Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) met in Minneapolis the week of August 17 to worship, pray, deliberate, and make decisions on issues for the church that were raised for their consideration. As a school of the ELCA, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) is effected by the decisions made by church leaders, though not in ways that you might think if you followed press coverage of the assembly.
Many resolutions adopted by the assembly align with the seminary’s mission to raise leaders for the church in the world, and LTSP’s commitment to raise leaders schooled in public theology and witness. The assembly adopted resolutions committing the church to raise $10 million dollars to support the ELCA HIV and AIDS strategy, a ministry of caring for those victims of HIV/AIDS, and their friends and family, worldwide. The assembly through a memorial recognized the work of the Eastern Cluster of Lutheran Seminaries (LTSP, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, and Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary) through Project Connect, which is an effort to encourage young adults to consider that God might be calling them to public ministry, and Project Connect’s work to actively invite and include people of color and those whose primary language is other than English in the exploration and discernment process which can lead to them becoming leaders in the church.
The assembly also overwhelmingly adopted a full communion agreement with the United Methodist Church (EMC). The ELCA has already entered in full communion with the Reformed Church in America, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Moravian Church and United Church of Christ, while this is the first full communion partner for the UMC. As a school that is ecumenical as well as Lutheran, and includes students from some 30 traditions including those who are members of full communion partners, this is another step taken by the ELCA that brings us together as leaders of the church of Jesus Christ in this world.
The news stories coming out of Minneapolis, though, were mostly centered on the Social Statement on Human Sexuality, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” and changes in Ministry Policies of the ELCA that open the ministry of the church to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships. As a school that raises leaders for the church, the statement and policy changes will no doubt have an effect on our mission and ministry as a seminary of the ELCA and as a seminary that is wholly ecumenical.
Social statements “guide us as we step forward as a public church because they form the basis for both this church's public policy and my public speech as presiding bishop,” the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told the assembly. “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust” is the ELCA's 10th social statement, and addresses a spectrum of topics relevant to human sexuality from a Lutheran perspective, and was developed by a task force and discussed throughout the ELCA based on a directive from the 2001 Churchwide Assembly.
Passage of the changes in Ministry Policies, opening ministry in the ELCA to gay and lesbian pastors and other professional workers living in committed relationships, has started a process, through the ELCA Division of Vocation and Education, to develop policies to carry out the changes passed by the assembly. These policy changes will be referred to church governing bodies, possibly by the end of 2009. For the seminary, the changes in Ministry Policies may effect students as they determine their sense of call and choose a seminary in which to pursue their call to rostered ministry in the ELCA. It is the mission of the seminary to educate those who have chosen to pursue rostered ministry, to prepare those leaders academically, and to certify that those leaders have been academically prepared. The national church maintains the roster of all professional leaders in the church, and through the candidacy process, individual synods, and, ultimately, congregations evaluate students for rostering and carrying out the process that places individuals in rostered ministry.
Learn more about Project Connect at www.projectconnect.org
Learn more about ELCA Churchwide Assembly and actions taken by the Assembly at www.elca.org/cwa
New 8/27/09 The ELCA has just posted a brief summary of the actions taken by the Assembly: www.elca.org/assembly/summary
New 9/5/09 The ELCA has posted a message from Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and background and other material online to help explain "What Does It Mean" www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Faithful-Mission.aspx
Updated 8/7/09 to add link to Assembly summaries, 9/5/089 to include new ELCA materials