Ecumenical & Inter-Religious Relations
Staff Report to LEIRN BoardAugust 2017
Reformation Day Public Witness EventOn Reformation Day, Tuesday, October 31, Presiding Bishop Eaton will join Conference of Bishops’ Chair Bill Gafkjen, Vice President Bill Horne, and Metro DC Synod Bishop Dick Graham in co-hosting a day-long public witness event concluding with worship at Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill, DC.
The event, “Looking Back & Called Forward: ELCA 500” will provide an opportunity to consider 500 years of Reformation through the lens of 50+ years of ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, and look to the future to which Christ is calling us. Bishop Denis Madden will be among the ecumenical and inter-religious guests featured in the program. Lutheran-Jewish and Lutheran-Muslim relations will also be spotlighted, as will partnerships with the Historic Black Churches and within the ELCA toward racial justice and reconciliation.
The event is free and open to the public, and includes lunch. It will also be livestreamed. For more information and to register go to: https://www.elca500.org/events/looking-back-called-forward-elca-500-washington-d-c/
Lutheran World Federation Assembly
In May 2017, the 12th LWF Assembly took place in Windhoek, Namibia, under the theme, “Liberated by God’s Grace.” Bishop Eaton led the ELCA delegation which included nine other delegates (amongst them Chris O.) as well as current and former officers, advisors and translators. Youth and women’s pre-assemblies provided an opportunity for relationship-building, deeper exploration of the theme and sub-themes, and generative work to guide the life and legislative work of the larger Assembly.
On Sunday, May 14 the Assembly gathered in Sam Nujoma Stadium, joined by thousands of Namibians and Africans from across the continent, for a celebratory worship service to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The liturgy, which had been developed by Luther Seminary Prof. Dirk Lange, served as a focal point for the Assembly, weaving together the theme and sub-themes through regional testimonies and the rousing preaching of Namibia bishop emeritus Zephania Kameeta. Other memorable moments included Cardinal Kurt Koch reading the creedal questions, Bishop Susan Johnson presiding and thousands of Lutherans from around the global streaming through for communion, the stunning array of local musical groups in the cultural program that followed, which had many of the LWF heads of communion (including our own) dancing to the beat.
The Assembly plenaries and workshops focused on the theme and sub-themes, “Salvation – Not For Sale,” “Human Beings – Not For Sale,” and “Creation – Not For Sale.” Each of the speakers and presenters were top-notch. Pastor Monica Villareal, pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Flint, Michigan and ELCA delegate, spoke on the “Creation” sub-theme, sharing about the water crisis and its racial dimensions, and giving testimony to the ways in which US Lutherans very much need the global communion in these difficult times as a source of support and accountability.
The Assembly honored the remarkable service of its outgoing president, Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, and elected his successor, Nigerian Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus. A new Council was also elected, including for the ELCA: Presiding Bishop Eaton, Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, Rev. William Flippin, and Ms. Cheryl Phillip. In its first meeting immediately following the Assembly, the new Council elected its regional vice presidents, with Bishop Eaton succeeding Bishop Johnson for the North American region. Pastor Lydia Posselt of Family of God Lutheran Church in Buckingham, PA, was the preacher at the closing worship service, selected from amongst 10 finalists in the LWF’s young adult preaching contest.
Namibia, a beautiful country with a rich Lutheran history, provided a remarkable context for this forward-looking Assembly, and symbolized the ways in which the global Lutheran movement is growing most strongly in the global south, especially in Africa and Asia. The ELCA and its predecessor bodies have long been involved in the movements for liberation and justice in Namibia. This became particularly evident during a reception that was hosted by Bishop Eaton to honor the numerous Namibian graduates of ELCA colleges. A scholarship program had been established through the leadership of Jim Unglaube, who then served on the churchwide staff, as a proactive approach to forming the next generation of leadership. As the introductions and updates were shared, it was astonishing to hear of the impact these individuals have had on nation-building as they have undertaken vocations in various government ministries, and public sectors including education and health care. It was a reminder of the important place of church in peacebuilding.
Churches Uniting in ChristOn Pentecost Sunday, the eleven denominations of Churches Uniting in Christ gathered at Christian Chapel Temple of Faith in Dallas, Texas for a celebratory worship service of mutual recognition of ministries. Bishop Eaton joined her counterparts in leading worship, which consisted of three litanies (of confession, recognition, and commitment), three sermons! (Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, Stated Clerk of the PCUSA; Rev. Dr. Jennifer Leath of the AME, and Rev. Dr. Keith Watkins of the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ and historian of the Consultation on Church Union), and the Eucharist. Notably, CUIC is unique insofar as it is a multi-lateral ecumenical table at which the Eucharist is celebrated and received.
The day before, the churches engaged in a series of panel discussions on systemic racism within immigration and criminal justice. Kathryn L moderated the panels, and Bishop Erik Gronberg of the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod was a speaker, who gave powerful witness to our church’s challenges and commitments with regard to racial justice and reconciliation.
