September 2011

Redeemer, East Falls, Marks Second Anniversary of Lockout

Redeemer Marks Second Anniversary of SEPA Synod Lockout

In the book, Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, the author, Nathaniel Philbrick, tells how the early New England settlers came across numerous foot-deep, circular holes scattered across the landscape.


The Native Americans explained they are “memory holes” marking a significant event that may have occurred at that spot centuries before. A tribal member was assigned the task of maintaining the holes and the historical accounts that went with them.


Philbrick writes, [they] “began to see that they were traversing a mythic land, where a sense of community extended far into the distant past, ‘So that as a man travelleth . . ,’ Winslow wrote, ‘his journey will be the less tedious, by reason of the many historical discourses [that] will be related unto him.'”


Such might be the memories of our small congregations, stored in the hearts of the oldest members and retold at church gatherings for decades until they become part of the fabric of Christian community.


Unfortunately, communal memories are often discouraged today. Ridding a group of people of their past is one way of claiming victory. The United States as a nation used this as a weapon when we fought the indigenous peoples of North America. It was done over and over — take the land, forbid the use of the native language, discourage local customs, and herd survivors away from their sacred spots. Steal the memories and you control the people.


There is a hole in front of Redeemer Church. A small long-present sinkhole seems to have deepened with this year’s rains. It now has police tape around it.  It’s right next to the sign forbidding dogs on the property and not far from the locked doors, the windows of which are now covered with cloth, even further alienating the community of East Falls from one of its sacred places.


Redeemer’s historical records have been boxed and carried away by strangers with no connection to our history. They are gathering dust in a seminary library. But we who still live in the Redeemer neighborhood can still look at the church, the locked doors, the offensive signage and the growing “memory” hole and keep the history of our community of faith alive. Tell it!


Redeemer is not closed. We are locked out of God’s house by SEPA Synod.

The Church Can Get Hung Up on the Silliest Ideas

Hum to yourself the well-known song from West Side Story, “Maria.” Keep this tune to yourself. If you sing it out loud you will be breaking an old Church law. The Catholic Church at one time banned the musical interval, the augmented fourth (which opens this poignant song), as dissonant and therefore the work of the Devil. They labeled it Diabolus in musica. It could not be sung in the church.

Also banned at one time was music with more than one part playing at the same time. This symbolized disunity. We hope that old Lutheran, J.S. Bach, put an end to this thinking once and for all.

We, in the church, can get hung up on the silliest things. When you read things like this (and this is from the book This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession, by Daniel Levitin) you just have to wonder what great ideas we put aside while we protect what we love from outside influences — which must be the work of the Devil.

It took centuries to change the medieval church’s musical hang-ups. It may be decades before we can see through the mirror dimly to identify our own silly notions that keep us from reaching out. I remember a few decades ago a church arguing against girl acolytes. It just wasn’t right to see stockings at the bottom of a church robe, was the dominating viewpoint.

Our church, the ELCA, has set goals to reach out to people of other cultures. This means we will have to accept new rhythms, new chord progressions, dance, poetry, music, dress, robes, hymnals, art, liturgies, prayer, posture and gesture, languages, food, entertainment, stockings along with the socks, and heaven forbid, ideas. We might have to add some chili and curry to the standard soup stock. We don’t have to give up the old C-F-G7 chord progression, but we might have to let the Augmented Fourth and its friends in.

Ambassadors visit St. Michael’s, Kensington

God's light filtered through the city scape as the Redeemer Ambassadors pose in front of St. Michael's, Kensington.

God's light filtered through the city scape as the Redeemer Ambassadors pose in front of St. Michael's, Kensington.

The Ambassadors made a lovely visit to St. Michael’s, Kensington this morning.

We were struck by the friendliness of the neighborhood before we walked through their doors. A member on her way to church offered to help us by taking our picture. All the traffic waited at the stop sign, allowing her time to get her bearings with our camera.

Most members stopped by our pew to say hello on their way into the sanctuary. The pastor (Rev. Marjorie Neal) was away, but the service was led by very capable lay people.

We thought they were passing the peace at the beginning of the service and so we were surprised when they seemed to be passing the peace a second time toward the end of the service. They explained, the first time is the “Welcome.”

LBW liturgy was used with numerous hymns from LBW and WOV.

The congregation uses a beautiful ground-floor chapel. The original sanctuary above is also beautiful but they told us it has not been used in a year. It is difficult to maintain. All we city churches know about that!

They had recently had a flea market and were planning for a big St. Michael’s Day celebration on the 25th to which they are inviting all the many groups who use their building.

