Michael Brandy, Deseret News
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America speaks in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

Women from across the country joined at the Salt Palace this week to worship together and learn what it means to be a Lutheran in today's world.

The Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America held their triennial convention and gathering. The conference brought 1,900 women from across the country to Salt Lake City to unite under their event's theme, "Come to the Waters," through baptism, by scripture study, speakers, community, service and worship.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, delivered a "state of the church" address on Thursday, marking the end of the convention and the beginning of the gathering.

The Rev. Hanson urged the congregation of women to "become fluent in the first language of our faith ... the language of scripture."

He related the story of a family member who, on her death bed, began reciting scripture, finding faith in it. She requested that the Rev. Hanson and other bishops require their congregations to memorize the scriptures, as she had been required.

While the reverend denied the request, he told the congregation that understanding and knowing scripture is the basis of faith.

The Rev. Hanson also shared the church's new brand, which was recently developed at a Colorado marketing company: "God's Work, Our Hands."

"We have a story to tell," the Rev. Hanson said. "It is the story of what God is doing through our hands."

The Rev. Hanson dedicated the rest of his lecture to the importance of work. He said the church, at its 20th year, has become an aging church, as evidenced by its declining membership. However, the Rev. Hanson said that as members, "We spend too much time worried about survival. What's called for is a revival."

Such a revival calls for the members to look around their communities and create new congregations among neighbors and friends. "Wherever we are," he said, "those are mission fields."

As the third-largest Lutheran church in the world, the ELCA spends significant time and money contributing to other countries. The reverend petitioned the congregation to join him in the church's work to eradicate malaria and HIV/AIDS. He thanked the church members for their support of other funds that contribute to justice and peace throughout the world.

The Rev. Hanson acknowledged the habit of members of the church to be non-confrontational and accept things as they are, so as to not offend. However, the reverend said that they needed to be "a church stirred up, willing to conflict for the benefit of the church."

Individuals are not going to agree on the issues regarding the conflict in the Middle East or how to best solve the problems of HIV/AIDS, he said. The church needs conflict among members, as participants in the world, in order to create solutions.

The Rev. Hanson also noted that the church's membership is 97 percent Caucasian. However, he said he feels an overwhelming interest from members in becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Until the church becomes ready to receive such diversity, he said, it will not be blessed with diverse congregations.

"We must have a profound sense that we are not who God has called us to be without the ethnically diverse," he said. "Unity is always within diversity."

After the reverend's remarks, the women adjourned their convention and began the gathering, which will continue through this afternoon.


E-mail: cmadsen@desnews.com