Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ELCA's Director of African National Ministries Jumps Ship

Shrimp again. Our URL here at Shellfish reads "save elca". But while there remain many pastors, congregations, and laity in the ELCA who aren't leaving simply because most of the ELCA's current churchwide, synodical, and seminary leadership is going after some other faith -- current leadership, after all, can change quickly, especially in a church that mimics "democratic" institutions -- a rather well-placed and highly regarded ELCA leader has taken an action that suggests the ELCA many be beyond being "saved."

For according to the latest news from the North American Lutheran Church, the ELCA's Director for African National Ministries, Pastor Genechis Buba -- this is the go to person for the ELCA's outreach among immigrants from Africa -- has jumped ship for the NALC.

Gemechis Buba accepts call as Missions Director for NALC

Buba is first prominent leader from ELCA national office to join NALC

The Rev. Dr. Gemechis D. Buba has accepted a call to serve as Missions Director for the North American Lutheran Church, NALC leaders announced Monday, Dec. 13.

Dr. Buba is currently the Director of African National Ministries for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He resigned his ELCA position Dec. 8 to accept the call to serve the NALC. He will begin his service in the NALC on Jan. 1.

Dr. Buba is the first prominent leader from the ELCA national offices in Chicago to leave the church body since the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to change ELCA teaching and policy to affirm same-sex sexual relationships and to allow pastors to be in those relationships.

Many pastors and congregations have been leaving the ELCA because of what they see as the organization’s movement away from Biblical teaching.

Dr. Buba, a native of Ethiopia, is a widely respected church leader in the United States and around the world. His ties to the dynamic and growing churches of Africa and his vision for the evangelical mission of the Church are especially important to the mission of the NALC.

"Dr. Gemechis Buba is a gifted and inspiring preacher and church leader. The NALC is blessed to have him accept our call to service in the church body," said NALC Bishop Paull Spring of State College, Pa.

"Mission is central to the life and ministry of the North American Lutheran Church, and so it is fitting that the first staff position filled in the NALC is the position of Missions Director," Bishop Spring said. "We all look forward to working with Gemechis to serve the dozens of mission congregations that have joined or are in the process of joining the NALC."

"It is with utmost joy and gratitude that I accept God’s call extended to me through the North American Lutheran Church to serve as the missions director in our new denomination," Dr. Buba said in his letter of acceptance.

"Your call has humbled me since I am going to serve as the first missions director of this new mission-driven church body," he said. "I am also praying for us that the power of the Holy Spirit will move throughout our church renewing and empowering our churches and leaders for mission.

"I am convinced that the hand of God is in this move. I am willing to do whatever it takes to move us forward in mission locally and globally," Dr. Buba said.

"As this is a very daunting task, I solicit your prayers, counsel and wisdom as we venture into the mission field together. There is no doubt that God is going to keep God’s end of the promise and be with us — Immanuel, God is with us! Therefore let us continue to strive to obey the Great Commission of Jesus Christ."

"In this time of reconfiguration of Lutheranism in North America, the interest in new mission starts is at a level not seen in a generation. Helping these new congregations grow and thrive is a priority ministry of the NALC, and the calling of Dr. Buba as Missions Director is an important step in that area," said Ryan Schwarz of the NALC Executive Board.

"We are all excited to work with Dr. Buba in God’s service as we set about renewing the Lutheran Christian witness in North America," Schwarz said. "Our members will be filled with joy to hear of his decision."

Dr. Buba, 35, received his Bachelor of Theology with high distinction from Mekane Yesus Theological Seminary in Ethiopia. He also served as a professor at the seminary for two years.

After working on Masters of Theology in Church History at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology he moved to the United States for further studies.

He received a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta in 2003.

In 2006, Dr. Buba earned a doctorate from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., specializing in Missional Leadership.

Ordained in 2001, he has served as a seminary professor, mission developer, senior pastor, vice president of the Southeastern Black Lutheran Pastors’ Conference, and an assistant to the bishop of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod.

He was pastor of St. Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church and the African/Oromo Lutheran Church in Atlanta.

Dr. Buba served the worldwide Union of Oromo Evangelical Churches for three terms as president.

"In his visionary leadership and unparalleled commitment of service, the Oromo church around the world recorded a remarkable growth over the past six years and was exposed to national and international stages," the organization noted upon the completion of his terms as president in 2010.

In addition to academic study and ordained ministry, Dr. Buba participated in multiple international ministries through revivals, leadership development conventions, and evangelical mission events.

Dr. Buba is married to Nassisse Baro Tumsa. They have an infant son named Labsi. They are moving to Columbus, Ohio, home of the NALC’s international offices.

The North American Lutheran Church has been experiencing rapid growth since it was constituted on Aug. 27 in Columbus, Ohio. More than 90 congregations have voted to join the NALC during its first four months of existence. Many more congregations are expected to vote to join the church body in the coming weeks and months.
* * *

Shrimp out...

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election in the ELCA

Shrimp here.

It's Election Day in the United States, which can mean only one thing for ELCA members: a press release announcing ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's interaction with someone in the Office of the President of the United States. And, lo and behold, it was in the White House and with the President himself, so things seem to be better for the ELCA Presiding Bishop than they were, say, a few years ago when the American President was apparently not seeking Bishop Hanson's counsel.

But first, we digress to one way the ELCA is living out Jesus' observations in Matthew 25:31-46 (go ahead, we'll wait while you read it; the link takes you to the ELCA's preferred NRSV) as reported a couple of weeks ago at Christianity Today. You'll want to read the entire article — don't worry, it's short — but here's a couple of snippets:
As a church plan, Augsburg Fortress's is not insured by the federal agency that insures private pension plans....

The Augsburg Fortress case may intensify that consideration. Knowing the plan was underfunded, the publisher stopped enrolling new employees in 2005. But after the stock market collapse and a tough publishing climate, the plan was nearly empty and the publisher distributed the remaining funds. In response, beneficiaries sued....

Attorney Ron Kilgard ... says ..., "A church plan doesn't mean you can walk away from your obligations."

The ELCA, which seeks to dismiss the suit, says it "had no role in the creation, management, funding, or termination of the Augsburg Fortress pension plan."
Read it all here and, if you want to learn more, we've addressed this before here at Shellfish.

Meanwhile, back in the White House,

ELCA Presiding Bishop, Other Christian Leaders Meet with President Obama

10-278-JB

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) joined about 20 others U.S. Christian leaders in a meeting with President Obama Nov. 1 at the White House. The leaders met with the president "speaking first out of our faith and Scriptures, and secondly, to issues before this nation and world," Hanson said in an interview.

Meeting on the eve of the mid-term elections, they discussed a number of current topics with Obama such as religious freedom, Middle East concerns, poverty and hunger, travel restrictions to and from Cuba, public education, health care and civility in political life, said Hanson.

Obama had been invited to speak at next week's annual assembly of the National Council of Churches USA in New Orleans. The president was unable to accept the invitation, but instead invited the Christian leaders to the White House to celebrate 100 years of United States Christian cooperation as a communion of churches.

The meeting was organized through the National Council of Churches USA. The Christian leaders represented 45 million people in about 100,000 congregations in the United States, Hanson said.

Hanson said the Christian leaders "expressed profound gratitude for the way he [Obama] is engaging the faith community in his leadership."

The Christian leaders thanked President Obama for passage of historic health reform legislation, Hanson said. Many of the church leaders spoke about health care from the contexts of their own traditions, he said. They also thanked the president for his statement on the plan to construct a community center and mosque in lower Manhattan.

"We told the president of our commitment to religious freedom in the world," Hanson said.

On the Middle East, the religious leaders said they appreciated the administration's recent efforts to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and at the same time emphasized the need to preserve Jerusalem as a shared city for all and protect the place of Christians in the region, the ELCA presiding bishop said.

