ELCIC National Church Council spring meeting highlights; Joint time with ACC Council of General Synod focuses on "growing together"

Signifying an important step in deepening the Full Communion relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) and the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC), the executive councils of the two churches met in Mississauga, Ontario from March 30 to April 3, 2011.

Joint sessions focus on “Growing Together”
Throughout the three days of meetings, the two councils came together at various times under the theme “Growing Together,” and participated in joint Bible study, Eucharists, and several working sessions.

Friday’s joint session together included an overview of the history of the Waterloo Declaration. The two co-chairs of the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commissions (JALC) “graded” each of the nine commitments highlighted in the agreement. ELCIC National Bishop Susan C. Johnson and ACC Primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, were given high marks for being, “a model for how this [work] is coming together.” The joint commission encouraged further work in the areas of diaconal ministry and in the inviting of, “pastors and priests to participate in the laying on of hands at the ordination of pastors or priests in each others churches.”

On Saturday morning, NCC and COGS members worked in small groups to discuss opportunities around the joint 2013 convention and what future work could done together. A wide range of input was shared as groups reported back. Feedback included emphasis on the congregation level to assist with further “communication and education” around full communion and suggestions of opportunities where the ELCIC and ACC could work together more closely.

Sunday morning the councils gathered to share results of their respective meetings. While the NCC moves towards National Convention in July of this year, much of the work of COGS revolves around tasks assigned at General Synod 2010.

National Church Council’s March 2011 meeting
NCC convened Thursday and Friday after lunch for the remainder of both days, and again on Sunday morning. Council heard reports from the National Bishop, Synod Bishops, Officers, Committees and attended to a significant amount of work in preparation for the 2011 ELCIC National Convention in July.

ELCIC Secretary retiring at 2011 National Convention
Council commended Don Storch, ELCIC Secretary, for his years of service as an officer of the church. Storch indicated he will not be seeking re-election to this position at the 2011 ELCIC National Convention. First elected as a lay delegate from British Columbia, Storch has served on NCC since September 1997.

Unfunded liability further decreased
Group Services Inc. (GSI) Executive Director Hildy Thiessen and Board Chair Jackie Dojack, provided a report to NCC. By December 31, 2010 the unfunded liability had been further reduced to 2.7 million. Thiessen noted the unfunded liability is on track to be completely eliminated in approximately two years. The board of GSI is now focusing its efforts on enhancements for plan members.

Report of the Synod Bishops
Throughout NCC’s time together, Council received updates from the ELCIC’s five Synod Bishops through their ‘environmental scan’ of activities in their respective regions.

Bishop Ron Mayan, Synod of Alberta and the Territories spoke of the synod’s involvement in The Evangelizing Church Project, which has just entered into its third year and involves a number of missional seminars focused on natural church development, unlocking growth and vital church planting.

The Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod recently hired a new staff person to oversee young adult ministry. Bishop Elaine Sauer expressed her hope for developing innovative approaches to reaching and working with young adults, and for helping them in their faith development.

Saskatchewan Synod Bishop Cindy Halmarson spoke of how the synod’s mission statement, Inspiring Ministry–Upholding God’s People is directing ministry within the synod. The synod is seeking to express a common witness and hopes that intentional ministry opportunities will be inspired.

Bishop Greg Mohr reported that one of the primary goals for the British Columbia Synod is to focus on renewal and re-development of congregations. Through a special gift earmarked for a “Renewal and Re-development Fund”, the synod will establish a group of approximately 10 people, lay and rostered, who will be trained in the areas of missions, vision processes, human resources and stewardship, to serve as congregational resources.

Eastern Synod Bishop Michael Pryse spoke of the synod’s “celebration year”. 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the 100th anniversary of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary. The synod and seminary have been jointly hosting a variety of special events reflecting on the past, celebrating the present and looking to the future with hope for what is to come.

Council receives Proposed ELCIC Human Sexuality Statement
Judy Wry, chair of the Human Sexuality Task Force presented the Proposed ELCIC Human Sexuality Statement to Council. The proposed statement is the result of four years of work, involving: a study guide, church-wide feedback process, a draft statement which allowed for further feedback opportunities, and the proposed statement. The Public Witness of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada: A Policy on How the Church Addresses Social Issues (1991) was used to guide the development of the proposed statement. Council heard that all task force members signed off on the proposed statement.

NCC adopted a motion to “approve and recommend for adoption to the 2011 National Convention the Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality”.

The members of the Human Sexuality Task Force were commended for their work over the last four years.

Faith, Order and Doctrine Committee
Council heard a report from the Faith, Order and Doctrine Committee who were asked to prepare motions arising from the Proposed ELCIC Social Statement on Human Sexuality.

NCC approved and recommended for adoption to the 2011 National Convention the following three motions.

1. Motion on the Unity of the Church
MOVED that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in convention adopt the following affirmation as representing the position of this church and communicate this action to congregations, partner churches in Canada, sister churches in the Lutheran World Federation and other Lutheran church associations in Canada.

