Late Sunday afternoon, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson hosted an online town hall meeting. The ELCA news service reported that 3,148 computers logged in to follow the proceedings, which were held in the old bookstore of the ELCA offices in Chicago. Participants who were present and who asked questions reported that their questions were not pre-screened.
Key points made by the Bishop included:
- Plans are underway to plant thirteen new congregations in multi-ethnic communities.
- “Global mission has been part of the foundational identity of Lutherans since they came to this country.”
- The effect of the financial boycott pushed by Lutheran CORE is that, “mission and ministry is diminished throughout the world and throughout this church.”
- The church wrestles with social statements but when ratified can and should be used by congregations as teaching and discussion tools.
- “Youth ministry is alive and well in this church.”
- “Advent a time a prayer, for me,” Bishop Hanson said.
One pastor reported that the Facebook chat that accompanied the town hall meeting was hijacked by ugly comments from persons refusing to listen to the discussion.
The town meeting will be available again for download or on demand viewing as a webcast on the ELCA website by 4:30 this afternoon.
Bishop Hanson is the third presiding Bishop since the formation of the ELCA over twenty years ago. The first two, Herbert Chilstrom and H. George Anderson, recently issued a joint statement that included the following comments:
In recent months, our society and this church have been sailing through rough waters. Personal income is down for many; some are unemployed. We recognize that some sisters and brothers in Christ were disappointed in the decisions regarding human sexuality at the churchwide assembly, although we believe they were the right decisions. As a result, some have withdrawn or reduced support for our mission. The consequences of these events are painful. This church’s mission and ministry have been diminished.
Our troubled world needs the Good News of the Gospel and all that flows from it. Our differences must not divide us at a time like this. We are absolutely certain that we can continue to live together and serve as one family in the ELCA.
This is why we are calling on you, our brothers and sisters in the faith, to pray daily for the unity of this church and its mission.
Meanwhile, Pastor Donna Simon of Kansas City offers the following commentary on her blog, under the title “Would Jesus withhold mission support?:
Some of those who stand in great certitude about what Jesus would do are withholding their money from their ELCA congregations. Whole congregations are withholding mission support from the ELCA churchwide organization.
Forty-five people lost their jobs at churchwide, in part as a result of this withheld support. Budget cuts are more complex, of course–it’s a bad economy and we continue to decline overall.
But a whole bunch of those people lost their jobs because of financial blackmail. Maybe that’s harsh, but I don’t think so, and if it is, then it is deservedly harsh. Our congregation disagreed with decisions made by churchwide for years, and never once voted to withhold funds. We would have considered it unjust. I would have considered it immoral. A good portion of the money that goes to churchwide funds disaster response, water programs in the 2/3 world, the ELCA World Hunger Appeal.