Note: This is part of a series on the Social Statements adopted by the ELCA in Assembly. Previous reflections are available at www.montanasynod.org, archived.
Lutherans have always been strong advocates of education. One of the hallmarks of the Reformation was a renewed emphasis on education-from the literacy of the clergy to the catechesis of the laity. We have the Small and Large Catechism as a result of this concern of Martin Luther. Over the years, Lutherans have had high standards for an educated clergy, and have established schools, colleges and seminaries as part of our legacy. In 2007, the Churchwide Assembly adopted "Our Calling in Education" as a social statement of the church. You can find a copy at www.elca.org.
The statement begins with a discussion of the Lutheran understanding of vocation. "Lutherans understand vocation as a calling from God that encompasses all of life for all the faithful." The statement goes on: "Our particular calling in education is two-fold: to educate people in the Christian faith for their vocation and to strive with others to ensure that all have access to high-quality education that develops personal gifts and abilities and serves the common good." Education is not just for us. "Education is not a means to secure our personal salvation but a way to benefit the neighbor."
The statement addresses faith formation for children and emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning all. It acknowledges the responsibilities of both parents and congregations in this area. Next, it addresses faith formation for students in the formative years, acknowledging that both children and older students are not simply preparing for a future vocation, they are living out a current vocation-as child, as student. The statement suggests some guidelines for a ministry of faith formation.
The statement moves to questions of education in the public sphere and the question of access to high-quality education for all. There is a section on public schools, affirming ELCA commitment to them, and outlining some expectations for them, including: being communities of learning and teaching. The statement affirms teaching students to live morally in society, and also states that we expect the schools to teach about religion, not to teach religion. The ELCA does not consider science and religion to be mutually exclusive. The statement expects congregations to support with and work with public schools in a variety of ways. In addition, the statement urges the ELCA to work for equitable access to high quality education for all students.
The statement then shifts to addressing Lutheran educational institutions, from pre-schools through colleges. Many congregations sponsor preschools. Some have elementary schools associate with them, and there are also Lutheran high schools. ELCA colleges and universities have different levels of commitment to Lutheran identity, and different styles. Since the statement was adopted, these higher education institutions have formed an organization for closer communication with one another and with the wider church. Many of the Lutheran colleges and universities have been recipients of Lilly grants to strengthen students' understanding of vocation.
The statement nods briefly to seminaries, to the 2005 Study of Theological Education and its recommendation for lifelong learning. "We urge the churchwide organization to continue to provide leadership and support to the institutions and agencies of the church...to encourage them to deepen their interdependent partnership in a network that educates for vocation."
The statement then circles back to public higher education, particularly public institutions, proclaiming a long-standing commitment to public higher education. It notes the Lutheran church's presence on public campuses through campus ministry. Noting funding challenges for campus ministry, the statement goes on: "Let us be fully aware of the growing crisis in this church's ministry to a large, influential segment of your adults living and studying at public and private universities and colleges."
The statement concludes: "May we faithfully and boldly be a teaching and learning church, educating in the faith for vocation and striving with others so that all people have equitable access to a high-quality education."
The statement was adopted 9 years ago. Since then many of the issues brought up in the statement have intensified: equal access to high quality education; funding issues for campus ministry; skyrocketing cost of college. In a time when these issues can become political hot potatoes it is good to know that our church has done thoughtful and thorough (54 pages) reflection on them, and encourages us to be in civil conversations in our congregations and communities.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA