Shrimp, a conservative blogger at Shellfish asked the secretary of the ELCA for a current status report on ELCA defections. Secretary David Swartling responded with the following update:
As of February 3, we have been advised that 220 congregations have taken votes to leave the ELCA. In 156 congregations, the first vote passed; in 64 congregations the first vote failed. 28 congregations have taken a second vote, all of which passed.
Remember, the ELCA consists of over ten thousand congregations spread over sixty five regional synods. The ELCA secretary noted that sixteen of the synods (1/4th) “have not reported any congregations that have voted to terminate their relationship with the ELCA.”
Shrimp made no comment on these findings, and for good reason. These numbers don’t fit the Lutheran CORE goal of a “reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism.” Lutheran pastor John Petty earlier suggested that a minimum of one thousand congregations would be necessary for a new denomination to be viable, and even then it would be small. That would be smaller than the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS claims 1,290 churches according to its website), which ranks a weak third in size behind the ELCA and LCMS even in its prime Midwest region. For comparison, the Association of Free Lutheran Churches (AFLC) claims 270 congregations, and the Lutheran Brethren 123.
These numbers beg another question: why is there a single large moderate Lutheran denomination and half a dozen, smaller, conservative ones? Is there something inherent in those who erect boundaries that makes them more exclusive? Pup tents vs big tent?
We are now approaching half a year since the church wide assembly in Minneapolis. These first six months have seen the plucking of the “low hanging fruit”, congregations that already had one foot out the door, including mega-churches in Glendale, Arizona and Lakeville, Minnesota. What will the next six months and beyond bring?
Without meaning to diminish the deep hurt in departing congregations and in many that remain in conflict within the ELCA, this first half year since CWA09 hardly signals the seismic shift predicted by the Lutheran CORE rabble rousers nor the wrenching schism that the media trumpets every time this congregation or that one votes to depart. What can the holier-than-thou trinity of Lutheran CORE, WordAlone Network, and Lutheran Congregations in Ministry truly aspire to? Another Lutheran Brethren? Another AFLC? Another WELS? Another LCMS? A “reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism”?
Steady as she goes.