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ELCA Conference of Bishops —
Report: March 5-7, 2000

by Jim Torgerson

March 5, 2000

This is a report from Jim Torgerson, on assignment for Lutheran Commentator, at the ELCA Conference of Bishop's Meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on March 5-7, 2000.

Ft. Lauderdale, March 5, 2000

The Conference of Bishops of the ELCA (COB) is holding its spring session at the Airport Hilton Hotel in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, March 2- March 7, 2000. This is the first of two reports from me on this event.

The COB opened its doors to the public and to the press at 4:00 PM, Friday, March 3, with "Bishops' Concerns," a time set aside at all COB sessions for any bishop to make known their particular concerns.

Often times Bishops' Concerns will cause the COB to change its schedule agenda to devote more time to particular matters of concern. This is the case with this session of the COB. Due to controversy in the ELCA on Called to Common Mission (CCM), the set agenda for the COB has been changed to include continuing discussion and action on CCM.

At Bishops' Concern of Friday, various bishops addressed the COB on CCM and the Milwaukee Common Ground Resolution (CGR). John Brooks of the ELCA Department of Communications provided me with the following "quotable quotes" pertaining to CCM/CRG from the Bishops' Concerns open discussion:

Bishop Lee Miller (Upstate NY Synod): "We want to proclaim Christ, affirm CCM and have wiggle room."

Bishop Peter Rogness (Greater Milwaukee Synod): "(The Milwaukee Discussion) was not an attempt to shape a poison pill to cause the Episcopal Church to vote "no" on CCM...both views belong in the church...unless there's a clear signal saying this is significant and ought to be acted on, the events ongoing will continue to play out in a pretty destructive way."

Bishop Steven Ullestad (Northestern Iowa Synod): "People in our area are looking for a clear statement of what we understand the ministry of bishops to be regarding ordination."

Ullestad then introduced a proposed draft, marked-up resolution that, among other particulars, "expresses... Gratitude for the conversations being held throughout the church which seek to clarify the implications of (CCM apart from a yet-to-be-formed CCM Joint Commission, composed of an equal number of representatives from the ELCA and the ECUSA.

Bishop Paull Spring (Northestern PA Synod): "The document (CCM) we have passed is passed...on the other hand, it could be implemented in a different way." Spring added, "is there a way this can be implemented over a period of time?...I'm concerned about the unity of our church. I'm trying to build some bridges."

While concerned about the unity of the church, apparently in his own synod, Spring did not mention that, under CCM, the ECUSA does not "fully realize full communion" with the ELCA until all ELCA bishops have entered the Episcopal Historic Episcopate (CCM Section 14), some 20 years into the future. CCM already provides for a slow implementation process. Lutheran Commentator reported this implication of CCM in a previous article, "Boiling a (Lutheran) Frog."

Bishop Stephen Bouman (Metro NY Synod): Bishop Bouman stated he is being asked, "Did you mean it when you passed it?" He further said, "I'm concerned when we say we're not backing off." Bishop Bouman, an advocate of CCM, apparently did not elaborate further on possible dissent of CCM in his synod.

Bishop Peter Strommen (Northeastern MN Synod), "We have to ackowledge there are a portion of people who have a problem in their conscience (with CCM)."

Bishop John Beem (East-Central Wisconsin Synod): "The Milwaukee proposal seems to be trying to create a bigger tent for all in the church."

Presiding Bishop H.George Anderson stated that the first installation of bishops affected by CCM would be in Spring of 2001.

Secretary Lowell G. Almen correctly stated that the ELCA Church Council, the primary governing unit of the ELCA between Churchwide Assemblies, does not have the authority to change the ELCA constitution. He said only the Churchwide Assembly can change the ELCA Constitution.

Bishop Marcus Miller (Northeastern Ohio): "I'm concerned that my colleagues in ECUSA may get one more reason to press the 'no button'...I'm not sure the Conference needs to say anything."

