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Conference of Bishops Report

By Kevin Stillson | Posted 3/12/13 at 3:55pm |
Category: Synod News

Report from the Conference of Bishops (COB)
February 28 – March 5, 2013
Adapted with permission from Bishop Ray Tiemann, Southwestern Texas

Wednesday, February 27

I attended the Synodical-Churchwide Relations Committee at the Lutheran Center a day before the COB began.  Throughout this report I’ll include descriptions of each of the committees of the COB with an indented and italicized section so you better know its function, like the description below:

SYNODICAL-CHURCHWIDE RELATIONS
The Synodical-Churchwide Relations Committee is established to assist churchwide units and related organizations in securing review, advice, consultation, and recommendations by the Conference of Bishops on policies and programs.  Connections with the three churchwide units – Global Mission, Mission Advancement, and Congregational and Synodical Mission – is encouraged as needed.   

In the Synodical-Churchwide Relations Committee:

1) Mission Advancement unit – Christina Jackson-Skelton reported on the synods that are part of the Macedonia Project pilot program (15 synods), the ELCA Malaria Campaign (currently raised $6.5 of the $15 million goal), the ELCA’s 25th Anniversary (action to be taken formally at 2013 Churchwide Assembly), Fund for Leaders (35 of 65 synods now have a synod endowment, including SWTX, which supports nearly 100 candidates in 2012-13 with $500 to full tuition), Disaster Response ($8 million in 2012, about half for Hurricane Sandy, with disaster response in 17 states and 22 countries), World Hunger ($700,000 raised for the “100 Well Challenge” from the 2012 Youth Gathering, in total for water projects in 2012 – $1.3 million), and conversation on a concept for a “God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday” (a designated day of public service by a congregation in its community).

2) Wyvetta Bullock, Executive for Administration, gave an update on the LIFT process and reported that campus ministry and seminary grants that will not change for 2013 and that support grants for DEMs will continue unchanged.

3) Bp. Kevin Kanouse was not present for the COB as he was visiting their Companion Synod, the Lutheran Church in Sierra Leone.  It was noted, however, that there was an article about the NTNL “mission area” in the March edition of The Lutheran and the picture on the cover is of Irma Gonzales, TEEM student and NTNL staff member.

4) Greg Villalon, Congregational and Synodical Mission unit, gave a report on the updating of the Candidacy Manual, which should be done by the Fall of 2015.  One of the goals of this updating is to center the candidacy guidelines on the formation of “missional leaders.”  It is hoped that candidates for rostered leadership in the ELCA during the candidacy process would progress from missional awareness during Entrance, to missional articulation at Endorsement, and to missional actualization and practice at Approval. There is also a project to combine all the lay rosters of the ELCA – associates in ministry, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers.  In the February assignment of seminary candidates, there were 168 candidates (47 of which were restricted) with 221 opportunities for first call sites.

5) Jodi Slattery, Assistant to the Presiding Bishop for Governance, handles logistics for meetings.   The Church Council in April addresses a host of specific topics – social statement on “Criminal Justice” and a delay on the statement on “Women and Justice;” continued conversation on theological education and seminaries; and consideration of a comprehensive campaign for the 25th Anniversary to propose to the churchwide assembly.

Also, the 2013 Churchwide Assembly was discussed.  It will be held on August 12-17, 2013, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh, PA.  First plenary will be on August 12 at 3:30 p.m. and concludes on August 17 at 4:00 p.m.  Most voting members have opted to use the IPad for the assembly instead of a paper notebook.  Registration for voting members will begin in April.

6)Walter May, Assistant to the Presiding Bishop for the COB – Synodical Relations, reported that there are 25 synod bishop elections this year, with at least 10 new bishops to be elected due to the current bishop retiring.  Bishop Associates (112), who gather every-other-year, will be meeting in San Antonio on March 7-10.

Thursday, February 28

As a member of the COB’s Executive Committee, we met with the leaders of the ELCA Administrative Team to review items for the COB’s agenda.

