Greater commitment from members, in both faith and finances, is necessary if the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is to successfully improve world conditions and spread the good news of the gospel.
In a straightforward address to some 700 members and delegates from the church's Rocky Mountain Synod, Bishop Wayne Weissenbuehler said the newly merged church is still suffering from the "wait and see" attitude of many members who haven't fully embraced the new organization."It's become clear that many of us still feel out of touch with the ELCA and wonder if it really matters."
His "State of the Synod" speech was part of the group's annual three-day assembly, held at the downtown Hilton April 28-30. Delegates held budget meetings, elections and attended forums during the conference.
The ELCA was formed Jan. 1, 1988, with the merger of three Lutheran denominations, and now numbers 11,000 congregations totaling 5.2 million members - the fourth-largest Protestant denomination in the country. Rocky Mountain is one of 64 Synods nationwide, and includes members in Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.
Weissenbuehler said that "as Lutherans, we're something less than terrific" in terms of commitment to the church. "Some have said the name `Evangelical Lutheran' may be an oxymoron - kind of like the term `giant shrimp.' " He said such perceptions come "because we as individuals don't have a strong, clear answer to the question of why we seek to be inclusive or evangelical."
Funding has fallen far short of projections, Weissen-buehler said, both at the Synod and national levels. "We're not even coming close to what we could or should be doing in our benevolence giving to the Synod or the ELCA."
In reviewing the accomplishments of the past year, he said members from formerly different denominations are getting to know each other better and that Rocky Mountain has been paired with a sister Synod in Madagascar.
Ambitious mission goals have also been set, including the construction of a mission in Centerville. "The land has been purchased and the pastor has arrived," he said.
A synod-sponsored youth retreat and gathering for older adults were also highlights of the past year, he said. Still, the churchwide struggle for inclusiveness is mirrored in the Synod.
"Racism, sexism and ageism are still with us, but let us not lose heart. I challenge you to go beyond that context to a way of living that anything that excludes anyone is unthinkable. We need to focus on what God wants among us. We must never lose sight for who we finally exist."
Weissenbuehler issued 10 areas of challenge for the coming year:
-To be "conscientious and intelligent Lutherans and Evangelicals."
-To "lose our practical atheism in the way we live in and respond to our culture."
-To decrease conflict at all levels - communal, congregational and personal.
-Pastors and clergy should "have the courage to lead."
-Synod leaders are to "primarily support the ongoing ministry of parishes and congregations."
-Members should "increase their sense of mutual partnership and belonging to the whole ELCA."
-Creation of a Synodwide prayer network for mutual support and bonding.
-Greater financial commitment to the Synod and the national church.
-Improved outreach to minority groups and development of leaders from those groups.
-Better handling of issues involving justice and social responsibility through local congregations.