Synod AssembliesBoth Kathryns attended synod assemblies again this year as Churchwide representatives, and lifted up the work of ecumenical and inter-religious relations in the context of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in churchwide reports, workshops, and hallway conversations. Kathryn J. was with the Metro New York and Allegheny Synods, and Kathryn L was with the Metro Chicago Synod, where she was also the keynote speaker. We look forward to these assemblies as opportunities to learn about and connect with what is happening locally, and to lift up the current leadership and possibilities for LEIRN.
Partner Churches’ National AssembliesIn June, Kathryn L. attended the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America in Holland, Michigan. She was invited to speak to the importance of our full communion partnership in an
evening honoring the churches’ ecumenical relations. (This was an important request, given the church’s continued diversity of opinions about our full communion partners, and the continued strengthening of relations with the Christian Reformed Church.) There was also an opportunity to honor and thank the outgoing General Secretary Tom DeVries, who resigned his post in order to take up the role of President & CEO of the Willow Creek Organization. Interim General Secretary Don Poest will serve until the next General Synod, when an election will occur. Significant action was taken in support of refugees, calling for further ecumenical partnership in this area of ministry. After hours of painful discussion, the General Synod took an action to define marriage as between a woman and a man, affirming that the Heidelberg Catechism in Q&A 108 and 109, “categorically states that God condemns all ‘unchastity,’ which includes same sex sexual activity” (R 17-61). On the last morning, they elected the 2018 General Synod Vice President, James Nakakihara, the first person of color to serve in this role. https://www.rca.org/rca-basics/general-synod
With Bishop Bill Gohl from the Delaware-Maryland synod, Kathryn J. attended the biennial General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Baltimore in June. New branding efforts lift up the theme of “A Just World for All.” https://www.rca.org/rca-basics/general-synod
Kathryn L. attended the ecumenical evening of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) General Assembly, especially to honor the outgoing General Minister and President, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, who is also the current chair of the board of the National Council of Churches. The General Assembly elected Rev. Teresa Hord Owens to succeed Sharon, the first female of color, and the first woman to succeed a woman in the role. The atmosphere was celebratory and hopeful. https://www.rca.org/rca-basics/general-synod
Kathryn J. attended the National Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in July, where she brought greetings from the ELCA and participated in a panel on ecumenical prospects going forward from 2017. Taking its theme from the LWF language of “Liberated by God’s Grace,” the ELCIC is conducting a 500th anniversary challenge; the video, which emphasizes receiving refugees, can be seen at http://elcic.ca//reformationchallenge/default.cfm
The North American Lutheran Church held its annual week of lectures and Convocation in Nashville in August, with the theme of “Holding Fast: Being (Re)Formed.” The ELCA was represented by the Rev. Marcus Kunz, who has assumed this role for several of their meetings. https://www.thenalc.org/convocation/
Islamic Society of North America ConventionAs part of our commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the ELCA had a
significant presence at the annual ISNA Convention, held again this year in Rosemont, Illinois. Bishop Eaton and Kathryn L. attended together with Bishop Rick Jaech (Southwestern Washington Synod) and Bishop Claire Burkat (Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod) and her colleague from the Council of Religious Leaders of Greater Philadelphia, Imam Anwar. Following Jum’mah prayers, Bishop Eaton joined other government and religious leaders in offering greetings during the opening plenary, and she was invited to do so again later than evening during the larger mainstage event. The following day, the ELCA delegation attended the Community Service Recognition Luncheon, at which activist Linda Sarsour (co-organizer of the Women’s March) gave the keynote address, and Dr. Sayyid Syeed was honored for his longstanding leadership of ISNA as he approaches his retirement at year-end.
By design, Sunday evening’s interfaith unity banquet spotlighted Lutheran-Muslim relations, and was attended by nearly 70 ELCA Lutherans, including pastors, scholars (especially from LSTC and the Center for Christian-Muslim Engagement), and interfaith activists, including LEIRN rep Rev. Brian
Wise. The ELCA bishops, joined by Bishop Wayne Miller of Metro Chicago, shared their inspiring and hopeful stories of Lutheran-Muslim relations between congregations and mosques, city-based inter-religious councils, seminaries, non-profit organizations (see: www.neighborsinfaith.org), and individuals. Bishop Eaton was honored to receive ISNA’s interfaith unity award. In her remarks, she reaffirmed our commitments to these relations through education, dialogue, and engagement, now more than ever, and named the significant challenges and opportunities we face in the current climate of rising Islamophobia. Coincidentally, the story of ELCA Intern Pastor Mandy France (who was the student at NWCU) and Dr. Ayaz Virji’s story of Lutheran-Muslim relations in rural Minnesota was front page Washington Post news that day, and so we were able to share that in the spirit of our broader commitments. They will tell their story as part of the Reformation Day event in DC. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/in-a-midwestern-town-that-went-for-trump-a-muslim-doctor-tries-to-understand-his-neighbors/2017/07/01/0ada50c4-5c48-11e7-9fc6-c7ef4bc58d13_story.html?utm_term=.c3d437971981 It was a remarkable weekend to honor our shared commitments, to celebrate what we have accomplished together, and to look forward to the future ahead of us.