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
The Executive Committee is comprised of the Chair, Vice-Chair, three at-large members, the Presiding Bishop, and Secretary of the ELCA.  Staff liaison is the Executive for Synodical Relations.  The Executive Committee makes decisions on behalf of the Conference, makes recommendations of appointments to standing committees, gives oversight for Conference of Bishops’ meetings and, as needed, assigns work to committees and task forces, coordinates consideration of concerns, issues, and requests for or between meetings of the Conference; offers advice, counsel and support to the Presiding Bishop as requested; and prepares agendas for Conference Meetings.

Regions met later in the morning to assign seminary graduates to each synod.  The South Dakota Synod Synod received three candidates – Lisa Heffernan, Elizabeth (Liz) Dieseth, and Adam Butler.  We hope to have them in call processes as soon as possible.

In the afternoon, COB committees met.  We worshipped together later that afternoon with Bp. Jon Anderson, Southwestern Minnesota, preaching on John 15:1-11.  Presiding Bp. Hanson celebrated the Eucharist.  The COB was then bused to Itasca for their continued meeting at Eaglewood Resort.  Eaglewood is a golf resort, which has great prices since it is closed during the winter.  Currently, there is six inches of snow on the ground and more is falling!

After dinner on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings we gathered to recognize the ten bishops who will be leaving office this year due to retirement or are term limited.  A fellow bishop offered a short tribute, and we heard words of remembrance from each person recognized.  This year we said farewell to Bp. Chris Boerger, Northwest Washington; Bp. Robert Hofstad, Southwestern Washington; Bp. Dean Nelson, Southwest California; Bp. Harold Usgaard, Southeastern Minnesota; Bp. Michael Last, Western Iowa; Bp. Duane Pederson, Northwest Synod of Wisconsin; Bp. John Schleicher, North/West Lower Michigan; Bp. Roy Riley, New Jersey; Bp. Penrose Hoover, Lower Susquehanna; and Bp. Edward Benoway, Florida-Bahamas.

Friday, March 1

The day began with devotions by Bp. Ann Svennungsen, Minneapolis Area.  The sermon was based on Galatians 2:15-16, 19-21.  She talked of her renewed appreciation of Luther’s Law and Gospel dialectic in her work as bishop and in her life.  Her thoughts found welcome ears among the COB.  After devotions, there was a review of the day’s agenda.

David Swartling, ELCA Secretary, gave his report on a variety of topics.

1) 2013 Churchwide Assembly – At this time, the composition of the 2013 Churchwide Assembly is encouraging.  Approximately 61% of the 952 voting members are lay persons. Of the ordained ministers, approximately 40% are women (in comparison with 23% of all rostered ordained ministers). Of the total number of voting members, approximately 13% are persons of color or whose primary language is other than English. Approximately 17% of voting members are 30 or younger!

Also, there is significant success in having voting members opt to use the ebinder on IPADs (98%).  This will save 3.7 tons of paper, equal to 88 trees.  “Guidebook” will be the software program used to access materials electronically. We had a brief PowerPoint orientation on the software’s format.

2) Synod Assemblies – Details were given to the 25 synods that will be having bishop elections in 2013.  Many of them do some kind of identification of candidates prior to the ecclesiastical ballot at the assembly.  There was also a reminder that any Memorials that are approved at synod assemblies for Churchwide Assembly action should be forwarded immediately after the synod assembly concludes.

3) Congregations disaffiliating from the ELCA- As of the end of 2012, 947 congregations have taken a total of 1026 first votes to disaffiliate; 713 first votes passed; 313 first votes failed (33%); 689 second votes have been taken; 654 second votes passed; 35 second votes failed (5%); 643 congregations have been officially removed from the roster of congregations in the ELCA.  In the South Dakota Synod, 36 congregations have had successful first and second votes.  12 congregations had failed first votes, and 1 had a failed second vote.

4) Sue Rothmeyer gave updates on Roster Management processes for On Leave from Call, Reinstatement, synodical transfers, etc.

Bp. Bill Gafkjen gave a report on the Word and Service Task Force.  In January, 2007, a consultation on the ministries of deaconesses, diaconal ministers and associates in ministry was convened by the ELCA Vocation and Education Unit.  The planning team submitted a report early in 2010.

Among the recommendations included in that report were the following: 1) Remove the word “lay” to describe all three of these rosters in public ministry; 2) Reclaim “diakonia” as the foundation for all three rosters; 3) Recommend that the three rosters become one roster with three expressions while continuing to recognize and value the differences in tradition and history of the rosters; 4) Develop unified, ongoing formation and discernment tools and events; and 5) Continue the momentum of the work of this consultation.

The task force, which came to be called the Word and Service Task Force, reported to the Church Council in November of 2012.  The Church Council authorized the Word and Service Task Force to continue its work “in order to facilitate the creation of such a unified roster, to develop a process outlining how the existing lay rosters would be closed, and to provide a process for transition of existing associates in ministry, diaconal minsters, and deaconesses into such a new roster, and in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary, to consider and propose amendments to the Constitutions, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to accomplish its recommendations.”

The task force has established the following timeline for the time between now and the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly: 1) 2013-2014: Work on name, standards, changes in candidacy, steps in transition; conversations with partners in the candidacy and call processes and ecumenical partners; 2) 2013-2014: Provide ongoing updates to the COB and Church Council; 3) 2013-2014: Foster ongoing conversations with deaconesses, diaconal ministers, associates in ministry and clergy; 4) Spring, 2015: Submit draft proposal to the COB and Church Council; 5) Fall, 2015: Present final proposal to the COB and Church Council for consideration; and 6) August, 2016: Possible consideration by the Churchwide Assembly.

After a lunch break, we continued with a conversation on community violence led by Bp. Jon Anderson, chair of the COB’s Theological and Ethical Concerns Committee.  As background, please reference the ELCA message on Community Violence, 1994, at http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Messages.aspx. Later in the conference, we approved a pastoral letter that will soon be available through synod offices.

THEOLOGICAL & ETHICAL CONCERNS
Assisted by this committee, the Conference serves as a forum for reflections upon the theological and ethical implications of issues that affect this church.

The goal of the conversation was to equip bishops, pastors, congregations, and the baptized to invite conversations and engage the issue of community violence and the work of reducing it.  First, we need to realize that we have individual stories that affect the way each of us look at this issue.  Seven bishops shared their stories, all very different pro and con.  We then reviewed a process for addressing this issue:

1) Invite and encourage conversations in congregations and communities about violence and strategies to reduce it;

2) Remember our assets – Scripture, tradition and ELCA messages and social statements, e.g. from Luther’s Large Catechism concerning the Fifth Commandment – “…we must not kill, either by hand, heart, or word, by signs or gestures, or by aiding and abetting…this commandment is violated not only when a person actually does evil, but also when he fails to do good to his neighbor, or, though he has the opportunity, fails to prevent, protect and save him from suffering bodily harm or injury;”

3) Encourage the baptized, congregations and pastors in their vocations of reducing violence of all kinds.  How do we do that?  Churchwide staff member, Dr. Roger Willer, offered the following arenas of action — the work of lament; the work of pastoral care; pray, grieve, hope again; the work of moral formation; the work of continued and renewed dialogue; the work against bullying and derision – 8th Commandment; the work to reduce crime; the work of advocacy.

Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson gave his report to the COB.  He reported on the wide variety of visits and meetings that he has been attending, but spent significant time in encouraging us in the common work we do as leaders across the church.  His report ended with a blessing on all members of the COB.

Carlos Peña, Vice President of the ELCA, provided his report.  He shared the story of Jesus’ temptation from Luke 4.  He spoke of the temptations and challenges in our lives and how, as a Book of Faith church, we can turn to Scripture, as Jesus did, to face all that Satan brings.

He shared his visit to Greece for the World Council of Churches and the variety of actions that took place there.  For more detailed information, you can go to http://www.oikoumene.org/en/events-sections/central-committee-2012.html

He thanked the participation of those in the Three Leadership Teams – Executive Committee of the ELCA Church Council, Executive Committee of the COB, and the ELCA Administrative Team. They have been meeting jointly for better communication and planning.

