Friends, by now you have heard of the actions of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly meeting here in Minneapolis. We have voted to adopt statements* that will make it possible for same-gender faithful committed partnerships to be recognized in our congregations and that will allow men and women in such relationships to serve in ministries on the rosters of our church. With all the debate that preceded our decisions, with all the hesitation, and with allowance made for all work that will be required before any change in our church can actually be implemented, this was still a significant step. Many people have lived a long time hoping for these actions. I believe that what has been done was necessary, difficult but necessary, and pleasing to God.
But I know not everyone will agree. A significant minority of the voting members of the Churchwide Assembly was in opposition to all or part of what we adopted. Our church took great pains to try to protect the consciences of those on the losing side of our voting. Whether people will feel this is enough is something we will have to wait and see. But I hope nobody’s decisions will be hasty, and I hope that we will, in good Lutheran fashion, try to put the best construction on the words and actions that grow out of this moment in the life of our church. The public media will report everything to us in the most glowing or the most negative tones. This is a moment to pause, pray, and weigh our words with patience and care. If we can all try to ask “What does this mean?” and if we can be patient as we figure it out together, then Christ will be glorified among us no matter what.
Meantime, I believe that our synod has a unique opportunity in the life of our church. We have been for some time now the kind of Christian community where disagreement does not cripple mission. We are not of one mind on many issues. We are not in agreement on how to become of one mind. But we have been clear that we are sisters and brothers nonetheless, and we have done some great things together. There is so much work for us to do, so much mission crying out for our attention. We have no choice but to continue to witness to the power of our Lord Jesus and to work out our differences as we witness.
Here at the Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis we are pretty much exhausted and tired of being away from home. We know that many of you are following our debates and keeping us in your prayers. We miss you and we look forward to telling you about our adventures out here in the Lutheran heartland.
May the God of peace give us all joy in believing, now and forever,
The Rev. Richard H. Graham
Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
* On August 21, 2009, the “Report and Recommendation on Ministry Policies” was amended and adopted by a majority vote at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. The report and social statement adopted on August 19, “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” have been forwarded to the ELCA Office of the Secretary for inclusion into the final minutes of the assembly; these minutes will be released by October 1, 2009, and the two aforementioned documents will be available for download from www.elca.org. An overview of the amendments and the general nature of the report is available from ELCA News Releases.
NOTE: At the end of Friday afternoon’s Plenary, Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson addressed the assembly pastorally. His comments are available in on-demand video from the ELCA Web site. Select “Pastoral Remarks by Bishop Hanson.” Excerpts from the press conference following the vote, the next selection in the on-demand video, may also be of interest.