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Staff Report to the LEIRN Board

January 2018


…and just like that, 2017 is now in the past. We can see clearly in hindsight how the joint commemoration service and stadium events in Sweden on October 31, 2016 set the stage for a remarkable year of public acts of ecumenical relations, reconciliation, and cooperation globally, and in our local settings. Thank you, LEIRN, for your significant role in all things 2017. You have been instrumental in planning, prodding, supporting, promoting, participating in, and leading various initiatives, events, and long-term efforts. You helped this anniversary to be markedly different, and in doing so you greatly enhanced our church’s ecumenical self-understanding and witness for the future as we seek to walk together with our sisters and brothers in Christ and neighbors on the way to unity, justice, and peace. In Conflict to Communion, we are reminded that, “In view of 2017, the point is not to tell a different history, but to tell that history differently.” We give thanks to God for your individual and collective efforts to be part of that telling. And on we go…

Reformation Day 500

On October 31, 2017, Bishop Eaton co-hosted with ELCA Vice President Bill Horne, Chair of the Conference of Bishops Bill Gafkjen, and Metro DC Synod Bishop Dick Graham a daylong program of public witness. “Looking Back and Called Forward: A Commemoration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation” was hosted by Lutheran Church of the Reformation on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The first segment of the program focused on ministries of reconciliation: 500 years of division and 50+ years of dialogue, including powerful sharing by guests and ELCA leaders in the areas of Lutheran-Catholic, Lutheran-Jewish, & Lutheran-Muslim relations, and racial justice and reconciliation. The second segment of the program lifted-up various ministries across the church. The day concluded with worship building on the liturgy used in Namibia by the LWF and a celebratory reception. The complete program, as well as videos and other information can be found here: These materials can be adapted for use in a variety of settings as we continue to cultivate the spirit of reconciliation.

Notably, the ELCA Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations developed a Litany of Confession for the occasion of the 500th anniversary, based on the “1994 Declaration to the Jewish Community.” This public act of confession and commitment took place in the presence of our Jewish partners in the context of the day’s events. The litany can be found on pp. 6-7 of the program booklet linked below; it can be adapted for use across the church.

Jewish-Christian Dialogue

The national Jewish-Christian dialogue on pastoral issues co-convened by the National Council of Churches and the National Council of Synagogues was hosted by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in DC on November 1, 2017. Darrell Jodock and Kathryn Lohre represent the ELCA at this table. Our hosts from the RAC (Rabbi Jonah Pesner, who had spoken at the ELCA event the day before, and Rabbi David Saperstein) strongly encouraged the table to find ways to build upon Jewish-Christian partnerships, especially in light of our urgent shared concerns about the human impact of several policy initiatives coming out of the current administration, as well as the rise in anti-Semitism in recent months. Afternoon presentations and discussion picked up the threads of reform, including a fine presentation given by Darrell on what we have learned after 500 years of Lutheran reformation. Israel/Palestine was discussed, but only within the parameters of a report from the NCC General Secretary regarding a high-level delegation trip to Israel/Palestine that took place in September 2017.

Lutheran-Catholic Relations

On November 5, 2017 a service of common prayer was held at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame. Bishop Eaton delivered the homily for this extraordinary occasion, and was joined in leadership by Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop emeritus, Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, and co-chair of the US Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. They co-presided with Douglas Sparks, bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana and Charles Wiley III, coordinator of the Office of Theology and Worship for the Presbyterian Church (USA). Bishop Bill Gafkjen of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod and other episcopal leaders and pastors participated in the procession. Following the service there was a lively reception and dinner. It was a joyful way to conclude the presiding bishop’s official duties around the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The University’s news article also includes a link to the video of the service: 

Other highlights include:

Our office continues to receive records--liturgies, news stories, etc.--from ecumenical 500th anniversary events (happy to receive more!), and the ELCA Research and Evaluation office is working on instruments for more representative reports.

As a “visual expression of the journey toward shared Eucharist,” the Lund cross, familiar from the October 31, 2016, liturgy in Sweden and reproduced on many posters and bulletin covers since, was installed in the chapel of the Ecumenical Center in Geneva this month. See

A drafting committee from the current round of U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, on Faithful Teaching, is working intensively on the report. The co-chairs of the dialogue, Rev. Lowell Almen and Bishop Denis Madden, joined by Kathryn J, met on January 30 with Fr. Al Baca from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In the meantime, conversation begins on what might come next: internationally, The Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity have committed to finding pastorally significant ways to take up questions of church, Eucharist, and ministry, and the venerable U.S. dialogue will want its parallel work to be in sync with these efforts.