He also spoke about the 2013 Churchwide Assembly.  He has an orientation video available at www.elca.org/assembly and there will soon be one on the ecclesiastical ballot for Presiding Bishop and ELCA Secretary.

Saturday, May 2

Bp. Mark Narum, Western North Dakota, centered this day commemorating John and Charles Wesley.  The sermon was on the story of the Emmaus’ walk from Luke 24 and how we all walk down “dusty roads.”   We were reminded that this Lenten season is a time when our lives are filled with dust, that we are dust, and though we return to dust, in the hope of the Resurrection, God creates new life from the dust.

Bp. John Schleicher led the COB in a Bible study on Psalm 32.  We looked at Martin Luther’s explanation of the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, particularly, “…that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us in to false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins…”  In small groups we discussed what created anxiety in our lives.  Is the despair we sometimes feel about lack of trust in God?  We spent time in conversation on a section of Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2: Lent through Eastertide by Michael Lodahl and closed in pairs with Individual Confession and Forgiveness.

After a short break, we resumed the agenda with Bp. Jerry Mansholt leading a conversation on Theological Education.  It was based on an action from the November 2012 Church  Council: “To request the Office of the Presiding Bishop, in response to the recommendations of the Mission Funding Task Force relating to theological education and in recognition of the changing landscape in this church regarding leadership development, theological education, candidacy and call, and the rosters of this church, to consult with seminary presidents, the Conference of Bishops, the Word and Service Task Force, and other leaders and to bring a report and recommendations to the Church Council at its April 2013 meeting regarding next steps to address these issues in a holistic manner.”

Five highlights of previous conversations are: 1) our seminaries are under stress, experienced both as cash flow and number of students; 2) accreditation system through ATS is changing, so that the model of 2 years in seminary-1 on internship-1 back at seminary are changing quickly and across the board; 3) we need to interpret to Candidacy Committees, and particularly to congregations, about these changes in formation paths; 4) all through the system alliances are forming between seminaries and seminaries/universities, and 5) we have to commit primarily to forming leaders for the Gospel instead of maintaining the institution.

The COB met in tables to review the full proposal, the final component which sets out the following:

At its fall 2015 meeting, the ELCA Church Council receives a comprehensive report and possible recommendations to the 2016 CWA from the Theological Education Task Force/Commission and considers:

i. whether this structure or some other form of intensified churchwide convening and coordination of theological education needs to go forward and what its mandates should be;

ii. what sort of ecology of leadership will best serve the ELCA’s service in mission in the next decade;

iii. what current theological education resources need to be redeployed (including the question of number and location of seminaries), what new resources need to be created, and what additional ecumenical and international partnerships need to be developed to foster and support such an ecology of leadership;

iv. what levels and forms of investment in theological education by churchwide, synods and individuals will be critical over the next ten years and how this can happen.

During lunch many bishops were involved in conversations on Ready Benches concerning the Middle East, Immigration, International Concerns, Domestic Concerns, and Care of Creation.  The Ready Benches provide for continuing education and updating on governmental issues that may need to be addressed by church leaders at a moment’s notice.

Bp. Dave Zellmer, South Dakota, chaired the Domestic Ready Bench due to the absence of Bishop Jim Mauney.  We discussed the current status of the proposed B.71 Bill and did orientation of two new members.

After lunch we reconvened with the report from Linda Norman, ELCA Treasurer.  The churchwide organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America had income in excess of expense of $5.3 million in current operating funds for the fiscal year ended January 31, 2013.  Receipts totaled $70.3 million for the year compared with $67.1 million the previous year, an increase of $3.2 million or 4.8 percent. Income from congregations through synods in the form of mission support income for the fiscal year 2012 decreased to $49.9 million, a decrease of 1.1 percent, but was favorable to the budget by $1.1 million or 2.3 percent. For the third consecutive year, there has been growth in the number of synods reporting increases in mission support. In 2012, thirty-five synods remitted mission support in excess of the previous year.