Hanson said he spoke about poverty and hunger issues in the meeting. "I said that our commitment is to together work with the administration to eradicate poverty," he said. Hanson said he raised the need for Congress to reauthorize child nutrition programs and extend unemployment benefits.

"I spoke about the need to create jobs that will lift people out of poverty," Hanson said, including jobs that are environmentally friendly.

Hanson also raised a familiar theme he has used with ELCA audiences in his comments to the president: that white, middle-class and wealthy Christians need to confront their own power and privilege in society.

The discussion included concerns from many of the Christian leaders about travel restrictions to Cuba and religious freedom there since many have church-to-church relationships with Cuban churches. The religious leaders' expressed their commitment to public education and shared their disappointment concerning the lack of respect and civility in public life.

The delegation presented Obama with a Saint John’s Bible, a framed sampler of statements commemorating 100 years of ecumenism, and a picture plaque commemorating the "Feed the Future" initiative of Church World Service.

Church World Service, New York, is an ecumenical disaster relief and development agency.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
http://www.elca.org/news
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/elcanews
Twitter: http://twitter.com/elcanews
Shrimp particularly liked the segue from the need to confront white, middle-class and wealthy Christians to the presentation of a St. John's Bible, of which Wikipedia® says,
The Saint John's Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible to have been commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press.

...The Saint John’s Bible was officially commissioned in 1998 and funding opportunities were launched. The public was introduced to the project in 1999 and it is scheduled to be completed in 2011.

The Saint John’s Bible is divided into seven volumes and is two feet tall by three feet wide when open. The Bible is made of vellum, with 160 illuminations, and has cost $4 million to produce....
Shrimp is reminded of signs that once dotted the Interstate highway system during construction: "Your mission support dollars at work."

Shrimp out!

Friday, October 29, 2010

ELCA Presiding Bishop Tells Young People 'It Gets Better'

Shrimp again, with a headline taken straight from yesterday's ELCA News Service release. The article that followed, however, wasn't even close to what we anticipated:
ELCA NEWS SERVICE
October 28, 2010

ELCA Presiding Bishop Tells Young People 'It Gets Better'

10-275-JB

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- In a video essay posted on You Tube, the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) offered reassurance to young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, saying, "You are a beloved child of God."
No, the headline didn't prepare us for that at all.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson said he wanted to speak honestly to young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, and offer hope.

"Your life carries the dignity and beauty of God's creation," Hanson said. "God has called you by name and claimed you forever. There is a place for you in this world and in this church."
And indeed, their lives do carry the dignity and beauty of God's creation, though that has nothing at all to do with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or even transgender -- the last of which we must confess to having difficulty understanding that God created them that way.
And, spoil-sports that we are at Shellfish, we also can't help but wonder what St. Paul would think of a Christian Bishop encouraging young people to live to the fullest sexual expressions with someone of the their same, or changing, sex.
Hanson recorded the video in response to numerous recent reports of gay teenagers who have been bullied, with some taking their own lives. The video can be viewed at http://www.ELCA.org/itgetsbetter on the ELCA website.
Don't do it, Shrimp; remember Luther's explanation of the 4th and 8th Commandments. The Presiding Bishop is responding to serious tragedies here; respect the teens who were driven to despair by inexcusable, un-Christian behavior.
Hanson said he has listened "with pain and shock" to recent reports of young people who committed suicide, the result of abuse they have suffered because of their sexual orientations.

"I can only imagine what it's like to be bullied for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender," he said. "But I do know how bullying can destroy someone."

Hanson, the father of six children and four grandchildren, told a story about his daughter. He came home one day and found her curled up in a fetal position on the floor weeping uncontrollably. She was struggling to know "who she was as a biracial young woman," he said.

"She felt bruised by words people had spoken about her, words that ate away at her sense of identity and self-worth. I sat down by her on the floor holding her in my arms," Hanson said.

Words have the power to both harm and heal, he said. "Sometimes the words of my Christian brothers and sisters have hurt you," Hanson told viewers, "and I also know that our silence causes you pain."

Hanson recorded his video after results of a survey were released last week by the Public Religion Research Institute. It showed that two of every three Americans believe that people who are gay commit suicide at least partly because of messages sent from churches and other place of worship.
Shrimp just has to wonder if this "belief" of 2/3rds of Americans is something that they've actually experienced, or if it is a perception foisted upon us by GLBTQQ-celebrating, Christianity-disparaging (at least of the "conservative," "traditionalist," or "biblical" sort) media? Our experiences and observation with bullies, particularly those who bait those who appear to be "gay," is that they aren't in churches very often. But after 2000 years, Christians still make good targets.
Hanson added that as a Christian, he trusts God is working in the world for justice and peace "through you and through me."

"It gets better," he said.

Hanson's video will be submitted to the recently initiated online video project, "It Gets Better," at http://www.itsgetsbetter.com on the Web. Several public figures and celebrities have contributed video testimonials reassuring young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender that the bullying and torment they experience in their daily lives, especially in high school, will end, and that there's a better life ahead.

Viewers are also directed to The Trevor Project, a crisis and suicide prevention hotline.

More than 3,000 video essays have been contributed to "It Gets Better." Last week, President Obama contributed a video to the project. The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, a gay man who is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, also contributed a video piece.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
http://www.elca.org/news
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/elcanews
Twitter: http://twitter.com/elcanews
Yeah, "It gets better. You don't need to change at all." That's what Jesus would say, right?

And for the 95% (or so) of the "young people" who've quickly discovered that the headlined message of hope from the Presiding Bishop of the largest Lutheran church in North America wasn't for you, sorry for building up your hopes.

Shrimp out.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Braaten's Conference and The Lutheran

Shrimp here.

Subscribers to The Lutheran were treated to an editorial in the October 2010 issue (the one with Jack Benny, who died in 1974, on the cover -- don't get us wrong, Shrimp loves the comedy of Jack Benny, but what does putting him on the cover of The Lutheran tell you about the editorial staff's perception of the magazine's audience?) in which editor Daniel J. Lehmann justifies the magazine's refusal to run an ad for the free theological conference held last August organized by theologian Carl Braaten, an ELCA pastor. In the heart of his editorial, Mr. Lehmann writes:
So now the NALC becomes, in the eyes of this magazine, one more Lutheran denomination. Just as the staff follows major events in the life of the LCMS, the same will be true with the NALC. The Lutheran won't give it any special coverage just because of its heritage. This group, like Elvis, has left the building.

That comes as a bit of a shock to some. The magazine turned down an advertisement sought by organizers of the NALC gathering. It promoted a theological symposium that served as a run-up to the constituting convention. Yes, many if not all of those involved were still on the ELCA roster, but their actions were schismatic. Why would the magazine assist with highlighting an event aimed at detracting, if not undermining, the ELCA? After all, The Lutheran is the magazine of the ELCA, not the NALC.
If you are a subscriber, you can read the whole editorial here; if you're not a subscriber, that link will give you the beginning of the editorial through the first paragraph we quoted above.

Meanwhile, today over at ALPB Forum Online, we find posted this open letter to Mr. Lehmann from Prof. Braaten, which we quote in full:

An Open Letter to the Editor of The Lutheran, the magazine of the ELCA, from Dr. Carl Braaten


An Open Letter to Mr. Daniel J. Lehmann
Editor, The Lutheran, Magazine of the ELCA
8765 W. Higgins Rd.
Chicago, IL 60631

Dear Sir:

I am writing in response to your editorial in the October 2010 issue of The Lutheran, the magazine of the ELCA. In that editorial you write about the formation of a new Lutheran church body, the North American Lutheran Church. You make a number of statements that are either petty or untrue, creating a false impression.

