Elife August 2020

Interreligious declaration marks one year

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August 2020
Dear partners in ministry,

Tomorrow will mark one year since the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted “A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment: A Policy Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.” It was an extraordinary day, made precious because of the presence of many of you, our ecumenical and inter-religious partners.

Over the past year, we have worked to support the interpretation and implementation of this document across the church. Recently, a new ad hoc committee was appointed by the presiding bishop to develop pastoral guidelines for ministry in a multireligious world, as called for in the document. I frequently receive (and gladly accept!) invitations to participate in events that equip people to live out the commitments articulated at the heart of the document. All of these developments remind me that what happened on Aug. 8, 2019, was not a static action of the church but a dynamic witness to the church’s long-standing work — as well as future potential — in this vital area of ministry.

Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the church’s first declaration: “A Declaration of Ecumenical Commitment: A Policy Statement of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America” (1991). This document has stood the test of time because it established policy that was ahead of its time. The goals and stages it sets forth have supported major developments in the ecumenical landscape since, including and especially the dialogues, discourses and full communion partnerships that have become so critical as a sign of Christian unity, but also for our self-understanding as Lutherans.

Though it is clearly focused on relations among Christians, “A Declaration of Ecumenical Commitment” laid the foundation for all of the major developments in ELCA inter-religious relations since. By acknowledging “the distinct responsibility for the church to enter into conversations and reach greater understanding with people of other faiths,” and by calling for a “separate, official statement” in the future, the policy statement accomplished two significant theological and relational tasks: 1) It claimed the ongoing vocation of the church in inter-religious relations, and 2) it articulated the necessity of giving that vocation further definition. Here we find ourselves — living into and seeking to further define our God-given inter-religious vocation.

When I think back to Aug. 8, 2019, my mind goes immediately to what it felt like to be on the stage with our 50-plus partners and the members of the ELCA’s inter-religious task force as the assembly deliberated, debated and adopted this text. I recall feeling at once the palpable gift and task of our mutual accountability to one another as people made in the image of God. I treasure the fond memories of what it feels like to gather in the flesh — to hear the breath of those around us and to sense the presence of one another in shared space, as companions in seeking unity, justice and peace.

For now, our vocation is to serve together primarily in virtual spaces — the most rapidly changing dimension of our ecclesial, ecumenical and inter-religious landscape. It is my hope that our new ways of thinking and working together in this time will lead us into deeper and broader commitments that 30 years from now are seen by those who come after us as both timely and timeless.

In peace,
Kathryn Lohre
Kathryn M. Lohre
Assistant to the Presiding Bishop

The Freedom of a Christian study guide now available

The ELCA recently published a study guide to mark the 500th anniversary of Luther’s treatise The Freedom of a Christian. In it, he offers his most compelling summary of the Christian life. In Christ we are completely free and at the same time completely bound in love and service to our neighbors. The study guide supports Bishop Eaton’s invitation to engage with this text as individuals and in groups. In addition to the study guide, a series of case studies is being curated at ELCA500.org to help us encounter the diversity of voices that represent the vitality of the Lutheran movement today. You can also download a free copy of the treatise through the end of 2020, compliments of Fortress Press. Read Carmelo Santos’ reflection on being freed in Christ to love across religions in his blog post titled “The Freedom of a Christian to Love Interreligiously.”


Elife Banner Inter-Religious Relations
ELCA recommits to combating racism

The ELCA continues its call as a church to confess the sin of racism, condemn the ideology of white supremacy and strive for racial justice and peace. In May, Presiding Bishop Eaton joined with the ELCA Conference of Bishops to reaffirm these commitments in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

Bishop Eaton expanded upon this call in her Juneteenth video message, in which she proclaims, “Jesus said, ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ Well, the truth is we don’t have a level playing field. And the truth might hurt, but it will bring liberation for all of us. We are not free until all of us are free.”

On June 17, 2020, the fifth anniversary of the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine, the ELCA Anti-Racism Pledge was launched. It outlines eight anti-racist actions individuals and congregations can take to reinforce these shared commitments in their churches and communities.
Prayer service commemorating the Emanuel Nine

June 17 marked the fifth anniversary of the evening nine people were shot and killed during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. At the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, voting members adopted a resolution designating June 17 as an annual commemoration of the martyrdom of the Emanuel Nine. Part of this work included developing a resources page. The inaugural commemoration in 2020 was honored in local congregations, by synods and through a national virtual service. Bishop Eaton delivered the sermon, and the service included leaders from around the ELCA and ecumenical partners, including senior episcopal leadership from the African Methodist Episcopal Church and executive leadership from the National Council of Churches and the Conference of National Black Churches.

224th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) held virtually

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), PCUSA, was convened online in June. Nearly 800 commissioners and advisory delegates gathered on Zoom. The Rev. Christopher Olkiewicz, who served as an ecumenical advisory delegate, marveled at the pioneering approach: “It was an extraordinary adaptation of the technology to this purpose.” The assembly agenda was significantly truncated; the remaining business items included elections, budgetary matters and core missional emphases. All other matters were deferred to the 2022 General Assembly.

On the first ballot of the moderator election, the General Assembly elected its first Native American, Elona Street-Stewart, and African American, Gregory Bentley, as co-moderator team. They also strongly reelected the Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson. In his speech preceding the vote, Rev. Nelson shared his conviction that what is most needed for the church in these days is “a strong resilience and a willingness to try what we have never tried before, accompanied by intelligence, imagination and love for the gospel.”

You can learn more about the details of the assembly by visiting the 224th General Assembly news page.

