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Martin Luther Church --- SC Synod --- ELCA
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 8:38-39
Hurricane Harvey, one of the most powerful storms to hit the United States in years, made landfall last night, threatening millions of our neighbors in Texas and Louisiana with heavy rain, wind and rising tides.
The National Hurricane Center called the storm's effects "life-threatening, devastating and catastrophic" and predicted long periods of rain and flooding, along with massive power outages. While many have evacuated, significant damage is still expected, and thousands of people may be housed in shelters for extended periods of time.
We have an opportunity to accompany our neighbors during and after this disaster, in Jesus Christ's name.
While the storm is not over, you can help now. Gifts designated for "Hurricane Response - United States" will be used in full until the response is complete to help disaster survivors recover and rebuild.
Stay connected to the latest events and our response to this and other disasters through our Facebook page. Join me in prayer and partnership, and use this bulletin insert in your congregation to help spread the word. You can find additional resources for worship here.
The Rev. Daniel Rift
Director, ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
From Persecution To Witness By Elizabeth Eaton,
Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
For many months now people have been asking for some kind of statement about the persecution of Christians around the world. It seems to be a straight-forward issue. Christians are suffering in Iraq and Syria, in Nigeria and Egypt. Palestinian Christians encounter intense pressure. Christians in some parts of India are threatened. Some would even claim that U.S. Christians are under siege. Atrocities committed against Christians by the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Shabab and others are regularly in the news. We hear that more Christians have been martyred in recent years than in the first three centuries of the Christian movement.
Each circumstance of violence against Christians is deeply painful. There are brothers and sisters around the world whose lives are part of the passion of Christ. People are targeted in some countries because they are Christians. But this is a complex issue. Are Christians suffering and dying as witnesses to the faith? Yes. But in many places interreligious conflict has been used as a calculated pretext for political gain. A narrative of religion vs. religion, or religion vs. society, is an effective way of generating support for one’s cause. And, regrettably, suspicion and fear of the “other” leads to intolerance and discrimination.
The persecution of Christians is not new. Martyrs have existed since the beginning of the
church. Stephen was martyred with the consent of Paul, who was martyred by the Roman
Empire. Paul quoted the psalms, writing: “For your sake we are being killed all the day
long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered” (Romans 8:36).
Outrage is a natural reaction to beheadings and crucifixions. The instinct to strike back is understandable. Many Lutherans accept that in a broken world deadly force might be needed. Revenge, however, is not an option for a Christian.
I pray that none of you ever suffers violence for the faith, but every generation has faced hostility. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: “To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ.”
“Martyr” is a Greek word that means “witness,” “to give testimony.” A witness can also be a symbol that testifies a promised action has been accomplished. When we speak about the persecution of Christians, the real question is: “What will be our witness?”
Here is a story about how some Lutherans in Ethiopia answered that question. It happened in one of our companion synods. Some Muslims burned down a church, thinking they were attacking Roman Catholics. Instead, they burned down a Lutheran church by mistake. They were arrested and sent to jail. In that region it’s the responsibility of families to take care of prisoners’ hygiene and food. Instead, members of the Lutheran church asked authorities if they could dig the prisoners’ latrines and feed them. That was their witness in the face of persecution.
Christians aren’t the only ones being targeted and persecuted. More Muslims have reportedly been killed by the Islamic State than any other group. Our witness must be as peacemakers and as defenders of religious minorities in our country and around the world. We must be the ones who speak out when entire religions are falsely characterized by the actions of extremists. We would not accept Christianity being defined by the Ku Klux Klan or the Christian Identity movement. We should not define entire communities by the distortion of to their religion.
The cross is God’s visual symbol that a promised action has been accomplished. It is God’s stake in the sand. It is God’s witness to the truth that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
CHICAGO – Addressing recent efforts in Jerusalem to confiscate church lands and tax church properties, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), along with leaders from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Armenian Church of America and The Episcopal Church, have sent a letter of support to the heads of churches at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
In addition to Eaton, the letter was signed by His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, ecumenical director and legate, Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern); and the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry, presiding bishop and primate, The Episcopal Church.