1) You observe that “the NALC becomes, in the eyes of this magazine, one more Lutheran denomination” and you assert that “The Lutheran won’t give it any special coverage just because of its heritage.” Why not? The Lutheran should serve the people of the ELCA and not only the bureaucracy at Higgins Road. The NALC is composed entirely of congregations and pastors who left behind many close friends and relatives in the ELCA. The NALC is therefore not just another Lutheran church body, no matter what you say. It will always have a special relationship to the ELCA as “a chip off the old block.” Don’t you think the people of the ELCA deserve to be kept informed about what their friends and relatives are experiencing in the NALC? Your response is pitifully petty, a mere defensive reaction born of resentment.

2) You observe that “the magazine turned down an advertisement sought by organizers of the NALC gathering. It promoted a theological symposium that served as a run-up to the constituting convention.” These statements are half-truths. As a journalist you should pay attention to the pesky little things called “facts.” I was the initiator and coordinator of the theological conference, “Seeking New Directions for Lutheranism.” I know what happened, down to every detail. The fact is that Lutheranism in North American has been and is theologically in disarray, in a state of confusion. My idea was to ask CORE to sponsor a free theological conference for all Lutherans, to discuss the identity and future of Lutheranism with integrity in an ecumenical age. When this conference was planned and announced, there was not a hint about the formation of a new church body. The theological conference was announced at the CORE assembly in September, 2009, Fishers, Indiana, at which time there was no proposal for a new church body on the table. Our theological conference was organized as a function of CORE, pure and simple. What possible objection could you as a journalist or editor have to that, unless you had already taken the side of the bureaucrats in the church struggle that led to the 2009 ELCA assembly in Minneapolis? The fact that the organization of the NALC took place chronologically soon after the theological conference was an after-thought. The advertisement that you turned down was sought by the officers of CORE and not by the organizers of the NALC, as you suggest. The ad was for a conference sponsored by CORE. Not a single word suggested anything about creating a new church body. When we planned the conference, selected the speakers, and produced the brochure, we knew nothing about the NALC, nor was it on anyone’s radar screen.

3. You observe that “many if not all of those involved were still on the ELCA roster, but their actions were schismatic.” Now, as a self-professed schismatic yourself, you should know from experience that neither the conference itself nor any of the speakers were guilty of actions that were schismatic. Who are you to judge that their actions were schismatic? All of the speakers are ordained ministers of the ELCA and have served for decades as professors of theology at its colleges or seminaries, in some cases more than 50 years. Neither the theme nor the aim of the conference was to call for or to promote the creation of a new church body. We are all church theologians and not church politicians. We covered the loci of Lutheran dogmatics -- the authority and interpretation of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the centrality of Christ, the nature and purpose of the Church, Christian ethics, and so forth. The Lutheran theology embedded in these lectures stands on its own feet, and does not ride piggy-back on the church-political actions to start a new church. You should know that theologians who promise to serve the whole church of Jesus Christ are not beholden to the officials of any Protestant denomination. Over the years all of us speak across the ecumenical spectrum, at Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, and Evangelical institutions. Is there something un-Lutheran or un-churchly about that? Now that the NALC is organized, as theologians we are free to speak at its events, just as we are free to speak at any non-ELCA Lutheran church bodies. That may be too difficult to grasp by those who think and act as though church theologians should be the functionaries of church bureaucrats who manipulate the levers of power. If Martin Luther were here, he might say with Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

4. You ask “why would the magazine assist with highlighting an event aimed at distracting, if not undermining, the ELCA?” What do you know about the aim of the theological conference? The brochure states the aim this way: “This theological conference will reaffirm the original aim of Lutheranism to be a reforming movement within the whole church that is both evangelical in preaching and orthodox in doctrine. Each of the presenters will focus on a particular article of faith at risk in Lutheranism today and spell out what we confess on the basis of Holy Scripture, the ancient Creeds, and the Lutheran Confessions. We invite all Lutherans in North America to come together to reclaim the great tradition that witnesses faithfully to Jesus Christ, builds his Church on earth, and proclaims the Gospel of salvation to the nations.” Those are scary words, but only to heterodox revisionists moved by a different spirit and loyal to different principles and standards.

More than eight hundred persons attended the theological conference. You were invited too. Editors from non-Lutheran magazines chose to attend, for example, Christianity Today, Touchstone, inter alia. You chose not to attend, even though it was a major theological event within the orbit of the ELCA. There is a reason for this, and we know what it is. Lutheranism began in history as a movement of critical theology, biblical and dogmatic. The lackeys of the church bureaucracy at that time were opposed to Luther and his reforming and renewing efforts. They could not tolerate criticism. All the theologians who spoke at the theological conference in Columbus, 2010, are responding to the theological crisis in American Lutheranism. They have been critics of various aspects of the ELCA from its earliest beginnings, for example, the quota system, radical theological feminism, antinomianism, etc. The two “Call to Faithfulness Conferences” at St. Olaf College in 1990 and 1992 put the spotlight on a number of critical theological issues. Those who have ears to hear heard, and the rest plugged their ears.

Is there something un-Lutheran about raising voices in protest and criticism of false teachings and practices going on in the church? That’s what theologians do. Lutheran theologians have been doing that from the get-go. Understandably, then and now the church politicians don’t like to hear it. What is the mission of The Lutheran? Is the ELCA beyond criticism, so that critical theological voices should be ignored, muted, and regarded as schismatic? That is what the bureaucrats charged against Luther when they tried to muzzle him. Does The Lutheran have a greater obligation to heed the wishes of the bureaucrats of the ELCA than to hear the voices of its theologians? Do the bureaucrats who have served the ELCA for a few years have a greater right to address the ELCA than its theologians who have served its various educational institutions for many years?

A schism has occurred now. You seem to exhibit no understanding of what caused it. It’s not the case that a few pastors and congregations woke up one morning and said, “Hey, let’s start a new church? Wouldn’t that be fun?” Every historical event has a cause. We know what caused the schism. There would have been no schism except for the ELCA assembly decisions in Minneapolis, August, 2009. The game is now hard-ball and you have joined in, using the kind of tactics applied against you in that other schism to which you refer.

You end your editorial with a quotation from Luther: “The most dangerous sin of all is the presumption of righteousness.” Your editorial reeks with the kind of self-righteousness Luther had in mind.

My question to you is: As a journalist, why can’t you be fair to all parties involved in the debates and discussions going on within the ELCA? Why do you need to be a partisan beholden to its bureaucracy? If that is the mission of The Lutheran, maybe that explains why it has fewer and fewer subscribers and readers, as you yourself have acknowledged.

I am sending this as an “Open Letter,” because I do not expect to see it in The Lutheran magazine. Nor do I want it edited so as to make it say things I did not write. I have had that experience before.

Sincerely,
Carl E. Braaten
Shrimp out.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The ELCA's (Latest) Redesign

Shrimp here.

We'll admit to scratching our head as we were reading this thinking, "How did we find this?" But there we were on the web site of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod reading a pdf version of the Synod's PowerPoint® presentation for Bishop Jon Anderson's "webinar of effects on ELCA Redesign & Synodical Changes." That Synod's website also includes a link to a 24-minute video of Presiding Bishop Hanson's overview of the redesign presented at an All Staff Convocation last Monday.

The presentation quotes Bishop Hanson,
  • "I think we are in a time of 'turning and being turned' as this church.
  • The next 11 months … could be the most significant in the 22-year history of the ELCA.
  • These months could be, and I'm confident they will be,"
In his overview, Bishop Hanson observes that 2 years ago the ELCA receiving about $65 million in annual mission support; the new redesign expects annual mission support for each of the next three years to be $45-48 million. Whew!

In his presentation, you will notice Bishop Hanson's subdued tone -- a marked contrast from his tone in ELCA News release about the new design.


