The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) National Church Council (NCC) met in Winnipeg from March 5-7, 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, the formal agenda for this first meeting of NCC in 2009 began on Friday morning with a service of Holy Communion. Rev. Claudine Carlson, Eastern ordained representative, and Edward (Teddy) Pope, Eastern lay representative, led the service. Rev. Carlson offered reflections on the beginning of the Lenten journey.
NCC members had a full agenda before them for this meeting. In her opening remarks, National Bishop Johnson reflected on the agenda saying it was the cumulation of a year and a half of work, since she was elected to the position of National Bishop, coming together for presentation to council for further action. Since her election, National Bishop Johnson has been focused on the strategic direction of the ELCIC and ensuring the long-term financial stability of the church.
Dwelling in the Word
National Bishop Johnson led the first of four "Dwelling in the Word" sessions on the agenda for this meeting. "Dwelling in the Word", where a member of council reflects on how a passage of scripture reading has impacted them in a personal way, is a new addition to the council meetings. During her time "Dwelling in the Word", the bishop shared how two pieces of scripture, Psalm 121 and Luke 2:29-32 had come to be a meaningful part of her life and the connection she had with these readings to a member of her family. Throughout the two days of meetings, NCC also heard reflections on scripture from: Heidi Hesselink, Saskatchewan lay representative; Edward (Teddy) Pope; and Rev. Mark Koenker (Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario ordained representative).
"I felt you were speaking directly to me," said an NCC member after one of the sessions on Thursday. Each "Dwelling in the Word" session is approximately five to ten minute and is in response to NCC’s new vision to foster a climate of Spirited Discipleship and share their own personal faith stories both with one another and in a more wider, intentional way.
ELCIC Group Services Inc. Continues Focus on Retirement Benefit Account
NCC members received an update from ELCIC Group Services Inc. (GSI) regarding the Retirement Benefit Account portion of the ELCIC Pension Plan. John Wolff, president of GSI, spoke about the recent steps taken to "immunize the investment risk" within the pension plan, wherein the assets previously held in a balanced fund, including equities, were transferred to a strictly bond and cash portfolio at the end of 2007. Had it not been for this change in investment policy, the current economic and equity market downturns would have significantly increased the solvency deficiency.
"First and foremost on our minds is the responsibility to our retirees," said Wolff, "as well as the financial burden on our congregations."
Wolff noted that the GSI board is continuously looking for new ways to make things better for both retirees and congregations and that the plan put in place to address the solvency deficiency is on track. Wolff is coming to the end of two consecutive terms in this position and was thanked for his excellent work during this time by National Bishop Johnson.
ELW Continues to Work Towards New Vision
Ruth Vince, executive director of Evangelical Lutheran Women Inc. (ELW), reported on the development of a plan for restructuring and visioning that will be presented to the ELW Board when they meet later in March. Vince spoke of changes to financial structuring and how the work of the ELW is focused.
Pam Radunsky, president of ELW who was present for the entire NCC meeting, added, "the ELW Board is very committed to engaging with the church and with other partners to continue to be relevant but [ELW] can’t do that in isolation."
ELCIC Strengthens Partnership with Canadian Lutheran World Relief
In recent months, leadership of the ELCIC and Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR) has initiated conversations to explore new ways in which they may work together. At this meeting of NCC, members received a report from ELCIC and CLWR and heard from Robert Granke, executive director of CLWR, regarding a new vision which would more fully pursue a common ministry serving members of the ELCIC called to be In Mission for Others.
A new Memorandum of Understanding between our two bodies, "moves us in this new direction," noted Granke who went on to say that this enhanced effective partnership would help strengthen the work of the ELCIC and CLWR together and allow for a more shared approach to mission in this area.
NCC members approved the new terms of partnership which will see the integration of the ELCIC’s Global Hunger and Development Appeal (GHDA) into the work of CLWR, along with the establishment of a Joint Program Committee which will plan and implement activities related to leadership development and training, development education, advocacy, and international partner projects. In addition, the strengthened relationship will allow for the creation of a shared approach to generating resources within the ELCIC in accordance with the ELCIC and CLWR principles of stewardship. The new partnership will also be presented for approval to CLWR board members who will meet later in March.
Mission in the World Moves in a New Direction
NCC members ratified recommendations from ELCIC Mission in the World (MW) to move towards a new direction for the world mission program.
"There is much to be gained by moving in this direction," said National Bishop Johnson. "It is our commitment to the program that made us decide to take the steps that we have in this area."
NCC approved a stronger relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) which will transition the MW program to a new model to be known as ELCIC Global Mission and further integrate program areas and functions with ELCA Global Mission.
The MW report to NCC notes that the ELCIC’s commitment, "to God’s mission in the world remains undiminished, and the National Bishop, along with MW staff, support fully that commitment." It further notes that the present financial realities have required a search for something different than what the church is currently doing in this area and due to the strong ties between the ELCIC and ELCA, even through predecessor bodies, this has offered up new possibilities, in addition to the very real ways in which the two churches have long been working together.
NCC Adopts New Strategic Plan
Members of NCC received and adopted a new strategic plan which will guide the focus of the National Office. The plan follows the mandate NCC put in place at the March 2008 meeting where it developed five pillars (Effective Partnerships, Compassionate Justice, Diverse Faces, Focused Framework and Spirited Discipleship) as the guiding principles towards carrying out the ELCIC’s call to be a church In Mission for Others. The strategic plan effectively provides concrete areas of focus for the National Office’s work in these five areas and defines the ELCIC’s strategic direction and goals for service.
As part of their responsibility to provide strategic direction, NCC also reviewed a Resource Generation Discussion Paper that was first presented at the National/Synodical Consultation in February 2009. The discussion paper details the patterns of financial support in the church over the past two decades, makes predictions for future trends regarding giving and the allocation of funds at all levels in the church, and identifies opportunities for increased financial support. NCC affirmed in principle the report of the task force and called for the development of an implementation strategy.
On Saturday, NCC approved a proposal to appoint a task force to begin considering restructuring proposals for the ELCIC. The task force will look at developing a structure for the church that considers how to best equip the ELCIC to be a church In Mission for Others while identifying function, form and size of national and synodical levels of the church, as well as national convention. The task force will be asked to review the proposal based on segments of the church’s constituency and how those areas could be improved or impacted. Interim reports from the task force will be prepared for future NCC meetings with a detailed proposal brought forward for the 2011 National Convention.
NCC also took time to consider the development of a proposed policy on the ELCIC’s position regarding conflict in the Middle East. ELCIC bishops participated in a week-long series of meetings with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank from January 6-13, 2009. The trip, part of the 2009 Bishops’ Academy, was planned as a witness to God’s will for a just peace for all people and as an expression of accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and ministries of the Lutheran World Federation.
Closing Worship and Next Meeting
NCC concluded with Closing Worship on Saturday afternoon. NCC members will meet next on June 24, 2009, the day prior to the ELCIC’s National Convention. For further information on NCC, visit their web pages at: https://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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