Chuchwide Assembly

Bishop Mike Rinehart


The ELCA Churchwide assembly meets once every three years. Last month (August 8-13) over a thousand Lutherans gathered in New Orleans for daily prayer, worship, Bible study, and deliberation about the work of the church. We heard from international leaders and ecumenical leaders. We enjoyed New Orleans’ cuisine.

Our delegation consisted of ten people, elected at our 2015 Synod Assembly. In keeping with constitutional guidelines, 40% of our delegation was pastors (marked with an asterisk).


Gulf Coast Synod Voting Members:

  • Andrew Bell*
  • Angela Bell
  • Curtis Bradbury
  • Tracey Breashears Schultz* (On Reference and Counsel)
  • Rene Garcia
  • Morgan Gates (Youth/Young Adult Representative)
  • Bill Mintz (On Memorials Committee)
  • Evan Moilan, Vice President
  • Candy O’Meara*
  • Michael Rinehart, Bishop*

We’ll let some of our voting members share highlights.

Candi O’Meara, St. Paul, LaGrange, TX

“This was my first Churchwide Assembly. I’ve watched some of them through streaming video, but it’s not the same as being there. I’m very grateful that the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod voted to allow me to participate in such an inspirational event. Here are some of my reflections:

Worship was phenomenal! We had a communion service every day (usually at 11:00 am). Each service took on a different “flavor”. It ranged from the (somewhat) traditional European worship many of us participate in every week, to services that took on very different styles. We also had music, readings, and worship styles of various languages: Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, and other languages I wasn’t sure of. It was beautiful to hear the same gospel proclaimed in a different language.

candiOne last thing about worship that I have to mention:  The closing worship took on the style of traditional New Orleans Jazz. I’m a big New Orleans Saints fan.  To exit the church to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In” put a big bow on the gift I had received all week.

Something that was particularly powerful for me was a man singing one of the gathering songs in Arabic. In my mind it was a bringing together of two cultures whom the world wishes to push apart. Later in one of the plenary sessions, an Arab-American pastor shared his experience of coming over to the U.S. as a refugee and feeling the call to ordained ministry.

During the plenary (large group) sessions, of which there were nine, we took on some issues that people were very passionate about. Among them: 

  • Israel/Palestine relations (in particular U.S. aid to Israel)
  • Climate change and the appropriate use of fossil fuels
  • Acknowledging our brokenness and our sin, in particular as it pertains to Native Americans and African Americans.
  • Support of military members and their families

While I must admit I’m not passionate about all of these issues, I certainly am thankful that many people there were, and I could be better informed. I learned a great deal by listening, and as it turned out, I carried some of that passion home in my own preaching on Sunday (at least according to my parishioners).

There were three other major happenings at the plenary sessions:

The first one (and these are in no particular order) was the combining of the rosters of Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers, and Deaconesses into one roster called Ministry of Word and Service. As a result of the CWA, I learned more about these ministries and look forward to finding ways to incorporate them into the life and ministry of the church.

William Horne, elected Churchwide Vice President

The second was the electing of the Churchwide Vice President, William Horne. We heard from lay people who were not only very excited about the life of the church, but who wanted to be a part of shaping it for the future.

The third happening was adopting the “Declaration on the Way”. This is an agreement between the Catholic U.S. Council of Bishops and the ELCA, reflecting 32 points where the two bodies are in complete agreement. Since I believe wholly that we are stronger united than we are apart I am excited to engage with my colleague in ministry, the local Catholic Priest in conversation over this.

Overall, my experience was incredible and if I’m not elected to go to the next one, I’ll probably go as a volunteer.”

Morgan Gates, Youth/Young Adult Representative, LSTC

“Attending the ELCA’s 14th Churchwide Assembly was a privilege and a treat I will never forget. As a young adult in the church, and more specifically a young adult soon to embark on their first year of seminary in the church, this event was an irreplaceable learning experience and incredibly enlightening.

I found out I was going to the assembly with about 18 days to prepare and began scrambling to read as much material as possible – a task not to be taken lightly. The various committees and councils of the ELCA compiled hundreds (if not thousands) of pages of memorials, recommendations, resolutions, amendments, and reports that we, as voting members, needed to read in order to make an educated vote. Needless to say, I felt a little overwhelmed. There were many important decisions that needed to be made at this assembly, and I knew there was no way I was going to be completely read up on everything. But I knew there were items of particular interest to me that I was able to focus on. I was confident, however, that the diverse group our synod was bringing, in addition to the rest of the assembly, would have the rest of the interests covered – talk about trusting in the work of the Spirit.

The first day of the assembly was packed full of orientation meetings, worship, dinner, and a plenary session that concluded around 9:30 pm. I was exhausted and excited for the rest of the week to unfold by the time I collapsed in my hotel room. The second day of the assembly started bright and early at 8 am, and we as the church were making important decisions and having lively discussion by 8:30.

Observing and participating in the legislative processes and points of business necessary for our church to move forward was invigorating, encouraging, and incredibly powerful. I had no idea the amount of detail work that went into make our church run as both an organization and a church together for the world.

I loved every minute of the Churchwide Assembly; yes, even the moments when I wish I had coffee intravenously. I hope and pray that I have the opportunity to attend the 15th gathering in 2019!”

Bill Mintz, Christ the King, Houston, TX

Having an opportunity to see, hear, and be part of the larger expression of the church was a great experience. I was struck by the graciousness of all of the participants – Presiding Bishop Eaton and other leaders, voting members, and our many ecumenical and multi-faith visitors.

The worship and music from many traditions was uplifting and inspiring.

It was great to learn about and have a chance to vote on “Declaration on the Way,” the document setting out the agreements between the ELCA and the Roman Catholic Church. It was very moving when, after the vote, Bishop Eaton presented communion ware to Bishop Denis Madden, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ co-chair, Declaration on the Way Task Force. He told the assembly that the time we will share the cup is not too far away.

I was also very glad to be able to participate in adoption of the AMMPARO Strategy, the church’s response to the urgent situation involving children forced to flee endemic violence in Central America’s Northern Triangle. I hope the Gulf Coast Synod becomes an early adopter.

As a member of the Memorials Committee, I was pleased to see the collegial way in which the assembly tackled very difficult issues, ranging from our response to racism, seemingly intractable conflict in the Middle East, and climate change.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of our synod’s delegation. Thanks to all for their thoughtful leadership.

Andrew Bell, St. Johns, Bellville, TX

“What struck me the most about churchwide was the true breadth of our Lutheran community. Yes, we are still a rather ethnically entrenched denomination but that is changing. The diversity of our leadership is really striking in a room representing the whole country. In addition, our church is not as homogenous politically as some people accuse it of being. We heard different voices on a variety of issues, and while it was not a contentious as past CWAs have been, it was not one big hive mind all working in agreement either. We continue to strive to be a big tent denomination, which is increasingly difficult but also increasingly important. If we become wholly one sided, we will miss out of a part of God’s work in this world.

In addition, I was amazed at the quality of worship and preaching that happens at CWA. I heard three of the best sermons I have ever heard in the same week. I heard from 5 distinct voices from the pulpit all in the same week. I also heard a variety of music from across the world and in multiple languages; all of it was high quality. While I would have liked to have a seen a little more diversity in the style of worship, it was all high liturgy, the beauty skill with which worship was conducted was undeniable.

Finally, it’s just amazing to meet so many people passionate about the kingdom of God. So many people who are doing wonderful ministry, whether it’s their paying job or a job they do strictly as a volunteer. In that place there were almost 1000 leaders, 60% lay, all working for what they felt was best for the church and the future of our denomination within that church. As Bishop Eaton said, “We are not a dying church, but a changing one, and we still have work to do.

Curtis Bradbury, Zion Retreat Center, Galveston, TX

curtis-bradbury“When telling a few of friends and coworkers that I would be attending the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, Louisiana, they were quick to give tips on how to get through the long seemingly endless days that were before me. Six days gathered with 950 voting members, having no idea what Roberts Rule of Order were, and the rainy streets of New Orleans put up a fight to my attention span; however, I wouldn’t have changed my experience for any other.

Working in ministry for six plus years now, I have found out there is always more to learn on the inner workings of how church is conducted. Being a voting member at the CWA gave me the opportunity to see the larger church as a whole work together to become better disciples as one body.