Shrimp is struck by the following comments in the SWMinn Synod presentation under the subtitle "Reformation" --
  • Semper Reformada – always reforming the structures of the church to serve the changeless Gospel in our changing world.
  • Committee for New Lutheran Church – 1980’s
    • 25 plus years ago
    • No internet
    • Some right, some wrong, much has changed
  • Streamline
  • Smart
  • Never waste a crisis –makes clear our priorities in organizational structure
  • How have you been reforming your life in your local congregation lately to serve your mission field?
Shrimp wonders: Would it not be better to prevent a crisis -- or better yet, not create one -- than to waste it?

Anyway, you are supposed to be able to view Bishop Anderson's webinar here...

Bishop Jon Anderson - ELCA Churchwide Redesign from Tammy Sather - SW MN Synod on Vimeo.

...though we were unable to get it to work when we posted this.

Shrimp out.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Orientation at Gustavus Adolphus

Shrimp here.

This year's new student orientation at Gustavus Adolphus College, an ELCA-related college in St. Peter, Minnesota, has become much discussed in the blogosphere thanks to some videos posted on YouTube by a student at the college. We'll point you here for a perspective from some of the more conservative students at Gustavus -- a post that includes a video of "a series of clips featuring sexually suggestive theatrics explaining to incoming students such things as: where to get free condoms on campus; how to signal to your roomate that you are busy having sex (so he waits until later to come in); and how to tell your roommate you're gay (as well as the appropriate response you are to take when recieving such information)."

We'll begin by observing that this is not your farfar's Gustavus Adolphus College, back in the days when most everyone went to chapel and administrators knew better than to offer coed dorms.

On the other hand before you go spreading the news of what incoming freshmen were, uh, exposed to during orientation, we also want to point you to the discussion over at ALPB Forum Online, particularly this post from a member of the college's Board of Trustees, which includes this:
The student-created skits depicted in the videos were not appropriate. Period. We were not aware of them before a student posted the videos on YouTube. The skits will not be part of orientation again. While they seem to represent the views of some individuals, they assuredly do not represent a college perspective.
Go ahead, read it all. We are glad that there is more to Gustavus than what you can find here. On the other hand, we wonder if "diversity" is really what a liberal arts college, especially a church-related one, is supposed to be about.

Shrimp out.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Links

Shrimp here, doing a little housecleaning at Shellfish. Namely our "Links" column.

pretty good lutherans has said, "So long," though reporter Susan Hogan continues the religion beat at her Divinity and Beyond. Subtitled "Religion Across Minnesota," ELCA matters continue to show up on her newsblog now and then as part of the "stories about spirituality and religion around the state." So, so long to our pretty good lutherans link.

Lutheran (True!) Confessions has been quiet the last several months; its "published weekly (more or less)" has turned to only 2 "issues" since Holy Trinity Sunday, the last being nine-and-a-half weeks ago. Subtitled "News, Gossip, Innuendo, Hope!" its nose for new, gossip, and innuendo seems to have been put to other uses now that its chief "hope" has been fulfilled -- although Pr. Sofie Fortresson still tweets on occasion. Of ocurse, we've become pretty quiet the last weeks ourselves, so we'll keep that link for now.

New to our links is Bishop Barbie and the Brave New Church, whose address is "Higgins Road, Chicago, IL, United States." "I'm nice. Let's be friends!" she says and, since we at Shellfish aren't always nice, it's probably a good link to have as we swim in these waters that someone needs to calm.

Shrimp out...

Saturday, October 02, 2010

ELCA Pulls Out of Lutheran Malaria Initiative

Shrimp here, with the disappointing news that the ELCA pulling out of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, which "mobilizes the nearly 8 million Lutherans in the United States in the global fight against malaria." The initiative, which was given considerable prominence during the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, was to be a joint effort of the ELCA, LCMS, and Lutheran World Relief working with the United Nations Foundation.

The ELCA News Service announced the ELCA's withdrawal Thursday in the following news release:

ELCA Strengthens Malaria Work Through New, Focused Effort

10-258-JB

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), announced Sept. 30 that the ELCA will maintain and build its commitment toward a comprehensive effort to contain and prevent malaria, while making some changes to the structure of the project. The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly authorized continued development of a campaign to respond to malaria.

"Our commitment to sisters and brothers in Africa remains firm," Hanson said. "This new, focused effort will assist the ELCA to keep our commitments strong and allow us to bring health and hope to those affected by malaria in Africa."

The project, known as the "ELCA Malaria Campaign," has been "right-sized" for the current realities of the ELCA, the presiding bishop added.

Hanson noted there have been declines in mission support and other income sources to the ELCA. Because of those financial realities, he said that ELCA churchwide leaders determined that it was not feasible to propose a $30 million LMI fundraising campaign to the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

As a result the ELCA churchwide organization withdrew a grant proposal to the United Nations Foundation (UNF), ending the ELCA's involvement in the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI) partnership, Hanson said. The LMI was to be a partnership of the ELCA, Lutheran World Relief (LWR), The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the UNF. The ELCA's withdrawal from the UNF grant process should not be seen as a reflection on the ELCA's working relationship with any of the other partners, Hanson said.
(Oh, yeah. We didn't mention that the "annoucement" was put down in the fourth paragraph, did we. The news release continues....)
The 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly authorized "continued development" of the LMI with the other partners. The assembly also requested that a report and recommendations for a "possible churchwide campaign" for the LMI be brought to the 2011 assembly.

In keeping with the spirit of the assembly action, the ELCA Malaria Campaign intends to engage with at least 10 companion churches in Africa to contain, prevent and treat malaria, Hanson said. The new ELCA initiative will build on work already done by companion churches in Africa and pilot synods of the ELCA, and it will carry forward much of the work done through the LMI, he said.

Hanson said he will present to the ELCA Church Council in November a proposal for the ELCA Malaria Campaign. The council is the ELCA's board of directors and interim legislative authority between churchwide assemblies. A proposal for a possible churchwide fundraising campaign is expected to be presented to the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

For now the ELCA churchwide organization will continue to develop the ELCA Malaria Campaign, and encourage prayer, advocacy, education and fundraising. Some "pilot synods" of the ELCA will continue their work to develop the ELCA's malaria effort, Hanson said. There are 10 pilot synods for 2010-2011.

Though the ELCA will not be part of LMI, the church plans to work cooperatively with LWR in Tanzania and other places where working together advances the malaria prevention and treatment effort, Hanson said. "We are also exploring a possible shared approach in malaria fundraising at ELCA colleges and universities with LWR," he said.

Companion churches and the ELCA Global Mission program unit will continue to work with the Global Fund "as these churches grow in their capacity to respond to HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria," said Hanson, adding the ELCA's continuing involvement in "Nothing But Nets" is still under consideration.
How's that for spin?

A "breaking news" post Thursday at The Lutheran magazine's blog by Associate Editor Elizabeth Hunter takes a different approach:

ELCA: $30 million malaria campaign 'not feasible'


A proposed $30 million ELCA campaign around malaria will no longer go forward, but the ELCA will continue raising funds for malaria, ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson wrote in a Sept. 30 email to churchwide staff.

"In recent months, mission support to the ELCA and support of ELCA World Hunger have declined significantly, and many synods and congregations are also struggling to deal with hard financial realities," Hanson wrote. "In the light of this difficult economic situation, ELCA leadership has determined that a $30 million campaign around malaria, which was to be tested in the current biennium, is not feasible at this time. Therefore, the decision has been made to withdraw the ELCA's grant proposal to the United Nations Foundation and to end the partnership that was entitled "Lutheran Malaria Initiative."

Hanson said the church's commitment to malaria work, global health and companions in Africa is "firm."

"The new ELCA initiative, will carry forward much of the work that the ELCA had been doing under the rubric of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative," Hanson wrote. "The ELCA Malaria Campaign, as it will now be known, will direct all of its funds to our companion churches in Africa (90 percent) and to our fund-raising efforts (10 percent)." According to Hanson, the proposed UNF-related campaign would have required that "30 percent of funds raised to go to the Global Fund and 20 percent to be used for capacity building to encourage companion churches to participate in Global Fund country efforts." Fifty percent of ELCA funds would have supported malaria work among ELCA partners.

