ELCA Bishop Anderson Moves From Listening to "Initiatives"

11/18/1996 12:00:00 AM

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, told the ELCA Church Council that a planning process under way has yielded a series of "initiatives."  Anderson has spent much of his first year in office listening to pastors and others in the church's 65 synods.
     "Now it is time to turn from listening to proposing initiatives," Anderson said.  He plans to present a refined set of proposals to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly next summer, he said.  The inquiry process begun several years ago is leading to action steps, Anderson said.
     "Pastors feel embattled and alone.  They are struggling," Anderson told the council.  "In an earlier time, some pastors believe, the culture carried and supported the church.  Now the burden is on them."  He said the hopes he hears outweigh the challenges and difficulties. "Partnership is key," he said; "we are presented with a vast opportunity to support one another."
     Anderson has organized his initiatives in four areas "essential to future planning."  They are: identity, relationships (including trust and diversity), leadership and mission.
     "Initiatives do not mean new programs," Anderson said.  The church should find the "focal points," he said, the places where something is happening and "lift that up, give it a boost."
     The Church Council was the last group to look at the initiatives.  Over the past weeks ELCA boards and committees and the Conference of Bishops have taken a look at the bishop's ideas and given feedback.  The ELCA's Department for Research and Evaluation will review and compile the comments for Anderson.  The department is also carrying out an ongoing "environmental scan," monitoring trends in the church and society, Anderson reported.
     Under "identity," Anderson cited adult education in "Bible and Lutheran basics" and called for healthy discussion on the content and style of worship.  He said Martin Luther's "theology of the cross" might help "restore a sense of call" among leaders who "feel that they and the church are being marginalized."
     Civility and interdependence are Anderson's themes under the heading "relationships."  He said, "Our society is riddled with fault-lines between interest groups, races, classes and so on.  The church is not immune."  He asked, "Is it possible for the church to become an example of community-in-diversity, and so serve a vital role in the healing of society?"
     Seven items fall under Anderson's "mission" heading: "help the children; stand by our 'working arms' (institutions and agencies of the church); support mission-minded congregations; involve youth; utilize senior volunteers; stimulate creativity in expressing faith through art, music, dance; and focus on and study Islam, 'a major presence on the world scene.'"
     Anderson emphasized "leadership" in terms of preparing "pastors for a new century" and making deliberate efforts "to identify, prepare and support" leaders in the church's communities of people of color.
     When Anderson asked, "What's missing?" council members replied that maybe the list was "too internal."
     "What is there that will change us?  How will we engage with the world?" were two questions in response.
     Several council members made specific suggestions.   "Emphasize prayer," said William T. Billings of Detroit.  "We need to let people know it's okay to turn to our leader, to Christ, in prayer."  Charles A. Adamson, Mankato, Minn., said the ELCA should made plain the principle of grace: "Too many of our people think salvation is something they have to work at."
     The Rev. Larry V. Smoose, Langhorne, Pa., encouraged the bishop, "stretch your definition of youth to include young adults."  Youth Representative Chris Hanson, Fargo, N.D. agreed.   Smoose said the ELCA's triennial Youth Gatherings provide "energy and a key life experience."  He hopes the church can find a way to get "that kind of energy" into the lives of more young people.


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