Just a few major outcomes from the Churchwide Assembly: William B. Horne II of St. Paul’s in Clearwater, Florida was elected vice president of the ELCA. By a vote of 811 to 55, the assembly approved adoption of the roster of Ministry of Word and Service. Beginning January 1, 2017, associates in ministry, deaconess of the ELCA, and diaconal ministers will be a single, unified roster of Ministry of Word and Service. Also, by a vote of 931 to 9, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly overwhelmingly accepted the “Declaration on the Way,” a unique ecumenical document that marks a path toward greater unity between Catholics and Lutherans. Many different memorials and adoptions were voted on.

Centered on each of the five days’ festivities was Holy Communion. Never attending any type of large gathering before, having over 1000 individuals come together to let loose and praise God was a meaningful experience. From many different languages being read/sung, dynamic speakers that made participants have the Holy Spirit move through them to rise to their feet, to having 15+ communion stations where everyone could feel the love of Christ all at once was truly a moving experience.

If you ever have the opportunity to go to any type of gathering, small or large, youth or adult, voting or not, jump at the opportunity. It will open your eyes seeing how God is working through children, going out and doing great work.”

How will people know?

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton

declaration-of-the-wayOn Wednesday, Aug. 10, the voting members of the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly received the document “Declaration on the Way.” More than 99 percent of us affirmed this significant ecumenical statement in which Lutherans and Roman Catholics have achieved agreement on 32 issues regarding communion, ministry and the church, declaring that these are no longer church dividing (page 16). Fifty years of ecumenical dialogue in the United States and around the world led to this point.

When asked if declaration was a step closer to eucharistic sharing between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, Bishop Denis Madden, Catholic co-chair of the dialogue task force, answered, “Yes.” There were tears of joy. The assembly responded with a standing ovation.

Later that day this question was asked during the press conference about the assembly’s action on the declaration: “How would this historic agreement be made known and affect the lives of the ordinary person in the pew?” How does the work of theologians and the decision of a churchwide assembly become part of the lived experience of Lutheran and Roman Catholic parishioners? What is to prevent this significant action from becoming just one of several feel-good moments shared by voting members in August 2016?

And what about all of the other important decisions that were taken? What about the AMMPARO initiative and the creation of a unified word and service roster? What about memorials calling the ELCA to deepen relationships with the Historic Black Churches, to repudiate the doctrine of discovery, to work toward a responsible energy future, peace with justice in the Holy Land, to welcome refugees, to support military personnel, veterans and their families, to welcome the gifts of African-American ELCA members and to look at those structures within this church that erect barriers to full inclusion?

And what about all of the other wonderful non-legislative events at the assembly—a call for the ELCA to read Martin Luther’s Small Catechism together from now until Oct. 31, 2017, the call to action by Nobel laureate and Lutheran Leymah Gbowee, the reports of ELCA World Hunger and Lutheran Disaster Response, the lives we are reaching and changing through Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA? The church-wide conversation we are having about priorities in the Called Forward Together in Christ process?

The assembly wasn’t a national political convention, rather it was the people of God gathered daily around word and sacraments, engaged in prayer, and open to the movement and guidance of the Spirit.

But I return to the questions asked during the press conference—how will people know about what happened during this assembly and how will these actions and experiences become a part of our life together?

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this question or others like it. It’s as if people want or need or expect some kind of directive or program or even permission from someone (the presiding bishop?) or somewhere (the churchwide organization?) to bring all of these things to light and life in their congregations. It doesn’t have to be that way. About 960 voting members and almost 500 Grace Gathering participants along with visitors, presenters and staff attended the assembly. Close to 2,000 people, the majority of whom are members of ELCA congregations, saw and heard what happened in New Orleans. Thousands of you are reading about the assembly in this issue of Living Lutheran. Get mobilized.

If exploring Declaration on the Way with the local Roman Catholic parish is your passion, get a couple other members of your congregation and offer this to your pastor, “Pastor, we think this is important and we want to work with you. We’ll organize the event, logistics, invitations, publicity, speakers, format, even refreshments!” You can do the same in your conference or synod. The point is we are all the ELCA. The work belongs to all of us. Let’s get busy!



Five Effective Ways to Grow Christian Leaders

Peggy Hahn

LEAD Logo with taglineThere are lots of ways people can deepen and expand their capacity as Christian leaders, but LEAD has identified 5 game-changing ways of learning that prepare leaders to transform more than themselves. We believe that in the end, Christian leadership is more than personal. LEAD grows Christian leaders for the sake of transforming the church and the world.

