Lutherans Open African American Strategy

11/22/1996 12:00:00 AM

       CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has developed an "African American Lutheran Outreach Strategy" with the blessing of the African American Lutheran Association (AALA).  The board of the ELCA Division for Outreach met here Oct. 24-27 and asked for a report on ways to implement the 30- some recommendations compiled by an 18-member advisory team.
       The division provides leadership to the ELCA as it reaches out with the gospel of Jesus Christ in the United States and Caribbean and invites all people to a faith relationship with God.  Working with congregations and synods, the division develops new ministries and supports existing congregations and urban and rural coalitions.
       The strategy is "a plan for more effective outreach work among African American congregations that are supported by the Division for Outreach," said the Rev. E. Taylor Harmon, the division's associate executive director.  "This is not a comprehensive strategy for the ELCA."
       The church already has a "Multicultural Mission Strategy," said Harmon, and the division is cited in that strategy as having "lead responsibility for the start of new congregations in ethnic communities and the support of ethnic congregations in rural and urban settings."
       The AALA adopted a convention resolution in July 1993 asking the Division for Outreach "to join with AALA in developing and implementing a comprehensive strategy for doing ministry with and among African American people."  At its next meeting in October 1993 the Outreach board responded that it was developing strategies for ministry with a number of ethnic groups, including African Americans, and welcomed the help of AALA.
       The advisory team that drafted the strategy included 16 African American Lutherans, 13 of whom are ELCA pastors.  Their recommendations included the team's continued involvement in implementing the strategy and expanded involvement of the church's existing African American laity and clergy.
       "This is an issue of empowerment as opposed to paternalism," the Rev. M.L. Minnick Jr., executive director of the ELCA Division for Outreach, told his board.  "We won't become an inclusive church simply because we say we want to be an inclusive church."
       About 98 percent of the ELCA's membership is white, and the church has a goal that 10 percent of its membership will be "people of color or people whose primary language is other than English" by the start of 1998.  The Outreach strategy sets "its own 10 percent goal for inclusivity by the year 2000, or to significantly increase the 1 percent membership of African Americans in the ELCA by the same year."
       The advisory team presented statistics about African Americans in the United States and in the ELCA.  "One of the most significant findings is that, as a church, we tend not to be where the overwhelming majority of African Americans are in this country," said Harmon.  "Secondly, our congregations are not located where the African American population is growing the fastest."
       Recommendations in the Outreach strategy range from continued assessment of African American demographics to developing specific "area strategies" for such U.S. cities as Atlanta, Boston, Chicago and Dallas.  The recommendations are organized into six categories: general, assessment goals, new congregations, congregational services, area strategies and leadership.
       "Leadership is the key," Harmon told the board.  "The leadership is there.  The question is: Is the church ready for that leadership to be a part of who we are?"  He added, "The ELCA is ready."
       Among the "leadership" recommendations is continued and strengthened support of the Lutheran Theological Center in Atlanta, an African American emphasis of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbus, S.C., through the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
       The Outreach board also:
       *   Selected a search committee headed by the Rev. Julius
           Carroll IV, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Oakland, Calif.,
           to review applications for the position of executive
           director and to present a candidate to the board's March
           1997 meeting.  Minnick plans to retire in July 1997.
       *   Approved a new design for the Mission Builders program
           -- volunteers who assist young congregations in building
           their first church -- to expand its services and make
           it financially self-reliant by 1999.
       *   Adopted guidelines to help synod bishops find leaders
           who develop congregations related to the division.
       *   Approved a proposed 1997 budget of $13,531,955 including
           $6,177,000 for work with new ministries and new
       *   Asked the division staff to assemble a team to develop
           "diagnostic tools and intervention strategies" for
           congregations with declining membership.
       *   Received the first of two related papers on the
           division's long-range planning and offered its
           suggestions for an edited draft.

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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