Bishop David Olson then suggested the COB and the appropriate number of clergy hold a theological conference to "discuss the theological issues" surrounding CCM.

Bishop Stanley Olson (Southwestern MN Synod): "It will help me in Southwestern Minnesota if we say a clear word to the 1/3 who said no in Denver." It is not clear what Bishop Olson meant by "clear word".

The COB adjourned on Friday after the "Bishops' Concerns," and it reconvened at 9:00 AM EST on Saturday, March 4 with the addresses of Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson, Secretary Lowell Almen, Vice President Addie Butler and Treasurer Richard McAuliffe.

The public addresses of these church officers were an overview of their respective printed reports, contained in the hand-outs to the COB.

Bishop Anderson, using Mathew 5:13-14, "You are the salt of the are the light of the world," commenced his address by "...wondering how we in the (ELCA) can reflect and magnify (the Epiphany) in the 21st centrury." He soon moved onto CCM, saying, "I'm sure you're wondering, why has the church tied itself in knots over a particular ecumenical activity when there's so much to do in the world."

Anderson continued, "If you were in my office you would know CCM is not the major activity of interest." He then commenced --seemingly defensively--with a litany of the ELCA's accomplishments over the last decade, i.e., since its inception.

Anderson cited the Companion Synod program as an ELCA acheivement, saying "Economic deprivation and the power of the spirit can go together and can provide a warm and powerful evangelistic atmosphere." He did not expand on this comment. He then noted that the ELCA: has sent out 650 missionaries over the last decade; has sent out 400 (short-term) volunteers over the last decade; and has started 400 new congregations during the last decade.

Anderson did not mention that the ELCA now has only about 230 missionaries, on an annual basis, down sharply from the 1,000+ annual missionaries on board int he 1960's ( ALC/LCA) and from the 600+ annual missionaries on board at the inception of the ELCA in 1987.

Anderson called attention to the fact that the ELCA has not reached its 10% goal of diversity/minorities, but he did mention that all catagories of minorities are up and that adult baptisms are up. He referenced a Lenten "Call to Discipleship" video, but he spent a longer time period relating his experience in Augsburg, Germany, at the signing of the Joint Declaration of the Doctrine of Justification (JDDL) with the Roman Catholic Church. Anderson represented the ELCA with the Lutheran World Federation at the signing ceremony.

Anderson said, "My hand shook--trembled--as I signed the document (JDDL)." He then related--clearly demonstrating emotion and awe--his experience in addressing the recent gathering of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on the JDDL signing. He closed these remarks by saying, "they (the Catholic Bishops) looked just like me..." He then added that there were Catholic Bishops of color.

Anderson continued in his Saturday morning address with the remarks emphasizing the forthcoming ELCA Bishops pastoral letter on poverty. He endorsed debt relief to developing countries.

Finally, Bishop Anderson announced the nomination of Michael Cooper-White, his assistant and Director fo the ELCA's Synodical Relations department, for the presidency of the Luthern Seminary in Gettysburg. Noting that the board of trustees of Gettysburg must yet actually vote on the matter, Anderson nonetheless congratulated Cooper-White on the appointment. This announcement by Anderson evoked a standing ovation from the COB, along with chants of "Michael...Michael...Michael...Michael..." once Cooper-White entered the COB ballroom.

Secretaty Almen's speech was not altogether audible, due to loud musical sounds coming into the COB ballroom from the neighboring ballroom, where Mt. Zion Holiness Church and its Gospel Choir were holding their prayer breakfast.

Secretary Almen did, however, talk about historic controversies within the US Lutheranism that hindered mission opportunities, and did close his remarks by relating his disgust with recent remarks about him posted on-line (or in a note).

Vice President Addie Butler's address was short, and it focused on a recent gathering of the ELCA synod vice presidents where the actual role of the synod vice president was explored. The result of this meeting demonstrated an array of views among synod vice presidents--some conflicting--on their actual roles.

