Bishop: ELCA is doing well despite challenges

Dec 10 2010 - 3:51pm



OGDEN -- There may be some congregations that are leaving the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for other Lutheran sects, but the state of the church is good, even locally.

This was the message Sunday delivered by Bishop Allan Bjornberg of the Rocky Mountain ELCA Synod when he paid a visit to Ogden's Elim Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The Rocky Mountain Synod includes 175 congregations in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. He is currently chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops.

Bjornberg said the synod continues to open new congregations.

"There are always more opportunities than there are resources," he said.

In August last year, a vote by ELCA leaders to allow congregations to call openly gay pastors led to a number of congregations deciding to move away from the organization. They cited a belief that such a move was Biblically wrong.

"I believe in resurrection," he told those in attendance, about the ability of the church and its congregations to recover from struggles it now faces as a result of this issue. "The problem with resurrection is that you have to die first."

Three ELCA Lutheran churches are in the Top of Utah area and one of them, Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Roy, has voted to disenfranchise from the ELCA.

Bjornberg acknowledged how difficult these issues can be for both congregations and individuals.

Some in the audience said they had joined Elim from these other congregations. Ascension Lutheran Church in Harrisville remains an ELCA church, but Bjornberg acknowledged other problems from within that have led to people switching churches.

"We keep reliving the book of Acts," he said of a New Testament account of the 12 apostles following Christ's resurrection.

"The disciples were trying to make sense out of having their world view exploded," he said. "Who's in? Who's out? How do you do you get in? We're still fussing with that."

Bjornberg said members of the church have to be very humble about their borders.

"Jesus was very inclusive and spent his life pretty much on the fringe of people who were on the outside," he said.

Besides the number of congregations leaving the synod, there also is a financial downturn in not only the Rocky Mountain synod but all 24 synods in the nation.

"Seminaries or Lutheran care agencies that rely on endowments are struggling," he said.

In the Rocky Mountain synod, the budget this year was cut by $750,000, he said.

Throughout the ELCA, he said, budgets have been cut by $10 million.

World Hunger, he said, was down in its revenues by 20 percent. ELCA World Hunger is a comprehensive and sustainable program that uses multiple strategies -- relief, development, education and advocacy -- to address the root causes of hunger and poverty.

But he said these agencies and churches still are serving a great need.

"One in 50 people in the United States are served by Lutheran services," he said.

But the biggest expense in the ELCA, he said, remains the global ministry.

For example, the ELCA sponsors 80,000 Lutherans to immigrate to the United States a year, as 12 million worldwide now are living in refugee camps because of ostracization, he said.

One thing the church has going for it, Bjornberg said, is a redesign of the ELCA's website, www.livinglutheran.

"It gathers stories of ministries that people are already doing," he said. "Our immediate goal is looking into getting people to communicate how they are deepening the discipleship."

He said fellowshipping continues to be at the heart of the church.

"Nobody is baptized alone," he said. "It's really impossible to be alone in Christ."

Bjornberg said he believes problems can be solved as people get together to discuss them. "I don't have a lot of power in this office," he said. "But I do have the power to convene."

He said the synod supports 240 full-time missionaries, which is half the number of two generations ago.

But Bjornberg said a lower number is not a bad thing.

"We did the job well," he said, noting that more missionaries are not needed.

The synod is aligned with several congregations in Madagascar, which he said are thriving.

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