The system we use with all 5 ways of learning is simple: Learn, Experiment, Align, Do-it-again!

These are the 5 ways we’ve identified. Which one is right for you?

  • Coaching – one on one or in peer groups, with a professional coach. You set the goals or consider one of our signature coaching paths. This is the most effect leadership development for your money because it happens in real time, targeting your agenda and focusing on your hopes for yourself and your community.
  • Immersion Experiences – stepping away to step in. These life-changing, faith-deepening pilgrimages take us beyond our life as usual, reliably offering us a bigger view of God, ministry, and ourselves.
  • Synod Journey – learning cohorts traveling together to make transformation possible, providing the opportunity for life giving results unique to each congregational setting. Walking the same path with other congregations towards your own unique destination is so much better than trying to make change on your own. Learning seminars, coaches, resources, and more make this a viable option for any congregation.
  • Camp Hope Day Camp Ministries – proven to be the best way to grow student leaders and to engage families in your neighborhood. This 28-year-old ministry includes a dedicated team, a trained staff of high school and college students, resources, coaching, and support to grow Biblically literate student leaders who grow children and families.
  • Custom Plan – if what you want is not on the list, talk to us. We are a nimble organization with capacity to help you design what you need to move your own leadership to the next level. Growing leaders grow congregations, teams, families, and themselves. What are you looking for? Let’s talk.

Learn, Experiment, Align, Do-it-again!

This has been a rhythm that has worked for leaders since the beginning of time. We believe that the Holy Spirit is moving in our world in new and wonderful ways – and we get to be the people who discern this movement together. LEAD is for leaders who are ready to try something new, to grow themselves and their faith, and to make a difference in their family, neighborhood, and world.

Please visit our website or email us, so we can talk about your best learning plan.

Freewheels Houston: Enhancing Opportunities for Refugees Through Bicycles

Bill Mintz, Coordinator of Freewheels Houston

Bill Mintz, Coordinator of Freewheels Houston, delivered a bicycle to Abdul Walid Farooqi, a refugee from Afghanistan, who uses it for shopping and trips to English classes, courses at Houston Community College, and job-hunting.

Houston is a big, bustling city with plenty of opportunities. Getting around the city, however, is a daily obstacle for everyone. For refugees, transportation is one of the major challenges they confront as they start new chapters in their lives.

Freewheels Houston, a ministry of Christ the King Lutheran, provides safe, reliable, used bicycles that are alternatives to walking and the Metro bus system for some of the city’s newest residents. A bicycle can expand a refugee’s world by shrinking travel times for essential trips to work, classes, and shopping, while enabling them to explore the city.

Since it was launched in Fall 2015, Freewheels has provided about 60 bicycles to adults and children from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Congo, Honduras, Guatemala, Myanmar, and Nepal. In October, Freewheels plans to distribute bikes to 20 recently arrived clients of the city’s five resettlement agencies.

Freewheels’ foundation is the Biblical imperative to welcome the stranger. We work with refugee resettlement agencies, and we partner with many people across the city that share in our goal of enhancing opportunities for refugees through mobility. Many of our volunteers heard about Freewheels Houston through the bicycling community, while others want to help refugees as they make a new home in Houston. Many of the people who receive bicycles are Muslims or followers of other religions; all have fled violence in their home countries and are seeking a new start.

Partners include Bike Houston, Bike Barn, Refugee Services of Texas, Interfaith Ministries of Greater Houston, Rice Bikes, and the Texas Medical Association. In addition to donations of bicycles, we have received financial support from individual donors, offerings from congregations, and grants from Thrivent Financial and the Christ the King Lutheran Church Foundation.

We started Freewheels Houston with a campaign at Christ the King in October 2015 that led to donations of approximately 20 bicycles in varying condition. We also have received bike donations through word of mouth and social media. We have received used bicycles from Bike Barn, a large, locally owned bike shop chain.

We have two channels for repairing bicycles: Volunteer mechanics and Rice Bikes, a student-run business located on the Rice University campus. We are planning to expand our repair workday activities with the help of volunteers—members of congregations, students, and others who support our mission.

One element that sets Freewheels Houston apart from many bicycle donation programs is the way we use bicycle distribution events to connect Houstonians to our newest neighbors and watch what kinds of interactions and bonds develop. We’ve had two picnics, including one organized by ILEAD, the youth leadership program of Interfaith Ministries.