Treasurer McAuliffe's address strongly suggested that the ELCA is financially healthy, with increased Synodical receipts and individual bequests being received. Bishop Richard Jessen of the Nebraska Synod rose to congratulate McAuliffe on his fine performance, given the initial financial crises of the ELCA from 1987 to about 1990.

The COB then proceeded to discuss the "sixth draft" of the Bishop David Olson-sponsored pastoral letter on poverty. Dividing into discussion groups, the bishops emerged with many criticisms, including: "too much law, no gospel"; "no reference to women in poverty" (Bishop April Larson, who was also quoted as saying, "you teach a man, and you teach one person; you teach a woman, and you teach many"); and "no reference to the use of unions" (Bishop Paul Egertson, Southern California-West). At one point, an unidentified bishop rose to challenge the proposed name of the document, "Bridging the Gap..." At another point in the discussion, a bishop rose to question the legitimacy of the COB even issuing such a pastoral letter. This (unidentified) bishop said that the ELCA Constitution only states the COB is to "assist bishops in their roles as bishops."

The COB spent Saturday afternoon visiting impoverished families and communities in the Ft. Lauderdale/ Miami metropolitan area.

The business of the COB will resume on Monday morning, March 6. According to a revised COB agenda, discussions and possible action on CCM/CGR will commence at 11:00 AM EST. I will be in attendance.

After communion worship on Saturday evening, followed by dinner, the bishops are reportedly spending Sunday relaxing by the hotel pool or strolling down the beach.

March 7, 2000

Exactly one year to the day after it passed its Tucson Resolution, the ELCA Conference of Bishops ("COB') engaged in vigorous debate on March 6 on the wording of a "Pastoral Letter on Implementation of 'Called to Common Mission'" ("Pastoral Letter") at the Airport Hilton Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

However, the March 6, 1999, Tucson Resolution -- an interpretation of CCM that eventually received ELCA Church Council endorsement and helped the passage of CCM at the Churchwide Assembly in Denver -- was not mentioned, nor was it apparently helpful, at this year's Spring gathering, as the bishops discussed how CCM could be interpreted and implemented with "flexibility" and "pastoral care."

The bishops had adjourned their Saturday, March 4 session, with probable certainty that a resolution, not a pastoral letter, would be forthcoming by the end of the Conference. But by early Monday morning, Higgins Road staffers and some bishops had circulated the first draft of the pastoral letter in the COB ballroom. This draft acknowledged the vote of the 1999 Churchwide Assembly and captured the thoughts contained in Bishop Ullestad's draft resolution, which the bishops discussed at "Bishops' Concerns" at the Friday session.

By 11:00 AM Monday morning, the designated time spot set aside for debating CCM, three amendments emerged to the earlier Pastoral Letter. Introduced by Bishop Howard Wennes of the Grand Canyon Synod, the amendments spoke to flexibility and pastoral care, and they included the suggestion of an amendment to the ELCA constitution to allow for ordinations by pastors, and not just bishops. But discussion on the amendments quickly devolved into a series of conflicting and disjointed discussions. Recognizing the problem, the bishops then voted to remove the text of the pastoral letter and the proposed amendments and to send the letter and amendments back to the drafting team.

But discussion continued. Bishops, four and five deep at each of two microphones, lined up to speak about the implementation of CCM. They revealed their various positions on the subject of implementing CCM:

Bishop Donald Maier, Northwest Washington Synod, said that the bishops must "pledge (them)selves to be be 'facilitators' of ordinations."

Bishop Ullestad stated that flexibility could and should occur through the use of memorials and resolutions at assemblies.

Concerns about being pastoral were often met with comments about The Episcopal Church (ECUSA) and its adoption of CCM this summer in Denver. Bishop Paull Spring, Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod, urged a laissez-faire approach to the problems, saying, "...let the process work itself out, that is, at (the ECUSA) convention."

