Church council addresses theological education

Meeting in Chicago April 7-10, the ELCA Church Council approved recommendations and implementing strategies to help sustain theological education for the church. Among the recommendations put forward by the Theological Education Advisory Council (TEAC) was creating an advisory committee to the Church Council.

The advisory committee is being asked “to sustain a robust network of theological education for the ELCA and to prioritize and to oversee the implementation of the TEAC recommendations.”

Authorized by the Church Council in 2013, TEAC was established to address in a holistic way issues on theological education, leadership development, candidacy, call and rostered leaders.

The Church Council also recommended that the 2016 Churchwide Assembly approve the Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) strategy. AMMPARO is a commitment to accompany vulnerable children today and in the future. The ELCA strategy will respond to the situations in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that have led to the migration of children and their families through Mexico into the United States.

In other business, the council:

  • Received an invitation from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to study the significance of the Lutheran communion for its member churches.
  • Recommended budget proposals for adoption by the Churchwide Assembly in August: current fund spending authorization of $65,296,005 for 2017; current fund income proposal of $64,057,220 for 2018 and $64,151,175 for 2019; and ELCA World Hunger income of $24.8 million for 2017, $25 million for 2018 and $25 million for 2019.
  • Approved a revised 2016 fiscal year ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $22 million.
  • Adopted amendments to the ELCA constitution and bylaws that change the name of the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit to Domestic Mission.

Seminaries to merge

The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia and the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) in April announced plans to merge rather than create a new school of theology and leadership formation.

This marks a change in direction from January, when the schools said they would be closing to launch a new one. Accreditation concerns caused the change, said Gettysburg Seminary President Michael Cooper-White. Under state regulations, a new school would not be licensed to grant degrees or federal student loans for about two years. “We would not have been able to attract new students,” he said. “To have students who would not be in an accredited school—that was just untenable.”

The consolidated institution is expected to open in July 2017. With new support from ELCA partners, all full-time residential students preparing for ministry will be able to attend tuition-free, said Philadelphia Seminary President David Lose.

While leaders previously hoped for a new school with a radical design, they’re now reportedly exploring whether both seminaries will endure under the same umbrella or if one will cease to exist.

Magazines win ACP awards

ELCA magazines received awards for work produced during 2015 at the Associated Church Press convention in April in St. Louis. The Lutheran (predecessor to Living Lutheran) won an award of excellence (first place) for “Shalom church,” a “Deeper understandings” column by Craig L. Nessan and edited by Daniel Lehmann, editor. Lehmann also won an award of merit (second place) for his column “Ups, a few downs the past 10 years.” Heidi Neumark’s “Through a glass darkly,” edited by Julie B. Sevig, received an award of merit. Gather, the magazine of Women of the ELCA, won an award of merit for “All of God’s people” by Sandra D’Amico, Elizabeth Hunter editor. Café and the organization’s electronic newsletter won awards of excellence and an honorable mention (third place). Elizabeth McBride is editor of Café.

Called Forward initiative

In anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, the ELCA launched “Called Forward Together in Christ,” an initiative that invites members to join in a conversation about the future priorities of the church. Led by ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, the initiative was endorsed by the Church Council with collaboration by the Conference of Bishops. Following the process, a statement of future directions and priorities will be considered by the council. For more, see

Civil suit filed in Burnside case

A civil lawsuit filed in early April accuses an assistant dean at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, of misrepresenting himself in a counseling relationship with a student, reported the Wisconsin State Journal. The student, Megan Mengelt, is the daughter of Maureen Mengelt, who was struck and killed by Bruce Burnside, then bishop of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, while out jogging near Sun Prairie, Wis., on April 7, 2013. The university employee, Tori Richardson, reportedly reached out to Mengelt via email four days after her mother died. Richardson didn’t tell Mengelt he was texting with Burnside just prior to the accident. Since the initial contact, the two had developed a “confidential and trusting” relationship. Burnside pleaded guilty in May 2014 to second-degree reckless homicide and drunken driving. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Episcopal bishop wants reform