They operate a Christian Day Care and were planning to send some of their youth on a mission trip to New Orleans. Their bulletin also mentioned a food pantry.

As one member gave us a tour of their sanctuary and building, the front doors and gate were locked. We had to walk the length of the building to the back door to get out. In doing so, we passed a group preparing for a meeting. They quipped, “That’s a change. You thought you were locked out. Now you are locked in!”

Learn more about St. Michael’s, Kensington. stmichaels1871.webs.com

As congregations flee, ELCA Secretary Swartling has concerns

Sour Grapes?

The Lutheran Magazine recently reported on the hundreds of churches that have left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America this year. At the August Synod Assembly, ELCA Secretary David Swartling reflected on the statistics, issuing a statement that smelled a bit of sour grapes. 54%, he noted, were congregations in communities of 10,000 or less.

“Given the small size of these communities, profound questions exist about the long-term viability of many of these congregations and their capacity to be effective in ministry and to develop the kind of interrelationships that they had in the ELCA.”

ELCA, wake up!

Speaking from our own experience in Southeastern Pennsylvania, small churches can no longer count on the ELCA for interrelationships or support in ministry. Small churches are being written off.

Our denomination acts as if they can continue to get away with serving as if they are the only game in town. This is most noticeable at the synodical level, but frankly, the national church has also looked the other way when small churches asked for help.

In Redeemer’s case (which you can read about elsewhere on this site), Bishop Hanson responded to Redeemer’s first request for help in our now four-year conflict with SEPA Synod by telling us of his regard for our bishop and urging both sides to negotiate. (Record of correspondence) He ignored every other letter our congregation sent to him . . as did the bishop and the rest of SEPA leadership. We understand his regard for a colleague in ministry. We do not understand why this regard translates to no regard for the people they both serve.

Small churches are frustrated with good reason. Church leadership should ask how long corporations would remain profitable if (and Redeemer experienced each of these):

The corporate office did not return phone calls.
The corporate office did not respond to letters.
Requests for appointments were given dates 3-5 months away–which then became 11 months.
Decisions regarding local management and profitability were made with no interaction with local management.
Key leadership positions went unfilled for years. 
Customers and clients were totally ignored but expected to eagerly embrace every new product.
The workforce was asked to go through a grinding 12-18 months of interim limbo with every change of manager.
Sales initiatives for each branch had to be managed by one corporate officer serving scores of branches.
The manager had orders from middle management to placate workers until they grew discouraged and quit.
Corporate never visited the branches unless they wanted something from them. 

There was a time when congregations had no choice, but things have changed. New Lutheran denominations are emerging and time will tell if they are able to serve effectively.

More critically, small congregations now have mission opportunities outside the ELCA with organizations that pay more attention to them and are eager to work together.

If the ELCA wants to continue as an effective presence in our nation’s small towns and urban neighborhoods, they must find ways to help congregations face modern challenges. Meanwhile congregations are sending a message.

All those ELCA interrelationships — we aren’t feeling it!

Object lessons in worship mean more to adults

Object lessons appeal to adults more than children.Redeemer has a passion for children’s ministry and had developed a lively interactive forum within our worship service geared to the young as well as the captive adult audience.

We tried the old object lesson format, the foundation of many messages for children. We discovered that they do not hit home with children. Children think concretely and object lessons rely on the ability to think abstractly. We abandoned them in favor of a more hands-on, interactive approach.

Our Ambassador visits have taught us other approaches. Here are some observations.

1. Overall there are very few children in church and fewer tweens and teens. Fewer than a third of the churches have a children’s sermon.

2. When there is a small group of children, almost every congregation dismisses children after the opening of the service.

3. Pastors at times seem awkward talking to the children and then the children take over. They have a good time and the adults enjoy the break, but the value as “sermon” is weak.

4. A couple of the pastors did more formal presentations for the children, using puppets and scripts. The messages were, in each case, very well prepared. Children and adults were attentive observers. There was no interaction.

5. The object lesson is still the fallback position for children’s sermons and is usually the focus of published materials for children’s sermons.

Our visit to Trinity, Fort Washington, was different. Pastor Jim Goodyear used the object lesson even though no little children were present. A Little Brown Bag object lesson came at the end of the service before dismissal. A member had placed an object in the bag and waited for Pastor Jim to find religious meaning in the random surprise. We’ve seen the same technique used with children who found delight in trying to stump the pastor, but the message fashioned for them probably went right over their heads. In this case, the pastor got it right — object lessons are for adults! The congregation loved the Little Brown Bag and Pastor Jim drew several poignant observations from the little knit cap he found hidden that morning. (Each stitch was made with love.) His point hit home as the congregation was embarking on a project to knit watchcaps for the Seaman Center! Good job, Fort Washington!

How Redeemer Met the ELCA Multicultural Ministry Goal

In our last post we noted that Redeemer Lutheran Church in East Falls had achieved the goal of expanding multicultural ministry. The national church recognized our success, but the regional church (SEPA Synod) totally disregarded our ministry.

At the last National Assembly, the leaders of our church reported poor progress on meeting this goal nationwide. We think Redeemer’s experience can shine some light on why these goals are not being met.

There are at least three roadblocks:

1. Regional bodies are not comfortable with the goal.

Small intercity congregations are strategically located to lead multicultural ministry. They need a plan.There seems to be no infrastructure for implementing this major change in the denomination. When it comes to multicultural ministry, most churches and leaders are experimenting. Many of the smallest churches are strategically located in neighborhoods with the most potential for multicultural ministry, but they have the least help in achieving this important goal and may very well be on a synod’s endangered list.

Regional bodies have a tendency to cripple congregations with labels. They see congregations in terms of the past. Congregations, led by professional leaders who are familiar with those names, have a hard time ministering beyond low expectations. Regional bodies are unconsciously saying NO to the potential for multicultural outreach by failing to provide leaders for neighborhoods experiencing cultural change. Caretaker pastors will ignore the cultural changes happening all around the congregation as they hold the hands of existing members, waiting for them to die. When regional bodies lose these neighborhood outposts, they lose valuable assets for achieving their goal of multicultural ministry.

What would happen if synods approached neighborhood churches with high expectations and gave them the help they needed to reach them?

Redeemer did not set out with multicultural ministry as our objective. We just welcomed all who came to our door. This was met with resistance from SEPA leadership, who had predetermined that slow death was to be our fate.

The first Tanzanian family who came to Redeemer in 1998 asked for their two infant sons to be baptized. Bishop Almquist had declared synodical administration. We were advised to NOT baptize the children or encourage new membership. (They had NOT declared us closed but that’s what they had in mind!)  The family shared only recently that a synod representative had visited them and discouraged them from joining Redeemer, which was only a few blocks from their home. “Why do you want to join a church with no black members?” they were asked. They suggested they join a church with black members several neighborhoods away.

This family joined Redeemer anyway. They were to play an important role in Redeemer’s multicultural future.

2. Pastors are not comfortable in multicultural ministry.

As this family became active, they often expressed the desire to reach out to more of the East African immigrant community. Extended family and friends began joining. One was active in social work near our church and wanted to expand outreach to nearby Hispanic neighborhoods. This ministry direction had been discussed often at council meetings with our pastors, who admitted they were not equipped to lead this type of ministry. We asked them to help us find extra help. The report was always the same. “There is no one.” Redeemer wanted to move in a direction professional leadership was unable or unwilling to take us.

Within weeks of our last pastor’s resignation, lay members had identified two qualified Lutheran pastors with roots in East African culture who were willing to visit and invite. Within a few months, Redeemer had 49 new members. During this time, SEPA leadership totally ignored us. They had no interest in helping a church they perceived as dying. When we sent a resolution to Bishop Burkat to call one of the pastors who had been working with us for seven months, she declared Redeemer closed.

3. Congregations are not comfortable with multicultural ministry.

Congregations naturally will wonder what will become of their culture if you open the door to other cultures. Redeemer faced this challenge, too.

Multicultural ministry begins when we recognize that all congregations have multiple cultures within them.First, we made sure that veteran members were not neglected and were active in welcoming. The church service became a bit longer with the incorporation of other languages and music, but the old membership did not have to forsake cherished traditions. Strangers were not valued more than they. God’s love grows community; it does not neglect one community to lavish attention and resources on another.

In light of these three roadblocks, the ELCA has set a goal which few people share except in theory. Here is advice from our experience on how to detour these roadblocks.


Being invitational must be taught not just preached. Pastors often say this is the congregation’s job, but in today’s climate it must start with the pastor. The pastor must model this for the congregation, especially if a congregation has been suffering. Members will be of low morale and unable to invite. Pastors should visit, talk enthusiastically about their visits, encourage members to come along, and make sure there are quality offerings for members to promote with enthusiasm. This will rebuild invitational confidence.

Don’t cut the roots.

