By Bishop Michael Burk
I served as a voting member to the 1997 Churchwide Assembly. Because of my work as ELCA Director for Worship, and since then, as bishop, I have attended all nine of the assemblies that followed. All of them had high points and low points. Some have been more contentious than others.
The 2016 gathering in New Orleans (August 8-13) was exceptional in that it seems to have left most, if not all participants filled with hope for the future of this church. This is no small thing, given the challenges facing churches these days, including the ELCA. But voting members and visitors alike seem to agree with Presiding Bishop Eaton when she insists that “the church is not dying…it’s changing,” and God is calling us forward together in Christ.
Of course, there were reminders throughout the assembly that we sometimes disagree with one another, and on occasion, voting members were frustrated or concerned. But unity was never threatened and the enthusiasm for who God is calling us to be together was widely shared.
You can check the web for a summary of the actions of the assembly https://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/7852 and you can view lots of images and videos from the gathering if you didn’t have a chance to join us via the live stream. https://www.elca.org/cwalive
Comments from our own voting members, some of which appear below, capture the sense of things and support my conviction that this is indeed a hope-filled time to be the church.
“The Churchwide Assembly changed my life and has made me re-evaluate the definition of welcoming and what that looks like in today’s world and in small town Iowa.”
“The messages …bring me to the realization that the work we have at hand is no longer just for the Church or Bishop or Synod or Churchwide, but that I too have a part and cannot sit back anymore. As Bishop Eaton said, ‘There are no private Christians because we are all in this together.’ ”
“Our Bishop Eaton is so real and has a good sense of humor. She is bold and a great preacher/leader.”
“I was encouraged by the group from this synod by their whole-hearted participation, love for the Church, and awareness of the work we can do best together as Churchwide and Synod.”
“Our Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton is an extraordinary blessing to our church. She is gracious, charming, warm-hearted and extraordinarily competent.”
“Hearing so many speakers from within the ELCA and other parts of the world is a wonderful reminder of the powerful ways God is active in the world bringing wholeness. The assembly highlighted how the ELCA is significantly involved in God’s work.”
“The experience was definitely eye opening as I learned of and about the greater ELCA church and experienced first hand how the ELCA church determines its leadership. The assembly brought forth a treasure of new relationships that were made during the event of ELCA members in our Southeastern Iowa Synod and the greater ELCA church as we broke bread, shared testimonies and laughter.”
“Leymah Gbowee’s message on Friday inspired me and I was reminded of God’s faithfulness despite our sin. I am hopeful that Leymah’s prophetic message and other prophetic voices like hers will continue to speak as we continue to do God’s work with our hands.”
“We had an awesome time attending the CWA in New Orleans last week. The worship, speakers, and interactive dialogue and decisions that lead this Church was inspiring.”
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton put it clear that “we have work to do. God will give us energy, the courage, and the will to do it. Let’s go Church.”
“Agenda items of significance were not rushed to a vote. I liked how topics were introduced and then a day later would proceed with the voting process. This gave time for reflection, prayer, and conversations with other attendees to get other perspectives.”
“One take away that had been important to me is WE are all part of the ELCA.”
“It was memorable to be part of the decision for Declaration on the Way and I look forward to following and praying for our continued ecumenical work.”
“Attending the Churchwide Assembly has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Being exposed to so many different preaching styles and worship with so many people who share the same faith was truly inspiring.”
“Having the opportunity to discuss hunger with the ELCA World Hunger team and participate in the Food Insecurity experiential learning was truly a highlight and I will be forever grateful for that opportunity.”
“Despite the darkness in our world, I’m proud to say this Church is a shining beacon of hope in Christ in so many ways and I look forward to seeking opportunities to serve.”
May God bless our church and the whole world. I am at that point of “WHAT CAN I DO FOR MY CHURCH?” We are the church for the sake of the world.