I greet you in the name of our risen Lord and Saviour, Jesus the Christ. It has been a privilege and honour to serve God and the church these four years as vice-president. As I reflect back on this term the overwhelming common denominator is that of change: changes in officers of our church, changes in the national staff, changes in our mission focus, and changes in the resources available for mission.
I am reminded of the joke, "How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb?" and the answer of course is "Change???!!!!" There are different ways of responding to change: resisting it, being angered by it, being threatened by it, being excited by it, or by embracing it. I must admit that I have experienced all of these reactions over the past four years.
But I am also aware that the church is not the only place that is struggling to deal with ever increasing amounts and rates of change. Rapid change is the reality of 21st century northern society.
One of the changes that has been the most difficult to deal with has been the change in our resource base and the accompanying need to reduce the kinds and amounts of mission and ministry we can do as a National Church. Our nature is to want to add and not subtract from the list of things we will do. And our reality is that there are many opportunities for new mission and ministry to be done. This is all further complicated by the fact that what may be seen as non-essential ministry by some people may well be the most prized ministry as viewed by others.
A positive effect of this is the encouragement we receive to take our partner church relationships more seriously. We see this in the increasing richness of our full-communion relationship with the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) and in a deepening partnership with our sister church the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Both of these examples are wonderful witnesses to the unity of the church, the unity to which our Lord calls us. It may indeed be that the Holy Spirit is working in and through our decreased finances in order to bring about the greater unity of the church!
One of the highlights for me this past biennium has come through my continuing work as an advisor to The Lutheran World Federation Council. The opportunity to meet sisters and brothers in Christ from around the world, the opportunity to learn of the challenges facing them, their countries, and their churches, and the opportunity to learn about the wonderful work we participate in through this Lutheran communion, has been both enriching and enlivening for me.
Words can not describe the immense pride I had in the way our "little" church hosted the LWF Tenth Assembly in Winnipeg in 2003. People are still talking about the good organization and the terrific hospitality provided by our church. The hundreds of volunteers in their yellow bibs, volunteers from our church, from the ACC and the ELCA came to be known as "angels in yellow!" It was a further witness to our excellent working relationships with these churches.
The business of the tenth assembly did, however, remind us that claiming the gift of unity is hard work! The assembly struggled with many difficult issues, including issues of sexuality. But with a lot of time, a lot of listening, a lot of prayer and a lot of patience we were able to speak with one voice on many difficult issues. Let me quote from the Message from the tenth assembly.
As the justified people of God, we are a communion in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are called to share our resources and perspectives with each other, as well as to challenge and provoke one another to new horizons of faithfulness that go beyond what we can see or do as individual member churches.…Our mutual participation in Christ leads us to challenge all those cultural, economic and political forces that define and tend to divide us. Thus, communion can make us uncomfortable as assumptions and practices that we take for granted are challenged and we are pushed to consider questions that we would not as separate churches on our own. These tensions, which can at times be threatening, are also a sign of vitality; they can deepen the realization of what it means to be a communion. We give thanks to God that our communion is blessed with diversity.
As Rev. Dr. Karen Bloomquist noted at a recent LWF North America Regional Consultation, communion is not about the nice warm feelings of harmony, but about the way we deal together with tension and conflict. I think these words are important for our church to hear at this time.
The current reality we are dealing with within the ELCIC is that there are many conflicting opinions within our church regarding homosexuality and same-sex blessing. All of these opinions are faithful responses based on individual and collective interpretations of Scriptures and doctrine. And many of these opinions are deeply felt and passionately expressed. In this convention we will be making decisions on a course of action being recommended by the National Church Council. And we will all have to live with the decisions we make.
I feel very strongly, however, that it is not just the final decision that is at stake, but also our sense of ecclesial solidarity as expressed in the way we go about making that decision. The way we conduct ourselves, the way we speak, the way we deal with one another will make a big difference in our ability to make the best possible decision together, and then to live with one another after we have made that decision. One of the readings appointed in the lectionary for the day I am writing this report is 1 Peter 2:1–2 "Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation." For me, it serves as an excellent reminder of the way our Lord expects us to deal with each other, particularly in challenging circumstances.
In closing I want to again thank you all for the marvelous opportunity this term of vice-president has provided me. I have learned a lot, experienced a lot and grown a lot. I want to thank my fellow officers—National Bishop Raymond Schultz, Donald Storch and Norman Thompson—as well as the National Church Council and the staff of the National Office for their support and encouragement. I also want to thank the Eastern Synod and in particular its bishop and staff for being so understanding of the many times I have had to be away from my paid work. And finally I want to thank you all for your prayers, not only for me, but for our church.
Earlier this year I informed the National Church Council that I am not willing to serve another term as vice-president. I have found it difficult to combine this position with my other roles in the church and believe that we need to elect a vice-president who is able to give more time to furthering the work of our church at the national level. I thank you for understanding and respecting this decision.
Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph. 6:23–24).
Yours in Christ,