Total contributions to ELCA World Hunger in fiscal 2012 were $18.6 million. Results were favorable to budget by $0.1 million but unfavorable to fiscal 2011 by $0.6 million. Expenses for the year were $19.2 million, favorable to budget by $0.7 million and lower than 2011by $0.7 million. ELCA Malaria Campaign receipts for the year were $4.2 million, bringing campaign-to-date results to $6.4M towards the goal of $15M by the end of 2015.  ELCA members contributed $7.7 million for ELCA Disaster Response.  Of that total, $3.7 million were received for domestic and international response to Hurricane Sandy.

She also spent time on synodical financial controls: 1) Segregation of duties, 2) Independent review, 3) Monitoring financial trends, and 4) Culture of “ask and tell.”  Recent embezzlement of funds in synods lifted up once again the need for closer controls, annual audits, and good Audit Committee work.

Helpful resources for congregations on financial issues are on the Treasurer’s Page on the ELCA website.  Go to http://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Office-of-the-Treasurer/Finance-for-Congregations.aspx

Chris Grumm, a strategic planning consultant, spent time with the COB on some generative planning for the ELCA.  She has been meeting with the Executive Committee of the COB, the Executive Committee of the Church Council, and the Leadership Team of the churchwide staff for an organizational narrative for 2020.

Sunday, March 3

After breakfast, worship began at 8:30 with the offering designated for the ELCA Malaria Campaign.  Bp. Tom Aitken, Northeastern Minnesota, presided at the meal and Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson delivered the sermon on Luke 13:1-9.

The remainder of the morning was an Executive Session for bishops only on a variety of topics.  After lunch together, we had the afternoon and evening free for movies, relaxation, exercise, and fellowship.

Monday, March 4

Opening devotions we led by Bp. Dave Zellmer, South Dakota, who centered his message on Mark 4:3, “Jesus said, ‘A sower went out to sow.’”  He shared the story of his grandfather who farmed 164 acres in Iowa all his life and felt “called by Jesus to be the farmer of that place.”  While he felt called to take over that farm, his grandfather helped him discern that his “sowing” was to be different, hence his going to seminary and pastoral ministry.  He encouraged the bishops in their callings and their opportunities to regularly sow God’s Word in all our visits.

COB Committee reports filled the early point of the morning.  The Academy committee began with a review of the 2013 Bishop’s Academy in Puerto Rico.  It was well received, with wonderful hospitality by the Caribbean Synod, excellent speakers, and wonderful interaction with the local ELCA congregations and community.

The 2014 Academy will be held January 2-7, 2014, in Savannah, Georgia.  The theme of the academy is currently listed as “Good News for the Nones,” reaching those who have no religious connections or affiliations with the Church.  Speakers are still being determined.

There is a strong possibility that the 2015 Academy will be held in Germany in anticipation of the 2017 celebration of 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. 

ACADEMY
The Academy Committee is responsible for the annual continuing education event for members of the Conference of Bishops. Typically the Academy is held during the first days of January each year and seeks to provide stimulating presenters on a variety of topics.  One of the most important components of the Academy is the opportunity for fellowship and relationship building among colleagues in the Conference.

The Bishop Formation committee reported on a new model for this important process for newly elected bishops.  Self-care will be a component, as well finding ways to better address the variety of situations that bishops are elected from, e.g. synod staff, parish ministry, etc.  There was also discussion on assignment of mentors and other attendant issues.

BISHOP FORMATION
The Bishop Formation Committee is responsible for assisting newly elected bishops in becoming familiar with the Office of Bishop as well as helping them make connections with partners throughout the entire ELCA.  The committee also assigns mentors [veteran bishops] to be available to each newly elected bishop for support and guidance as needed.

The Roster committee brought the official list of proposed roster changes to the conference for action.  The COB officially took actin on each roster category.

ROSTER
The Roster Committee of the Conference of Bishops functions for the purpose of reviewing roster criteria and procedures for requests from synods and providing recommendations for action by the Conference of Bishops relative to ELCA constitutional requirements for roster categories.  Specific roster matters addressed by the Committee are: Exception for Three Year Parish Service Rule; Extension of Three Year On Leave From Call status; Calls to Non-Congregational Service; Calls to Non-Stipendiary Service; and Calls to Serve in Unusual Circumstances.

