Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Day for Prayer: August 19

The divisions in the ELCA are not going away.

In spite of repeated cries that the current disagreements regarding blessing of same-gender relationships and GLBT persons in same-gender relationships serving in rostered ministry should not be church dividing, the ELCA is in fact divided. The number of congregations that are struggling with reactions among the members to the 2009 churchwide assembly decisions is, in some synods, very large, even if most of those congregations are not taking votes to leave. Pastors, regardless of their own stand on these matters, find that some members are voting with their feet, or with their pocketbooks, or both. And the financial shortfall in both synods and churchwide offices is taking a real toll. Those in the churchwide level are looking at yet another "restructuring," with probably layoffs (yet another round) ahead. Many synods are reducing staff, cutting hours, holding meetings on the meaning and purpose of monetary support of the ELCA, and trying to retrench and regroup. No one knows where bottom is in this financial freefall, which is caused by a combination of the ongoing economic problems overall and the redirecting of giving away from the ELCA synod and churchwide levels.

The ELCA is divided. Those who are rejoicing in and thankful for the measures passed at the 2009 churchwide assembly are in a different place from those who are mourning the same measures. Those who are mourning are also divided, as some believe there is no future in the ELCA and the time has come to "shake the dust off one's feet" and leave for other church bodies, while others believe just as strongly that this is a time to stay in place and bear witness in confessional resistance. At times the relationship between the "stayers" and "leavers" becomes quite antagonistic, as the reasons for leaving imply (or outright state) that staying is tantamount to compromising with heresy. Those who are staying are often struggling with what confessional resistance means in practical terms: does one continue to fight on to overturn the decisions of 2009, or does one build new alliances and focus on positive mission, ignoring the political machinations of the ELCA constitutional structure? There are no easy answers in this time.

So why aren't the leaders in this church body, the presiding bishop, the church council, and/or the conference of bishops calling for a day of prayer for the ELCA?

I have no way to answer that question. However, after pondering it for the past few weeks, I have decided to be bold and call for this on my own. And in looking at the calendar, I have found a good date for such a call for prayer: August 19, the one year anniversary of the day on which the Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA passed, by an exact 2/3's vote, the Social Statement on Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust.

Whether you opposed the social statement or supported it, whether you cheered its passage or wept, this is a fitting day on which to pray for our ELCA, our presently divided church that is caught in disagreement and disarray in the aftermath of this decision. Despite calls for and proclamations of unity, we find ourselves not one in mission, teaching, witness, or service. Even if you are convinced that the negative fallout from the 2009 decisions is a minority reaction that will pass in time; even if you believe that the rejoicing over the reinstatement of pastors removed for being in same gender relationships is wrong in that it is rejoicing over sin being denied: the divided state of the ELCA cries out for prayer. Praying for God to heal and restore this portion of his church so that it might be a strong witness to the whole Gospel of Christ Jesus is one thing that we can all do, together, even if our prayers are for contrary ways of bringing that healing about.

August 19, 2010: A Day for Prayer for the ELCA. Mark it on your calendars. Encourage it in your congregational family. Suggest it to others, to those on both sides of the divide in our denomination. Pray for healing, for an end of divisions, for repentance, for guidance, for strength, for insight, trusting that God indeeds hears the prayers of all his children. The ELCA is in need of prayer. If there is any unity at all, let us claim our unity in praying for this church body, on August 19.

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