Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pastoral letter from Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson

Shrimp here. ELCA Rostered Leaders are receiving the following in their e-mail inboxes today.
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September 23, 2009

Dear Colleague in Ministry,

"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." (Colossians 3:15-16a)

I give thanks to God for your faithful leadership and your committed partnership in the gospel. I am mindful of the varied responses to churchwide assembly actions on human sexuality -- joy, anger, hope, confusion, ambivalence, perhaps even detachment. In this letter please join me in reflecting on our witness together as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, particularly as we continue to live into the implications of assembly actions.

I am encouraged by the thoughtful and prayerful conversations of people with diverse perspectives who are gathering to discern what the assembly actions regarding human sexuality mean for our continuing life and witness.

My heart rejoices with those who are ready to live into the future of our shared mission. Many who had remained strongly engaged in the ELCA with their time, talent and treasure, despite feeling marginalized or unwanted, now feel more fully embraced.

My heart aches as I listen to the pain and distress of those who feel confused or even abandoned by others, not only in the decisions of the churchwide assembly but also in the decisions that are being made in congregations and by individuals.

I am disappointed that some are encouraging congregations and members to take actions that will diminish our capacity for ministry -- for example, to plant and renew congregations, to raise up and train leaders in seminaries and campus ministries, to send missionaries, to respond to hunger at home and abroad, and to rebuild communities after natural disasters.

Although these actions are promoted as a way to signal opposition to churchwide assembly actions or even to punish the voting members who made them, the result will be wounds that we inflict on ourselves, our shared life, and our mission in Christ. And yet, as devastating as such actions could be for our shared life and for our global and ecumenical partners, my greatest sadness would be if we missed this opportunity: to give an evangelical and missional witness together to the world.

Therefore, I urge each one of you to make this a time to engage one another with honesty and respect in renewed and deepened theological conversation informed by an evangelical, missional imagination. We have the opportunity to think evangelically and act missionally about:
  • Faithfulness: Questions about whether the ELCA has become faithless or heretical are opportunities to re-examine what it is that fills a community with faith. It becomes an opportunity to rediscover who makes us full of faith. Our goal as Lutherans is faithfulness that is both evangelical and missional.

  • Biblical authority: This is a marvelous moment to deepen our engagement with Scripture through the Book of Faith initiative. We can be renewed in our understanding of the authority of God's Word. It is the power to author -- that is, create -- a justifying and living faith in Jesus Christ. Again the goal is a true understanding of the Scripture's evangelical and missional authority.

  • What it means to be Christ's church: In this moment let us not build walls of separation. Together let us be living stones, built into a spiritual house, with Christ Jesus the cornerstone, and proclaim the mighty deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). Both universally and locally the church is gathered around the means of grace and engaged in mission in Jesus' name. Our goal as Lutherans is a witness that the church is evangelical and missional.

  • Leadership: How we serve in our varied callings and contexts as evangelical leaders of a church in mission calls for shared wisdom and encouragement rather than isolation or separation into like-minded enclaves. The church is a community of faith that is born of the Gospel promise and therefore has authority in the proclamation of the Word -- all the authority that is needed for evangelical, missional leadership.

  • Law and gospel: All of these opportunities for conversation call for a renewed commitment to deepening our fluency in what Martin Luther called "the highest art among Christians," distinguishing between law and gospel. Let us be valued allies in this endeavor and not adversaries in a power struggle for control of a church body, synods, and congregations.
While we engage in these important conversations let our evangelical, missional imagination be marked by the signs of a church that lives in faith, hope, and love through:
  • a continual dwelling in the Word of God and prayer
  • listening that is fully attentive to others, especially to those with whom we disagree
  • leadership committed to and focused on mission
  • a commitment to remain in respectful and caring relationship with one another
  • patient waiting on and breathing in the Spirit, remembering Jesus' command to his disciples to "stay until you have been clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49)
  • the creation of safe places for conversation, where it is safe to articulate deeply held biblical, confessional, and theological convictions, where it is safe both to affirm and admonish one another, and where it is safe to explore the questions that come with faithful service and witness
  • an elasticity rather than rigidity in our ways of supporting and carrying out ministry and mission
Specifically, I ask for restraint from decisions that may separate us from one another prematurely, for bearing one another's burdens in continued conversation, and for the long-suffering patience that frees us to remain together in mission. In his two letters to the very conflicted church in Corinth Paul repeatedly spoke of their unity in Christ and in the Holy Spirit. He also spoke of their calling to care for each other as members of one body and to use their spiritual gifts for the common good. Our attentive listening to one another and patient waiting for the Spirit's work in these conversations will be a powerful witness.

