I spent the last weekend with the ELCA Church Council, so I will tell you. The ELCA Church Council is the legislative body that makes decisions for the ELCA when the Churchwide Assembly is not in session. The Assembly meets every three years, and the Council meets at least twice a year. Much of what the Council does is to review work done at the request of the previous Assembly, and prepare issues and approaches for the upcoming Assembly. The Church Council is working with the staff in anticipation of the 2016 Churchwide Assembly.
The Church Council deals with big picture items, like re-imagining how the church funds itself. Different denominations have different ways of funding the congregations, regional bodies and national bodies. Our church started with the understanding that Synods would send 55% of congregational remittances on to the churchwide offices to fund ministries across the whole church (including ministries back in the synods). In reality, only 8 synods are at that 55%. (We are not one of those synods.) The Church Council has given approval to a report from a Bishops’ Think Tank to rethink how individual synods share resources within the synod and with the larger church. Five synods have volunteered to engage in experiments that potentially re-distribute the resources differently. This is an example of grass-roots thinking, rather than top-down.
One of the issues that will be considered at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly is the unification of the lay rosters (Associates in Ministry, Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses) into one roster of Word and Service. Each of the current rosters has a history and a constituency, but consensus seems to be that it makes more sense for there to be one roster of Word and Service to complement the roster of Word and Sacrament (pastors.) That’s the big picture. But any decision like that involves tending to all kinds of details—constitutional changes, decisions on what the entrance rite would be,(currently Associates in Ministry are commissioned, Diaconal Ministers and Deaconesses are consecrated and Pastors are ordained), determination on where for the purposes of lay/clergy the Word and Service roster would be counted. (Currently, the lay rosters count as lay.)
The Church Council also proposes a budget, approves a spending plan, an operational plan and a strategic plan, elects unit directors, responds to Churchwide Assembly resolutions, appoints task forces, and more. Among the many other issues the Council dealt with this weekend were: the report of the Ecclesiology of the Global Church Task Force, the report of the Ministry to Same-Gender Families Task Force Report, the response to the Voting Rights Act, an update on Lutheran-Catholic ongoing dialogue, an update on the ELCA Campaign, an update from the Theological Education Advisory Council, a report on the progress of the Social Message on
Gender-Based Violence, and more.
Who is on the Church Council? Some 40 + elected members from across the church make up the
Church Council. Synods are paired and alternate Council members. We are paired with the
Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, and the Honorable John Lohrmann is the current Church
Council member. You can reach him by email___________________. Previously, when it was
the Montana Synod’s turn, Pastor Phil Wold served, replacing Pastor Dave Peters. Because we
move back and forth between synods, and because we alternate among clergy, lay female and lay
male, we have a wide range of people service. Our previous Vice President, Beverly Peterson,
has also served on the Church Council. Because the Chair of the Conference of Bishops is also a
member of the Church Council, I am on it as well. My term as chair will end at the end of 2015.
I am grateful to the members of the Church Council who give of their time to our church.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA