I admit it – full disclosure – I would be paying attention to what’s going on at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly anyway. I would be. These kinds of things fascinate me. How organizations function together and how decisions are made is at least as interesting to me as the actual decisions that are made.
I hear from a lot of folks that they really don’t follow things like the Churchwide Assembly (CWA), which begins today in Pittsburgh. They feel disconnected from the larger church, or they feel like the agenda at the assemblies doesn’t relate to their daily life. I know a few who are still feeling the aftereffects from the 2009 assembly and their hope is just that the CWA just doesn’t do anything that is going to wind up in the headlines.
I understand all those feelings. They are legitimate. But there are some really good reasons for those of us who care about faith formation in the life of the church to pay attention to what will be happening in Pittsburgh this week. Here are some of my thoughts:
- The world is run by those who go to meetings. It’s just true. Deal with it.
- The decisions that are made by the Churchwide Assembly can have huge ramifications for our congregations. (Those who disagree must have been out on vacation for the entire year after the 2009 event.) Sometimes the decisions made at the Assembly trickle down to congregations. Sometimes they flood. Either way, I think it’s good to know what’s coming.
- The Assembly is where priorities for our church are made manifest in programs and in budget. An example: once upon a time, just prior to the merger that formed the ELCA, there were between 15 and 17 churchwide staff working in youth ministry in the three predecessor churches. Twenty-five years later, that number is three plus a contract staff person. And two of those positions and the contract staff are funded not by the churchwide organization itself, but by the ELCA Youth Gathering. The budget for the ELCA is approved by the CWA. What kind of message do we think this sort of budget shift over 25 years sends to the whole of the denomination? What does it say about the value the ELCA places on ministry with the young?And ask those who are committed to Christian Education about the priorities of the church, or outdoor ministries, both areas where there are no staff left in the churchwide offices.The Churchwide Assembly is where these decisions are approved.
- The Churchwide Assembly is where our leadership is elected. Our Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, is up for re-election. Whether or not you believe that Bishop Hanson should or should not serve another term, what will be interesting to me is the conversation about the future vision of our church. What will our future direction be? For a denomination that has been (numerically) in decline and feels like it has been in “hunkering down” mode, how do we begin to look outward in mission? Those are the conversations I’m interested in. Those are the conversations that will happen in Pittsburgh this week as priorities and leadership is set.
So yes, I’m a church nerd. And while I don’t expect you to join me in my nerd-hood, I do believe that important decisions and conversations will happen this week that will affect our ministry, yes at the congregational level.
The assembly is using the Twitter hashtag #elcacwa. You can also track the event via the web site at www.elca.org/cwa. Also, I’d recommend following both Paul Amlin, the program director for youth ministries tweets. He can be found at @elcayouth. And the ELCA has its own feed at @elca.
I invite you to join me in paying attention.