The final days of April and the beginning of May were filled with much activity in the WordAlone Network. Just prior to the 2004 Annual Convention of the WordAlone Network, the Board of Directors met for their second quarterly meeting of the year and immediately after the Convention the board held its annual meeting. On May 1-2, 2004 the international Theological Advisory Board met and began work on the appointed topic of the authority of Scripture and how it relates to the current questions on sexuality facing the church.
At the board meeting on April 25, the auditor made his report for the year 2003 and said that the Network has performed above the acceptable ration of programmatic/administrative costs for non-profit organizations. While a recommended level of programmatic expenditures is 72%, the WordAlone Network through good stewardship and responsible fiduciary oversight has achieved over 76% dedicated to the mission and programs of the movement.
I will prepare a letter that will be sent to the leadership of all the Lutheran churches globally to invite conversation regarding the present situation within the ELCA, and the international ramifications for our mission and relationships with companion synods and partners if our 2005 churchwide assembly makes unilateral decisions on sexuality. The Board is supportive of the invitation for conversation and offered additional information and insights to be included in the letter. As we have witnessed in the Anglican Communion over the past several months, when one part of the body decides to act independently of the other members, the whole body is disrupted.
At the board’s annual meeting after the convention, we reviewed plans for the fall continuing education event, which will center on the theme of evangelism and be held at First Lutheran Church, White Bear Lake, Minn. on November 14-16, 2004. The board discussed the theme for the 2005 annual convention, April 17-19 at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church, Mahtomedi, Minn., and it will be centered on the authority of the Word of God.
The board reviewed the convention’s small group discussions of the idea of a non-geographic entity for confessing congregations within the ELCA. The idea has been discussed within and beyond the WordAlone movement as something to be considered regardless of the outcome of the 2005 and 2007 churchwide assemblies. The board affirmed a timeline for wider discussions of the idea, with regional meetings to discuss the idea to be held in fall 2004.
A new committee to oversee the WordAlone Seminary Debt Relief Fund was formed and will begin soliciting dollars to help repay the seminary student loans of those new pastors ordained under the 2001 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) bylaw amendment for non-Episcopal ordinations. Called to Common Mission (CCM), the ELCA’s full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church, requires that a bishop (and eventually it must be a bishop in historic succession) ordain pastors. New pastors, who for confessional reasons cannot submit to CCM’s mandated form of ordination, a practice that is neither biblical nor historical and conflicts with the Lutheran Confessions, are treated as irregular and unusual by their own church and some of its leadership. The WordAlone board is committed to making every effort to support those new pastors who make this confessional decision. $12,500 dollars were granted in 2003 to help those new “exceptional” pastors.
Election of officers took place with the following positions filled: President, Jaynan Clark Egland; Chair of the Board, Al Quie; Vice-Chair, Diane Eaton; Treasurer, John Beem; and Secretary, Gracia Grindal. Tony Stoutenburg and Tim Huffman were thanked for their years of faithful service on the Board of Directors and two new members were welcomed after their election at the annual convention, Fred Baltz and Stephanie Olson. John Beem and Gracia Grindal were each elected to a second three-year term at the convention.
The Theological Advisory Board discussion centered on the authority of the Scriptures and how this influences the discussions we now are engaged in across the church regarding sexuality. The theologians drafted a detailed outline of a paper that it intends to complete in the fall. They assigned individual tasks for writing sections of the paper. They will work on those sections in the coming months before their next meeting in November 2004, at which time they intend to complete their work on their paper. Because of the international nature of the board and the participation by theologians from differing disciplines within the Lutheran church (Biblical theology, church history, and systematic theology), this will certainly be a much-needed statement. If used appropriately in Lutheran churches, their paper could aid the whole church in these difficult and trying times.
Though many questioned the format of open debate and two-sided presentations for the annual convention in dealing with the sexuality questions before the church, overwhelmingly the participants, speakers and audience, have responded that it was the most helpful, informative and respectful discussion they have experienced in the church. Whatever position one holds in the current discussion and debate, I believe the WordAlone Network provided a fine example of what the wider church can do when involved with issues that threaten to divide and tear apart the church. True to who we are—those dedicated to renewal, reform and deeper theological reflection within the ELCA and the wider Lutheran church—we courageously trusted the Word-centered guidance of the Holy Spirit and talked to one another, not about one another.