Season of Creation devotions

The four Lutheran and Episcopal/Anglican churches of North America have continued to grow in partnership. Once again this year, the four heads of communion have written a shared set of devotions. Season of Creation 2020, an ecumenical series of weekly devotions for Sept. 1-Oct. 4, is an invitation to join together in prayer, reflection and action. The season, which begins with the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, is a time to join with the global Christian community in renewing, repairing and restoring commitments to God, to one another and to all of creation.

For the four churches – the ELCA, The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada – it is also a time for strengthening relationships with one another. “Even as our relations as churches are not bound by national or ecclesiastical borders, neither is our witness to the One who came to redeem all of creation," said Bishop Eaton. Through Scripture, hymns, advocacy and action, the weekly devotions invite people to live out their vocation as stewards of creation.

You can learn more by reading Rev. Paul Gehrs’ recent contribution to the Ecumenical and Interreligious Perspectives blog, titled “Season of Creation: A Journey of Discipleship.” Gehrs, who serves as Assistant to the Bishop for Justice and Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, invites us to journey together in a time of renewing, repairing, and restoring reflection.


COVID-19 protocols developed ecumenically, endorsed by Methodists and Lutherans

After significant review and discussion, the UMC-ELCA coordinating committee endorsed “Resuming Care-filled Worship and Sacramental Life During a Pandemic,” an ecumenical consultation on protocols for worship, fellowship and sacraments during this time of COVID-19. The document is also available in Spanish as “Reanudando El Culto Cristiano y La Vida Sacramental con Medidas Preventivas Durante una Pandemia.” Both can be found, along with other COVID-19 response resources, at ELCA.org/PublicHealth.



Liberation, not annexation, in the Holy Land

The government of Israel has declared its intentions to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley. Our Palestinian Christian family have released the following statements in response: Through Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), Bishop Eaton and 26 other U.S. Christian leaders delivered a letter to Congress to press the United States to withhold funding to Israel that supports its annexation efforts. The letter was part of CMEP’s #ChurchesAgainstAnnexation campaign.

Furthermore, Bishop Eaton has called on the ELCA to accompany the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land in being a disturbing presence for peace through prayer, action and advocacy with our elected leaders.

You can learn more about these ongoing efforts and call to action in Kathryn Lohre’s most recent blog post, titled “Amplifying the Message in Word and Deed: Liberation Not Annexation.” Additionally, you can join in the ELCA’s advocacy efforts through Peace Not Walls.


Reformed Church in America (RCA) shares Vision 2020 report

After two years of work the Reformed Church in America has released its Vision 2020 report. This report outlines possibilities for the future of the RCA, around three recommendations:
  • Together, Yet Changed (Recommendation 1—Restructuring)
  • Preserving Our Shared History (Recommendation 2—A New Mission Agency)
  • Forward With Grace (Recommendation 3—Mutually Generous Separation)
The 2020 General Synod of the RCA was to have received and considered this report and its recommendations. That has been postponed to the 2021 General Synod. You can learn more and access the full report at rca.org.

Elife Banner Inter-Religious Relations
Calls to return Hagia Sophia to a site of unifying heritage

In a July 14 statement, the ELCA joined with ecumenical and inter-religious partners in calling on the Turkish government to keep Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine structure that had stood as a museum since 1935, a unifying heritage site. The statement denounced President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision, joining the voices of religious groups worldwide including the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, the Vatican, the Lutheran World Federation and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. As the Byzantine structure was originally the preeminent basilica of the Christian world for nearly one thousand years, its announced change of purpose is also a source of significant pain for the Orthodox Christian family.

Bishop Eaton shared our church’s continuing lament and support: “With our Christian family, and with our Muslim neighbors, we remain united in our efforts to thwart that which would seek to divide us. The whole human family stands to benefit when the Hagia Sophia serves not only as a site for holy pilgrimage but as a sacred place for encounter and exchange among peoples of different religions and cultures.”

The ELCA recently called upon the church to join with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and faith communities around the world for a day of mourning on Friday, July 24.

Shoulder to Shoulder 10th Anniversary Virtual Conversation Series

Shoulder to Shoulder, an inter-religious campaign against anti-Muslim bigotry and violence, recently launched its 10th Anniversary Virtual Conversation Series via Facebook Live. The series began with a conversation with Valarie Kaur on July 14, and other conversations include this month’s with Rev. Jennifer Bailey (Aug. 4) and next month’s with Eboo Patel (Sept. 8). All conversations are scheduled for 1 p.m. Central time.

In addition, Shoulder to Shoulder has been working alongside Muslim Advocates to activate advocacy around the passing of the NO BAN Act (H.R. 2214). The bill, which recently cleared the House of Representatives with a significant vote of 233-183, is the first Muslim civil rights bill in American history. The call to action continues as the bill moves to the Senate.

Holden Village and Paths to Understanding sponsor Interfaith Week

From July 19 to 24, Holden Village and Paths to Understanding held a week of interfaith engagement and learning. Highlights included live webinars, recorded webinars, podcasts and art exploration. The week centered on lessons the Abrahamic traditions teach us about recognizing the humanity in other people, cultures and religions, and the ways in which such an understanding informs how we respond to the needs of the world around us. Participants had conversations on art, ecology and love for the neighbor aimed at better understanding our individual and collective identities.

Kathryn Lohre joined with Moses Penumaka, Th.D., director of Theological Education for Emerging Ministries at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Alana Suskin, co-director of the Pomegranate Initiative, in a session titled “The How and Why of Interfaith.”  The session was moderated by ELCA Pastor Terry Kyllo, executive director of Paths to Understanding. You can learn more about this and explore other sessions by visiting the Interfaith Week page on the Paths to Understanding website.



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