The ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly held this month (August 2011) passed the following Resolution (11.03.06)
RESOLVED: To make support for the work of congregations one of the highest priorities of this church. To request congregations, in collaboration with synods, to begin, develop, review or redefine their unique mission plans by the end of 2012, so that each congregation strengthens its capabilities and resources for witness and mission.
In 2007, Redeemer spent several months examining our mission, resources, leadership needs — the whole nine yards. The 16-page document can be viewed at www.redeeemereastfalls.com. It is still valid, but four years of conflict with SEPA Synod will force some revision. The report included financial projections, special outreach projects, stewardship initiatives and a resolution to call a pastor who was qualified and had agreed to our payment terms. Pastor Mutashobya, who still serves in this synod, contributed to the plan.
Redeemer’s Ministry Plan was presented to Bishop Burkat on November 1, 2007, with her promise that it would be reviewed and that we could begin working with Rev. Patricia Davenport. We left the bishop with optimism. Council members present broke into song in the elevator on the way out!
Four months of silence and unreturned phone calls followed. Pastor Mutashobya at last received word that he was to meet with Pastor Davenport. Redeemer held a three-day fast and prayer vigil that the long-awaited dialog would be fruitful. Pastor Mutashobya was met with the news that the bishop intended to close the church. Pastor Mutashobya never returned to Redeemer.
Bishop Burkat, who had never discussed closing the church with the congregation and had failed to give the leaders of the church the courtesy of a personal meeting, sent a letter to the congregation declaring the congregation closed. Redeemer still challenges the bishop’s constitutional right to declare any congregation closed without the participation and consent of the congregation.
The result is an ugly mess that remains in the courts four years later. The courts so far have refused to hear the case citing separation of church/state.
This resolution gives us a way out of the mess which is respectful to the people of Redeemer and will build trust with other congregations as they draft their own plans to share with the Synod. Given SEPA’s use of our freely shared mission plan to achieve its own ends (the acquisition of out assets) other churches might be wondering how they might fare as they “collaborate” with their synod. The resolution does not assign authority in the collaboration process, but in the past that hasn’t stopped SEPA from assuming all authority. Regardless, we invite Bishop Burkat to honor the Churchwide resolution and meet with Redeemer to work out our differences. Lutherans are capable of this. Redeemer is eager for it.
Meanwhile, we will dust off our work from 2007 and provide ideas for moving forward.