ELCICs National Church Council Meets; Focus on Faith, Future and Feedback

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) National Church Council (NCC) met in Winnipeg from September 10-12, 2009. Council members conduct the business of the church between National Conventions and provide direction to the ELCIC’s National Bishop Susan C. Johnson on how the ELCIC can best live out its call to be a church In Mission for Others.

With committee meetings taking place on Thursday afternoon, the formal portion of the meeting began on Thursday evening with a service of Holy Communion. National Bishop Johnson presided at the service, Rev. Nolan Gingrich (British Columbia Synod ordained representative) preached, Saskatchewan Synod Bishop Cindy Halmarson shared the reading, and Marie-Laure Collet (Eastern Synod lay representative) assisted.  

Several new NCC members were in attendance following their election at the 2009 National Convention in June, including: Marie-Laure Collet, Jeanie Stann (British Columbia Synod lay representative), and Sheila Hamilton (vice-president).

Dwelling in the Word
Four NCC members led brief 5-minute Dwelling in the Word sessions where they each shared a memory or reflection on a scripture passage that is important to them. Usually detailing a very personal experience, Dwelling in the Word sessions have been a highlight of NCC meetings this year and were also part of the 2009 ELCIC National Convention.

Members sharing their personal faith stories at this meeting included: Tom Brook (Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod lay representative), Rev. Roger Haugen (Saskatchewan Synod ordained representative), Rev. Doug Reble (Eastern Synod ordained representative), and Barb Stolee (Synod of Alberta and the Territories lay representative). Several of these sessions will be available online at: www.elcic.ca/National-Church-Council/default.cfm

Dwelling in the Word sessions are in response to NCC’s vision which includes fostering a climate of Spirited Discipleship and sharing one’s own personal faith stories both with one another and in wider, more intentional ways. Dwelling in the Word is a key component of the ELCIC’s involvement in the Book of Faith initiative (www.bookoffaith.org) and is one way to invite others in your organization or congregation to become more deeply engaged with the Bible. ELCIC members are encouraged to find opportunities to share their stories of faith and dwell in the Word.

Study on Human Sexuality
NCC members received an update on the development of a church-wide Study on Human Sexuality by taskforce chair Judy Wry. The taskforce is in the final stages of preparing the study, which is a means of encouraging dialogue and allowing individuals throughout the church to contribute to the development of a social statement through feedback on the study. The study is expected to be available on October 1. Once it is released, the study will be available online, and a printed copy will be mailed to each congregation. Feedback from this study phase will be received until February 28, 2010.

Group Services Inc. Continues to Tackle Pension Deficit; Looks Forward to Future
Hildy Thiessen, executive director for Group Services Inc. (GSI) and John Wolff, outgoing chair of the GSI board, shared with NCC members an update on the progress GSI has made towards tackling the pension deficit five years earlier than initially planned. A sound investment strategy helped the fund weather the current economic downturn and enables GSI to pay off the $16-million deficit by 2013.

Thiessen and Wolff shared with NCC members their response to a question that came forward at the June 2009 ELCIC National Convention regarding the origins of the deficit and how the ELCIC Pension Plan went from a surplus position at the valuation date of December 31, 2000 to the unfunded liability position at the next triennial valuation of December 31, 2003. This information has also been posted on the GSI website: www.elcicgsi.ca.

Citing several factors, including: a cumulative 3-year loss on investments, expected return on investments not earned and the impact of a decrease in the annual discount rate, among other factors, Thiessen noted the importance of, “never getting comfortable because [markets] can turn around very quickly.”

With the end of the pension deficit in sight, Thiessen shared with NCC members how GSI will strategically turn its focus to active members and what this means moving forward. Future funding for active members is something the GSI board will look at when they meet in November 2009.

“We are trying to find a win-win outcome so congregations can get some relief when 2013 comes,” said Wolff, noting that there will be an education component of the strategy moving forward.

ELCIC Group Services Inc (GSI) is responsible for facilitating, providing and administering employment benefits and retirement income programs and services for the employees of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), its member congregations, other entities associated with ELCIC.

Evangelical Lutheran Women (ELW) Continue to Forge New Path
Ruth Vince, executive director of Evangelical Lutheran Women Inc. (ELW) spoke to NCC members about the ongoing changes in strategic direction for the women’s group of the ELCIC. Specifically, Vince mentioned changes to ELW’s publication Esprit that involves the discontinuation of the Bible Study within the magazine, although it will be available as a separate item to both magazine subscribers and non-subscribers who are interested in utilizing this resource.

Vince spoke about the new event-based programming model that will be supported by a change in its current governance structures. Changes are reflecting the issues and concerns expressed by ELW participants over the last several years. The Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synodical ELW will be piloting the new format with National ELW staff working closely with them to refine and work out details as they move forward.

National Convention Evaluated
Members of the council spent time on Friday and Saturday reviewing the 2009 ELCIC National Convention and discussing learning opportunities for future conventions.

Overall, NCC members noted how the written evaluations from convention attendees were very positive and how the addition of new items such as dedicated Bible study times, having worship incorporated into the overall convention business agenda and afternoon forums contributed to the convention’s positive ratings.

NCC members also discussed how others at convention expressed a different experience; leaving some attendees feeling isolated, frustrated and silenced. Through a process of reviewing convention governance practices, including petitions from congregations, and the terms of reference for the Committee of Reference and Counsel, NCC members committed to making decisions regarding appropriate procedures for the 2011 National Convention which ELCIC National Bishop Susan C. Johnson further outlined in a Letter to the Church issued on September 17. The letter from Bishop Johnson can be viewed online at: www.elcic.ca/From-the-Bishop/documents/Sept17-Letter.pdf.

NCC Adopts New Resource Generation Strategy
Using statistical information gathered from annual parochial reports and information on how money flows through the ELCIC, an environmental scan of financial trends in the church was conducted in 2008 by a task force commissioned by the National Bishop. This information provided a general understanding of future stewardship trends and concerns for the church and, most notably, highlighted a largely unrecognized possible financial crisis for the church.

Resource Generation Task Force members used the information along with benchmark information from other denominations to develop a strategy that was approved by NCC. The Resource Generation Strategy details steps to address the financial issues looming before the ELCIC. The strategy includes: a church-wide dialogue initiative on faithful stewardship, a renewed call to proportional giving throughout all expressions of the church, a communication strategy, conversations between synods, seminaries and the National Office and a focus on planned and major gift giving.

Structural Renewal Taskforce Reports

At the March 2009 NCC meeting, a motion was passed to appoint a task force to begin considering restructuring proposals for the ELCIC. Sheila Hamilton, chair of the task force provided a report to NCC members. The nine task force members met recently to begin developing a framework for the process.

“We are planning a very consultative approach,” said Hamilton who noted that the task force will be looking to generate some very specific feedback on the development of a tangible strategy, which will be brought forward to the 2011 National Convention.

Next Meeting
NCC members will meet next in March 2010. For further information on NCC, visit their web page at: www.elcic.ca/National-Church-Council/default.cfm.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada’s largest Lutheran denomination with 162,100 baptized members in 611 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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