The Theological and Ethical Concerns committee reported on the process of leading this COB through the proposed social statement on Criminal Justice tomorrow morning. There was also an update on the upcoming social statement, re-titled “Women and Justice: One in Christ.”

The COB then looked at a draft pastoral letter on Violence.  There is a formal process for drafting a pastoral letter on the ELCA’s Conference of Bishops’ page.  We began discussion and will look at a revised copy tomorrow.

THEOLOGICAL & ETHICAL CONCERNS
Assisted by this committee, the Conference serves as a forum for reflections upon the theological and ethical implications of issues that affect this church.

The Ministry Among People in Poverty committee reported on joint conversations that are planned to coordinate ministry in these important but high-risk situations.  There were conversations about sustainability of these ministries and how to better address planning in these sites.  Part of the conversations will include the COB at its October meeting.

MINISTRY AMONG PEOPLE IN POVERTY
The Mission Statement of the Committee on Ministry Among People in Poverty: “Rooted in the Biblical witness and shaped by the compassion of Christ, we assist the Conference of Bishops in engaging the church in ministry with and among persons in poverty.”  The committee’s work revolves around five strategies: 1) Hold one another [i.e., ELCA bishops] accountable for living out our commitment to ministry with and among persons in poverty in our synodical work; 2) Advocate for all our actions and decisions to be considered for their effect on the poor; 3) Build awareness of and support for current effective work and potential new work; 4) Serve as liaison with churchwide units and other partnerships, stimulating linkages with local ministries; and 5) Encourage personal experiences and encounters, locally and globally, with people living in poverty as a way to enliven the church.

The Synodical and Rostered Leader Care committee gave their report.  Currently, synods are not requested for funds for the Good Samaritan Fund, but synods have been billed for the Shared Risk Fund contributions.

SYNODICAL AND ROSTERED LEADER CARE
Synodical and Rostered Leader Care serves in two capacities for the Conference.  First, it oversees the Shared Risk Fund, established by the Conference of Bishops in 1992 which permits participating synods a degree of protection against the costs of disciplinary proceedings against rostered leaders and congregations.  After a deductible of $10,000 has been satisfied, eligible expenses may be submitted for partial or full reimbursement according to Fund guidelines.  Synods are assessed premiums of $2.00 per rostered person and $2.00 per congregation.  Second, it oversees the Good Samaritan Fund, which provides limited financial aid to rostered leaders/spouses.  It reviews the history of the usage of funds and appropriate application forms. 

The Ecumenical Relations committee reported on the decision of the Mekane Yesus Church in Ethiopia, namely, to break relationship with the ELCA and the Lutheran Church of Sweden because of decisions concerning the rostering of partnered gay and lesbian persons.

There was also an update on our relationship with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, which has almost completely broken down from their side.  We continue to seek deeper contact.

ECUMENICAL RELATIONS
The Ecumenical Relations Committee facilitates communication and coordination between the Conference of Bishops and ecumenical conversations.  The committee will assist in interpreting ecumenical work to the other bishops, be a channel for counsel and questions, assist the CoB in dealing with ecumenical matters by providing resources and resource people, framing questions, and consulting on related matters; encourage COB members in carrying out their ecumenical responsibilities within their synods, including their use of Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network [LERN] representatives; encourage CoB members who have accepted special assignments to dialogue teams or ecumenical governing boards; and individual committee members may be given ecumenical assignments by this church.

The Leadership committee met to discuss the Word and Service Task Force’s work to combine the lay rosters of the ELCA.  Other items related to that process were discussed.

LEADERSHIP
The Leadership Committee serves in an advisory role to the staff of the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit.  Proposed new and revised policies are reviewed and recommendations are made to matters under consideration by the unit in the areas of Candidacy, Book of Faith, Disability Ministry, Leadership Support, Lilly Grants, Misconduct Prevention, Mission Schools / Colleges and Universities, Outreach Leadership,   Seminaries, Specialized Ministries, and Theological Education for Emerging Ministries.  This Committee reports to the CoB at its meetings, receives the counsel of the CoB, and raises with the CSM staff any questions generated in meetings and conversations of the bishops.

