Monday, August 24, 2009

CWA: What Does This Mean?

I've been asked a lot over the past week what the decisions made at Churchwide would mean for myself and my congregation. It's kind of funny, really, that after all of these years of praying, begging, cajoling and demonstrating, the answer is actually "not a whole lot."

Oh, and also, "a whole lot." Great Lutheran paradox, that.

My congregation already has a pastor in a "same gender, life-long, monogamous, publicly accountable relationship." Okay, I'm fudging "publicly accountable" a little, since we are waiting until we live in the same state to take the ELCA up on its support of our getting married (they'd never say "married," but I can. Married married married. That's what they voted on and they know it.).

Our congregation is under censure by our Synod (the regional body--in this case Missouri and Kansas). Under the terms of our censure, we're not allowed to serve on committees of the synod or churchwide expressions. Which does leave us feeling a little cut off, and provides a great excuse to stop paying benevolence to the Synod--which I'm proud to say we have not done. We have done our best to stay in relationship with the larger church, and I'd say it has been mainly mutual. Bishop Mansholt has been expecially gracious in extending a hand of friendship to Abiding Peace.

But being under censure for eight years kind of sucks, and we'll be glad to have it lifted.

And I will be glad to stop suffering the little indignities that arise so often, especially around the first weekend in June, when the whole Synod meets in Assembly. I'll be glad to receive mail from the larger church addressed to "Rev. Donna Simon." I've been ordained almost nine years; I think it would be nice to be addressed properly. Someone in the Synod office actually works overtime making sure that I know that he or she doesn't recognize my ordination. I get mail addressed to "Ms. Donna Simon." If you left off the "Ms.," I'd just think you weren't using titles, and blow it off. But "Ms." says what it is intended to say: "This is the best you're going to get from us."

We submitted a resolution to the Synod Assembly this year, signed by over a hundred people. When it appeared in the Assembly notebook, I notice that my name was one space off of the line at the left margin. This was because they had deleted "Rev." from in front of my name, and hadn't gotten it pulled all the way back to the margin.

Little indignities. Sitting in the back. Not having a title. Sometimes not even having a name. I saw a dear friend, Pastor Karen Parker, at Churchwide. We had a class together while I was in seminary--a writing class with Brian Wren--go ahead and be jealous, those who know who Brian Wren is. I have seen Karen around the church over the years, and it was so nice to see her. We were chatting and she asked for my email address, which I started to give her. Then she said, "Oh, I'll just look you up in the Directory. I raised an eyebrow and she quickly realized why. "I guess I can't do that," she said. "Soon," I said, and we both smiled.

It will be nice to be in the Directory. It will be nice to maybe even get to help lead worship sometime at a Synod Assembly. Other than those things, not much changes for me. I'm already called as an out pastor, and I am committed to seeing our church grow and flourish.

I love that the opportunities for call will come to others, though. I love that I can say I'm proud of one of the churches which is extending a true hand of love and hospitality to God's lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and gay children.

What does this mean? All are welcome in this place.

CWA Wrapup, Very Brief

We will call and ordain lesbian and gay persons. We will bless same-sex unions.

More work is needed, as we are still allowing a lot of opting out on both of these.

But for now, we dance.

Friday, August 21, 2009

CWA Day Four

Today is the day. On the agenda: The four recommendations of the ELCA Sexuality Task Force, which--if passed--lead to the conditions under which a lesbian or gay pastor in a "publicly accountable, life-long, monogamous same gender relationship" could serve an ELCA church. We're not quite actually affirming the right to call a gay or lesbian pastor, since we're still allowing congregations (and perhaps synods, bishops, etc.--it's not clear) to respect their own "bound consciences" by refusing to call someone. It's a step on the pathway to full inclusion, and a good one.

I need to be in the hall, so will cheat and give you the ELCA News Service report on what has happened so far. Nutshell: We moved the resolution calling on ELCA members to respect one another's bound consciences to number one and approved it after lengthy conversation. (And can I just say that it is baffling to me that people would actually stand at a microphone and argue about whether or not we should respect one another. I wonder sometimes if they actually listen to what they're saying. A guy actually said earlier that "the purpose of the church is to provide standards for rostered leaders." Yes, he said "the." Definite article. Tautological argument. The church exists to provide standards for leaders of the church. Here I thought it was to be about Christ's mission on earth. Silly me.)