Popular advice from church hierarchy touts allowing churches to die so that Christian community can be “resurrected.” This is a distortion of the Resurrection message. The Bible does not advocate evicting the faithful to invite new members. As cheery as this may sound, it is cruel in practice. Time will tell if these theories have longevity or if their cited successes are flashes in the pan.

We suspect the Church will not grow if you cut the roots. If veteran members are ignored, criticized, and evicted, the neighborhood will notice. Sensitive new members will ask themselves if one day this will be their fate. Make sure that old members are part of the process of welcoming new members. Change may be desirable but keep some things the same. New members will know that they are influencing a new chapter in a long tradition.

Ministry is not multicultural if cultures never mix. 

Redeemer began by offering a separate service for East Africans, but this lasted only a few months. Both “old” Redeemer and “new” Redeemer wanted to be in communion. Some congregations never move beyond this and become two congregations sharing the same building while calling it multicultural.

We faced the challenge of merging communities with FOOD.

Many churches have coffee hour. It was our observation that coffee hour does not create true fellowship. People grab their styrofoam cup and find a corner to talk to people they already know.

We began serving soup. One pasta pot of soup brought in from home will feed a small church fellowship. Easy to serve; easy to clean up. Soup encourages people to sit down together. Soup is multicultural. “Old” Redeemer tasted “banana” soup, a Tanzanian staple. A Puerto Rican vicar introduced us to sancocho beef stew — “not spicy, just tasty.” If conversation stalled, we talked about the soup, asking who made the soup and what was in the soup. Stories followed about how mother made the soup, how spices were chosen . . . and suddenly you have a proud congregation sharing traditions.

When the arts are explored, minds open.

We wanted the message that our congregation was welcoming to all cultures to be clear. It’s hard to change the stained glass windows, but we featured art and poetry from different cultures on our bulletins. We occasionally practiced the Taize traditions with icons and chants. Liturgical dance became part of our tradition. Drums were played by members sitting in the pew, but the church organ still whined away. Some of the art/music featured was traditional. We did not replace what was dear to people. We added to it.

Use the gift of language.

Foreign languages make Americans nervous. Our new members graciously recognized this and switched to English when others were present. It was a considerate, unsolicited gesture that helped create community.

In worship we alternated languages between verses in singing hymns. We said the Lord’s prayer in Swahili and English until Swahili-speaking members objected, saying God needs to hear our prayers in only one language. English-speaking Redeemer objected, saying “But we need to hear it in Swahili.” We didn’t debate; we alternated.

Soon, English-speaking Redeemer began adopting Swahili phrases in conversation.

Which brings us to our final point for today.

Be flexible.

In one way of thinking all churches are multicultural. Concentrating on the multicultural in ministry is forging new ground. Develop a welcoming atmosphere and follow your instincts.

If you’d like a team from Redeemer to make a presentation on our multicultural experience, please leave a comment and we will get back to you.

Redeemer, East Falls, leads in addressing key ELCA issues

At August’s (2011) national ELCA Church Assembly, some memorials were given special attention by the delegates. Three were issues Redeemer had already addressed!

1. Expanding Multicultural Ministry 

The Assembly addressed concern that the ELCA has not yet reached the goal of 10 percent members who are people of color or primary language other than English.

Two thirds of Redeemer members were immigrants from East Africa. Members and regular attendees and supporters hail from six continents. SEPA Synods response to our congregational mission work was first to try to stop us. When we told Bishop Claire Burkat of our plans to reach out to friends and extended family of current Redeemer members of African descent (2006), she responded, “You are not allowed to do that.” A year later, when our outreach resulted in dozens of new members, Bishop Burkat attempted to divide our church racially by suggesting black members go to another church.  When that proved offensive to the entire congregation they attempted to force us into closure regardless of our membership and vitality. They sued our congregation. Although some of this behavior appears to be racist, their law suits against the congregation are more equitable. They evicted all of us — black and white — from our building. They chose both a white member and a black member to sue personally. In fact, the African member they chose to sue was served with the court papers on the same day he received his permanent residency papers. Welcome to America!

2. Acknowledge the International Year for People of African Descent

The Assembly asked the presiding bishop to issue a statement acknowledging this special designation. The stated purpose is to encourage congregations to affirm the gifts of people of African descent . . . and to examine factors that keep people of color and/or whose primary language is other than English from experiencing the fullness of leadership and inclusion in the ELCA.

