During the April 4-7 meeting of the Church Council of the ELCA, the council declined to consider “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God” and referred the document back to the Domestic Mission unit for revision. This document is intended to replace the document “Vision and Expectations” and will serve as a guide for pastors and deacons, naming the expectations for integrity and faithfulness that the church holds for its rostered ministers.
“Vision and Expectations” was first revised in 2009 after the Churchwide Assembly adopted the social statement “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” which welcomed LGBTQIA members into full participation in the ELCA as rostered leaders. This revision allowed for the service of people in “lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.” The revised document was reviewed by the Conference of Bishops and approved by the Church Council in 2010, a process defined in the “Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the ELCA,” which says the Domestic Mission unit writes, the Bishops review and the Church Council approves.
A second revision of “Vision and Expectations” was necessary following the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all states. The candidacy leadership team of the Domestic Mission unit made revisions and presented them to the Conference of Bishops in spring 2018. The conference then recommended further revisions and encouraged the candidacy leadership team to listen to feedback and insight from others across the church.
The team tasked by the Domestic Mission unit with revising the document then collected comments from bishops, synod staff and seminaries. Partners, including Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries (ELM), proposed conversations with the drafting team, and ELM’s executive director was invited to participate in the writing process, but ultimately that collaboration didn’t happen.
The second draft was presented to the Conference of Bishops in fall 2018, but the conference, acknowledging the pain caused by the original “Vision and Expectations,” decided that a new and differently named document should be developed and presented to them in spring 2019.
A writing team was organized and, in coordination with the leadership committee of the Conference of Bishops, began rewriting the document with the title “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God.” During the conference’s spring 2019 meeting, the bishops reviewed the new document according to the process outlined in the “Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the ELCA” and recommended that the document be presented to the Church Council during its April 2019 meeting.
Following the review and recommendation, the Conference of Bishops released a pastoral statement on March 6 that addressed the pain caused by the inequitable application of “Vision and Expectations,” saying, in part, “We express our profound grief and deep regret for the times when ‘Vision and Expectations’ has been misused to single out, marginalize, and block people seeking to be leaders in this church when their peers were not always held to the same vision and expectations.”
The Conference of Bishops also issued a statement affirming “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God” as a replacement for “Vision and Expectations” and opening a comment period for people to react to the new document through their synod bishop before the Church Council’s April meeting.
On Friday, April 5, the Church Council held a 45-minute optional conversation on “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God,” and its program and services committee met to review the document. Visitors were welcomed to participate in these conversations, held prior to the Church Council’s plenary session.
Based on the committee’s recommendations, the Church Council declined to consider “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God” and referred the document back to the Domestic Mission unit for further review and redrafting, the process to include intentional listening to a diversity of voices, especially of those most harmed by the inequitable use of “Vision and Expectations.” The Church Council also requested that the Domestic Mission unit provide quarterly reports on the redrafting process and present a new draft for consideration at the fall 2020 meeting.
For now, “Vision and Expectations” will continue to serve as the ELCA’s guiding policy document.
For more information on the redrafting process, go to elca.org/rosteredlife.