Hanson wrote that leaders had "right-sized" the malaria efforts given "current realities of the ELCA." Raising $15 million "will be a challenge in the current economic environment, but is both doable and ambitious enough to meet the commitments that we have made to our companion churches in Africa," Hanson wrote. "The ELCA Malaria Campaign will continue to work closely with ELCA World Hunger, and to underscore the global health connections between malaria containment and ministry with those living with HIV and AIDS."

Hanson said that rather than compete with "core World Hunger work," the ELCA Malaria Campaign will "build further capacity" by reaching new donors and allowing current donors "to deepen their commitment above and beyond normal World Hunger giving."
There's more, which you can read here.

Incidentally, we're struck by the timing of this announcement, for also on Thursday began the Fall Meeting of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, which runs through Tuesday. The ELCA Church Council begins its next meeting on Friday.

Meanwhile, if you go to http://www.elca.org/Our-Faith-In-Action/Responding-to-the-World/lutheran-malaria-initiative.aspx you'll notice that the page has been renamed ELCA Malaria Campaign.

Shrimp out.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How Extraordinary!

Shrimp here, just digging the lead from the ELCA News Service reporting the upcoming reception of Anita Hill, Phyllis Zillhart, and Ruth Frost on the ELCA clergy roster:
Three pastors with historic ties to the struggle for inclusiveness in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will be welcomed for the first time to the church's clergy roster when they participate in the church's "Rite of Reception" Sept. 18.
You can read more here of the ELCA's reception of these heroes of the faith.

Okay, ELCA News' John Brooks doesn't actually call them "heroes of the faith." But we can't help but be struck by the triumphant tone in today's release by the usually more sober ELCA News Service. For a milder report of the reception of Hill, Zillhart, and Frost, you might check out the blog of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

The ELM blog playing the news straighter than the ELCA News Service? Now that's extraordinary!

Shrimp out.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Follow Me: Sharing the Gospel

Shrimp here, watching yet another riveting webcast performance by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. This one was held last Saturday, August 14, concluding Follow Me: Sharing the Gospel in a 2.0 World, "an ELCA conference for communicators, campus ministry staff and chaplains, and college/university students" held Aug. 11-14 at the Chicago Marriott.


Courtesy the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
You'll want a high speed connection to view this.

The Presiding Bishop responds to a wide variety of questions, such as how the church should transform culture while embracing being post-Christian servants of culture and humanity, is it okay to question religion, how to deal with the debt load of graduating seminarians, what is the place of students and campus ministry in the ELCA, and describe a powerful grace moment in your life. Shrimp always marvels at Bishop Hanson's engaging and energetic presence in these sorts of presentations.

"The son of a Lutheran evangelist, Hanson is by reputation an advocate for social justice, especially issues that impact people living in poverty, including racial justice, housing, welfare rights and immigration rights," reads his biographical note as one of the conferences featured speakers. The other featured speakers were:
  • Eboo Patel, the American Muslim founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, "a Chicago-based institution building the global interfaith youth movement;"
  • the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, an ELCA mission church in Denver that describes itself as "a group of folks figuring out how to be a liturgical, Christo-centric, social justice oriented, queer inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent, ancient - future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination;"
  • Michael Organ, "the first full-time Director of Internet Advertising for a presidential campaign (one of Obama for America’s many New Media innovations, which helped raise over $500 million online);"
  • Andrew Bleeker, who "helped build Change.gov, and most recently served as the New Media Director for the Presidential Inaugural Committee;"
  • Yvonne Gilmore-Essig, "a pastor, poet and lecturer" serving as pastor at New Song Community Church in Columbus, Ohio, and a poet/vocalist member of The Cornel West Theory.
There were also several workshops led largely by ELCA communicators; workshop materials are available at that link for review.

Welcome to the 2.0 World! Shrimp out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bishop Hanson: "both heartbreaking and infuriating."

Shrimp here, figuring that since it is our blog the Chair can't rule us "out of order" for attempting to bind our conscience to the one of four offically accepted perspectives not included in the new policy.

Today the Presiding Bishop has issued this pastoral letter to the ELCA, which we offer to you for your edification.

Pastoral Letter on Gulf Coast Oil Spill from Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson

The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
- Psalm 145:8-9
June 28, 2010

Sisters and brothers in Christ,

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is both heartbreaking and infuriating. It causes deep sorrow, both for the initial loss of human life and for the deep and lasting damage to an ecology that provides life and livelihoods for so many of God's creatures. At the same time we grieve that the natural beauty of this region, a sign of God's marvelous creativity, has been defiled.

Moving to indignation and anger over the neglect and carelessness that led to this disaster, both in private industry and in government regulation, is understandable. However, to do so without recognizing the responsibility we all share -- as consumers of petroleum products, as investors in an economy that makes intensive and insistent energy demands, and as citizens responsible for the care of creation -- lacks credibility and integrity. An honest accounting of what happened (and what failed to happen) must include our own repentance.

Nonetheless, God remains faithful in restoring the creation and human community. Among the voices that despair and condemn, we have a witness of hope to proclaim.

First, God, who made the creation and made it good, has not abandoned it. Day after day God sustains life in this world, and the powerful vitality of God's creation, though defiled, is not destroyed. The life-giving power of God's creative goodness remains at work, even in the Gulf of Mexico. The Spirit will continue to renew the face of the earth (Psalm 104:30, as we just sang at Pentecost). All who care for the earth and work for the restoration of its vitality can be confident that they are not pursuing a lost cause. They serve in concert with God's own creative and renewing power.

Moreover, the human family need not drown in a flood of suspicion and recrimination that is more toxic and more lasting than the oil that floods the Gulf can ever be. The cleansing waters of baptism in Christ -- who died not for the righteous, but for the unrighteous -- bring forgiveness and reconciliation with God. In this reconciled life with God we have the freedom to move beyond mutual condemnations and hostility to give a powerful witness of a reconciled community that lives in service of the creation and the neighbor. By refusing to surrender to the toxicity of recrimination, we can convince others that they can join us safely in the life and service of this community.

Responding to a challenge of this size and complexity will call upon countless insights and skills, embodied in hundreds of occupations and trades, and upon the collective strength and will of us all. God's Holy Spirit has abundantly blessed the human community with the gifts needed to do this work. We can do it with sober confidence, good will and even joy.

There are times for mourning and for repentance, as well as for reconciliation and commitment to the creation's care. They come at different moments for different people. As you serve in your communities, I commend to you resources for worshipstudy and action that express the hope of Christians who see God's creative goodness, Jesus' forgiving reconciliation and the Spirit's abundant gifts for service. This is a moment when the human community needs to hear a word of true hope, and we have one to speak.

In God's grace,

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson
Presiding Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Shrimp again. We rather like that we "need not drown in a flood of suspicion and recrimination that is more toxic and more lasting than the oil that floods the Gulf can ever be." Though we must confess that, hearing it in Bishop Hanson's voice, we're thinking not so much of the Gulf of Mexico's toxicity as that of the flailing organization he's leading (not that you'd notice his leadership anywhere in the recent ELCA News Release we've linked there).

Shrimp -- broken-hearted and infuriated -- out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Scallop here, taking a break from sermon-prep and a certain text about demons being cast out of humans and into certain unkosher critters.

Discerning shellfish-scouts, not to mention pastors and parishoners in forums, bishops' consultations, synod assemblies and the stillness of their hearts, have been asking one question over and over -- since last August and even before.
  • The question? "What's next?" in the wake of the ELCA's August 2009 decision that human teaching trumps holy, biblical authority.

Scallop is awash in disappointment but not surprised ...

  • The overarching answer: "Legion" - for the answers are many and scary as a bunch of demons being driven into a herd of hogs.