In my opening sermon and oral report to the churchwide assembly I asked, "What shall be our witness? What story shall we tell?" I believe those questions remain central for us as ministry is carried out in our varied contexts and in our life together as the ELCA.

I concluded my reflections at the end of the assembly with this conviction that sustains me in my leadership and gives me confident hope: "We finally meet one another not in our agreements or disagreements, but at the foot of the cross, where God is faithful, where Christ is present with us, and where, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are one in Christ."

In that promise I remain your servant in Christ,

Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop

Find related resources at,
including a new video message that will be posted after 5 p.m. on Thursday, September 24.

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Shrimp again, thinking that this "opportunity" Bishop Hanson is the kind of conversation we at Shellfish and many, many other have been trying to engage in since (okay, he says he wants to "engage one another with honesty and respect in renewed and deepened theological conversation informed by an evangelical, missional imagination," so we offer this with all due honesty and respect for the Office of Presiding Bishop) his election in 2001.

We here at
Shellfish appreciate that he's finally interested in the conversation. But if Pastor Zip's observation on "trust" (posted last April) is in any way representative, we suspect Presiding Bishop Hanson should prepare to be disappointed. Shrimp out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Philadelphia Seminary Speaks

LTSP Statement on actions by ELCA Churchwide Assembly

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
Learn more about ELCA Churchwide Assembly and actions taken by the Assembly at
New 8/27/09 The ELCA has just posted a brief summary of the actions taken by the Assembly:
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"

Updated 8/7/09 to add link to Assembly summaries, 9/5/089 to include new ELCA materials

Wartburg Seminary Speaks

A Statement from Wartburg Seminary about the ELCA Decisions Regarding Human Sexuality
click for original pdf document

In light of decisions made at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly in August, 2009 regarding a social statement on human sexuality and the rostering of homosexual persons in covenanted partnerships, representatives of Wartburg Theological Seminary have been asked about our response to the Assembly and how we will proceed in our institutional mission. There are many policies yet to be developed and many decisions to be made about how the Churchwide Assembly actions will affect our mission. It will take time as a seminary to decide these things well and rightly. It is most important now, however, that we state again our mission. Above anything else, we understand our vocation to be about forming valued leaders who declare and serve Christ at God’s mission frontiers in the world. However much this may sound like a slogan, we are sincere about this conviction. Leaders who declare and serve Christ put Christ and the neighbor first (“whoever serves these, serves also me”). Leaders who declare and serve Christ try to listen first to the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit whom salvation history reveals as often hard to hear and hard to follow because the Spirit’s winds may be blowing in new ways…or not. Leaders know that the Church is where the Gospel is preached and the sacraments administered so that faith in Jesus Christ is awakened and nurtured.

With this foundational understanding, Wartburg recognizes that there have been numerous times in the Church’s life when cultural and ethical assumptions that once seemed essential to the unity of the Church were no longer so, for example, circumcision during the “Judaizing” debate, or, later, the subordinate role of women and slaves. More recently, the Church has recognized that very difficult moral quandaries must include room in Church policy and practice for differing “bound” consciences. In such cases we see and experience a conflict of ways the Bible is interpreted. On one hand, the Bible is approached as the unchanging and inerrant word of God; on the other it is understood as a living conversation in which the Spirit-led community of Christ in every generation is called to enter and respond. Our differences in faithful interpretation thus can lead virtually inevitably (although not necessarily) to conflict about what it means to be the Church.

We are in such a conflicted time. Division about the decisions made at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly will not be overcome anytime soon. Advocates for one side or the other are not going to quiet their voices (nor likely should they) simply because their “winning and losing sides” have reversed. We will need to be reminded regularly that this decision does not force any congregation to accept any particular person as that congregation’s pastor or other leader. Congregations and other institutions and agencies will continue to have the right to call whom they would into leadership positions. But the reality is that issues around sexuality and sexual orientation will continue to be controversial - perhaps even to the point of further division.

