Our ELCA when it met in NOLA

Group 236

by the Rev. Gordon Lathrop and Gail Ramshaw

This bird’s eye view of meaningful business and evocative worship during the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly was shared by members of Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church in Arlington, Virginia upon their return from the experience. The Rev. Gordon Lathrop, Professor Emeritus at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and Gail Ramshaw, scholar of liturgical language and Professor Emerita of religion at La Salle University, consented to share their observations through this blog as well.

The Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America met in New Orleans, Louisiana, from August 7-13 this year under the leadership of Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. This assembly, which gathers once every three years to worship, study and enact the business of the ELCA’s churchwide expression, is made up of elected Voting Members from each of the ELCA’s 65 synods, accompanied by many visitors, ecumenical guests, churchwide staff members and representatives of colleges, seminaries, social service agencies and other institutions.


In its business* three matters were of especial importance:

Declaration on the Way

16cwabusinessWith a nearly unanimous vote, the assembly received and recommended the document called Declaration on the Way,** a summary of the many mutual agreements that have been reached in the North American Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogues over the past decades. Highlighting particularly the agreements on church, eucharist and ministry, this document will be passed on to the Lutheran World Federation and to the Vatican in order to encourage yet further international discussion.

The Roman Catholic co-chair of the commission that produced the document, the current Bishop of Baltimore, stated publicly that it represented a significant step toward inter-communion between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, and to very great applause he was given one of the chalices used in the Churchwide Assembly as a sign of gratitude.

Roster Shift

With nearly as great a margin, the assembly adopted the idea of a single “roster” for persons who have up to now been called associates in ministry, deaconesses and diaconal ministers. This list will now be named the roster of “Ministers of Word and Service” and will be an official list maintained by the ELCA. In usual speech, persons on this roster will be called “deacons,” just as those ordained persons on the roster of “Ministers of Word and Sacrament” are called “pastors” in our denomination.

On the day our guest blogger preached (Pr. Lathrop at right) a dramatic image was projected in the worship space.

On the day our guest blogger preached (Pr. Lathrop at right) a dramatic image was projected in the worship space.

Deacons will function to enact in their lives how the assembly of Christians around the gospel is called to reach out in service to our neighbors, especially to those in need. Such service to our neighbor is, of course, a calling for us all, an implication of our baptism. Deacons are to be a sign to us all of this vocation, carrying specific responsibilities in service.

Accompaniment of Refugees

Strong assent was also given to an ecumenical undertaking that seeks care for unaccompanied refugee minors who have come into our land without support, in great vulnerability. This care will become one priority of the domestic mission of the ELCA.***


The daily worship at the Churchwide Assembly was one of the high points of the week’s event. Each day had a service of Holy Communion which followed the Evangelical Lutheran worship (ELW) “ordo” of Gathering, Word, Meal and Sending.**** The gospel and other biblical readings were chosen to inspire the work of the assembly. For example, the opening service prayed especially for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

16cwadance200Each service was unique, with every option explored.

For example, one day the screen, set up against the back wall behind the altar, showed color designs like stained glass windows, and another day they projected great art that depicted the biblical story proclaimed. • One day we sang the Kyrie in Greek; each day the Holy Holy Holy was a different musical setting. • One day the music was New Orleans jazz; another day the whole assembly spontaneously broke into four-part harmony for “Beautiful Savior.” • One day there was a dancer; another day streamers on tall poles accompanied the clergy procession. • The hymns came from both the ELW and a wide range of other sources. • On three days, college students, who were youth delegates, were trained to lead the intercessions. • Several different choirs participated.

Each day a different Eucharistic prayer was proclaimed. Some aspects of the week’s worship, however, were the same in all six services: the Lord’s Prayer was always the 1988 translation, and the bread of communion was pita bread.

Find photos and videos from the Churchwide Assembly experience at www.elca.org/cwalive .

* A broad overview from the ELCA News Service of key Churchwide Assembly actions is available at www.elca.org/News-and-Events/7852 .
** More info at www.elca.org/Declaration-on-the-Way .
*** Specific language of Churchwide Assembly actions can be found in “Legislative Updates” at http://download.elca.org/ELCA%20Resource%20Repository/Legislative_Updates_for_the_2016_Churchwide_Assembly.pdf .
**** See pages 92-93 of the ELW