When the ELCA was formed in 1987 as the result of merger, the first Presiding Bishop was Herb Chilstrom, and he shepherded nearly five million Lutherans during the formative years of the ELCA’s life. Herb is now retired and resides in St. Peter, Mn, the home of Gustavus Adolphus College. My wife and I were in St Peter yesterday visiting our dear friends, Alan and Gretchen Bray. Alan was our pastor for a decade in the 90’s in Upsala, Mn, and he has been Herb’s pastor since leaving Upsala. While visiting, Alan shared an email that Herb had circulated following the recent ELCA 2009 Convention, which he entitled Reflections on the Minneapolis Churchwide Assembly.
With the permission of the gracious retired bishop, I reprint portions of his email here.
The final votes had been taken. On Friday evening many of us gathered to worship and reflect on what had happened. The room at the Minneapolis Convention Center was filled to near capacity [Goodsoil Central]. We were a mixed group: a synod bishop, straight couples like Corinne and me, straight and gay singles, gay couples, clergy and lay, young and old—a microcosm of the ELCA.
There was no shouting, “We won!” There were no banners proclaiming, “Victory at last!”
The mood was one of quiet and calm. We began with a simple plainsong:
Eternal Spirit of the Living Christ,
Come, pray in us the prayers we need this day.
Our hope, our homing ever in your grace.
We’ve come this far by faith; we can’t turn back.
We listened to words of healing from the Bible … we had prayers for healing and hope … we sang.
At the end of the evening, I was invited to share a few thoughts before I pronounced the benediction. Here is what I said.
I have been asked many times since the voting ended, “What are your thoughts?” I could only come up with one word: “Bittersweet.”
This is surely a moment of sweetness, of thanksgiving at the end of a very long struggle.
But there is a also a heavy stone at the bottom of my heart this night. I realize that words I have written and spoken almost surely have contributed to the decision of some to leave our dear church. Along with so many others, I poured my heart and soul into the formation, birth and early years of our ELCA. I do not want even one to leave.
But over against this heaviness is the memory of those—and their family and friends—who have already left our church. And I am also thinking tonight of all those—and their families and friends—who would leave in even greater numbers had they heard another word of exclusion from this assembly. The door has been opened. We can’t turn back.
Now, nearly a week later, that same mixed feeling persists. Here are some of my most poignant memories from the assembly:
**I remember with admiration the words of former Minnesota governor, Al Quie. He was opposed to the proposals. But like the statesman and churchman that he is, Quie reminded those on the losing side that the church is bigger than this decision and that we must all remain loyal.
**I take some encouragement from the vote on the final recommendation, the call for implementation of the actions that had been approved. That it passed by nearly 70% tells us that many who were disappointed by the outcome also realize that we must move on, living out the implications of the decisions.
**I was impressed by the youth who spoke. I don’t think I would have had the courage to speak at such a huge gathering when I was a teenager. The word we heard from them was that the issues we were debating were not at the top of their list of concerns. They want a church that does not exclude any who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Where does all this leave us? Here is my hope:
That all of us will take a deep, deep breath, asking the promised Holy Spirit to be our Guide, Helper, Counselor, and Friend in the days to come.
That we will give ourselves the time we need to live into this new reality.
That we will pray earnestly for those who lead us.
That will we will concentrate on evangelism, accenting that we are now, more than ever, a church that invites all to share in our rich treasures of Word and Sacrament.
Amen. Thanks again, Herb, for your graceful leadership.