The events also include a safety briefing that includes a helmet fitting and tips for riding safely on Houston streets. We receive bicycle helmets through a generous program of the Texas Medical Association. In addition to lights and bells installed on bikes, we provide a drawstring backpack, a strong bicycle lock, a tire pump, a flat tire repair kit, and spare batteries.

All of our volunteers and partners share our commitment to creating a community that welcomes newcomers and encourages and supports safe bicycling.

The Nest: A Radically Welcoming Ministry for Families of LGBTQ Persons

“How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.”
Matthew 23:37b

The Nest celebrates diversity as we practice being a place of radical welcome. God loves us as we are. We seek to accept and affirm all people in light of sexual orientation and gender identity.

We are not licensed therapithe-neststs or counselors. We ARE fellow Christians who hope and pray that each member will find a level of support and understanding that will provide strength to face the future with peace and love. We are on this journey together.

The purpose of this ministry is to provide a safe place in which people can tell their stories if they wish, receive support and begin to learn that they are not alone. Presentations are designed to provide information and education in an atmosphere that is safe and nonjudgmental. These presentations may also be mature in content, so this ministry may not be suitable for younger family members.

Our Three-Fold Vision:

  • Story: Stories are sacred. As we share our own stories, we learn that we are not alone. The Nest seeks to offer nonjudgmental support. Many families experience great stress in the face of one member’s acknowledgment of their differing sexual orientation or gender identity. Confronting this on a personal level places a new reality in our lives. Within the group, participants can begin their journey of reconciling the ‘coming out’ of a family member.
  • Study: Education is key. Separating fact from fiction regarding issues with which we are not familiar is crucial to our understanding. As we learn together, we seek to accept and affirm all sexual orientations and gender identities. In this group we will discuss the roots of our pain, anger, blame, guilt, fear, and doubt. We will also discuss effective communication within our families and communities regarding LGBT persons. To provide additional insight and information, outside speakers and panels may be used when appropriate.
  • Spirituality: God is love. This is the foundation we build upon. Many persons have a need for information on religious and spiritual issues related to LGBTQ persons. What does the Bible say? How are these passages interpreted? How has Christianity characterized homosexuality historically? Are my church’s views changing? All of these issues must be brought into focus if we are to reconcile our personal faith with love for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender members of our families.

Supplemental Same-Gender Marriage Resource

supplemental-resources-for-use-with-evang-luth-worship-service-of-marriageThe Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has developed supplemental resources for use within the Evangelical Lutheran Worship marriage service.

“These supplemental resources have been created to offer more inclusivity in language, pastoral care, and openness for all persons who seek to be married within this church.”

The resources are supplemental to the marriage service included in both the Evangelical Lutheran Worship and the Evangelical Lutheran Worship Occasional Services for the Assembly.

The new resources offer materials for each section of the service, which include the gathering, word, marriage, prayer, meal, and sending.

Tune Up Worship Band Gathering Recap

Richard Birk & Clayton Faulkner

On August 20, the Tune Up Worship Band Gathering was held. Over 60 worship musicians, pastors, sound techs, and video techs assembled on the campus of Faith Lutheran in Bellaire, Texas for a multi-denominational training event. Continuing in its fourth year, the event was organized by the Worship Excellence Team of the TX-LA Gulf Coast Synod to improve the quality of band-led worship in smaller churches.

The assembled musicians and techs represented 14 congregations including Lutheran, tune-up-2Presbyterian, Baptist, and United Methodist churches. Participants traveled from as far as Austin, Texas, and DeRidder, Louisiana to attend the training event.

The gathering began with opening worship and a panel discussion about the intersection of worship and culture. Then everyone divided into instrumental/vocal/tech tracks and conceptual tracks. The instrumental tracks were divided by specific area: worship leader, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboard, drums, vocals, sound tech, and video tech. Conceptual track offerings included sessions on music theory, collaborative worship design, making worship contextual, live streaming, and a web tool called “Planning Center Online.” During the “Coaching for Bands” session, a volunteer church band from Messiah Lutheran in Cypress received feedback and help with their music from a panel of track leaders.

One of our special guests for the event was Brian Hehn, Director of The Center for Congregational Song at The Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada. Brian, who joined the house band on percussion, had this to say:

“Great event. Thanks for doing this important work. The overall spirit of the event and people who attended/led was very joyful and kind-spirited.”

