The representative to the Assembly from the ELCA’s churchwide expression is Mark Burkhardt. He is the Director for Congregational Centers for Mission, which encompasses the program areas of new congregations, congregational renewal, congregational-base organizing, campus ministry, youth ministry, young adult ministry, the youth gathering and outdoor ministry.
Burkhardt began his remarks by saying “we all need a place to call home” – a part of the country, for example. In the church as well, we all need a home, and that is our congregation, our faith community. Congregations are “housed” in a synod, which is part of the larger ELCA, which itself is part of the larger, worldwide church. It was a reminder that we as individual members of the ELCA and as part of congregations are part of bigger things.
He explained the ELCA’s theme of “Freed in Christ to Serve,” which gets its inspiration in John 8. The connection from that theme to this Assembly’s theme is the hope that others will see a church that is not afraid to step out boldly in faith and serves others in need.
Burkhardt explained that it’s important to do some self-reflection, which the ELCA and the churchwide organization has been doing over the past several months. Budget and staff reductions have occurred, and the churchwide office has been completely reorganized. There are now three primary units – global mission and domestic mission units and a mission advancement unit. In a vocational shift, many churchwide staffers have had to switch gears. In the midst of this, the ELCA’s LIFT (Living Into the Future Together) Task Force focused on a couple of key questions:
- What is God calling this church to be and to do in its future?
- What changes are in order to help us respond faithfully to God’s call?
Burkhardt noted that these are great questions for the church and for us individually and even better for congregations to ask regarding their communities. He acknowledged the outstanding work of Bishop Graham as a member (and the only bishop) on the Task Force. Burkhardt said that he believed that the ELCA will be a stronger, more focused, more effective church because of the Task Force’s report.
Video greetings from ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson were shown. The video included stories about a new mission start outside Phoenix, Ariz., and a large congregation in Grand Forks, N.D. The video also spoke about Bishop Hanson’s trip to Haiti and the ELCA’s support of work there – relief following the earthquake and ongoing support of the Lutheran World Federation’s Caribbean program.
Burkhardt thanked the synod for its support of churchwide ministries, even during tough economic times. He noted that this synod has been “faithful in its response.” He reminded the Assembly of the programs to which the synod’s mission support goes.
Burkhardt gave a glimpse from his particular area of work of new congregations that are being started and those that are being refocused with help from the ELCA. He mentioned a HIV/AIDS initiative before the ELCA Churchwide Assembly this summer, which would involve a $15 million appeal for a malaria campaign.