep him, his wife Ione and his family in our prayers that his transition from office will be smooth and grace-filled and opportunities for continued service will become evident.

New Secretary Elected

boergerWe knew far in advance that the Assembly would be electing a new Secretary, as David Swartling had announced his retirement earlier in the year. A number of excellent candidates emerged through the ecclesiastical balloting process, before we elected the Rev. William Chris Boerger as our new Secretary. In addition to serving as bishop of the Northwestern Washington Synod for twelve years, Pastor Boerger is a trained parliamentarian. He and Bishop Eaton will make a great team! The ELCA is blessed and will be well served by these two new officers along with our continuing Vice President, Carlos Pena. (Learn about the election at

Health Care Changes

Another way in which our church is being made new can be seen in the coming changes to health care benefits provided by congregations and other ministries through Portico Benefits. The Assembly heard that Portico is moving from one level of coverage to four choices to comply with federal law.  The ELCA Church Council recommends the “Gold+” plan, as it aligns most closely with current coverage.

Rostered leaders who have health coverage through Portico should have received information this week outlining the changes prompted by the Affordable Care Act. Rostered leaders and congregation councils will need to make decisions about their level of coverage in the coming weeks. Please be informed about these plans and make sure your leadership considers the options before this fall’s deadlines are upon us. Learn more about the plans at Portico’s website,

New Funding Campaign

There were other new things on the Assembly’s agenda. We approved a five-year, $198-million fundraising campaign to increase the ELCA’s capacity to renew and start congregations, educate and develop leaders, bolster global mission efforts and expand the impact of its relief and development work. Thanks to the passionate efforts of many young adult members of the Assembly, the initial proposal was amended to include $4 million for youth and young adult ministries.

New Teaching on Criminal Justice

The Assembly also adopted a new social statement, “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries.” Our own Linda Manson served on the task force, which was formed out of concern from across the church about the massive levels of incarceration in the U.S. The statement is timely and important, as it addresses many questions being asked about our criminal justice system in concern about “stop-and-frisk” policies and whether justice was done for Trayvon Martin. It calls us to offer compassion and hospitality to all who are engaged by this system – including victims of crime, offenders and their families – and to work to ensure a just system. This statement is now a part of the official teachings of the ELCA, and it can be a useful educational tool for your congregation. (The statement is online at

SEPACWA13I was blessed to serve with a diverse and dedicated group of clergy and lay people from our Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod. I was especially impressed with the energy and enthusiasm of our young adult members. Thanks to Vice President Tracey Beasley, Secretary Ray Miller (a member of Church Council), Rev. Sandra Brown, Addie Butler, Rev. Michael Carlson, Malcolm Davis, Mark Goodwin, Christian Hicks, Rev. Gwendolyn King, Kendra Kramer, Rev. Cynthia Krommes, Jill Meuser, Rev. Jennifer Ollikainen, Sr. Jane Roper, Thomas Salber, Courtney Smith, and Rev. Larry Smoose.

These are just some of the highlights of this inspiring, challenging, and exhausting Assembly week. SEPA Communications has pulled together a summary of the Assembly with links to where you can go in depth on the ELCA website. You can access this summary at

I am always uplifted when we Lutherans gather in Assembly and prove that we can do more together than any of us can do alone, both in discerning God’s future for the church and by being God’s hands serving our world right here and now. Please continue with me in prayer for the ELCA: for Bishop-elect Eaton as she prepares to take on this awesome responsibility; in thanksgiving for Bishop Hanson’s wise and gentle leadership; and for the whole ELCA as we live into the joys and the pain of “Always Being Made New.”

In Christ,

The Rev. Claire S. Burkat