The letter expresses "fervent solidarity with you, your churches and the entire Christian community in the Holy Land as you face repeated challenges to the Status Quo that ensures a Christian presence in this most holy of places."
The four church leaders also sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat expressing concern about the recent proposals and tax plans.
The letter states, "If enacted, these measures would have the effect of creating a situation that jeopardizes the very survival of the Christian community in the Holy Land."
Read the letter to the heads of churches of the Holy Sepulchre. Read the letter to the Israeli prime minister and the Jerusalem mayor.
- - -
About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.5 million members in more than 9,400 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.
For information contact: Candice Hill Buchbinder 773-380-2877 Candice.HillBuchbinder@ELCA.org
ITASCA – Meeting under the theme "To Claim and Test Our Heritage," the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) engaged in discussions around two key priorities for this church: congregational vitality and leadership. The conference, which met here March 1-6, is an advisory body of the ELCA that includes 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and the secretary.
In her report to the conference, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton stressed the importance of upholding the foundation of the Lutheran church. Eaton addressed this through the lens of the four main emphases that provide the framework for the work happening across this church: We are church; we are Lutheran; we are church together; we are church for the sake of the world.
"When we say we're church, we say, therefore, our foundation is Christ and we gather around word and sacrament," Eaton said. "That's foundational. We want people to go to church, be faithful in the use of the means of grace and pray without ceasing. We need to get back to basics."
Speaking to the second emphasis, "we are Lutheran," Eaton underscored the Lutheran understanding that "in the suffering and death of Jesus, through grace and faith, we live in the promise of the resurrection."
Eaton also asserted that the sacraments "are an important part of our life together. When we talk about baptism, it's not just the event that happens for the newly baptized but (Martin) Luther's rich understanding of baptism that informs and supports every part of our life," she said. "Do we talk about that in our congregations?"
Recalling the words of St. Paul, Eaton reflected on the third emphasis, "So, we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually, we are members one of another." "In baptism, we are incorporated into the body of Christ," she said. "How do we help our people understand that they are part of something greater than themselves?"
Eaton connected the fourth emphasis to congregational vitality: "We're church for the sake of the world. How many of our congregations are just trying to hold on to their little patch of territory? And that's intentionally part of the congregational vitality piece – that we're connected to God, we're connected in our congregations, but we're also connected with our communities." Eaton emphasized this is what the church does "because we are church first rooted in word and sacrament."
In closing, Eaton told the conference she is willing to serve another six-year term as presiding bishop. "If God and the church will have me, I'm willing to stand for election again," she said.
Election for an ELCA presiding bishop will be one of the key actions at the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, Aug. 5-10 in Milwaukee. Eaton was elected to her first term as presiding bishop at the 2013 Churchwide Assembly.
The conference also received an update on the congregation vitality project. The project was created to deepen the ELCA's understanding of congregational vitality – what it means, how vital the ELCA is now, how vitality can be cultivated and how the ELCA can foster cultivation. Key findings identified in the report include: The most vital congregations can be any size or shape; vitality is not directly connected to numeric growth nor is it related to congregation location; more vital does not mean more sustainable.
"The conversations around congregational vitality led us to affirm a foundational description of vitality that is both focused enough to point a way forward around core commitments and broad enough to empower contextual engagement for the sake of the gospel," said the Rev. William O. Gafkjen, bishop of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod and chair of the conference
In response to a continuing resolution passed by the 2016 Churchwide Assembly, the conference spent time discussing increasing the diversity in ELCA congregations. The continuing resolution states in part: "This church commits itself to ethnic and racial diversity. Each expression of this church shall annually assess its ethnic and racial diversity when compared to the demographic data of its community or territory." During the session, the bishops were asked to identify priorities in their synod and the ways in which increased diversity can be addressed. The conference will assess their efforts and progress during its October 2018 meeting.
"Our recent meeting was also framed by commitment to and relationships with young people," said Gafkjen. "We began our meeting in worship and fellowship with the ELCA's Youth Core Leadership Team, a dozen high school students from around the church who are both growing in their leadership skills and leading the church in a variety of ways."
In further affirmation of this commitment, the conference approved a statement in support of young people as they seek to address gun violence and school safety.