Case in point: For one of the legion of answers, consider this post -- "16 pastors file charges against Penn. pastor" June by Susan Hogan © Pretty Good Lutherans. In respect for her copyright, we'll just post her link and encourage you have a read. It's posted June 15 at http://www.prettygoodlutherans.com/

Anyway, a Scallop shout-out:

  • to Susan for continued coverage of this issue and other things Lutheran in fine, objective journalistic fashion. Pretty Good Writing is her blog-name, and fittingly so. She reports well -- readers decide. Check the right hand column for links to related items.
  • to the Lower Susquehanna 16 -- the 16 pastors who have shown their courage by calling for their bishop to handle this matter in keeping with, well, just read it (footnotes and all) and you'll know.

What's next?

Lord, have mercy.

Scallop out.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

If a Picture Paints a Thousand Words...

Shrimp here.

When Cap'n Bill revived us in the Winter of '07-'08, we added a little graphic to the bottom of the Shellfish page that described this web log's state at that time. It remains to this day -- appropriately, we believe.

Go ahead, you can go down there and look. The Shellfish viewer will realize that we didn't really put a whole lot of effort into that graphic.

Someone else has, however, and the pseudonymous lay correspondent "LutherMan" over at ALPB Forum Online has pointed readers to http://i44.tinypic.com/2retekw.jpg -- and we simply can't resist showing it as (what our tiny mind is thinking is) the first graphic we have included in a Shellfish blog entry.





Shrimp out.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Feelin' the Love in the ELCA

Shrimp here.

"Never argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel," went the old political adage that also fit well in the church. Witness, for instance, The Protestant Reformation.

Thanks to the World Wide Web, though, large quantities of ink and newsprint are no longer necessary to get your message out. Witness, for instance, Shellfish itself.

Or for more, uh, conventional churchly publishing, there is the online-only Journal of Lutheran Ethics, "a free, online publication living out the Lutheran tradition of addressing social issues theologically, in conversation with Christian ethics and political theology" published by the Department for Studies of the ELCA's Church in Society program unit.

JLE started in 2001 and editrix ELCA pastor Kaari Reierson has presided over a lively exchange on all sorts of matters over the years. It has, in fact, been a place where more "traditionalist" Lutherans have been very much included as an expected and welcomed part of the conversations on "ethical" issues that have been on the screen during the past decade — perhaps the most truly inclusive forum within the ELCA.

Then there's the main article in the current (May 2010) issue's section "On the Coalition for Reform (CORE)" by Dr. Jon Pahl, lay Professor of History of Christianity in North America at the ELCA's venerable seminary at Mt. Airy.

The Core of Lutheran CORE: American Civil Religion and White Male Backlash

Jon Pahl, Ph.D.

You have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.... Do you despise the riches of God's kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.... For those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury.

—Romans 2:1-5, 8

Empires divide to conquer. Christians have often been prevented from the fullness of our witness to the gospel, if not completely conquered, by internal bickering that resolves upon historical examination into causes that have less to do with central doctrines or practices of Christianity than with jockeying for position in relationship to imperial privilege. Just such jockeying for power, for what Paul called "self-seeking," is at the core of Lutheran CORE, the so-called "Coalition for Reform." Lutheran CORE, in its mildest form, seeks to siphon funds away from the ELCA into ostensibly purer activities, some of them sponsored by The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). In its most extreme form, CORE seeks to foment schism and organize dissenting ELCA congregations into a new church — the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).

Lutheran CORE claims to represent Lutheran orthodoxy, but, as I shall show, in fact abandons historic Lutheranism at crucial turns in favor of an American civil religion. This accretion of an American imprint on CORE's version of Lutheranism mirrors, as the epigraph from Paul suggests, how CORE leaders have repeatedly accused faithful ELCA leaders of having themselves sold out to "America." Even more, the leaders of Lutheran CORE, because they assert a self-righteous American moralism about sex and marriage as a litmus test of ecclesiastical purity, confuse law and gospel, and imperil the clear truth of salvation by grace through faith that is the actual core of historical and confessional Lutheran teaching. When teaching about sex replaces teaching about salvation as a defining mark of the church, something has clearly gone severely awry.

All in all, the core of Lutheran CORE is rotten. One can get more than a whiff of Docetism, Donatism, and Pelagianism — heresies all — in the doctrinal formulations of the various groups represented in the coalition. Lutheran CORE represents, in its demographic and historical contours, a largely white, heterosexual, male backlash against the supposedly evil changes in gender roles, sexual mores, and participatory democracy that marked the 1960s. At the same time, the leaders of the movement also ironically embrace many of the least savory aspects of the sixties rhetoric of adolescent resentment and entitlement. Most fundamentally, the leaders of Lutheran CORE have come to the brink of dividing the church in an attempt to hold onto (or to carve out) some power. The movement undermines the universal need to repent and to trust in grace that it claims to uphold, and it substitutes for the gospel a pale version of American imperial ambition. That the movement obstructs God's demand to let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, in an attempt to prop up the privilege of a powerful few, almost goes without saying. As is the case with many other schismatic purity movements in American religious history, however, for all of its sound and fury, Lutheran CORE is doomed to be a historical footnote, or a cipher, in the larger history of the body of Christ.
There's more here, but we can't help but notice that Dr. Pahl's examples come from the WordAlone Network and LCMC, and that the only Lutheran CORE identification is erroneous. Of the many giants in the Philadelphia seminary's history, Dr. Pahl reminds us only of Bishop William Lazareth when he was really po'd — except Dr. Lazareth always checked his facts and demonstrated theological depth to go with his sharp phrases. Charles Porterfield Krauth, Luther Reed, Paul Zeller Strodach, John Reumann, Timothy Lull he is not. But at least no ink was wasted — except by the few who may have printed Dr. Pahl's screed at home in order to read it.

JLE includes a brief response from Prof. Bob Benne and Shrimp hears that other well-written responses would be welcomed. A full response would, in print, need to remind one of Concordia Publishing House's 886 page reprint of Krauth's The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology.

Actually, digesting The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology itself just might the best antidote to Pahl's piece. Click that link; it's on sale right now for $15!

Shrimp out.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Seismo-theological alert

Scallop checking in from the Monitoring and Emergency Preparedness Center of the Institute For Seismo-Theology (IFS-T):

The IFS-T student body and faculty here just read the following ELCA newsblast and are calling for an all-out response in preparation for the discussions announced below:

http://www.elca.org/News/Releases.asp?a=4518

ELCA NEWS SERVICE
May 4, 2010

ELCA Leaders to Respond to Actions, Comments by Lutherans in Africa
10-132-JB

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) will discuss concerns about the actions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly on human sexuality with Lutheran church partners from Ethiopia and Tanzania in private meetings to be held in Chicago during the next two weeks.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, said he will meet with the Rev. Wakseyoum Idosa, president of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) in Chicago on May 10. Hanson also said he will meet with the Rev. Alex Malasusa, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) May 18. Malasusa will be in Chicago for a companion synod consultation with ELCA Global Mission staff.
Last month leaders of the two African churches expressed deep concern over decisions of the 2009 assembly and, separately, the Church of Sweden, on sexuality matters. The two African churches focused their public comments on opposition to same-sex or same-gender marriages.
The Church of Sweden, the ELCT, the EECMY and the ELCA are the four largest churches in the Lutheran World Federation, (LWF), a global communion of churches.
Hanson said he expects to have "honest and open conversations" with both leaders, and added that it is his practice to communicate directly with leaders in companion churches. The ELCA presiding bishop said he plans to share with both leaders "the ELCA's shared commitment with partner churches to be engaged in God's mission for the sake of the world."
Since the churchwide assembly, ELCA Global Mission staff has been communicating with companion churches "our intent to continue to be respectful of local policies and practices in the assignment of mission personnel and the development of shared ministries," said the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission.
At the Africa LWF Pre-assembly and Church Leadership Consultation held in March in Nigeria, Malpica Padilla said the ELCA is "deeply grateful" for the companionship of the African churches.
"For many decades our churches have walked together, sharing their gifts and talents for the proclamation of the gospel of salvation and hope in Jesus Christ. This companionship in the gospel has strengthened the bonds of sisterhood and brotherhood between our peoples." Malpica Padilla added that these relationships are "historical and deeply rooted."

