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Chicago (ELCA)-FI — The board of the Division for Ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) responded to a proposal to restructure the ELCA's churchwide organization with some understanding and with some concern. Board members also participated in the ELCA studies on sexuality during their meeting here Oct. 10-11.
"There was genuine concern on the part of board members, as well as emotion and a sense of unrest at times," said the board's chair, the Rev. Robert J. Karli, First English Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas.
The restructuring proposal includes some "dramatic changes," Karli said. Board members were concerned for staff members whose positions may be eliminated and for "the ministries in the church that everyone on this board truly loves," he said.
The proposal is to eliminate 41 of about 500 staff positions and create 18 new staff positions under a new structure. One position in the Division for Ministry would be eliminated and one full-time position would become part-time; both positions are related to the division's work with Ministry in Daily Life.
The ELCA's six divisions would become five departments; and most functions of the current Division for Ministry would be placed in a Department for Ministry.
The proposal is also to phase out the existing boards of divisions. It asks the ELCA Church Council to develop amendments to the ELCA Constitution, eliminating boards, for presentation to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly.
Instead of the Church Council having a set group of elected board and committee members to consult, the proposal is for the council to host consultations of representatives from each of the ELCA's 65 synods and from appropriate churchwide entities to address a specific and timely topic.
The Division for Ministry board recognizes the need for change and "that change is always difficult even when it's necessary," Karli said, however, the elimination of boards was a primary concern. "It gives the perception that there will be even less input to the churchwide organization from the other expressions of the ELCA," he said. "Eliminating the boards gives a more top-heavy feel to the churchwide organization."
The restructuring proposal comes at a time when the church is trimming its spending to match a projected drop in income. "The financial realities are there. They're not going to go away easily or quickly, and yet there is a concern that the financial realities not be the only thing that is driving the ministries that this board or other boards and divisions represent," Karli said.
Board members didn't want boards eliminated, Karli said. "I sensed from the board a genuine willingness to be serious about looking at alternatives," such as smaller boards or reconfiguring meeting times, he said.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, will present a restructuring proposal to the ELCA Church Council during its next meeting, Nov. 14-16 in Charlotte, N.C. The council can accept, modify or reject the proposal.
If the Church Council approves a new churchwide structure, implementation would begin Nov. 17. Staff holding positions to be eliminated would be notified according to the personnel policies of the church. Hiring processes for new staff positions would begin Dec. 1. The new design would go into effect Feb. 1, the first day of the ELCA's 2004 fiscal year.
A merger of three Lutheran churches formed the ELCA in 1988. The churchwide organization underwent a restructuring in 1991, which made no structural changes to the Division for Ministry.
The Rev. James M. Childs Jr., director, ELCA Studies on Sexuality, gave the Division for Ministry board a progress report on work to provide the church with recommendations on blessing same-gender relationships and on accepting ministers in such relationships, and to develop a social statement on human sexuality. The division is collaborating with the ELCA Division for Church in Society (DCS) on this project.
Childs said the divisions' task force prepared and distributed a six-session study guide, "Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two: The Church and Homosexuality." Part one was a four-session discussion of the ELCA's "Message on Sexuality: Some Common Convictions."
The Rev. Leslie Weber Jr., DCS associate executive director, led the Division for Ministry board through the first session of the new study guide.
"That was a valuable time. It gave us, as a board, an opportunity to look at that new document and to experience what it's like," Karli said. "We see this as a very strong document."
In other business, the Division for Ministry board:
+ affirmed provisionally a mission plan "for the churchwide unit dealing with ministry;"
+ acknowledged the Association of Professional Chaplains and the Kogudus Renewal Ministry as independent Lutheran organizations;
+ extended through March 2004 the terms, which would have expired this year, of five members of the Theological Education Coordinating Committee to provide continuity for the committee's work during churchwide restructuring; and
+ approved the Association of Lutheran Development Executives as an ELCA Lifelong Learning Partner.