Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, in his sermon during the opening worship service of the Churchwide Assembly, asked us, “Are you ready, church, to be moved as Mary was moved by the angel Gabriel’s words?”
A man’s voice, loud and unafraid to shout, yelled “NO!”
The bishop kept on preaching, pulling us along into the story, into Mary’s sandals, further into the question “What does this mean for us?”
Much of the 12th ELCA Churchwide Assembly felt like a fledging attempt to run away from what scares us, which all seems to flow from falling memberships and diminishing offerings.
I seem to recall we had 5.2 million members when we all jumped into this together. Now it seems we are at 4.2 million, tracking nicely with all the other mainline Protestant denominations.
Throughout the week, we considered and eventually passed the Living Into The Future Together recommendations. We viewed videos of how we serve, concretely and well, the least and the last around the globe. We saw many videos expressing how we Live Lutheran in many and various ways. We passed an anti-bullying resolution and a major social statement on genetics.
We showed ourselves how we have been moved and continue to move into Mary’s sandals.
It is easy to say, frequently, “We are at a turning point.” We are at such a point. We have cut churchwide staff, merged ministries, concentrated greater power into the hands of the ELCA Church Council and the Conference of Bishops.
We have changed our church significantly and we, as individual members, have been changed. We can either continue our slow decline, concentrating ourselves into smaller and smaller composite, or, we can be a church freed in Christ to serve all our neighbors and share the joy of salvation.