Anxiety will persist in many places of the church for a long time. I recall that in 1970 the vote in the American Lutheran Church to ordain women passed by 57%. One and a half generations later many still within Lutheranism (and surely beyond) disagree with this practice. I can recall that objections were not rare even a decade ago. But very few, if any, in the ELCA today would want to reverse that great decision. It has taken a while fully to see the Spirit’s hand, and there is much work yet to do with regard to the full and celebrated equal partnership of women and men in ministry. We’ll need a sense of the “long haul,” too, on this new matter of rostered leadership of gay and lesbian persons, which passed by a similar 55%. This is part of our context now for the discernment, proclamation, and teaching of God’s Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is of the context toward which Wartburg Theological Seminary, with renewed dedication, will shape leaders for the church who can lead non-anxiously in the Gospel for another generation and beyond.

Our seminary vocation includes helping students to wrestle with difficult questions in such a way that they can serve as pastors to people on all sides of the issues, because the Gospel of God's love in Jesus Christ takes precedence over everything else. Ideological stands tend to cloud the Gospel and convert issues into judgments about who is righteous and who is not. This is not the content of the Gospel, however. We are all sinners. And we are all counted righteous because Jesus Christ has so interceded for us that he assumed our humanity, including our sin, and graces us with his righteousness. This is the singular Good News for all people in all places and all times, whether in times of concord or discord.

We also believe that the appropriate behavior of Christian brothers and sisters going forth from the assembly was and is to reach out to the other. At the Churchwide Assembly there was no triumphal celebration of the one side over the other; no end zone dances; no gloating. If there was joy for those 55% to whom the votes came as life-giving, that joy still was cruciform and soberly prayerful. And just as surely, there was cruciform pain and prayerful lament for 45% of the gathered. But 100%, everyone, found common ground at the foot of Christ’s cross. It was not and will not be an easy ground. In a culture where “winners” often disrespect “losers,” it will be essential that all of us—those who affirm the decisions made and those of us who feel conscience bound to oppose them—remain together at the foot of the cross. “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). The Church does not recognize winners and losers in the same way secular culture does. The theology of the cross always summons us to follow the lead of God into God’s mission, and God is always on the side of those who do not get to choose sides. This also means that God reaches out to those who speak from their bound consciences, as well as to those for whom the decisions made were life-giving.

I saw this truth practiced most inspiringly on the Assembly floor, when a proponent of the resolutions speaking from the “green” microphone shared his fear at speaking. His counterpart at the “red” mike placed his hand on the proponent’s shoulder and prayed for that proponent while he spoke. What better image could we have of our unity in Christ? In him there is neither East nor West, Jew nor Greek, male nor female, red nor green, but all are one in him.

At Wartburg we have our differences of perspectives, of course. We have our red and green issues too. Every seminary does. But we insist on maintaining the larger vision and we will teach for the long haul. We will continue to help shape valued leaders who can and will lead God’s people through this current anxiety to, through and beyond anxieties yet to come. We will do so as fully dedicated as we are able, captured by the vision of God’s abundant life for all the world. We will continue to practice our distinctive way of worshiping, praying and teaching in life together, where the differences will not compromise, but perhaps even strengthen, our vocation as a seminary.

For all of us and this Church, especially within this democratic society, it will be important for us to reflect on how we remain a unique and caring force for those inside and outside the Church, whose lives too often are decided on the primal instinct of winning and losing. Our unity is deeper than that. Our unity is in Christ. Our unity is a gift from the Holy Spirit. This is the gift that yet also we are commanded to pursue (John 17:20-21). And we will, by the help of God.

Duane Larson, President
Wartburg Theological Seminary
August 26, 2009

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Built on a rock the Church doth stand...

Shrimp here, still trying to regain our bearings after the twister that hit Minneapolis.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, we're not sure what more to say than this photo of Central Lutheran's steeple we snapped during the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly.

But here on the ELCA's web site, you'll be able to find lots of words -- the responses of ELCA Bishops to their synods following the Assembly. Thanks to ELCA Communications Services, who have traced down these statements from (so far) 50 of the ELCA's 65 synodical bishops for the new Our Faithful Mission Together web resource section.

We're not sure if we have the heart to read many of them, yet. Three weeks later, this picture remains the most compelling response we've seen so far. And we're afraid to learn how much, or how little, consolation -- and yes, despite all we've been writing about this for the last 4-plus years, we find ourselves in need of consolation -- we will find. As for you, go ahead, check out your bishop's response, and maybe a few others.

And pray.

Shrimp out.

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...