Grace to you and peace… in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
Our denomination, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), every three years meets in a Churchwide Assembly. Approximately 950 Voting Members from all 65 Synods gather for amazing worship, rich education and thoughtful, prayerful deliberation on matters affecting the whole church.
Our last Assembly concluded on August 10th. Here are just a few highlights.
- We re-elected Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton to a second term on the first ballot!
- Deacon Sue Rothmeyer was elected to a 6-year term as ELCA Secretary
- Deacons will now enter their call to serve in Word and Service through Ordination
- We adopted a new Social Statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice” calling on all of us to repent and respond to the sin of sexism and prejudice woven into the very fabric of our church and society.
- We celebrated 50 years of ministry with women Pastors; 40 years with women Pastors of color and 10 years of full inclusion with LGBTQIA+ Pastors
- We offered a powerful and needed apology to our siblings of African descent for the sin of racism and voted to commemorate June 17th as a day of repentance and remembrance of the murdered “Emmanuel 9” and committed ourselves to working toward authentic diversity
- We approved A Declaration of Our Inter-Religious Commitment
- We pledged our support for the World Council of Churches “Thursdays in Black” Campaign to raise awareness of the crimes of rape and violence.
- We offered our support for the work in our church Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) which included a declaration of the ELCA as a “Sanctuary Denomination.”
I want to make a few comments that will hopefully clarify this action and respond to concerns. First, this declaration is consistent with the teachings of Holy Scripture in both the Old (Lev.19:34) and New (Heb. 11:13-14 & 13:1-2) Testaments, to cite just a few. It is consistent with the history in our church, long before the ELCA. The Bible and our long tradition clearly articulate that we are to provide support, care and advocacy for the least among us as though caring for Christ. (Mt. 25: 31-46)
Offering hospitality and support to the stranger is at the very heart of who we are as God’s people. This is another way of understanding the word, “Sanctuary.” Our ELCA heritage is filled with stories of millions of immigrants, including many of our ancestors, coming to this country. Welcoming the stranger, offering hospitality, advocacy and care is certainly consistent with our Synod Vision to be FAITHFUL + BOLD + SERVING.
Let me be clear. There is no call for Civil Disobedience or for actions breaking the law, in any way. If individuals, congregations or others feel called to such actions, they are strongly encouraged to consult an immigration attorney and become well educated about the potential risks and consequences before taking action. In a congregation, this should be a well informed and strongly supported decision.
The ELCA’s action is binding only on the Churchwide expression of our church, not Synods, congregations, institutions or agencies. So, this sanctuary declaration will take many forms across our church, including such things as: weekly worship prayers; English as Second Language (ESL) classes; protesting the detention and separation of children from their families; holding respectful conversations and events to learn of the needs and challenges of immigration and how this intersects with our faith. It could also include providing food, clothing and/or shelter to people in need, including immigrants and refugees. (Consult an immigration attorney for more information about pertinent laws and legal risks).
Many more ideas for how to live out this Sanctuary declaration in your life and ministry context can be found on the website of our ELCA ministry called, Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities, or (AMMPARO).
The ELCA Church Council along with ELCA staff and agencies have been given the responsibility of providing all of us with more information and potential resources.
The Virginia Synod Office of the Bishop will be glad to respond to your questions and concerns. We will also be lifting you and all our members in prayer along with all those we seek to serve in Jesus name!
Bishop Bob Humphrey
Virginia Synod, ELCA