ELCA Secretary David Swartling encouraged the COB to inform bishops about nominating processes for positions at the 2013 Churchwide Assembly.  For more information, go to www.elca.org/nominations

After lunch, we received a report from Portico Benefit Services on health insurance updates.  CEO Jeff Thiemann thanked all who has taken part in the recent webinars.  Current pressures on the Portico health plan are church demographics (older than national average), national health care reform, ELCA membership loss (fewer participants means higher costs), the general economy, and health care cost trends.

One question was, “Should Portico continue in the health plan business?”  The answer was a resounding “yes.” Why?  There will be price advantages over the public health care system (e.g., from 2001-2011, public healthcare costs rose 113%; with Portico 83%), future prices will likely also be lower, there is an emphasis on wellness, ministry-focused benefits, mobility advantages, external market uncertainty, and additional benefits (dental and vision, board provide access, and health care advocacy).

There has been, however, a change in the ELCA Philosophy of Benefits which will affect plan designs, member cost sharing, and age rating.

Philosophy of Benefits – Benefits are aligned with the purpose and values of the ELCA, they support ministry, they call for responsive designs and administration, calls plan members to be wise stewards of their benefits, and describes Portico’s administrative role.

Guiding principles – Benefits should be understood as: 1) an investment in ministry, 2) supports the unique needs of the church, 3) guards against significant financial loss, 4) includes coverage for family members, 5) should  be bundled, 6) shares costs between employees and plan members (currently 80-20), 7) provides flexibility, 8) reflects pricing risk variation, 9) be communicated timely and understandably, and 10) be administered efficiently.

After conversation with the COB, Portico plans to take the new Philosophy of Benefits to the April Church Council meeting for discussion and action.  Plan designs and costs will be available in August for enrollment in the October-November time frame.

Director of Synodical Relations, Pr. Walter May, gave his report.  Of particular interest is the Bishop Assistants’ Gathering in San Antonio, March 7th -10th.  For the first time this gathering has two pre-gatherings and two post-gatherings.  The pre-gatherings are: “Child Protection and Sexual Misconduct Prevention” led by David Ullrich and Barbara Keller, and the other is “The Making of the Texan Latino Identity Post Alamo” led by Rev. Jay Alanis and Rev. Eliseo Perez-Alvarez of the Lutheran Seminary Program of the Southwest.  The post-gathering events are: “First Call Theological Education Conversation,” led by Gretchen Anderson, who works with a Transition into Ministry Lilly Grant at Trinity in Moorhead, Minnesota, and the other event will be with Pastor Paul Bailie, who serves San Lucas Lutheran Church in Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Mexico.

He then introduced Chaplain Eric Wester, Director of Federal Chaplaincies.  Chaplains present a public witness to the presence and promise of our Lord through Word and Sacrament ministry. They engage a wide range of pastoral and public concerns. Currently, we have 225 pastors and seminary students serving as chaplains and chaplain candidates in the:

  • Department of Defense – 194 chaplains and chaplain candidates
  • Department of Veterans Affairs – 32 chaplains
  • Department of Justice – 5 chaplains

Within the ELCA, federal chaplaincy ministries deepened connections to the worship life, ethical reflection, and global mission engagements of this church. Regarding worship life, in May 2013 we anticipate publication of a new Prayer Book for the Armed Forces. In the area of ethics, practicing chaplains in the military and in federal prisons have participated in the 2012 and 2013 annual Lutheran Ethics Gatherings where theologians and academics of this church interact with military and federal prison chaplains as they consider military ethics and the criminal justice system. Further, the chaplaincy is exploring both direct interactions regarding interfaith engagements around the world and a Horizons internship placement. Further, with new staff coming aboard in young adult ministries, initial contacts are planned once the new staff begins.

Our full-communion relationships provide the foundation for deepening ecumenical ties. In 2013 federal chaplains will continue a second year of joint conferences between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church (TEC). In 2012, chaplains benefited from the participation of the two denominational ecumenical officers. In May 2013, the presiding bishops of the ELCA and TEC will visit the spring joint conferences.