African Descent Lutheran AssociationFor the first time, the biennial assembly of the African Descent Lutheran Association was held jointly with the Union of Black Episcopalians in Cherry Hill, NJ and Philadelphia. This gathering also honored 30 years of ADLA presence within the ELCA and its predecessor bodies. The theme was, “Like a Mighty Stream, Let Justice Roll: Absalom, Jehu, and Beyond,” honoring the forbears in the faith, especially those pioneers of African Descent within each tradition, current leadership, and the call to ongoing formation and support of future leaders. Closing worship was held at the historic African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, as TEC Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached, and Bishop Eaton presided. The presence and leadership of several ELCA Bishops sent a strong message about the importance of ADLA within the ELCA and our ecumenical partnerships in building the Beloved Community.
Rostered Ministers GatheringBoth Kathryns attended the first Rostered Ministers Gathering in Atlanta in August, a diverse, enthusiastic, and well-attended event. We supported the ecumenical and inter-religious formation of rostered ministers by hosting an exhibit table and an affinity group under the LEIRN name, and by leading workshops. Kathryn J.’s focused on Lutheran-Catholic relations in this anniversary year, and Kathryn L.’s focused on Lutheran-Jewish and Lutheran Muslim Relations, and what it means to be Lutheran in a multi-religious world. We are grateful for opportunities to lift up both our ecumenical and our inter-religious relations as part of how the ELCA is commemorating the 500th anniversary and participating in the ongoing reformation.
Inter-Religious Task ForceThe drafting team of the Inter-Religious Task Force met in person in June and by teleconference in July as work toward the first draft of the policy statement moved forward in significant ways. A format and framework for the document were developed and refined. The first full draft of the text will be shared with the full task force next week. After a conference call in early September, final
revisions will begin anticipating the next meeting of the Task Force in early November. Currently, the ground work is being laid for various consultations that will need to take place this fall anticipating a public comment period across the whole church over the winter months. The LEIRN Board and select ecumenical and inter-religious partners will likely be invited into the advance consultation, so please stay tuned.
Lutheran-Catholic RelationsThe current round of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue is approaching its conclusion, and a drafting team is working on its report on Faithful Teaching. This round is co-chaired by the Rev. Lowell Almen and, since 2016, by Bishop Denis Madden. (Both Bishop Eaton and Kathryn J. helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination with Mass in the Baltimore cathedral in June.)
Kathryn J. participated at a seminar at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem in July around the current state of ecumenical discussion on “communion.” The seminar was organized by the University of Notre Dame and followed up on questions central to the Declaration on the Way and, more broadly, to the ecclesial dimensions of the quest for Christian unity. Bishop Madden, who was to have shared the Lutheran-Catholic day of presentation, was unable to attend at the last minute.
Full Communion UpdatesThe Lutheran-Moravian Coordinating Committee met in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in May. This meeting was second in a series of three which focus on local contexts in which Lutherans and Moravian live side by side in considerable numbers, and seeks to further collaboration between the communities toward reception of our full communion agreement. Next year, they will conclude the series by meeting in Wisconsin, where there is less visible Moravian presence.
We continue to be part of the consultation with the ELCA’s Entrance Rite Discernment Group, which explores implications of the new roster for Ministers of Word and Service (deacons). Our full communion partners especially have obvious interests in these decisions, and will be invited to participate in the feedback process developed by the Group.
Global Christian ForumKathryn J has continued to be active this summer with the Global Christian Forum, the international body which seeks to reflect the shape of fast-changing world Christianity. She participated in May in a consultation at the Bossey Ecumenical Institute in Switzerland, which for the first time had around the table leadership from the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Pentecostal World Fellowship, and the World Evangelical Alliance. They discussed the unique role which the GCF can play in deepening these relationships.
One example of these efforts was a delicate consultation on “Call to Mission and Perceptions of Proselytism,” hosted at the Church of Pentecost campus near Accra, Ghana, which Kathryn attended in June. She continues to work with the GCF to plan its third Global Gathering in Bogata, Columbia, in spring 2018, which concludes her term with this body.
Other board highlights
- It's not too late for members to complete an annual report, reflecting on work in their synods in 2016-17. Results will be compiled and discussed at the September 21 board meeting. The annual report is accessible here: https://goo.gl/forms/2IHAx20QIJRHlyfa2
- The NWCU planning committee -- including Kathryn Johnson, Rocky Piro, and Chris Olkiewicz from ELCA/LEIRN -- met August 28-30 in Silver Spring, MD, the site of the 2018 Workshop. Lisa Sharon Harper is confirmed as theologian in residence. Additional time will be spent in joint network plenaries this year.
- A brief survey from the Presbyterian Church (USA) will be shared soon with LEIRN members. It seeks to identify possible areas of collaboration at the middle judicatory level and will not take long to complete.
- Next meeting: September 21.