Bishop Ted Schneider of the Metropolitan Washington Synod stated that ECUSA would likely allow ELCA flexibility in implementing CCM because "...ECUSA understands that the ELCA will never have a 'pure roster' under the historic episcopate."

However, Bishop Peter Rogness of the Greater Milwaukee Synod said the COB needed to be "clear" in its message. Rogness spoke to the need to reassert "theological principles." He spoke out against advocating memorials at assemblies as an avenue to express dissent and concern about the historic episcopate. Likewise, Bishop Rich Foss of Eastern North Dakota indicated that merely being "pastoral" would not suffice; he indicated it would be taken as condescending.

Referring to the "scandalous theological statements" in the recent WordAlone mailing, Bishop Mark Hanson of the St. Paul Area Synod suggested that the COB needed to take a leadership role in the debate on implementing CCM. "We need to take leadership; it does not belong to destructive movements," Hanson said.

Bishop Peter Strommen of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod said that the COB needed to recognize that there is "not a sufficient trust level (in the ELCA)."

Bishop Robert Isaksen advocated flexibility on CCM by using COB sessions to approve exceptions to the historic episcopate, as is done currently with other exceptions to the rostering and call processes.

Bishop Jon Enslin of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin said the church is in a "Gordian Knot."

Bishop Ronald Warren of the Southeastern Synod said that it would be "...dangerous for (the ELCA) to go beyond (the definition of) 'regularly' held by the Assembly."

But, Bishop Robert Rimbo of the Southeast Michigan Synod stated, "...the presiding bishop and secretary of the ELCA have been subjected to harm and slander." He spoke for ECUSA's needs in the matter.

Reconvening after lunch, the COB heard: the report of Michael Cooper-White, a presentation on the "Needs and Resources" of ordained ministers in the ELCA, and the report of the Board of Pensions on health care changes. One bishop nodded off for much of this time.

The bishops commenced discussion on CCM once again at 4:15 PM Monday, after the bishops' Pastoral Letter drafting team emerged with another draft of the Letter." Bishop Stanley Olson of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod presented this draft and, again, the bishops began to line up at the microphones.

Following on Bishop Bouman's (Metropolitan New York) comments at the CWA in Denver that he needed CCM to do ministry on the East Coast, several pro-CCM bishops (D. Olson, M. Hanson, P. Rogness, etc.) now asked the COB to allow flexibility in the implementation of CCM, given the large numbers in their synods which are against CCM. The discussion at this point was heated.

However, in a move that seemed to surprised nearly everyone, Presiding Bishop Anderson stepped down into the audience and took to one of the micophones. Two bishops stepped aside and yielded time to him to speak to this particular draft of the Pastoral Letter, which stated, in part:

"We encourage addressing these concerns (with CCM) through continuing prayer, study, and conversation in our congregations and other settings, deliberation in synodical and churchwide assemblies, possible amendments to the constitution or bylaws of this church, and the development of policies for the implementation of this full communion agreement. We support the exploration of possible ways to allow a synodical bishop, in unusual circumstances and with appropriate consultation, to authorize another ELCA pastor to preside at an ordination. We invite the ELCA Church Council, in consultation with the presiding bishop of this church, to pursue this exploration."

Speaking to this paragraph, Anderson stated this paragraph was "problematic," and he suggested that ECUSA would see the ELCA as a "moving target" if this language were used to describe the ELCA's views on the implementation of CCM. Anderson further argued that the language would not placate the "extremists" in the ELCA, i.e., those people who are totally against the historic episcopate. Anderson urged dissent to occur through memorials and resolutions at assemblies, and he urged the bishops to subordinate their own, personal opinions on CCM and, with ECUSA, move to implement it. The full text of Anderson's comments are provided below, as transcribed from audio tape.

Bishop Enslin then immediately offered the following compromise substitution, seemingly prepared for the moment: "We pledge ourselves to be gracious and pastoral in the exercise of our constitutional responsibility regarding ordination. We will work to help The Episcopal Church understand the necessity for pastoral flexibility on our part." However, the COB seemed to forget about the "Enslin Amendment" in subsequent discussions.

