This past weekend, the NE Minnesota synod of the ELCA met in annual assembly at Cragun’s Resort near Brainerd.  The annual assemblies rotate between this venue and the Duluth Entertainment & Convention Center in alternate years.  This is the synod my wife and I formerly belonged to, and it was a delight to see many familiar faces and to renew friendships.  We were in attendance to promote my recently released novel of Biblical fiction, A Wretched Man.

In private conversations with Bishop Tom Aiken, and in his report to the assembly, Bishop Tom said that the eight months since the church wide assembly decisions of August (CWA09) have been difficult … but it is the nature of the church to always face a crossroads, he added.

Bishop Thomas AikenSome in our synod are joy-filled about the new ministry policies, some are unhappy, and the bulk are somewhere in between, pondering this issue and willing to live with our decisions as a church. I believe we can be a stronger church if we take this time in the life of our synod, to become more dedicated to a deeper study of Scripture and grow more fervent in our love for each other and for our call to the ministry of reconciliation we received from God.

The Bishop reported that nine synod congregations had taken first votes to leave the ELCA, but only one first vote had achieved the required 2/3 majority.

I spoke at length with two ladies whose congregations are in conflict (one congregation voted to stay and the other is likely to vote to leave), and the tears in their eyes and quivering lips betrayed their anguish.  For both, the most odious and hurtful aspect of the conflict was that their own faith as Christians was being questioned; despite lengthy involvement as leaders of their local congregations, their own moral standing before God was the subject of whisper campaigns because they dared to support gays and the ELCA, and their own pastors had been complicit in the judgmentalism of the schismatic faction.

Coincidentally, the weekend saw a similarly self-righteous op-ed piece published by a Duluth newspaper (Duluth is the largest city in the synod and the home of the ELCA synod offices).  The article was entitled Pastor’s view: ELCA must repent for turning back on God and subtitled Lutheran? I don’t think so.  Curiously, the newspaper named the author as a pastor of a local Lutheran church but failed to note his LCMS (Missouri Synod) affiliation.

The only official order of business pertaining to the revised ELCA ministry policies was a resolution calling for a polling of congregations and congregational members regarding their views of the CWA09 decisions.  The first speaker from the floor opposed the resolution because it was extra-constitutional—a method of decision-making inconsistent with constitutional procedures.  A second speaker suggested it was time to move on and that such a polling would prick the scab off the still fresh wound in his own congregation that had voted to stay and to move forward.  Following repeated invitations from the bishop for someone to speak in favor of the resolution, one person came forward and offered half-hearted support.  The fourth speaker moved the question, and the resolution failed by an overwhelming show of hands—to my eyes, it appeared that only 10% or so supported the resolution.

Last week, I reported on the first round of springtime ELCA synod assemblies, and I invite you to post a comment about your assembly.