Redeemer encouraged full participation of our growing East African community. Our worship services reflect their culture. Both English and Swahili-speaking members enjoy singing hymns in different languages. Prayers were often offered by a member whose first language was French. Worship and Bible study leadership was shared and when “black” membership outnumbered “white” membership, every effort was made to assure appropriate representation on our congregation council.

The National Church was interested in our ministry and asked us to provide a report — which we did. (Report on Kiswahili Ministry) But on the local level, we received no recognition or encouragement. SEPA Synod’s eyes were on the prize, and the prize was our property/assets.

This brings us to the third specially considered memorial by the National Assembly.

3. Bullying and Harrassment

The Assembly approved a resolution addressing bullying, harassment and related violence and urged Congregational and Synodical Mission to collaborate in addressing and preventing bullying and harassment.

Redeemer has been the victim of synodical bullying for years, escalating to litigation in 2008 and seizure of our property in 2009. As is often the case in bullying, onlookers — our sister congregations and the national church — have done very little to stop this. No reason to say more here. See our post:

What to expect when the Church is given license to bully

Ambassadors Begin 2nd Year of Visits and Discover Connectivity

As Redeemer Ambassadors began our second year of church visits in August, we began to feel more comfortable in our visitation. Perhaps that’s because we are beginning to discover connectivity — sometimes spanning decades, sometimes a century or more.

Our first visit rekindled an old working friendship which had been dormant for decades. In November we visited St. Mark, Conshohocken. The grandfather/great grandfather of two of our Ambassadors was one of the founding pastors of that congregation and visiting the church we had heard about so often from our ancestors was very meaningful. We also discovered that some of the Epiphany members who once shared our building were now worshiping there.

Almost every week, we find something in common with the people we visit. At St. John, Folcroft, one of our ambassadors mentioned her college and a St. John member responded, telling us about her college. We soon learned that the woman had been college friends with one of our ambassadors who was not present and had sung in the college choir with his wife.

At Grace, Mantua, we learned that the pastor and his wife shared mutual good friends with one of the Ambassadors. Similarly, we learned that the pastor of liberti presbyterian shared mutual friends. We had heard stories about one another for years but had never met!

This morning, we visited Trinity, Fort Washington, where one of our former members attends. We were pleased to talk with her many friends. Our former member and her family had been among the earliest and strongest Redeemer supporters. We also discovered that their new pastor was from a church near the childhood church of one of our ambassadors and they knew some of the same people. His home church was that of one of our ambassador’s earliest relatives to come to America hundreds of years ago.

As we share stories of our other visits, we learn of their connections with the people we are currently visiting. “That’s where I was married.” “That’s the church my husband and I visited when we were trying to decide on a church.”

Redeemer is part of the precious interconnectivity of Lutherans and Christians everywhere. Locking our doors won’t take that away!

Are SEPA Congregational Statistics “Cooked”?

We recently came across the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod’s statistical reports as presented to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — the national church — on the ELCA web site. The report was dated August 17, 2010. We were surprised to see Redeemer listed at all, since elsewhere on the internet SEPA Synod reports our congregation as closed as of June 10, 2010. Redeemer seems to be open when Synod wants to count us and closed when they want us to be closed.

Where did these statistics come from?

The statistics in this report begin in 2004 when we are listed as having 28 members. Redeemer was listed in the same sort of report in 2005 as the only congregation in the SMALL category that was GROWING. Now Redeemer is categorized in the same year as DECLINING! The most recent report rewrites history and shows Redeemer having only THIRTEEN members in 2005 and every year thereafter, including 2010. We have been locked out of our church since September 2009.

UPDATE : In February 2012, SEPA Secretary Rev. Ray Miller and Redeemer “trustee” testified in court that Synod records had Redeemer’s membership at 26 or 28 (ignoring the list of some 70 names we had provided to them). Yet the report issued to SEPA Synod Assembly stated 13. Synod’s lawyer went on in the same proceeding to attempt to prove that Redeemer acted without authorization because the congregational vote of 17 did not constitute a two thirds quorum. It is now clear that SEPA was lying to its member churches to solicit the vote they craved. 

Redeemer has very few members. Honest!

Redeemer has very few members. Honest!

For the record, REDEEMER was a growing congregation with slow but steady growth throughout most of this time period. Part of this growth was among East African immigrants. We experienced a significant growth spurt in 2006-2007 when we began a concentrated outreach to the friends and extended families of members who had been part of Redeemer for as many as 10 years.