Interesting discussion followed. Most notably, Bishop Rogness came to the microphone and, among other comments, refuted Bishop Anderson's statement that opponents to CCM were extremists.

March 6, 2000: COB history repeats itself on CCM. The COB adopted a final text for their Pastoral Letter and their own interpretation on the implementation of CCM.

The ELCA Bishops seemed to ignore much of what Bishop Anderson said to them.

The Pastoral Letter will soon be officially released by the ELCA.

Again, Bishop Anderson's "floor speech" is provided immediately below, as transcribed from audio tape.

Jim Torgerson —Lutheran Commentator

BEGIN HGA / Floor Speech / Fort Lauderdale / 3-6-00 / 4:40 PM:

"I worry about the continued inclusion of the material in 44, 45 and so, I'll speak as for that, because that is my concern.

I don't think we have (pause) we talk about two groups here, those who favor CCM and those who don't. Ah, I believe we have four groups. We have The Episcopal Church; we have those who favored CCM; we have those who did not vote for CCM and have problems with it; and we have extremists, may I call them, who simply say 'anything to do with the historic episcopate must be done away...we must reverse this whole process.'

Now, how will the Episcopalians take this? This is something none of us can answer. But, my, I would ask you, will they hear this, ah, as saying something like, well, the proposal you're going to be voting on in November, ah in Denver, is not where the Lutheran bishops now are - this is really not the position of the Lutheran Church anymore? And, they could then ask us, 'Is this your final answer?' I mean, I think we're a moving target to them by adding material, the suggested changes.

As far as the ELCA is concerned, I think that if we, if we, have these, this specific route laid out, then they're going to say, ah, 'what synod memorial, what, what decision making body has offered to change in their minds from what you voted on in Denver, with us?'

And, uh, I think the extremists, we have to ask, are they going to say, 'well, the church is telling us, ah, we heard you?' I'm being very blunt here, because I don't have a whole lot of time.

If you threaten to take away benevolence, if you, ah, decide you're going to tell us you're leaving the church, then we'll (inaudible). If you didn't do it through reasoned can do it through threats. And, I don't think this (meaning, the lines 44, 45...) is going to satisfy those people; they will still be there. And they will still be saying what they've always said before

I hope, I hope that we could say to everybody, 'these bishops are indeed aware of the issues still going on in the church' - what we say through most of the letter.

And, therefore, we now need, simply to, what I think, a, a route through this process so that synod assemblies this year can take actions that they wish to take that would in a reasonable and an ordered way make proposals to the church which could be decided on in our mutual process.

It seems to me that we have gotten very rushed now about trying to avoid unhappy resolutions this Spring....I think if we pass this now (with these changes) we'll still get the more extreme ones (resolutions).

I know that's hard on the bishops whose jobs will be complicated by this, who are in synods where they really face a lot of bitter opposition and a lot of, a lot of, concern. And, I, I wish I could find an easy way to work with them at the same time that we fulfill our other responsibilities. But I, I, hope that we could tell, say, to those bishops you've heard here the general route to move ahead, not unilaterally, but with The Episcopal Church toward a better way of implementing this.

And therefore you can communicate to folks that's true. If they don't believe the whole church, I think they'll trust you. I think the bishops we have in these areas (of dissent) are able, respected, seasoned bishops. And I know that some of them have opinions which are opposed to CCM itself. I would only ask them to remember the examples of their fellow bishops who subordinated their own opinions on other matters in this church to what they considered to be the standards which the church had set up - in the belief that greater mischief would result by breaking fellowship than by trying to follow the procedures which the church has outlined.

So, I, ah, I think, ah (pause) you'll make your own choice, but I'm just saying at this point that a document with those paragraphs, those sentences, would be perceived to be problematic."

END HGA _________