National Council of Churches – Christian Unity Gathering

The NCC’s 2017 Christian Unity Gathering took place in Silver Spring, Maryland November 8-11, 2017. The ELCA delegation is smaller this quadrennium, but very strong and active in the four convening tables (faith & order, inter-religious, education, advocacy) and in governance. Bishop Darin Moore (another October 31 speaker) was installed as the first African Methodist Episcopal Zion chair of the NCC Governing Board; a rousing celebratory worship service and reception were held in his honor. The Governing Board took a major action in launching a truth and racial justice initiative, “Act Now! Unite to End Racism.” The launch will be a rally on the National Mall on April 4, honoring the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. An ecumenical service on the 3rd and a lobby day on the 5th will also be part of the events. Bishop Eaton is confirmed as a speaker at the rally. The NCC is still working on releasing information, but to date ELCA bishops have been alerted and invited to participate and lead delegations from their synods, or to partner ecumenically and through councils of churches and other organizations. ELCA-specific information will be released shortly via press release and social media. Stay tuned and please consider how you might galvanize others.

Lutheran-Episcopal Relations

Relations between the ELCA and The Episcopal Church have also been active. The Lutheran- Episcopal Coordinating Committee (LECC) met in Chicago on November 28-30, identifying a number of issues of polity, theology and practice on which they want to continue to work. Uniquely, this Full Communion partnership also has a vibrant “staff counterparts group,” focused especially on issues of advocacy and congregational support. Its semi-annual meeting is February 3 at the offices of TEC in New York. Kathryn Johnson will participate.

Conference of National Black Churches

For the third year, the ELCA participated as a sponsoring partner in 
the Conference of National Black Churches National Consultation, held December 12-14 in Memphis on the theme, “Overcoming the Burden of Bias.” Bishop Eaton brought greetings during the ecumenical worship service, and Bishop Eaton, Kathryn Lohre, and Albert Starr represented the ELCA and participated in the proceedings. Our presence at this gathering has been an important way for us to get at both the internal and external/ecumenical dimensions of our work to address racial injustice and white supremacy. It has also been important as a space for building and nurturing relations with our bilateral dialogue an discourse partners. 

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

In January 2018, Bishop Eaton led a delegation to participate in the consecration of Bishop Ibrahim Azar as the new bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Elected one year ago, Bishop Azar succeeded Bishop Munib Younan, who completed this year his service as president of the Lutheran World Federation. (Bishop Younan will be in the US hosted by Augsburg University for the spring semester 2018, and invitations for him to speak across the church can be shared with Mark Wilhelm.) Bishop Azar shared that he will focus primarily on tending to the pastoral needs of the church, while also caring for the global church partnerships. The ELCA delegation participated in events honoring Bishop Younan, the consecration of Bishop Azar, and made church to church visits with the six congregations and the baptismal site at Bethany Beyond the Jordan. Included were five synod bishops, including Bishop Don Kreiss of Southeast Michigan Synod (companion synod), as well as Rev. Khader El Yateem, the president of the Association of Lutherans and Arab and Middle Eastern Heritage, and staff. 


4 Way Lenten Devotions

Lenten devotions prepared by the four Lutheran and Anglican/Episcopal Heads of Communion are forthcoming any day now. Please stay tuned and share them as widely as you can.

DRAFT Inter-Religious Policy Statement

The draft inter-religious policy statement has been released for public review and comment. The information below can be shared. Please feel free to connect with your bishops and other leaders in the synod to provide leadership in organizing opportunities for participation before the comment period closes at the end of June. The document is a download and the comments form is online. Any questions can be directed to Kathryn Lohre. Please feel free to use/adapt this email invitation:

Invitation to Respond

You are invited to participate in responding to the Draft ELCA policy statement, “A Declaration of Our Inter-Religious Commitment.” The six-month comment period on the Draft is open from Friday, January 12, 2018 through Saturday, June 30, 2018.

To participate, please download the draft document here, and respond to the online survey here. You are welcome to participate as individuals or groups.


In 1991, the second Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted, “A Declaration of Ecumenical Commitment: A Policy Statement of the ELCA.” This document provided a common theological basis and framework for this church’s ecumenical relations. Acknowledging the important distinction between seeking unity amongst Christians and “the responsibility of the Church to enter into conversations and reach greater understanding with people of other faiths,” the Declaration called for a “separate, official statement to describe [the ELCA’s] commitments and aspirations” in the area of inter-religious relations.

In 2016, twenty-five years later, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton announced to the Churchwide Assembly gathered in New Orleans that she had appointed a task force to develop a draft inter-religious policy statement. The eleven task force members and staff are listed in the document. You can read their bios here.

The Inter-Religious Task Force will receive the feedback and input from this comment period to revise the draft before it goes to the ELCA Church Council for possible recommendation to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. View a timeline of the complete process for the policy statement here.

The draft has been reviewed by various full communion, ecumenical, and inter-religious partners, as well as by the Conference of Bishops’ Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Liaison Committee and the board of the Lutheran Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Representatives Network (LEIRN).

Hearings will be taking place, including at some synod events and at some listening events sponsored by other ELCA institutions. For more information, please contact


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