CHICAGO – The board of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American Division for Ministry affirmed the vision statement it penned and initiated last year, during its annual convention, March 12-14. Building onto the vision statement, the board organized a more “structurally efficient” model to lead the future of the church, and discussed two key issues that confront the denomination.
The first issue covered was on the ELCA’s process to restructure its churchwide organization.
The board's chair, the Rev. Robert J. Karli, First English Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas, said there was an overall call to change several parts of the Ministry.
"It's safe to say there was a strong feeling that there is a need for some restructuring," he said, adding that it is equally important to strengthen ties between the churchwide structure and the other expressions of the church. “Overall I think these small groups said that what we do is pretty critical and foundational to the life of the ELCA and probably cannot be parceled out to other divisions," Karli said.
Ultimately, the board finalized three separate committees in addition to the executive committee: invitation and discernment, theological education, and servant leadership.
Discussions covering the second issue –homosexuality, resulted in a less concrete declaration.
The Rev. James M. Childs Jr., director for the ELCA studies on sexuality, reported to the board on the progress of the study process. A task force helped develop two study guides and is collecting responses to that material from across the church. It plans to use those responses to draft a report and recommendations to the 2005 churchwide assembly.
As of now, the board decided to keep the past ELCA policies on homosexuality intact. Current ELCA policy expects ministers to refrain from all sexual relations outside marriage. The church has no official policy on blessing same-gender relationships. The ELCA Conference of Bishops, an advisory body of the church, stated it does not approve of such ceremonies.
Churchwide assemblies are held every other year; the next assembly will be Aug. 8-14, 2005, in Orlando, Fla. The 2001 assembly mandated a study in preparation for decisions the 2005 assembly is to make regarding the blessing of committed same-gender relationships and the ministries of people in such relationships. In addition, the study is to develop a proposed social statement on human sexuality for the assembly to consider in 2007.