ELCA Unit Director Proposes Ethnic-Specific Synods

11/1/1996 12:00:00 AM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America "must do a reality check and consider new directions for the 21st century," according to the Rev. Frederick E.N. Rajan, executive director of the church's Commission for Multicultural Ministries. Speaking to the commission's steering committee here Oct. 11, Rajan suggested the ELCA should establish non-geographic, ethnic- specific synods.
     Committee members took no direct action on Rajan's suggestion but agreed to take the idea to their communities and the church's ethnic associations for feedback.
     The ELCA's 65 synods are legislative sections of the church, usually defined by geographic boundaries and headed by a bishop. The exception is the Slovak Zion Synod, emphasizing the church's Slovak-language ministries.
     Rajan restated the ELCA's "simple but profound goal of assisting all to become full partners and participants in the life of our church."  He cited statistics showing that membership in ELCA ethnic-specific ministries is down or flat while people of color are joining predominantly white congregations.
     "This growth is not due to an intentional effort by our church," Rajan said.  He cited "upward mobility, class and programs offered by white congregations" as factors in the situation.
     Rajan pointed to an "alarming trend" in African American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American membership in the nine years of the ELCA's life: African American congregations down by more than 6,000 members; Spanish-speaking congregations down by almost 2,000 members; membership in Asian and Native American congregations unchanged.
     Rajan said, "All of us believe in the ELCA and its future. We have come a long way, yet we have a long way to go."  Citing strategies and programs "to strengthen the multicultural efforts of our church" he said, "these efforts are not effectively reaching congregations."  Many congregations and leaders "are hurting," Rajan said.  "The commission must address these concerns."
     Three things are "essential for the effective work of ethnic ministries in our church," Rajan said: "accountability, responsibility and urgency."
     The non-geographic, ethnic-specific synod "could provide culturally sensitive pastoral care for ethnic-specific congregations," Rajan said.  Such a synod would be accountable to its community and the whole church and have a sense of urgency for preparation of pastors and development of ministries, he said.
     Joel Mugge, a committee member from Minneapolis, asked, "Are we raising an expectation that there is no way the church would accept, looking at it realistically?"  He added, "It is provocative enough to be useful for discussion."
     The Rev. Ivis LaRiviere-Mestre, Allentown, Pa., said, "This gives the church a message of urgency.  There is a need for seriousness and deliberation and a very intense look at ministry with the ethnic communities."
     The majority of people of color in the ELCA are immigrants and refugees, according to Rajan.  While denominations are important to Christians of the Western world, Rajan said, they are "normally not an important factor for those coming from developing nations."
     Rajan reported that the commission and the ELCA's Division for Outreach held a consultation to begin a Filipino ministry, the nation's fastest-growing Asian community.

For information contact: Ann Hafften, Dir., ELCA News Service,
(312) 380-2958 or AHAFFTEN@ELCA.ORG; Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Dir.,
(312) 380-2955 or FRANKI@ELCA.ORG


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