1/28/2016 11:00:00 AM
CHICAGO (ELCA) – Members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) offer prayers to those impacted by program and staff reductions at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI). On Jan. 22 the nonprofit social service agency of the three ELCA Illinois synods announced the cuts due to the state's inability to pass a budget for the past seven months.
"Our hearts go out to those who lost their jobs and those they serve," said the Rev. Stephen Bouman, executive director, ELCA congregational and synodical mission. "They also go out to those who make hard decisions and try to keep serving with the remaining programs with excellence and compassion. I urge this church to pray for everyone affected."
Bouman noted that the ELCA's infrastructure of social service organizations and institutions serving vulnerable people begins to erode when "public servants can't even keep going the commitments that they have made to the most vulnerable."
After a process of "evaluation, planning, praying and listening" the board of LSSI, which includes the three ELCA Illinois bishops, announced the reductions. Thirty programs and more than 750 staff positions are being eliminated, ending LSSI support to approximately 4,700 Illinois residents.
"After seven months, we can no longer provide services for which we aren't being paid," said Mark A. Stutrud, LSSI president and chief executive officer. "We are doing this at a great cost to LSSI and those affected by our services."
The organization reports it is owed more than $6 million in government grants for services already delivered with "no foreseeable prospect of prompt reimbursement." After exhausting all credit options to sustain ministry, the board took action.
"As with many expressions of the common good in Illinois, we have been placed in an untenable position by the paralysis of state government," wrote the Rev. Wayne N. Miller, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod, the Rev. S. John Roth, bishop of the ELCA Central/Southern Illinois Synod, and the Rev. Gary M. Wollersheim, bishop of the ELCA Northern Illinois Synod, in a joint statement to the synods. "Our Christian faith commitment to providing the highest quality of care to the state's neediest citizens at the lowest possible cost makes us vulnerable and highly dependent upon the reliability of our partners in civic leadership."
LSSI is the largest social service provider in the state and last year served 73,000 people through 190 programs at 85 sites across Illinois. Ministries for seniors, prisoners and their families, and people rehabilitating from drugs and alcohol were among those eliminated. Positions that support those programs were eliminated, as well as an advocacy position relating to the ELCA churchwide organization's advocacy ministry.
"We want to do what we can to continue to have a voice in Springfield on behalf of those whose lives have been made harder by this budget impasse," said Bouman. "A church that follows Jesus must not lose its voice in the midst of the world which God loves. Our discipleship is our individual baptismal walk, but it's also our participation in the wellbeing of our communities."
The Rev. Amy Reumann, ELCA director of advocacy, the three ELCA Illinois bishops and Bouman are in conversation on how they can collaborate to address this issue.
"We encourage everyone to work and to pray in response to these developments," wrote Miller, Roth and Wollersheim to their synods. "We ask you to work in your local communities and in the general society for justice, for responsible and compassionate government and for fair and universal access to health and opportunity."
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.7 million members in more than 9,300 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
*Erin Strybis is an associate editor for ELCA Mission Advancement.
For information contact:
Candice Hill Buchbinder
773-380-2877 or Candice.HillBuchbinder@ELCA.org
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