The second item up was Recommendation Two, which allowed for congregations that wish to do so to publicly affirm "life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships." A lot of conversation again (though I think less than on the first recommendation, which is bizarre to me). Then the question was called, and it passed by just over sixty percent and we cried, likely not for the last time today.

Back at the beginning of the day, the former governor of Minnesota (and what's with Minnesota governors?) offered a substitute to the four recommendations which mirrored the current policy language. Blah, blah, blah, and it received just 33.9 percent. We see there, though, that the supermajority would not have carried, so that vote on Monday is looming large. Speaking of which, they tried it again, inviting the Assembly to vote on whether a two-thirds majority should be required for resolutions related to ministry policy. It recieved just over forty percent, seven percent less than it received on Monday. They should probably quit while behind.

On a personal note, I am tired tired tired, but feeling wonderful. Colleen has been an amazing partner, supportive, helpful and loving. I am so glad to be here to witness this moment in the life of the church. And am going back to witnessing it now.

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- Voting members of the 2009 Churchwide Assemblyof the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are in the middle oftaking steps to make it possible for the Lutherans in same-genderrelationships to serve as professional leaders in the denomination.The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA,is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. About2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. Thetheme for the biennial assembly is "God's work. Our hands."Voting members have begun considering four distinct resolutions Aug.21, which are designed to change current ELCA policy that requires thedenomination's professional leaders to abstain from "homosexual sexualrelationships."The resolutions are contained in a report and recommendation onministry policies developed by the Task Force for the ELCA Studies onSexuality.A majority vote is required to pass each of the four resolutions.With a 771-230 vote, the assembly amended and approved a resolutionthat states "that in the implementation of any resolutions on ministrypolicies, the ELCA commit itself to bear one another's burdens, love theneighbor, and respect the bound consciences of all."With a 619-402 vote, the assembly approved a second resolution thatcommits the ELCA "to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to doso to recognize, support, and hold publicly accountably life-long,monogamous, same-gender relationships."Prior to considering the two resolutions, voting members defeated a"substitute" motion with a 344-670 vote to strike out all four resolutionsand replace it with the following: "rostered leadership of this church whoare homosexual in their self understanding are expected to abstain fromhomosexual sexual relations and practicing homosexual persons areprecluded from rostered leadership in this church." Albert Quie, votingmember from the ELCA Minneapolis Synod, made the substitute motion.As voting members were considering resolution two, Edward A. Kirst,voting member from the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, made a motion torequire a two-thirds vote -- instead of a majority -- for approving theremaining resolutions. That motion was defeated with a 407-576 vote.During the afternoon plenary, voting members will consider the tworemaining resolutions -- that the denomination find a way for Lutherans insame-sex relationships to serve as ordained ministers and otherprofessional leadership roles in the church, and that the denominationconsider a proposal for how it will exercise flexibility within existingstructures and practices to allow for Lutherans in same-sex relations tobe approved for professional service in the church.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

CWA Day Three

Pretty uneventful day yesterday. A tornado hit the Convention Center and we passed the ELCA Sexuality Statement by the exact number of votes needed (676 to 338).

Just another day in the life of the Body of Christ, which is nudged forward and sometimes blown off of its heels by the Holy Spirit.

No one hurt in the tornado, though it did halve the steeple at Central Lutheran across the street. Central is the church which is graciously hosting Assembly members for worship and meals. They've set up an open-air restaurant in front and a pub in back. Both are in pieces now, and it is sheer blessing that the tornado didn't touch down during a mealtime or happy hour.

I missed the vote on the Sexuality Study, having made plans to share dinner with Lyle, a dear former member at Abiding Peace. But my friend Jen sent a text when it happened, and we rejoiced. I was surprised, since there was so much bickering back and forth about the statement, that I didn't think they'd get to a vote, even after extending the debate (hence my absence--I wouldn't have scheduled dinner during a Plenary).

The Goodsoil worship service was scheduled for last night, and it was grand that the vote did in fact happen, because we were buoyed by the good news, which just made the service that much more special. There had to be well over 500 people over at Central. Perhaps closer to 800 or more. The very large sanctuary was full. Barbara Lundblad (Numero Uno Preacher in the World) preached, and the music was great.

The air in that sanctuary was electric, and it is clear that a great healing is taking place. It will not be finished here; much more is needed. And we still have the vote on the ministry standards coming. That is the policy change in which we have invested so much fear and hope.

Pray for the Assembly. Pray for the church. Pray for those who will celebrate and those who will mourn. Pray for God's will to be done.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

CWA Day Two

First, an apology. The email access at the Convention Center isn't what I hoped. I thought I'd be able to get WiFi in the Plenary sessions, but it's not available. So I'm sending less than intended.

Second, I'm totally sharing Ruth Ellen's drinking game idea with everyone I know.

CWA: Day Two

The ELCA has voted in Assembly to launch the Lutheran Malaria Initiative. We will begin with at $2.8 million grant and then raise funds to do our part toward the very attainable goal of eradicating malaria. The initiative will concentrate on sub-Saharan Africa, though the hope was expressed from the Assembly floor and the dais that it will expand to other parts of the world in which malaria takes lives.

We also talked about human sexuality—the sexuality of gay humans, that is. We moved into a Quasi Committee of the Whole, which is fancy legal language for “a big structured conversation.” Persons line up at green and red microphones and get three minutes to share their feelings about the matter at hand—in this case, the ELCA Social Statement on Human Sexuality.

Folks at the green microphones felt that we ought to finally move forward toward real welcome of our transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay neighbors.

Folks at the red microphones felt that we ought to quit talking about feelings. This is the Tactic Du Jour for the red mic crowd. Assign all impetus toward change to the realm of “capricious emotion.”

We heard this argument in a slightly different way at Synod, from the gentleman who argued that we seemed to be deciding policy “based on some kind of wishy-washy love thing.”

Is feeling such a bad thing for the church? Shall we really not use emotion as one (and it is only one, not the sole basis of our platform) deciding factor in making change?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Churchwide Assembly. It Begins.

Greetings from Minneapolis, Land O' Lutherans!

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's eleventh Churchwide Assembly has begun. Last night the first Plenary session was held, and the session, scheduled for two and a half hours, only went over by slightly more than an hour. This is a vast improvement over the Orlando Assembly back in 2005, when the first session went until 11:30 at night. Our Presiding Bishop, Mark Hanson, joked that it was 11:30 in Orlando when we ended, so those who had money in a pool should probably consider it a draw. He is a real card, our bishop.

This session went long, just as did the one in Orlando, because up for consideration was a change in the proceeding which would require a 2/3 "supermajority" to change the current ministry standards in the ELCA. This is a maneuver by conservatives to keep the standards as they are: sans homosexual participation.

A little backstory: We have reached the end of an eight year process of study mandated by the 2001 Churchwide Assembly. The ELCA convened a Sexuality Task Force, wrote a Statement on Human Sexuality, and made recommendations on changing our ministry standards to allow congregations to call openly gay pastors if they wish to do so.

This is a big deal.

So the question came up: how much of a majority do we need to pass these ministry recommendations? The Social Statement will need 2/3, per the ELCA bylaws. But changing standards and practices is usually a simple majority vote. The Church Council (the one for the whole church) recommended to recommend a simple majority, which is what it took to enact the policies, so there's some parity there.

The conversation was lllonnnng, and it veered rapidly into debate over the proposals, and not the procedures required to pass or deny them. Bishop Hanson admonished the speakers to avoid this veering, to little avail.

Long story short (too late!), the vote was evennnntually taken, and only forty-seven percent of the Assembly voted to require the supermajority. Since the change required a two-thirds vote, this means it failed by a bunch. Good start to the Assembly, I think.

Here's the News Service release:

August 18, 2009
ELCA Assembly Defeats Super-Majority Requirement
MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- Voting members of the biennial assembly of theEvangelical Lutheran Church in America turned back a motion that wouldhave required a two-thirds majority for changes in policies relating to the rostering of clergy, associates in ministry, diaconal ministers and deaconesses. The vote, with 57 percent in opposition, came late in the evening of the first day of the gathering. A vote to allow people living in committed same-gender relationships to be on the professional rosters of the ELCA is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 21.The action leaves in place a recommendation that a simple majority vote be sufficient for the proposed policy changes. By vote of 979-24 the assembly adopted the order of business as recommended.