Beloved sisters and brothers in Christ,
“Freed and Renewed in Christ,” was the theme of the triennial Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA in New Orleans Aug. 8-13. While there were about 950 voting members in attendance with 16 from the Florida-Bahamas Synod (along with another 15 of our people who attended the Grace Gathering which ran concurrently), I wish you all could have been there to see what an amazing church ours is. A churchwide assembly centers daily on a midday gathering around the Liturgy of Holy Communion. With about 1500 gathered each day, these services of word and sacrament are centered in great preaching and magnificent and diverse music and liturgy. This was the source and summit of all our other activity which included legislative action, reports from Churchwide officers and units, updates on ministries, workshops, Bible study, fellowship and more.
Our presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, said in her report, “I hope you all go home and tell your congregations that this church is not dying, it is changing.” That is the message that I bring back to the Florida-Bahamas Synod. God’s work is being done with our hands throughout this church. God is doing some amazing new things among us as witnessed to by the following actions of the assembly:
- Overwhelmingly affirmed the “Declaration on the Way,” a document noting 32 principles of agreement between Roman Catholics and Lutherans as the result of 50 years of ecumenical dialog. The document is commended as a study resource for the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation as Catholics and Lutherans continue to strive to heal the breach of the 16th century and move toward sharing the Lord’s Supper and ministry.
- Adopted AMMPARO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities), a holistic, churchwide strategy addressing the complex issue of minors fleeing violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
- Elected our own William B. “Bill” Horne II of Clearwater to a six-year term as vice president of the ELCA.
- Adopted strategies toward greater diversity within the ELCA (whose minority members represent only 6 percent of its membership) through intentional outreach and raising awareness of both overt and subtle racism in the U.S.
- Adopted annual budgets for the next three years of approximately $64 million annually for ELCA ministries and $25 million for World Hunger.
- Affirmed efforts to support veterans and their families, military chaplains and all affected by war.
- Adopted strategies for positive investment aimed at supporting peace in Israel and Palestine and reduced energy usage and reliance on fossil fuels.
I return from New Orleans thankful to be a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and thankful to be partners in the gospel with each of you!
Peace be yours,
+Bishop Robert G. Schaefer