+ + +

Here at IFS-T (that's the Institute for Seismo-Theology), an interdisciplinary response in anticipation of the private meetings between Hanson and Idosa (May 10) and Malasusa (May 18) is being mobilized. Early reports from various student organizations and faculty groups:

· The IFS-T Prayer Network is calling for an all-out, hit-the-ground-on-your-knees prayer vigil during the days leading up to the meetings, and 'round the clock/'round the world on May 10 and May 18. Lots to pray for -- the partner churches and their leaders are in Ethiopia and Tanzania are shaking things up with their willingness to make the good confession. Kneel with them.

· The social-networking set is reminding everyone who’s participating in the Prayer Network’s vigil to let your prayers be known. Post your prayers here ... or on your favorite blog. Do be respectful and intentional in your prayers and in any messages reporting same.

· Several graduate assistants are setting up a monitoring study – their hypothesis is that "knees hitting the ground can be detected by seismological monitors being adapting for this purpose." Seismological reporting stations, take note.

· The journalism faculty’s contribution: To call for “honest and open reporting” of the hoped-for “honest and open conversations” on May 10 and 18. They really hope against hope for open meetings in a disclosed location. Please pray for their intentions.

· Historians would like to conduct pre- and post- interviews of the three church leaders. They also are calculating odds on what the first question from the African leaders to their ELCA counterpart will be. “Do you repent?” is an odds-on favorite.

So much for now.

Scallop out.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Beth Lewis' Letter to ELCA Rostered Leaders

Shrimp here, with another tip o' the claw to pretty good lutherans.

Augsburg Fortress CEO Beth A. Lewis has written an "Open letter to ELCA rostered leaders" and it appeared last Wednesday on her One Mission Blog. We offer it here in it entirety:

Open letter to ELCA rostered leaders

April 28th, 2010 by Beth A. Lewis

Last week, I wrote the letter inserted below to the rostered leaders (pastors, associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers) of the ELCA. We asked the synodical bishops to forward it to the rostered leaders in their respective synods. But, bishops and their staff members are extremely busy! Especially at this time of the year when they are focused on leading their annual synod assemblies!

So, I am posting the letter here as an open letter not only to rostered leaders, but for anyone who is interested in learning more about the very difficult decisions we made related to the termination of the Augsburg Fortress defined benefit pension plan and the distribution of the assets to the plan participants.

Here is the letter:

"April 23, 2010

Dear Partners in Ministry:

Many of you are aware of the recent decision Augsburg Fortress made to terminate our defined benefit pension plan and distribute the assets to all plan participants. We deeply regret any hardship that these decisions have caused. You may also have heard that a lawsuit was filed against us this week. The complaint brought against Augsburg Fortress and other defendants in this matter is wholly without merit. We deny all claims of wrongdoing alleged in the complaint and will seek its dismissal.

I am writing this letter to help you better understand why we made these heart-wrenching decisions and why we believe the course we took was the most fair and equitable for the plan participants. It is an extremely complicated situation, but I will try to explain it as clearly as I can.

Last December we decided to terminate the defined benefit plan and distribute the assets to all plan participants. This decision was taken only after months of consultation with outside pension, actuarial and other experts, as well as a thorough pursuit of other options to close the funding deficiency. It was the final step of a long journey.

In March 2005, it had become clear to us that the Augsburg Fortress defined benefit pension plan would not be sustainable for the organization if we kept adding employee plan participants. So we froze the plan, essentially not allowing new participants into it, and implemented a defined contribution 403b retirement plan, available to all Augsburg Fortress employees. Our understanding at the time, based on our fund managers’ advice, was that the defined benefit pension plan, once frozen, would be sustainable for decades.

However, from late 2007 through early 2009, the plan was hit by a "perfect storm" of factors:
  • The worst equity market decline since the Great Depression
  • Adjustment to mortality tables, increasing the theoretical liability because retirees are living longer than the actuaries predicted
  • Low interest rates
  • As the market has recovered, continued withdrawals for current retirees prohibited recovery of the pension plan assets
Because of the way this plan was structured decades ago, plus the operating losses being incurred by Augsburg Fortress in recent years and the impact of these "perfect storm" factors, almost 60% of the plan participants—current and former employees not yet retired—would have received nothing! We didn’t think this was fair or equitable.

We therefore chose to terminate the plan and distribute the assets across the entire pool of plan participants to address this equity issue. The distribution calculations were based on a complex set of actuarial data including years of service. In general, our guideline was that people who had worked for AF for many years would receive more than those who had worked for AF for fewer years. And, retirees would receive more than those who had not yet retired. The distributions were made in mid-March with strong encouragement for plan participants to obtain financial counsel to assist in deciding the best course of financial planning with the distribution.

I recognize that these issues are difficult for all of you, as they are for us, during a time when ELCA leaders are worried about many things. The bottom line here was that there were no good choices to be made so we made the best choice out of a number of bad options.

Should you have any questions about this or anything else related to Augsburg Fortress, please don’t hesitate to contact me. And, above all, please join me in praying for all who have been affected by these difficult economic times and, in particular, those who have been impacted by these decisions.

Blessings,

Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO
Augsburg Fortress
Beth.lewis@augsburgfortress.org "


If you have questions about this, I will be happy to try to answer them. I am very grateful for the many people who have been in touch with me to express their concern for all who have been affected by these decisions and for all who are now having to deal with the law suit that has been filed.

Thanks for your prayers!
Blessings,

Beth A. Lewis, President & CEO
Augsburg Fortress
Shrimp again, noting that also last Wednesday the ELCA News Service reported:
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), was among 21 religious leaders who signed letters to top U.S. government officials, urging that they raise concerns for the protection of minority groups in Iraq, including Christians.
Read it all here. Still nothing from the Presiding Bishop, however, on the plight of employees and retirees of the "the publishing house of the ELCA."

Shrimp out.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

WA Network is done, but WordAlone not out

Shrimp here, and that's the headline on this press release from the WordAlone Network. Tip o' the claw to Susan Hogan at pretty good lutherans.

NEWS RELEASE

For immediate release
For information: Thomas Walker, vice president
712-389-1735 or Email
April 23, 2010

WA Network is done, but WordAlone not out

by Betsy Carlson, WordAlone Ministries' editor

The WordAlone Network is finished.

But not the work of preaching, teaching and confessing the Word alone, Jesus Christ, by the newly designated WordAlone Ministries.

The WordAlone Network voted to change its name when it met in convention April 18-19 at Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley, Minn., under the banner of “It’s a New Day!”

The convention affirmed that WordAlone will continue to serve congregations, groups and individuals committed to proclaiming the Word of God and to remaining faithful to the Bible, although it ended its attempts to reform the ELCA after its unbiblical decisions on marriage and family and on new standards for ministers at the churchwide assembly last August.

Earlier in the day, WordAlone President Jaynan Clark presented a new vision for WordAlone Ministries in a dynamic report that included her falling to her knees and repenting for anything WordAlone failed to do that the Lord called it to do in the past 10 years.

Still on her knees, she prayed, “Otherwise continue to call us, guide us; send us leaders, evangelists and (on) a mission to go forward and to get beyond the nonsense of . . . celebration of sin.”

After rising from prayer, she said WordAlone wants to stay in the “boiler room doing the work” to support the efforts of faithful Lutheran church bodies.

