This past weekend I attended the ELCA Church Council meeting. There were many items of business, all in some way pointing us to living the Godly life as the people of God. Documents presented had been reviewed and recommended by the Conference of Bishops. As co-chair of the task force that developed the proposed social statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Lutheran Call to Action” which speaks clearly about how sexism is inconsistent with living the Godly life. I was overjoyed when the Council approved it unanimously. It now goes to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly for approval.
Another document, “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God,” focused on living the Godly life by addressing best practices for pastors, deacons and those preparing for those roles in this church. The Church Council decided not to consider this document for adoption and referred the document to the ELCA Domestic Mission unit for further review and redrafting. This document is intended to replace “Vision and Expectations,” which outlines expectations the church has for rostered ministers. In their recommendation the council stated that further consideration of the document should involve a process that includes diverse voices from across the church, especially those who perceive they were most harmed in the past by the misuse of the current document, Vision and Expectations. They have asked that work be completed by the fall of 2020.
I’m sure some of you are asking the Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” A little background is in order. The ELCA, like all church bodies, including our predecessor bodies, has always had clearly stated expectations for pastors and deacons. You can find these in the ELCA constitution, the services of ordination and consecration, in a document entitled Vision and Expectations and in a companion document, Guidelines and Definitions for Discipline. I’d encourage lay leaders to read what is currently expected in the preaching, teaching, pastoral care, and service of those you have called to serve and for their personal integrity. I believe we need guidance to live the Godly life and be beloved community together.
As Bishop of this synod, I truly want us to be beloved community. For me this means all congregations will be places where the gospel is proclaimed boldly. It means that congregations are safe and respectful places for all within it, including rostered leaders, and those who surround these mission outposts. It means that there are clear and high expectations of those called to lead, and those who are preparing to lead. Boundaries are important but we must understand that boundaries are related to so much more than sexual ethics. It means our congregations are places that welcome persons of every background, race, sexual orientation and gender identity to engage fully in a life of discipleship. We affirm that Jesus is gracious and radical enough to extend a call to us all to be beloved community together.
Being beloved community means we live into Easter joy as a reconciling and racial equity synod – blessed to be a blessing in this world we inhabit.
Blessings and peace,
The Rev. Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld
Bishop, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin
Vision and Expectations for Ministers of Word and Sacrament: http://bit.ly/VEPastors
Vision and Expectations for Ministers of Word and Service: http://bit.ly/VEDeacons
Guidelines and Definitions for Discipline: http://bit.ly/ELCADisciplineGuidelines