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ELCA presiding bishop offers four emphases in understanding church

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, introduced four emphases that she has invited leaders to consider in their work as an understanding of this church.

During her Feb. 28 report to the ELCA Conference of Bishops, an advisory body of the church that includes 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and secretary, Eaton defined these understandings: “We are church, we are Lutheran, we are church together, and we are church for the sake of the world.”

As she expounded on each of the four emphases, Eaton said that at the center “of our life together is worship, and at the center of our worship is the crucified and risen Christ. We are in the faith formation business; not to get more members, not to get more market share, but to know Christ and Christ crucified.”

Eaton shared that it is critical for the Conference, the Church Council (the ELCA’s board of directors) and others to “understand ourselves as communities of spiritual discernment. It is not just about strategic plans,” she said, “but have we been quiet enough to listen to the Holy Spirit? How can we regain the patience and tending to what the Spirit has said to us?

“We need to be engaged as individuals and as models to the church in the spiritual disciplines (of) prayer, silence, worship, giving, service and Scripture study,” she said.

In her report to the Conference, which met in Itasca, Ill., Feb. 26-March 4, Eaton also highlighted some significant conversations and new endeavors happening across this church, such as the Feb. 1 launch of Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA.

The five-year effort is the first comprehensive campaign for the ELCA, and “the invitation has been sent out to the church,” she said.

The presiding bishop noted the work of the ELCA Ecclesiology of a Global Church Task Force in her written report. Assembled this past fall, the task force is exploring the ELCA’s “relationship as part of the communion of churches that is The Lutheran World Federation,” Eaton wrote. “How do we understand ourselves to be part of the ‘one, holy, catholic and apostolic church?’”

The federation is a global communion of 142 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.

Eaton noted the work of the ELCA Theological Education Advisory Council, which is “studying all the ways we can be effective as a church in helping all the baptized to be theologically grounded,” and she also noted the “Declaration on the Way” as a “significant contribution to the United States and international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogues. The intent is to find areas of significant agreement between our two churches and have that ready by the observance of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation” in 2017.

“There is tremendous and creative ministry going on across this church,” Eaton told the synod bishops, expressing “the joy of being with several of you in your synods. It is heartening and humbling to see how hard you and your people work.”