Faithful Lutheran church bodies closely-related to WordAlone are Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ generally known as LCMC, Canadian Association of Lutherans Churches, Lutheran CORE and the North American Lutheran Church—when it’s established.

WordAlone Ministries will provide preaching, teaching and confessing ministries from what she called a “ministry forge.”

Two ministries newly out of the ministry forge are first responders to the crisis among Lutherans: the Chaplain Corps and the Evangelical Mission Teams. These programs provide assistance and accurate information to those wanting to leave either their congregations or denomination.

The next to be launched will be Life Together Churches in June, in partnership with Lutheran Evangelistic Movement. This ministry will support house churches, cell churches and, via the Internet, a virtual parish.

Clark said she also envisions a worldwide, multi-media evangelism ministry using Internet, radio and television to preach, teach and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. She called this ministry “SALT,” SAlvation, Life and Truth,” and said it will be salt and light to the world.

The existing Clergy Connect electronic list of churches seeking ministers will be upgraded to a two-way tool for churches, clergy and lay ministers to communicate on the Internet.

In its past, WordAlone provided new ministries for congregations and individuals who held to the teachings of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. WordAlone Ministries will continue its collaborations with ministry groups such as Lutheran Youth Encounter, World Mission Prayer League, Faith Inkubators, China Service Ventures and East European Mission Network.

Clark introduced Sola Publishing as not just the educational wing of WordAlone but calling it the future for confessional, Lutheran publications. Sola is already producing faithful Sunday School and Vacation Bible School curriculum as well as valuable resources for adult Christian education.

Over the years WordAlone has supported the development of several new ministries.

LCMC was the first ministry WordAlone produced. It was officially launched in 2001 with about 25 churches, became independent and has grown to 400 congregations!

After LCMC came ReClaim Resources, now independent. ReClaim developed an introductory hymnal with nearly 50 hymns and a Lutheran—not ecumenical—order of service and other rites that proclaim God’s word. The group is working on more worship resources.

WordAlone also launched the Institute of Lutheran Theology, which is now functioning as an independent Lutheran online seminary.

Another important ministry development project has resulted in Lutheran CORE which provides affiliation options for Lutherans who are opposed to the recent unbiblical policies being implemented by the ELCA.

—end—
A "virtual parish" on the Internet? Shrimp out.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Churchwide Organization "Deeply Concerned"

Shrimp here. Apparently in response to news of the lawsuit regarding the Augsburg Fortress pension plan's failure, the ELCA News Service has issued the following news release. We'll let you read it before we ask a couple of questions.
ELCA NEWS SERVICE
April 23, 2010

ELCA Churchwide Organization Responds to Pension Plan Lawsuit

10-123-JB

CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The churchwide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) said today it is "deeply concerned" for the well-being of participants affected by the termination of a defined benefit compensation retirement plan of Augsburg Fortress Publishers, Minneapolis.

On April 21 former employees of the publisher who were covered by the terminated pension plan filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota.

The churchwide organization's statement, issued to the ELCA News Service, said, "The entire ELCA, including the leadership of the churchwide organization, understands the far-reaching implications of this matter, and is deeply concerned for the well-being of the plan participants and continues to hold them in prayer."

"In the midst of this complex, difficult and painful situation we are also mindful of the need to respect both the obligations and the limitations in the legal agreements so that we can be responsible to all of our commitments and relationships as an interdependent church," the statement said.

Augsburg Fortress is separately incorporated entity apart from the ELCA churchwide organization. The publisher has maintained and continues to maintain its own retirement benefits for its staff. The ELCA churchwide organization had no role in the creation, management, funding or termination of the Augsburg Fortress pension plan, according to an April 22 report in the Wall Street Journal.

Plantiffs in the lawsuit are Judith Thorkelson, Karen Walhof, Gayle Aldrich and Jean K. Stanley, all participants in the terminated plan. The suit also included "all others similarly situated" as plaintiffs. Approximately 500 people were affected by the termination of the pension plan.

Named as defendants were Augsburg Fortress; Beth Lewis, president and chief executive officer; John Rahja, chief financial officer; and Sandra Middendorf, vice president of human resources and organizational development; the ELCA; and current and former members of the publisher's board of trustees.

The class action lawsuit seeks to recover losses allegedly suffered by the plantiffs because of what they claim are "breaches of duty" with regard to the termination of the defined benefit pension plan, according to the lawsuit.

The suit also asks the federal district court to declare that the terminated pension plan is not a church plan, but a defined benefit plan regulated by the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

"We deeply regret any hardship that the termination of our defined benefit retirement plan has caused, but the complaint brought against Augsburg Fortress and other defendants in this matter is wholly without merit," said Lewis, in a statement in response to the suit. "We deny all claims of wrongdoing alleged in the complaint and will seek its dismissal."

"The complaint filed against Augsburg Fortress misrepresents the care with which the plan was administered and the communications that occurred with plan participants," Lewis added.

ELCA Secretary David D. Swartling denied all legal claims made by the plaintiffs against the ELCA.

In 2005 the Augsburg Fortress board of trustees took action to freeze the defined benefit plan, and began offering a 403b defined contribution plan to its employees. The costly defined benefit plan "has been underfunded for about nine years," Lewis said at the time the defined benefit plan was terminated on Dec. 31, 2009.

When that plan was terminated, Lewis said most participants in the defined benefit plan would receive a lump sum payment. Lewis said the trustees provided for a "more equitable allocation of plan assets among plan participants," she wrote in a letter to plan participants. Without the amendment, more than half of the plan participants would have received nothing at all, Lewis wrote.

"We wanted to make certain that we had the most equitable distribution of assets possible," she told the ELCA News Service. "If we had done nothing, the plan would have run out of money in approximately five years and left about 60 percent of those in the plan with no retirement benefits. We didn't think that was equitable or fair."

Distributions were made to plan participants in March, Lewis said.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or news@elca.org
http://www.elca.org/news
Twitter: http://twitter.com/elcanews
Shrimp again. We think Pastor Richard Johnson, editor of Forum Letter raises an interesting question over at ALPB Forum Online:
Now doesn't that strike you as odd? I didn't know that an organization could actually speak. Or, if an organization can speak, I thought it could only speak through official actions by, say, it's "board of directors" (which, we are incessantly told, is the Church Council in the ELCA).

If you read the rest of the story, you heard Beth Lewis quoted a lot. She's speaking for Augsburg Fortress. But who is speaking for the ELCA?... Right now I'm just pondering: Who is this "churchwide organization" that says these things, anyway? Anyone got a clue?
Shrimp hasn't the slightest idea, but we are struck that here's a (seemingly rare) instance where the usually loquacious ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson is nowhere to be quoted.

No, the only named ELCA official is "ELCA Secretary David D. Swartling denied all legal claims made by the plaintiffs against the ELCA." Sure, there's the "deep concern" and "prayers" of a (suddenly) faceless churchwide organization, which we've been told has "no fiduciary responsibility" for the brothers and sisters who work for the ELCA's publishing ministry. Anyone else here thinking, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled" (James 2:15-17)?

Rather than holding hands singing Kum Bay Ya, someone in the ELCA churchwide organization ought to follow up on an idea Pastor Steven Tibbetts (aka Pastor Zip) raised elsewhere on ALPB Forum Online: the ELCA sets up a fund for these Augburg Fortress employees, similar to the Special Needs Retirement Fund. That fund was established by the 1993 Churchwide Assembly for pastors, those
retired leaders of the church [who] received lower incomes and either they or the congregations were, at times, unable to provide contributions to the pension plan. Consequently, they retired with low pension income and experience a very real financial hardship.
Then have a special churchwide offering -- and don't diddle around for a couple of years planning, as is happening with the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, but get on it now.

So, Bishop Hanson, what's preventing the ELCA from showing that sort of moral leadership?

Shrimp out.

The good ship ELCA...

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