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Three experiences with establishing "Chapters"

by Al Quie (WordAlone board member)

May 6, 2003

I have observed efforts in three instances where a Chapter was established.

  1. One was a WordAlone Network (WA) congregation that invited other congregations in their area to join with them in forming a chapter.
  2. Another was where two congregations, one WA and the other not, formed a chapter.
  3. The last was a non-WA congregation forming its own chapter.

The Pastors were quite obviously different in a. and b. They were fully participating, in fact, seemed to be in their element. It was a joy watching them lead, guide and hold back very skillfully to encourage lay leadership. In c. the pastors were more like a horse’s reaction to rustling plastic on the trail on a windy day, from shying away to calm acceptance. In horse training you find the horse’s comfort level to get them over their fear.

In all three there are a few people very knowledgeable about Called to Common Mission (CCM)—the full-communion agreement between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church USA—the historic episcopate, synod politics, the “leanings” of their bishops and the makeup of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) polity (government) and structure. Others continue to struggle with the very idea of the three-tiered structure of the ELCA (churchwide, synod and local congregation).

I know how they feel. It took me years to comprehend that a church of the Reformation, located in a democratic republic as we have in the United States, could form such an unrepresentative structure.

Also, there continues for some people at the chapter meetings a need to review most of what many of us who have been in this struggle for years now speak of with familiarity, Augsburg 7, ontological change, adiaphora. Reviews for those of us who have lived it may seem boring, but people are in different places on the learning curve. Education and reviews will always be necessary. Short and interesting helps.

Old theological wounds and expected new ones also are on people’s minds. The authority of the scriptures from the old “inerrancy” battles comes up, as do liturgy scraps. The question of the ELCA’s looking for a way to accept the “homosexual lifestyle” usually is on some people’s minds.

I’ve wondered if it makes a difference in how people deal with changes on whether they find change exhilarating or as a cause for anxiety. I like change, but not to go back to something given up in the past for good reason and which will hamper the work of the Holy Spirit, at least in my understanding. (Meaning watch what the Holy Spirit is doing in other parts of the world with freedom rather than hierarchical controls.)

The chapters can pick up on the three “R’s” of WordAlone, Renew, Reform and Reflection.


As WA now moves into an era of growing chapters, we need to encourage them to share with each other their experiences with spiritual renewal within chapters. It is amazing to me the Lutherans who are growing in Christ, but in other venues than their congregations. If each chapter meeting spent half its time together learning from each other to know Christ, this might be the biggest draw there could be and the greatest help to the ELCA.


Can we learn how best to gain a majority of voting members at future churchwide assemblies? We can’t make the changes needed to bring checks and balance to ELCA polity without the votes. Each chapter can lay a plan to work in the present ELCA structure to elect people who believe in the “priesthood of all believers” enough to bring this understanding to their own congregations and conferences or clusters.


We can be thankful that some great theological minds, which accept the truth, which is Christ Jesus, revealed in the scriptures, are working with us. The chapters are where these truths can be absorbed to such a degree that they will bring the good news to other people.