Evangelical Lutheran Church in America aims to be inclusive

As pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Havertown, Pennsylvania, Reverend Gwendolyn King doesn’t see many people in the congregation who look like her.

King, who is black, said there are only three families of color in her church.

And, more broadly, the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is over 90% white, according to a 2015 Pew Research Group study.

More progress needs to be made, according to the 68-year-old Philadelphia man, who was one of the few people of color in the audience at the ELCA Churchwide assembly at the Greater Columbus Convention Center on Wednesday.

“If in fact we’re meant to be newer, more diverse… that means there has to be some real intentionality about it in order to move forward,” she said. “And it won’t happen overnight.”

The conference, which began on Monday and continued through Friday, is held every three years and brings together synods from across the country. About 1,300 people attended this year’s event, said ELCA public relations manager Candice Hill Buchbinder.

The assembly is also an opportunity to review church-wide efforts, vote on proposals, and elect officers, board members, and other leaders, according to the ELCA website.

Two proposals (or memorials as the church calls them) reflect the inclusiveness sought by the church. One focused on the Land Back movement to return Native American homelands to the descendants of those who lived there for millennia before the arrival of European settlers. The other highlighted pay equity for female pastors and pastors of color.

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The proposal addresses the history of the church with the indigenous population

The Land Back proposal encouraged members and congregations to include land acknowledgments as part of public gatherings, to learn more about the Indigenous peoples who live in the areas they serve, and to develop relationships with Indigenous peoples and tribal nations, Cheryl Chatman, co-chair of the memorial committee, said.

In addition, the proposal included participation in restorative justice, such as returning land to tribal nations or proceeds from land sales going to the organization’s Native American ministry fund.

The proposal that passed Thursday morning came after the church issued a statement to Indigenous peoples in 2021 and passed a resolution at the 2016 church assembly that repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, a series of 15th-century papal decrees that laid the foundations of European colonialism and the destruction of indigenous culture among Christians.

“This memorial gives us a way to not just be good, but to be real,” said Reverend Solveig Nilsen-Goodin of the Oregon Synod. “It provides us with a pathway, a real and tangible means by which we as a church…can do our small part in healing the untold loss and ongoing suffering of our Indigenous relatives.”

Later in the conference, Emma Wagner of the Delaware-Maryland Synod spoke about the pay gaps for pastors in the church experience.

“ELCA female pastors earn an average of $8,000 less per year than their male counterparts,” she said. “That number is even higher among our BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Colored) pastors and deacons. past.”

The fair pay proposal passed Thursday afternoon, Hill Buchbinder said.

The proposals aim to bring about changes to the Lutheran Church, to address societal issues

Cheryl Chatman and Joe Nolte are co-chairs of the ELCA Memorial Committee, which collects and votes on proposals from churches nationwide.

Chatman and Joe Nolte, who is also co-chair of the committee, said the memorials are two of 78 proposals that have been drafted by synods nationwide over the past three years.

Chatman believes the proposals will be the first steps toward action on statements the church has made to be more inclusive.

“When people follow some of these recommendations, some of the things they’re encouraged to do, it can give them different perspectives and experiences,” she said. “We are making progress, but we all know we still have work to do.”

Nolte sees memorials not as progressive, but as a chance to live out the Christian principles that are taught in the church.

“It might be progressive in the eyes of some people, but in reality it is our church that is struggling with issues and the best way to respond to those in society and our church,” he said. .

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Barry F. Howard