An Affirmation Concerning the Unity of the Church

As a confessional Lutheran Church which bases its life and teaching on the Scriptures, the Ecumenical Creeds and the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada affirms with the confessors at Augsburg in 1530 that “it is enough for the unity of the church to agree concerning the teaching of the gospel and the administration of the sacraments” (AC VII).

We affirm that the church ought not be divided because of disagreement over moral issues, no matter how distressing such disagreement might be. We believe that any attempt to divide the church because of disagreements over morals, polity or liturgy is an unacceptable confusion of Law and Gospel, which will lead inevitably to a distortion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We encourage ELCIC members, congregations and synods and churches who share our commitment to the scriptures, creeds and confessions and who disagree with one another over issues of morals, polity (including standards for ordination or consecration) and/or liturgy to remain in dialogue and unity with one another and maintain unity in the gospel and the sacraments as St Paul recommends in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17. We encourage all Lutherans to work for and nurture the unity of the confessional witness to the Gospel which is essential to the Lutheran tradition. We ask those persons, congregations, synods and/or churches who are in disagreement to refrain from actions that will divide the body of Christ.

2. Motion on Presiding at or Blessing Marriages
MOVED that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in convention adopt the following policy statement:

It is the policy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada that rostered ministers may, according to the dictates of their consciences as informed by the Gospel, the Scriptures, the Ecumenical Creeds and the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, preside at or bless legal marriages according to the laws of the province within which they serve. All rostered ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada are encouraged to exercise due diligence in preparing couples for marriage. All rostered ministers serving congregations are encouraged at all times to conduct their ministry in consultation with the lay leaders in the congregation and with sensitivity to the culture within which the congregation serves.

3. Motion on Standards for Ordination and Consecration
MOVED that convention actions NC-1993-16 and NC-1989-96 be rescinded and that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada in convention adopt the following policy:

It is the policy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada that sexual orientation is not in itself a factor which disqualifies a candidate for rostered ministry or a rostered minister seeking a call. Candidates and rostered ministers are in all cases expected to adhere to the qualifications and standards as set out in the constitution and bylaws of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and of the synod within which they serve. Synods and congregations are expected to evaluate candidates for ordination or consecration and rostered ministers for call in accordance with a conscience informed by the Gospel, the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.

Council receives Structural Renewal Report
NCC members considered the Report of the Structural Renewal Task Force. The task force had been asked by NCC to look at renewal possibilities with a view to: equipping the Church to be In Mission for Others and developing a structural framework which is flexible, affordable and sustainable.

The report proposes: the ELCIC be re-organized into three synods; existing conferences be reconfigured into “areas” (groupings of congregations) supported by leadership teams; conventions of the National Church and synods be held triennially; and National Conventions be smaller in size.

In a Letter to the Church (https://www.elcic.ca/news.cfm?article=258) issued Sunday, April 3, NCC acknowledged their deep appreciation for the, “careful church-wide consultant and thoughtful analysis which are reflected in the report.”

NCC adopted the motion: That the National Convention approve recommendations of the Structural Renewal Task Force in principle and authorize the National Church Council to move forward with the implementation process.

New guidelines resulting from Full Communion ministry
NCC members adopted two new sets of guidelines that stem directly from the work of the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission. Guidelines for Anglican and Lutheran Bishops, Priests and Pastors: Regarding Confirmations in Shared Ministry Congregations and Guidelines for Anglican and Lutheran Clergy Service Appointments in Each Other’s Churches were approved. The first identifies standards for confirmation in shared ministry parishes, single-tradition congregations and in joint Anglican/Lutheran parishes with candidates from one or both traditions. The second motion updates a previous 2003 motion with language to include rostered ministers.

Last Sunday in February designated Diaconal Sunday within the ELCIC
Recognizing that the ministry of diakonia (service) is a vital dimension of the church’s witness and of rostered diaconal ministry as a valuable expression of church leadership, NCC members approved a motion to designate the last Sunday in February as Diaconal Sunday in the ELCIC.

Resolution on Indigenous Rights recommended for adoption at convention
NCC members approved and recommended for adoption to the 2011 National Convention a motion encouraging right relationships with indigenous peoples. The motion calls on the church to promote “right and renewed relationships between non-indigenous and indigenous peoples within Canada,” and to affirm that, “recognizing and implementing indigenous rights is essential to being the kind of society Canada strives to be.”

Eucharist and tree planting
COGS and NCC members joined together for a final Eucharist at the end of the joint meetings. Bishop Johnson and Archbishop Hiltz provided a joint homily.

After the service, members processed behind bagpiper Teddy Pope (NCC member) to the front of the grounds at the Queen of the Apostles Renewal Centre. A Green Mountain Sugar Maple tree had been planted to symbolize the churches’ work of “growing together.” Bishop Johnson and Archbishop Hiltz placed fresh soil around the tree. Then COGS and NCC members poured water, which they had brought from their home communities, on the newly planted tree. The maple tree, donated by Sheridan Nurseries, is expected to grow 80 feet. ACC and ELCIC leaders hope the tree will stand as a visible sign of church unity.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada’s largest Lutheran denomination with 152,500 baptized members in 607 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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