Watch the website for details on upcoming events.

Creation Care Tips from the Synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team

Lisa Brenskelle


Lutherans Restoring CreationThe mission of Lutherans Restoring Creation is to promote incorporation of care for creation into the full life and mission of the church, working in five areas: worship, education, discipleship, building and grounds, and public ministry/advocacy. For some timely tips in these areas, see below:

To contact the synod Lutherans Restoring Creation Team for creation care assistance/information, write to Lisa Brenskelle.

Women in Coffee

Recently, Equal Exchange, together with The Perennial Plate, created a short documentary about women leaders across the Equal Exchange coffee supply chain. From farmer to barista, the film profiles five inspiring women who are paving the way in the coffee industry, while also showing the journey coffee takes to get to your cup.

Women in Coffee” offers a perfect opportunity to spark community discussions around fair trade, gender empowerment, and relationships across food supply chains.

Women in Coffee: A Faith-Based Discussion Guide

Baton Rouge

Bishop Michael Rinehart

Baton Rouge has had a rough time following the shooting of Alton Sterling. A subsequent shooting in Falcon Heights, Minnesota and the shooting of five police officers in Dallas stood as a stark reminder that we are not in a post-racial society.

Recently a group of church leaders from the Gulf Coast Synod and the ELCA Churchwide Organization gathered with local leaders in Baton Rouge to be present, listen, learn, and pray together.

Baton Rouge 02
Pastors Chris Markert, Robin McCullough-Bade, Mike Rinehart, and Mike Button

The first evening we had a large group gather to listen to local friends share their stories and perspectives. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, Stephen Bouman (ELCA Director of Domestic Mission), Albert Starr (Director of Ethnic-Specific and Multicultural Ministries and Program Director for African-Descent Ministries), Brenda Smith (Program Director for Faith Practices and Missional Development), Judith Roberts (Program Director for Racial Justice Ministries), Gulf Coast Bishop Michael Rinehart, Chris Markert (Assistant to the Bishop-Mission Catalyst), Blair Lundborg (Assistant to the Bishop for Leadership, Robin McCullough-Bade (Director of Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge), Mike Button (Pastor at St. Paul, Baton Rouge), Kim Little-brooks, (Pastor at Our Saviour, Baton Rouge), Nancy Andrews (Bayou Conference Dean), and Interim Pastor at Bethlehem, New Orleans) met with Edgar Cage (Baton Rouge Together), Willie Johnson (member of Our Saviour’s and Baton Rouge consultant, former school principal, and VP of the Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce), Tonia Causey (Holy Grail kitchen), Ashley Bennett (All Star Community Outreach), and Emanuel Milton (radio personality).


Baton Rouge is divided racially and has been for a long time. Home of the first bus boycott, North Baton Rouge is predominantly African-American. South Baton Rouge is predominantly Anglo. Alton Sterling’s is one in a long line of police shootings. This event is more public, but the folks with whom we met characterized this as “business as usual.”

When we mentioned that Philando Castile had been pulled over 52 times for “random” traffic stops, Emanuel shared that he gets stopped at least once a month. As you can imagine this can be incredibly frustrating. “I’m a nice person, but I find myself being grumpy and mean, because I’m not used to being in a hostile environment.” “Black young men are clearly being targeted,” Tonia offered. Edgar: “Police brutality has been the norm. We need to use this tragic situation to bring a change in how policing is done.”

Baton Rouge 01
Blair and Emmanuel: “I get stopped once a month.”

Emanuel said this is not just about police. There are racial problems across the board: schools, poverty, and so on. Willie shared that she has seen very little progress in these areas. “People fail to see the connection between education and economics.”

“The church has failed,” said Edgar Cage. “You shouldn’t need anti-racism training. If you’re not hearing it from the pulpit, something is wrong.” Ashley added, “We need to bridge the gap, as a community.”

People are protesting because they are frustrated. They need to speak out. They need to do something that gets heard. Civil protest is about first amendment rights. “We need to create space for community deliberation. We need to educate people about civil protest. They need to know their rights and responsibilities. They need training,” Willie offered.


The next morning we visited the site of the shooting. Our objective was just to have prayer there. It is important for the church to show up at sites of violence and pray. We ran into a local Baptist pastor. She greeted us and thanked us for coming. Another gentleman was sitting outside the convenience store where Alton Sterling had been shot. He told the story and shared his frustration with policing in Baton Rouge. He called the church to speak out for racial justice.

