Reflections from Orlando

In the early morning hours of June 12, a lone gunman entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and killed 49 people and wounded 53 others. Many of the victims were Hispanic. Following news of the attack, many ELCA congregations around the country responded with prayer vigils and offerings of support.

Reformation Lutheran Church is located a half mile from Pulse, and after the attack its members gathered to remember and honor the lives of those who were killed. Below are some reflections.

Rob Cosmas, pastor of Reformation: The shock and disbelief of the news compelled me to visit one of our many partners, the longest continuously meeting Hispanic Alcoholics Anonymous group in Central Florida. “It is so good for us to be together,” I said. “We love you and please know how deeply God loves you.” Hugs were shared and tears were shed.
A woman followed me outside, turning her eyes to the ground. With tears flowing, she said, “Pastor, I am so, so very angry!” We embraced for a long moment, together at his sacred heart.

It was not until I entered evening worship that I noticed the sweet and overpowering smell of her perfume. In a few short moments, I would be preaching to our worshipers on the text for the day, Luke 7:38-39: “She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.”

Today I bear the fragrance of love, known only in the depth of compassion we share, a gentle embrace and the tears of a broken heart. We are one at the heart of the Father through Christ.

Joan Brown Williams, a member of Reformation: On Sunday, June 12, as members of Reformation Lutheran Church gathered for worship, the helicopter whirls overhead reminded all of the tragic shooting that had occurred a few hours earlier less than a mile away. Some worshipers were out of the area on vacation; first responders who normally worshiped at Reformation were missing.

The next Sunday, June 19, Florida-Bahamas Synod Bishop Robert Schaefer was invited to deliver the message. The sanctuary was almost Easter-crowded with members; former members; assistant to the bishop Jaime Dubon; members of the AA group that uses the facilities; members of the Hispanic community; members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community; retired clergy from around the synod; neighbors; and family members. Schaefer’s message was clear: “God’s Work. Our Hands. Orlando Strong. Go—proclaim what God has done for us.”

During prayers, the 49 victims’ names were read and a bell was rung for each. The service concluded with a processional led by the cross and All Saints banner. This served as an Easter proclamation of resurrection to the world.

LWF Council re-elects Junge

At its June 15-21 meeting in Wittenberg, Germany, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Council re-elected Martin Junge, a Chilean theologian, as LWF general secretary.

In his report to the council, Junge emphasized collaboration among LWF member churches, which “makes them powerful advocates of peace, justice and reconciliation in a world facing frightening levels of violence, mistrust, radicalization and breakdown of relationships.”

This was the council’s last full meeting before the Twelfth Assembly of the LWF, to be held in 2017 in Windhoek, Namibia. In other action, the council:

  • Heard from Munib A. Younan, LWF president and bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, who urged member churches to engage in critical conversation about the communion’s foundations and its common responsibility. “The crises facing the world demand more than our politeness; they demand our action,” he said. “But we cannot act fully without interrogating our foundational assumptions and motivations.”
  • Passed, on World Refugees Day, June 20, a resolution urging Lutherans worldwide to sign a U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees petition calling upon world leaders to show solidarity and find solutions for people displaced by war or persecution. Younan and Junge led council members in signing the petition.
  • Took part in a pilgrimage of historic sites of the Reformation, witnessed the inauguration of a symbolic cross at the city’s Luther Garden, and received greetings from Joachim Gauck, the president of Germany.

Historic elections at PC(U.S.A.) assembly

Denise Anderson (below, left) and Jan Edmiston were elected as co-moderators of the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in June. This is the first time the 1.6 million-member denomination’s top governing body was led by two women. J. Herbert Nelson was elected as PC(U.S.A.) stated clerk, the first African-American to hold the position. At the June 18-25 event, Presbyterians approved a new Directory for Worship; expressed deep regret for ways lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning people, “God’s beloved children,” have been led to feel they stand outside the grace of God and are unwelcome in the denomination; and passed several resolutions aimed to pressure Israel to leave territories it has occupied since its 1967 war with neighboring states.

Religious hostility declines, terrorism increases

Religious hostility and restrictions around the world are declining for the second consecutive year, according to a Pew Research study. Religious restrictions and interferences from governments decreased from 28 percent in 2013 to 24 percent in 2014. But religion-motivated terror activities rose from 37 to 41 percent in 2014. Of the 198 countries in the study, 82 had religion-related terrorist activities, with 60 of those encountering incidents that led to injuries or deaths.

Harrison re-elected as LCMS president

Matthew C. Harrison was re-elected June 15 to a third term as president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS). The nomination process began in fall 2015 with a mailing to congregations. Then four weeks before its July 9-14 convention in Milwaukee, an electronic voting service was used to determine the next president. In a message to LCMS congregations, Harrison said his No. 1 priority as president will be “Every One His Witness,” the church’s new evangelism effort to “teach people how to share Jesus with those who don’t know him.”

Pope Francis apologizes

During a June 26 in-flight press conference, Pope Francis responded to a question regarding German Cardinal Reinhard Marx’s comment that the Roman Catholic Church had treated gay people in a “scandalous and terrible” way. “I think that the church not only should apologize … to a gay person whom it offended, but it must also apologize to the poor as well, to the women who have been exploited, to the children who have been exploited by [being forced to] work,” the pope said. “[Christians] must ask forgiveness,
not just say sorry.”

ELW turns 10

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELW), which was released Oct. 3, 2006. The ELW, more comprehensive than its predecessors, comprises many elements that churches had known and used for years and a large selection of songs and prayers that were new at the time it was released.

Kevin Strickland, ELCA executive for worship, thinks the hymn “Soli Deo Gloria!” provides “a wonderful framing for what Evangelical Lutheran Worship has been, is being and will continue to be for years to come: ‘A billion voices in one great song, now soft and gentle, now deep and strong, in every culture and style and key, from hill and valley, with sky and sea, with Christ we praise you eternally: Soli Deo Gloria! Soli Deo Gloria!’

“For 10 years, ELW has given voice to this church’s song by connecting a variety of cultures, styles and keys. Over these 10 years many resources have been created to accompany congregations and church leaders in their work to make worship central in grounding this church’s mission.”

In honor of the anniversary, the ELCA worship team is hosting “Strong Center. Open Door.   —Engaging Lutheran Worship Today,” which focuses on Lutheran worship in current context. Three events will be held this fall:

  • Oct. 7-8 at Bethany Lutheran Church, Englewood, Colo.
  • Oct. 14-15 at Zumbro Lutheran Church, Rochester, Minn.
  • Nov. 4-5 at Trinity Lutheran Church, Lansdale, Pa.

For more information on the events, go to the ELCA’s website and search for “Evangelical Lutheran Worship.”

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