Christina Jackson-Skelton, Mission Advancement unit, shared the plans for the 25th Anniversary Campaign, which will be presented to the 2013 Churchwide Assembly.  It is meant to be a five-year campaign to raise $190 million.  The goals are to start 250-300 new congregations, provide revitalization grants to one-in-ten congregations, provide 16 full-tuition scholarships through the Fund for Leaders, expand anti-hunger work to 10 countries, help meet the $15 million goal for the Malaria Campaign, initiate 8 new ministry projects in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, give an additional 200 young adults an opportunity to participate in global service through the YAGM program, and intensify effort to develop 220 women leaders in global companion churches.

Bps. David Zellmer and Chris Boerger shared comments from the Addressing Social Concerns Task Force.   It recommended there be a “process for formal exploration of a particular social concern, authorized by the Church Council, before a decision is made about the most appropriate way(s) of addressing that concern.”  This could be a pastoral letter from the COB, a letter from the Presiding Bishop, a formal ELCA message, an ELCA social statement, etc.  This recommendation will go to the Church Council for action.

The New and Renewing Congregations committee reported on the 25th Anniversary Capital Campaign and the oversight of campus ministries across the church.  There is also a churchwide position opening for a person who will oversee campus ministry, perhaps in conjunction with the Episcopal Church.  Until that time, DEMs are tasked to provide that direct review and oversight.  A third area of discussion was the possible re-branding of Lutheran Disaster Response as a uniquely ELCA ministry since LCMS is no longer involved.

NEW AND RENEWING CONGREGATIONS
The New and Renewing Congregations serves in an advisory role to the staff of the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit.  Proposed new and revised policies are reviewed and recommendations are made to matters under consideration by the unit in the areas of New Congregations, Congregational Renewal, Congregation-based, Campus Ministry, Youth Ministry, Youth Gathering, Young Adult Ministry, Outdoor Ministry, and Ethnic Specific/Multicultural Ministries.  This committee reports to the CoB at its meetings, receives the counsel of the CoB, and raises with the CSM staff any questions generated in meetings and conversations of the bishops.

The Companion Synod committee reported that they spent significant time with the decision of the Mekane Yesus Church of Ethiopia and how that will affect synods that have Companion relationships with the various dioceses in Ethiopia.  Also, it is hoped to fund 90 Youth in Global Mission (YAGM) in 2014.  There was discussion about how to work with former ELCA congregations, now in the NALC or LCMC, and their questions about continuing relationships with Companion Synods, a topic that will be picked up at the October COB.

COMPANION SYNOD
The Companion Synod Committee of the Conference of Bishops seeks to enhance and strengthen relationships between ELCA bishops and their companion synods or dioceses.  In addition, the committee seeks to assist when policy questions arise or difficult situations develop in these relationships.

As the day came to a close, we took time to pray for those bishops who will be leaving the COB and those who will be in a re-election process.  The COB then went into Executive Session for private conversation until dinner.

Due to a severe winter storm approaching on Tuesday, a number of bishops left the COB meeting this afternoon/evening.  We prayed for safe travels.

Tuesday, March 5

After reviewing the weather reports, I made arrangements to leave early Tuesday morning to beat the storm and return to the synod.  The following report is from the agenda rather than my presence at the meeting.

Opening devotions were led by Bp. Huck Usgaard, Southeastern Minnesota.   Remaining members of the COB then discussed the upcoming social statement, “The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries.”  The conversation was led by Bp. Julian Gordy, a member of the Theological and Ethical Concerns committee.  This was the updated draft after comments from across the church were collected through October 31, 2012.  Comments from the COB will also be passed on to the writing team in preparation for the review of the social statement by the April Church Council meeting, who will then present it to the 2013 Churchwide Assembly for action.

After a time of reflections on the COB meeting, the meeting was adjourned at 11:00 a.m.  Many members of the COB were not able to travel at that point and stayed until Wednesday.  Snowfall ranged from 6-10 inches and nearly 1,000 flights were cancelled.

Please keep the Conference of Bishops in your prayers as we seek to be faithful to the calling you have given us.  Please know that the rostered leaders, congregations, and other ministries are remembered regularly in our prayers.

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