Chuchwide Assembly

Bishop Mike Rinehart

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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).

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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.

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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.”