“Wonderful and overwhelming” is how Beth Smaligo describes her experience at the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
“I pretty much took everything in like a little child,” Beth says. “But being in a convention center with so many people all at once was overwhelming, and having some of the plenary sessions extended was also overwhelming. But the entire atmosphere of the assembly was wonderful.”
Beth was a voting member at the Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA’s chief legislative authority. Voting members make important decisions on behalf of this church, which is no small task. Just ask Beth.
“Getting into the business of the church, listening and voting was a very deep and fulfilling experience for me,” says Beth.
Witnessing the official launch of the ELCA Malaria Campaign and the adoption of the “Genetics, Faith and Responsibility” social statement “spoke a lot to me about what this church is committed to doing in the 21st century,” she says.
An insatiable curiosity
Beth is a member of Harrold Zion Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Greensburg, Pa., and she’s also a busy college student. She attends the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, double-majoring in English literature and communications with a minor in music.
So while attending the Churchwide Assembly was unlike anything Beth has ever experienced, one thing was familiar. There were people there her age.
Of the 1,025 voting members at the 2011 Churchwide Assembly, 109 of them were under the age of 30, and 22 voting members were under the age of 18 — an unprecedented representation.
And as chair of the assembly, Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, felt the impact.
Young voting members “brought almost an insatiable curiosity about how our Lutheran faith informs their life in such a rapidly changing, complex and diverse world,” he says.
“From my first meeting with youth and young adult voting members at a pre-assembly welcome dinner, I was struck by the depth and breadth of their questions,” says Hanson. And throughout the assembly, “I was so impressed by how often it was young adults who were speaking to almost every issue that went before the assembly.
“Often, young adults were on both sides of an issue. They brought theological wisdom, life experience, and passion for a church that will make a difference in the lives of others in the world, especially those who are suffering,” says Hanson.
Following closing worship, Bishop Hanson said he was approached by a young voting member who came to him with tears in her eyes. “She said to me, ‘Bishop, I came to this assembly not sure I was even a Christian anymore, and now I’m leaving with my faith deeply renewed.’”
Beth’s faith was also deepened. Among her profound experiences at the assembly was time spent with her prayer partner, another voting member her age.
“My prayer partner had some pretty compelling stories to share, and it was good to connect with someone instead of being lost in the crowd.”
When asked if she would return to a Churchwide Assembly, Beth responds with a resounding “Yes!” Her next opportunity is Aug. 12-18, 2013, when the assembly convenes in Pittsburgh.