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ELCA officials have 'blank check' —for renewing worship plan

by Betsy Carlson, WordAlone editor

April, 2005

photo of Betsy CarlsonEven though the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has been working for five years and has produced new worship materials, including services, prayers and hymns, the 2005 Churchwide Assembly Aug. 8-14 in Orlando, Fla., will not be voting on any of them.

Rather it will vote on continuing a process of developing worship materials "...trusting in the guidance and gifts of God," and directing the Office of the Presiding Bishop through the worship staff to get the work done on new worship resources. (Under a restructuring plan, the worship staff is to be moved from the Division of Congregational Ministries to the office of the bishop.)

"As I read this, we are supposed to trust the process," said WordAlone Network director Mark Chavez recently, "In other words, 'just trust us, we'll handle the important details.'"

WordAlone hymnal task force member, Pastor M. Luther Johnson of Donnelly, Minn., asked rhetorically in a recent interview, "How long will the process last? What exactly will the final product be? These are the big questions that remain unanswered in the proposal.

"The voting members are being asked for the signature on a blank check, and the Renewing Worship team gets to fill in the amount after everyone goes home."

WordAlone is proposing that a vote on the process be delayed until the next churchwide assembly in 2007 so the main resources can be completed and reviewed throughout the church by congregations, synods, teaching theologians and other leaders. The Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod Assembly in June passed a memorial to the churchwide assembly asking that the present "Lutheran Book of Worship" be retained, that the Renewing Worship process be ended and that materials to supplement the LBW be created. Read more about the ELCA's proposed worship materials and the memorials at www.rkthorell

Initially the Renewing Worship development process was endorsed and funded up to $1.2 million by the ELCA Church Council in November 2000. A 2000 ELCA news release about that council meeting quoted Rev. Wyvetta Bullock, then executive director of the ELCA Division for Congregational Ministries as saying development of new worship resources, "is a multiphase process for developing new and exciting resources for consideration by the 2005 ELCA churchwide assembly."

The division for congregational ministries and Augsburg Fortress, the ELCA's publishing house, worked together as a "Renewing Worship" team on the development of new worship materials. In April this year, the team recommended to the church council that, among other things, the process continue.

At the April meeting, the church council voted to forward to the churchwide assembly a resolution based on the Renewing Worship recommendation. It commits the ELCA "to continuing steps toward the renewal of worship, trusting in the guidance and gifts of God for the ongoing life of faith through the means of grace."

The resolution also directs the Office of the Presiding Bishop through the worship staff to complete a liturgical review of the proposed content of the new book of worship and to essentially continue developing worship materials while working "collaboratively" with synods, churchwide units and ecumenical partners. The Renewing Worship team has said it hopes to publish book of worship in print and electronic form by October 2006. The team is accepting comments and critique on the materials until this Aug. 15, the day after the churchwide assembly ends.

The presiding bishop and church council funded introduction of the new worship materials to the amount of $950,000 in April from funds available due to underspending in fiscal 2005 and designated funds that were released.