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in an April 4 statement that two officials in the Episcopal Church’s national office “violated established workplace policies” and “failed to live up to the church’s standards of personal conduct in their relationships with employees.” Curry’s call for work culture reform and the firing of the senior administrators apparently didn’t surprise Bob Honeychurch, who formerly served the office. Honeychurch said he heard accounts of gender bias on multiple occasions—women excluded from important decision-making and not treated as equals. Led by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the time, Honeychurch said her work often took her out of the office and she gave the chief operating officer authority to manage the staff.

Anglicans affirm agreement

Affirmation of the 1999 Lutheran-Roman Catholic agreement on justification “by God’s grace through faith in Christ” and a call for Anglicans to commemorate the 2017 Reformation anniversary were among ecumenical resolutions adopted by the Anglican Consultative Council at its April meeting in Lusaka, Zambia. “With this resolution, the Anglican Communion had underlined ‘salvation in Christ through faith’ as a central ecumenical conviction of Christian doctrine and expressed a further sign of our common will to be united in the catholic and apostolic tradition,” said Matti Repo, a Finnish bishop who represented the Lutheran World Federation at the meeting.

Defying UMC law

For the second time, Melvin Talbert, a retired United Methodist bishop, defied church law and officiated at a same-sex wedding. He co-officiated with Val Rosenquist, a pastor of First United Methodist Church in Charlotte, N.C., on April 23. Both put their clergy credentials at risk, and a formal complaint was filed against Rosenquist in May. “The Book of Discipline,” UMC’s book of law and teaching, states that all people are of sacred worth but the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Religious freedom deteriorates

Religious freedom remains under “serious and sustained assault” worldwide, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The independent government advisory body recommended that the State Department add the Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria and Vietnam to the U.S. government’s list of the world’s worst abusers of human rights and religious freedom.

Bangladeshi activists killed

Five machete-wielding militants on April 25 stormed into the apartment of Xulhaz Mannan, 35, who worked for the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and killed him and a friend who was also a gay rights activist. The slaying of Mannan, who was also editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first magazine for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, has shocked that segment of Bangladesh’s population as well as the country’s embattled community of free-thinking intellectuals. Homosexuality is illegal in Bangladesh, a majority conservative Sunni Muslim country. Since the rise of Islamism in recent years many LGBT Bangladeshis have gone into hiding, fearing attacks.

5 facts about Tubman’s faith

Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, making her the first African-American, the first woman in more than 100 years and the first unabashed Christian to be portrayed on a bill. Tubman was born in slavery and died in 1913 a free woman. Here are five faith facts about the abolitionist and famed conductor of the Underground Railroad.

  1. Her nickname was “Moses.” Tubman returned to the South more than a dozen times to help lead hundreds of slaves to freedom along the Underground Railroad. This earned her the nickname “Moses,” which came from her faith in God.
  2. She believed she had visions. As a teenager, Tubman received a blow to the head that caused her seizures, vivid dreams and hallucinations throughout her life. She believed these “visions” came from God and relied on them to lead herself and others out of slavery and into the North.
  3. Her favorite hymn was “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and it was sung at her funeral.
  4. “The Lord” told her to go on a hunger strike for $20. Sometime after Tubman escaped to freedom, she learned her parents, still enslaved in Maryland, were in trouble, tweeted Yoni Appelbaum for The Atlantic. She staged a sit-down hunger strike to secure the $20 to rescue them. While she slept, supporters slipped $60 into her pockets and she was able to lead her father to freedom. Another $20 fact—Congress awarded her a monthly pension of $20.
  5. Her dying words referred to heaven. At the end of her life, Tubman was active in the African Methodist Episcopal Church of Zion in Auburn, N.Y. According to her obituary in the Auburn Citizen, the last words she uttered were ones of faith: “I go to prepare a place for you.”

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