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March 10, 2008

Highlights From the Third Day of NCC Meetings

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC)'s National Church Council (NCC) met in Winnipeg from March 5-8. The council included an extra day during their spring meeting to allow time on the agenda to focus on visioning and strategic development.

Friday's meeting commenced at 9:00 a.m. with Opening Devotions led by Tom Brooks.

Throughout the morning, NCC members continued their discussions and work on discerning the vision and strategic direction for the national expression of the ELCIC. Upon reconvening after the lunch break, council moved into the business session of their meeting.

Council heard the Report of the National Bishop who shared an overview of the work she has been involved in since coming to the National Office last September. In the report, Bishop Johnson noted, the last few months have consisted of a plethora of transitions, and joked that the only thing that has stayed the same is her email address. A significant part of Bishop Johnson's time has been invested in strengthening relationships with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, as well as spending time in each of the ELCIC synods.

From the Report of the National Bishop, the following motions were brought forward to council for consideration: A motion was approved to designate one Sunday a year as Mission in the World Sunday; Bishop Cindy Halmarson was appointed to serve on the Lutheran World Federation North America Regional Committee (replacing a position that was previously served by Bishop Johnson which became vacant when she was elected bishop); Updates were approved to the Church Extension Capital Fund (CECF) Handbook; and Council approved the theme of the 2009 National Convention - In Mission for Others: Signs of Hope, Bishop Johnson explained that the theme was based on Scripture verses Romans 15:13 and Matthew 5:14-16.

Council received a report from the ELCIC National Officers meeting that took place in January. In the report, the National Officers recommended that NCC review motion NC-07-34 concerning a referral to Faith, Order and Doctrine (FOD). It was noted that proceeding with the motion and referring it to FOD may complicate the work currently untaken by the Human Sexuality Task Force. A motion made to rescind motion NC-07-34 was carried unopposed.

Two nominations where presented to fill a position on council which became vacant following the resignation of Bob Schmidt. By ballot process, Barb Stolee was elected to fill the remaining term.

Gloria McNabb, ELCIC Director of Finance and Administration, presented the Finance Report. Council reviewed a revised operating budget for 2008 and the unaudited financial results for 2007. Both documents were approved. Ken Hartviksen, ELCIC Treasurer, presented the report of the Finance Committee. This committee advises NCC regarding policies that it should consider and presented financial policy recommendations to address issues either not covered by existing policies, or where existing policies were deemed dated or no longer effective.

Council heard reports from the five ELCIC Synod Bishops. The Bishop's share highlights and concerns for their respective synods with council for the purpose of framing the council's environmental scan. Visioning and mission initiatives are a focus in many synods. Several Bishops reported new mission congregations within their synods. Concerns about the need to find new models of leadership within congregations and providing care and support to congregations experiencing declining memberships were also shared. Bishop Johnson noted that she was, encouraged by the signs of hope that were evident in the Synod reports, amidst the signs of challenges, and commended the Synod Bishop's for the, signs of creativity, they are displaying within their work in the Synods.

Hildy Thiessen, Executive Director, and John Wolff, Board Chair, for ELCIC's Group Services Inc. (GSI) joined the NCC meeting.

At the September NCC meeting, a request was brought forward from GSI to identify whether there might be financial resources available to further assist with GSI's work on addressing the pension plan solvency liability. NCC deferred the motion until an actuarial evaluation could be completed, which was done in the time period between the September and March meeting. Through an e-meeting of NCC, council approved $550,000 from the Employee Benefits Reserve Fund be transferred to GSI in support of the Pension Plan's Retired Benefit Account solvency deficiency. Typically, pension regulators require payment strategies to be within a five-year horizon as predictions beyond five years tend to be less reliable. Due to a number of circumstances, the pension regulator responsible for GSI's pension plan had not enforced this requirement until 2007. Recent legislation now allows an organization to use a Letter of Credit as a guarantee for the required contributions and to meet the criteria for the five-year funding period. NCC discussed and approved the securing of a Letter of Credit in the amount of $5,000,000 to provide additional security required by the pension regulators. It was noted that this is not an actual cash deposit to the pension plan but rather a security backed up by assets, allowing GSI to meet the regulatory requirements.

Wolff noted that at the end of 2007, the pension deficit had been reduced to $9.6 million. This total was a decrease from the previous figure of $10.5 million that Wolff estimated at the September 2007 meeting of NCC. GSI estimates the pension deficit will be eliminated in eight years; in 2004, when the strategy was first put in place, it was estimated that this would take 15 years to address. We have made significant progress, said Wolff, who thanked NCC for being so supportive. Wolff noted that through the assistance of the National Church, GSI has, secured some pretty good guarantees for pensioners, adding that it is GSI's utmost priority to ensure they meet their commitment to ELCIC retirees and pension holders.

The final agenda for Friday was the review of several pieces of correspondence to NCC. Council reviewed a letter to the National Bishop from the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission in which they encouraged the ELCIC's National Bishop and the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada to enter into discussions about the possibility of shared National Office space. Council approved a motion for the National Bishop to begin this discussion with ACC but noted that in light of the recent five-year renewal on the ELCIC's current office space in Winnipeg, the discussions would be focused on a long-term strategy.

The session adjourned for the evening with closing prayers. Saturday's session will be the final day of meetings and will commence at 9:00 a.m.

Photo highlights from the meeting are available on the NCC page of the ELCIC website: http://elcic.ca/National-Church-Council/default.cfm

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The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada's largest Lutheran denomination with 174,555 baptized members in 620 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

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