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June 5, 2003 ELCA News Service
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ELCA Churchwide Assembly to Meet in Milwaukee Aug. 11-17

Caring for Our Health
Evangelism Strategy
Faithful Journey
Strategic Directions and Planning

Chicago (ELCA)-JB —  Voting members of the 2003 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Churchwide Assembly will act on several proposals — including an evangelism vision for the church, and a social statement on health and health care — and elect a vice president and an editor for The Lutheran, the magazine of the ELCA. The assembly will be held at the Midwest Airlines Center in Milwaukee, Aug. 11-17.

More than 2,000 people — including 1,031 voting members elected by synods — are expected to participate in the ELCA's eighth biennial assembly. The theme is "Making Christ Known: For the Healing of the World." It is directly related to the theme for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) assembly, to be held July 21-31 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The LWF assembly's theme is "For the Healing of the World." The ELCA is one of 136 member churches in the LWF.

The churchwide assembly is the ELCA's chief legislative authority and represents the 5.1 million members of the ELCA, the fourth-largest Protestant denomination in the United States and Caribbean. The ELCA is organized into 65 synods, each headed by a bishop.

The ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod, led by Bishop Paul W. Stumme- Diers, is hosting the assembly. Volunteers from the synod have been involved in planning arrangements for the assembly. A committee of the churchwide organization is determining the assembly agenda; Myrna J. Sheie, executive assistant to the presiding bishop, is the committee chair.

Worship, Bible study and prayer will be significant to the assembly. It includes a "Global Celebration" Aug. 14, during which the afternoon sessions will be devoted to presentations, workshops and a celebration of the ELCA's connection to the global church and the LWF.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, who was elected ELCA presiding bishop at the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, will chair the assembly, his first as presiding bishop. Assisting him during plenary sessions will be the Rev. Lowell G. Almen, ELCA secretary.

For the first time, official "congregational observers" may register with the ELCA office of the Secretary to attend the assembly. Each of the ELCA's 10,766 congregations may send one representative. Observers will have reserved seating in the plenary hall, and will receive reports and materials. Official observers have no voice in assembly discussions and do not vote.

The ELCA constitution requires the church to hold churchwide assemblies every two years. Significant funding for the assembly is provided by the churchwide organization, with some financial support from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, a fraternal benefit organization based in Minneapolis.

Evangelism, Health Care Proposals To Be Considered

At the 2001 Churchwide Assembly, voting members asked for the development of an evangelism strategy to be presented for action in 2003. Since then a 32-member evangelism task force, led by the Rev. Gary M. Wollersheim, bishop of the ELCA Northern Illinois Synod, Rockford, has developed a strategy, "Sharing Faith in a New Century: A Vision for Evangelism in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America."

The strategy was reviewed by the ELCA Church Council in April and transmitted to the assembly. The council also set in place several actions to implement the strategy, should it be adopted by the assembly. The proposed strategy is on the ELCA Web site.

The assembly will consider a proposed social statement on health and health care, "Caring for Our Health: Our Shared Endeavor." The proposed social statement was authorized by the 1999 Churchwide Assembly. The ELCA Division for Church in Society and a task force appointed by the division's board developed the proposal.

The proposal will address the biblical and theological basis for making a statement on health and health care; access to health care and equity in care; the role of ELCA-related social ministry organizations involved in health care as an expression of the church's ministry; and the role of congregational health ministries in the church's ministry.

In April the church council recommended the assembly adopt the final text of the proposed social statement, and it put in place several actions to implement it if adopted. The text of Caring for Our Health is on the ELCA Web site.

New VP To Be Elected, Nominee Considered For Magazine Post

Dr. Addie J. Butler, Philadelphia, the ELCA's vice president, told the church several months ago she will not stand for re-election to the volunteer position. Butler, 56, was elected at 1997 Churchwide Assembly in Philadelphia. She is assistant to the vice president for academic affairs, Community College of Philadelphia. Butler's successor will be elected to a six-year term.

The vice president serves as an officer of the ELCA along with the presiding bishop, secretary and treasurer. The ELCA constitution specifies the election is by ecclesiastical ballot. Nominations are made on the first ballot; each succeeding ballot requires a nominee to receive a certain percentage of all ballots cast for election. As many as five ballots may be needed.

The Rev. David L. Miller, who currently serves as editor of The Lutheran, is the nominee for a second four-year term as editor. Miller, 50, was first elected at the 1999 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The editor is nominated by the magazine's advisory committee, in consultation with the presiding bishop and ELCA Church Council. In November 2002, the council transmitted Miller's nomination for consideration by the assembly.

In addition, the assembly will elect members of the church to churchwide boards and committees.

Reports And Resolutions To Be Presented

A key report to be presented to the assembly is a progress report on the ELCA Studies on Sexuality. The 2001 Churchwide Assembly mandated that the church begin a four-year study process on homosexuality and the church. Specifically, it asked the ELCA to study the possibilities of blessings of same-gender relationships and of ordaining people who are gay or lesbian and who are in committed homosexual relationships. The assembly asked for a progress report in 2003 and a final report with recommendations at the 2005 assembly.

The 2001 assembly also asked for a social statement on human sexuality that may be considered at the 2007 assembly.

The Rev. James A. Childs, Jr., an ethicist on leave from the faculty of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, was appointed director for the studies. Childs has been working with a task force appointed by the church. The Rev. Margaret G. Payne, bishop of the ELCA New England Synod, Worcester, Mass., is chair of the task force.

Information about the task force's work is on the Web.

Several other reports and actions are expected at the 2003 Churchwide Assembly:

+ Hanson, Butler, Almen and Christina Jackson-Skelton, ELCA treasurer, will report to the assembly. Hanson will offer his report in five sections, one to be presented each day, Aug. 12-16. The presiding bishop will focus on each of the church's five strategic directions which emerged from a strategic planning process for the church: supporting congregations; growing in evangelical outreach; being a public church; deepening global, ecumenical and interfaith relationships; and identifying and supporting church leaders. Information about the strategic directions and the ELCA planning process is on the Web.

+ The ELCA churchwide organization's budget for 2004 and 2005 will be presented for adoption. The church council recommended that the assembly approve an income proposal of $84,310,000 for 2004, along with a spending plan of $16.25 million for the ELCA World Hunger Program. For 2005, it recommended an income proposal of $85,140,000 and a $16.5 million spending plan for the World Hunger Program.

+ Several constitutional amendments will be presented for consideration, along with resolutions from voting members and memorials, which are resolutions from synods.

+ Representatives from the ELCA's ecumenical partners, other church bodies and church organizations will greet the assembly participants at plenary sessions.

+ The ELCA Church Council and ELCA Conference of Bishops will meet prior to the start of the assembly.

+ Young Lutherans will attend a youth convocation or young adult convocation, Aug 11-18 at the Midwest Express Center. The ELCA Division for Congregational Ministries provides leadership for these events.

ELCA churchwide staff will host a "Hospitality Cafe" Aug. 11-16. Assembly participants will be able to have coffee, tea or water. In addition to cafe tables and chairs, easy chairs will be placed in the cafe. After assembly, the easy chairs and end tables will be donated to a social service organization in Milwaukee.