The store cashier, from Jordan, had a similar story to tell. Before we prayed, a street evangelist approached us. “You clergy need to be the voice. I don’t see anywhere in the Bible where you are called to babysit buildings and guard offering plates. We are called to be a witness to the world.” We prayed for peace and justice then he went around and hugged each one of us.

As we were leaving, the press showed up. We were already late for an appointment with Roman Catholic Bishop Muench, so a few of us left for that appointment. Bishop Eaton and a few others stayed behind to answer questions, while the rest of us went on to the diocesan offices.

Bishop Muench and Vicar General Tom Ranzino welcomed us. Our schedules are a matter of public record, so the press showed up there as well. The diocese decided our meeting would be more productive if there weren’t cameras in the room, so we asked them to wait and let us meet. They subsequently reported that we met “behind closed doors.” We talked about the way the city was responding and the church’s role in proclaiming peace and justice. We discussed the need for conversations around race that build bridges between communities. There was also talk about the possibility for something like a truth and justice commission, so that people could share publicly their painful stories and have them acknowledged.

Baton Rouge 05
Presiding Bishop Eaton and the Lutheran delegation meeting with Baton Rouge Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Muench.

After our visit at the diocese, we stopped at City Park where many years ago the pool was filled in with concrete as a response to integration. They would rather lose the pool than have to swim together. A brief lunch at the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge recharged us for our next visit.

Pastors, deacons, and some lay leaders, both black and white, gathered at Greater New Guide Baptist Church, a few blocks from the shooting. How can the church respond most helpfully in the midst of such turmoil? The frustration is at a boiling point. How do we help people voice that frustration in a way that leads to substantive action? Comments covered the gamut. We must create space for lament, call people to prayer, invite people to constructive action, preach Jesus’ gospel of non-violence, call people to denounce injustice, shed light on the darkness, build bridges, tear down walls of racism and fear, and dispel complacency. One pastor suggested that he had never heard the white church or the white community offer a clear statement of repentance. At the end of our time together, there was discussion of a march on July 24. This will be a march from Wesley United Methodist Church to the State Capital.

Baton Rouge 06

In the evening we gathered with a group of folks from St. Paul Lutheran in Baton Rouge. Pastor Mike Button offered devotion and invited us into small groups to discuss what love requires of us (1 Corinthians 13). Conversations like this help people put their thoughts out there and work through things. The conversations moved beyond policing to the realities of racial segregation and the cycles of poverty.

How much education you have is directly correlated to income. The U.S. trails behind just about every industrialized country in education equality; everything is impacted by this. Those born into poverty rarely get a college degree (less than 1 in 20). Historically education in the U.S. was the great equalizer, but that has slipped in the last two generations. There were a number of educators in the room, including one person who teaches at the school two blocks from the shooting.

Mean income goes up with education. The following are 2009 numbers:

Education Level – Mean Income
No high school diploma – $20,000
High school diploma – $31,000
College degree – $57,000
Master’s – $74,000
Professional – $128,000
Doctorate – $103,000

How much money you make determines how much house you can afford, which determines what neighborhood you are able to choose, which determines which school you get into, and so on. Income level determines whether or not you are able to send your children to college, and so poverty is passed on from generation to generation. Breaking the cycle of poverty is a huge challenge. “It starts with education,” said one educator.

Where do we go from here?

Bishop Eaton and the folks from the churchwide organization were extremely helpful. Their presence was quite supportive. They also brought perspective and wisdom from other situations around the country, having just come from Minneapolis, for example. It is a blessing to be church together, as opposed to independent congregations. This is something we too often take for granted.

Every congregation needs to establish a relationship, a partnership, with a congregation of a different race. Sunday is still the most segregated hour of the week in the U.S. There are plenty of African-American, Latino, and Anglo churches, but few are multicultural. Developing multicultural churches will be a challenge. We need to find good examples and learn best practices.

In the meantime, it is a huge step to invite people to develop relationships across traditional social barriers. Eat together. Study together. Serve together. Have Vacation Bible School together. Step out of the box. We will learn from one another and begin to see things with new eyes. Set the pace in your community. Show the world what Galatians 3:28 looks like. Instead of being behind the curve, let’s be ahead of the curve.