calendar November 21, 2011 in ELCA

ELCA Deeply Rooted in God’s Mission

In his report to the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson said that the ELCA is “a church deeply rooted in God’s mission (and) in the belief that Christ frees us all to serve our neighbor and seek the common good.” The council, which serves as the ELCA’s board of directors, met here Nov. 11-13.

“Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit to bring forth fruit from our labors. (In 2005), this church invested in a young woman’s education. Leymah Gbowee wanted to study peacemaking, and we gave her an (International Leadership) scholarship,” said Hanson. Today she is one of three women who earned the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

To further illustrate the ways this church is deeply rooted in God’s mission, Hanson highlighted the process by which the ELCA adopts social documents, which “informs our public witness, but not bind our conscience, to help us live as responsible people of faith in a complex world.”

The presiding bishop also shared several stories with members of the Church Council about recent visits with ELCA members, including a student at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., who said that decisions made by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly had saved his life. The student, who is gay, spoke of being welcomed by the ELCA as a church which told him, “This is Christ’s church. There is a place for you here.”

Hanson cited the actions of the 2011 Churchwide Assembly to support the DREAM Act (the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act), legislation that would provide a path for citizenship for undocumented high school graduates.

ELCA members are “called to be part of God’s reconciling and restoring community” in the world, said Hanson.

“That’s why no matter what political party is in power in the White House, Congress, state houses, legislatures or in local communities, we will first of all affirm the vocation of political service as being a calling from God,” he said, and therefore need to hold public servants accountable.

In recent months ELCA members have held public servants responsible, “so that the balancing of budgets and the reducing of debts is not done on the backs of those who live in poverty. That’s why we advocate that there must be a circle of protection around those programs that historically have been untouched when deficits arise and budgets must be reduced. And we believe it’s a moral issue . it’s a matter of faith,” Hanson told the council.

Along with several other national religious leaders, Hanson attended a White House meeting Nov. 8 to hold “this current administration accountable, as we have the Bush administration, on behalf of our companions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, to work tirelessly to exert our power and influence to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table and challenge this administration and the government of Israel to quit settlement expansion that becomes a deterrent to that peace.”

Now in his 11th year as presiding bishop of this church, Hanson said, “I’m so grateful and so hopeful for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It’s a great time to be called into leadership.”

He told the council that not only with the ELCA’s congregations, synods, churchwide organization, partner agencies and institutions, “but together with ecumenical partners and global companions, we are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ and engage in God’s work of restoring community.”