The conference also engaged with ELCA seminary presidents, focusing on the ELCA's priority to identify and encourage leaders in the church.
"The significant time we spent with seminary leaders as part of our two-year commitment to work together in addressing the leadership needs of the church led us to form a number of small working groups to address various aspects of leadership from discernment and recruitment to equipping, forming, deploying and supporting leaders of all sorts," said Gafkjen.
In other business, the ELCA Conference of Bishops:
· received an update on Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA. As of Jan. 31, the campaign has received $144 million in cash and commitments to campaign priorities and an additional $30 million in planned gifts. This amount represents 73 percent of the $198 million Jan. 31, 2019, goal. Included in the campaign focus for 2018 is the ELCA World Hunger's Global Farm Challenge during the ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston June 27-July 1. In his report, the Rev. Ron Glusenkamp, director for the campaign, announced that Rick Steves has made a $100,000 commitment toward a match for the challenge;
· received a draft of the policy statement on inter-religious relations. The policy statement will be considered by the 2019 Churchwide Assembly;
· received a report from the director of Mission Support. Mission Support is the financial offering from congregations shared with synods and the churchwide organization;
· received an update on the ELCA Youth Gathering; and
· received reports from the ELCA vice president, treasurer and secretary and updates from the Conference of Bishops' various committees.
- - - About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.5 million members in more than 9,400 worshiping communities across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther.
For information contact: Candice Hill Buchbinder Public Relations Manager 773-380-2877 Candice.HillBuchbinder@ELCA.org
IN SOLIDARITY WITH OUR CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Our children and
youth are like a young Jeremiah prophesying to the people: “For I know the
plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you
and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
students, faculty and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in
Parkland, Fla., experienced tragedy. Seventeen people - students and teachers -
were killed by a 19-year-old shooter. In response, students have invited
their teachers, families and allies around the nation to join with
them for a March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018, in Washington, D.C.; calling
our country into a deeper conversation about school safety and Second Amendment
rights and responsibilities.
this incident is the latest in a long list of tragic shootings in our
country and young people have been calling for protest and change for many
years. Some of those young voices have been ignored or silenced because of
racial and economic injustice. We cannot let that reality keep us from acting
Adopted in 1994, the ELCA social message on “Community Violence” remains sadly relevant today. The
message speaks about the causes of violence as complex and pervasive, and of
how violence breeds violence. In proclaiming the forgiveness and love of the
gospel of Jesus Christ, the church addresses the root of violence while being
committed to social actions that respond directly to violence and the people it
From the social
message: In the face of violence, God’s resolve for peace in human
communities is unshakable. Deliberate acts to harm or kill innocent people
violate God’s intention for human community. God’s commandment is “You shall
not murder” (Ex. 20:13). In proclaiming God’s law, we declare that all people
are accountable before God and the community to honor and respect the life God
has given. Christians, as salt of the earth (Mt. 5:13) and light of the world
(Mt. 5:14), are called to respond to violent crime in the restorative ways
taught by Jesus (Mt. 5:38-39) and shown by his actions (Jn. 8:3-11). We are
empowered to take up the challenge to prevent violence and to attack the
complex causes that make violence so pervasive.
Lutheran theology, society is to be ruled by the civil use of the Law.
Government is responsible under God for the protection of its citizens and the
maintenance of justice and public order. As citizens in a democracy, we have
the responsibility to join with others to hold government accountable for
protecting society and ensuring justice for all, and to seek changes in
policies and practices toward these ends.
message was amplified by a social statement, “For Peace in God’s World” (1995), which, as part of its
adoption, offered concrete implementation actions, including: To call
upon the members and leaders of this church to support our youth in their
struggle to define their identity and vocation as present and future
The Conference of
Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in solidarity with
our children and youth, and in response to our common baptismal vocation - living
among God’s faithful people, hearing the word of God and sharing in the Lord’s
Supper, proclaiming the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,
serving all people following the example of Jesus, and striving for justice and
peace in all the earth - offer our support, partnership and prayers for the
March for Our Lives, its satellite city events, and our children and youth who
are leading us forward as peacemakers.
members have given their names in public and personal support of the statement.