This favorite number, 13, keeps cropping up. It was the statistic included in the Trustees Report to Synod Assembly which was first read to the entire assembly in 2008 (along with other inaccurate information) without ever having been shared with Redeemer. We asked in writing for Synod Leadership to correct this report, but it was dragged out again before the entire Assembly in 2009. Redeemer was denied voice or vote at this Assembly.

FACT: Our church council met with Bishop Claire Burkat on November 1, 2007, and presented our membership list along with a detailed ministry plan and a resolution to call a pastor who had agreed to our payment terms and was willing to commit to five years of service. Our membership list had been carefully compiled for this report and was part of a 16-page ministry plan (see page 11). The congregation had worked on this plan months. It included the names of approximately 75 members (full members, associate members and children). We accepted a few more into membership after that meeting. We had many more who had expressed interest in joining our ministry.

The list we presented to the bishop was a conservative count. Had we included a few “drifters” (young people of college age who hadn’t attended in a year or so, for example) we could have claimed another dozen members, but we wanted to be accurate in representing our changing congregation. We had nothing to be ashamed of . . . we were growing quickly!

At this meeting Bishop Burkat reviewed our membership list and commented that many of the names “looked African.” She then added, “White Redeemer must be allowed to die. Black Redeemer . . . .we can put them anywhere.”

SEPA statistics make no sense.In about 2007 or early 2008, the synod demanded a monitored congregational vote on a resolution we had presented to the bishop. We complied with their request and a Synod Council representative attended the meeting, reporting 14 present for the vote. Synod challenged the quorum, so they believed at that time that Redeemer had 42 voting members and even more non-voting members. Redeemer has few members when Synod wants us to have few members and many members when Synod wants us to have many members.

Who came up with these statistics? We had no pastor during much of this time, so we know the forms were not filled out by anyone at Redeemer. The secretary of Synod, Rev. Ray Miller, also served as a trustee for Redeemer. Does he have the answer to this question? Were these statistics presented to the court to justify their takeover? Since Synod has defined “two” Redeemers, dividing our church along racial lines, are the 13 members they are counting our white members?

All churches should check the accuracy of these documents in reference to their congregations. Otherwise these statistics could be used against you some day. Here’s a link:


Choosing Lutheran leadership in 2012

Lutherans have a unique church structure. While Roman Catholic church leadership is controlled by a hierarchy, Lutherans elect their church leaders. Congregations are pivotal to Lutheran governance more so than in either the Episcopal or Roman Catholic churches, our closest neighbors in liturgical and structural traditions.

This process can be — and is intended to be — a source of strength. Congregations can act with authority in the neighborhoods they know better than distant leadership. Lay people are empowered to be active participants in their faith communities.

There are, however, serious challenges. In controlling their little corner of Christendom, many congregations have little or no knowledge of their neighboring churches and ministries. Similarly, the names proposed for election to head their leadership are those of strangers. They send their clergy and lay representatives to Synod Assembly to vote for leaders (bishop and synod council) unaware of their skills, vision, history, or integrity. Delegate packets contain only a short bio — where they live, what church they attend and what they do for a living. Candidates for bishop emerge at the Assembly itself, known perhaps among clergy, but clergy make up only a third of the Assembly.

This can be dangerous. In recent years, particularly since the merger in the 1980s which created the ELCA, some bishops have been assuming more power than the traditions of the Lutheran church or its governing documents intend.

For example, the ELCA changed the title of its leaders from president to bishop, clearly stating that the change would not affect the relationship between the congregations and leadership. The change was approved for one purpose only — to raise the status of Lutherans in ecumenical dialogue. Other denominations, it seems, do not give the title of “president” the same authority as bishops.

Nevertheless, this change has affected the ELCA. Some bishops (not all) assumed powers given to bishops of other denominations, including the power to control congregational decisions and property ownership, miring the whole church in litigation. The church has been ill-equipped to “check and balance” its leadership.

Next spring, SEPA Synod will elect someone to the office of bishop. Will the people voting on that May day know enough about the candidates to make an informed decision? Start asking questions now.

What do you expect from your church leaders? What does your congregation hope to see as they build relationship with the greater Lutheran church?  What qualities should your president or bishop have?

These questions are natural to the decision process. The problem is the church has no forum for getting answers in time to help delegates make good decisions. Poor decisions affect the entire Synod for six years!

You are not going to see these questions asked or answered on a synod’s web site, which is controlled by the existing bishop, who may be interested in reelection.

We propose that Lutherans start a dialog on an independent internet blog. Ask questions. Invite answers from those who are interested in serving. This wasn’t possible in the 1980s but today we can do something to help our church leaders make good decisions.

What do you think?