Thursday, July 17, 2008

Assembly 2008

Well, last week at this time I was into the full swing of this year's Synod Assembly. On the whole it was pretty painless. It was also neat because my oldest daughter attended as our conference youth delegate. Each of our synod's eight conferences is entitled to send a youth delegate with full voice and vote. T is quite shy and I wondered how she'd fare. She was ready to go home on the second day but stuck it out, making friends with the other youth delegates and staying up until 2 a.m. a couple of nights and 4:30 a.m. the last night.

We actually got through the business of the assembly early. If you cut out some of the add-ons we could have probably been finished by Friday evening, Saturday morning at the latest, instead of running from Wednesday afternoon until Sunday morning. The agenda went something like this:
Wednesday afternoon: business session 1
Wednesday evening: opening service of Holy Communion
Thursday morning: business session 2 (including guest speaker)
Thursday afternoon: business session 3
Thursday evening: business session 4 (including guest speaker part 2)
Friday morning: business session 5 (including guest speaker part 3)
Friday afternoon: educational/informational forums
Friday evening: ordination service
Saturday morning: business session 6
Saturday afternoon: business session 7 (including guest speaker part 4)
Saturday evening: banquet
Sunday morning: closing service of Holy Communion

I figure if we left out the guest speaker, left out the Friday afternoon forums, left out the banquet, and maybe even left out the ordination service (made it separate from the assembly) then we could have been done way sooner, saved a lot of cost, and been away from home for much less time.

It's always good to catch up with old friends at these things. I didn't see much of some but was able to spend a bit of time with others. Next year will be the first break I get from these assemblies. Our Synod Assembly is every other year (even numbered years) and our national church convention happens in the odd numbered years. I attended the ‘05 and ‘07 national conventions so I'm not eligible to attend the ‘09 convention. It figures too. The last two were in Winnipeg (maybe a nice place but not one I'd automatically choose to visit). Next year's convention will be in Vancouver, a much more desirable place to visit in most opinions I'd think.

Every convention/assembly I've attended since the one at which I was ordained in 2002 has dealt with some controversy, always to do with how the church includes the participation of and ministry to homosexuals. This one had a bit of that but it wasn't the big issue that it has been at previous assemblies. This time it had to do with a congregation that chose to call and ordain a gay married man. At this point in time the ELCIC's constitutions, bylaws, and enactments to not allow such an ordination. The congregation chose to go ahead without the bishop's approval. Several pastors of our synod vested and/or participated in the rite of laying on of hands. The bishop stated that neither the ELCIC nor any of our Full Communion partners will recognize the validity of this irregular rite and the pastor is not recognized as being on the roster of ministers of this church.

The bishop also stated that he is obliged to carry out disciplinary action. One possible disciplinary consequence available is public censure and admonition and he chose to do so in the case of the clerics who participated in this unauthorized act as well as the congregation. He will also appoint an investigative committee to examine the situation and report and bring recommendations to the Synod Council regarding further disciplinary action toward the congregation.

The bishop also noted his commitment "to working toward ending practices that preclude full participation of all God's people in the life of the church, regardless of sexual orientation." He said that civil disobedience can play a significant role in the process of political change but that such actions are only warranted when legislative mechanisms to achieve change are either unavailable or so corrupted as to be ineffective. That's not the case within the ELCIC.

Later in the convention a motion came in the Report of the Committee on Reference and Counsel encouraging the bishop and Synod Council to exercise restraint in disciplining congregations, pastors, and members who call pastors who are "self-declared and practicing homosexuals" as well as pastors who bless or marry same-gendered couples in compliance with provincial law. That motion received a good amount of discussion and then was passed by the assembly.

I think, though, that this assembly won't be seen as a "one issue" assembly like many of the past few have. Here are the gists of some of the other motions:
- encouraging Canada and the Provinces to adopt the "U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."
- encouraging the synod and her congregations to stand in solidarity with the Anglican Church of Canada and our Aboriginal brothers and sisters as they implement and live out From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools.
- calling on Federal and Provincial governments to implement concrete Poverty Reduction Strategies.
- calling upon governments to prohibit uranium exploration and mining on Indigenous lands without the approval of local communities and a full comprehensive independent environmental assessment; a comprehensive review of the Ontario Mining Act in consultation with Aboriginal peoples and affected stakeholders; develop effective regulatory measures to safeguard Ontario's water resources and exercise responsible stewardship in developing a socially and ecologically sustainable future for future generations.
- encouraging deeper theological study and ethical reflection by the church concerning the urgent crisis posed by climate change.
- asking synod council to explore the possibility of forgiving, in whole or in part, a $500,000 loan that was made to Waterloo Lutheran Seminary.
- giving the option of receiving electronic rather than paper copies of assembly documents for future assemblies.
- reporting the mandate and guidelines for the investigating committee involving the extraordinary ordination that took place.
- encouraging churches to participate in and respond to the ELCIC Sexuality Study that is underway.
- asking the synod to review and study the Kirby Report on a Canadian Mental Health strategy with a view to encouraging Federal and Provincial governments to develop a national mental health strategy.
- providing an optional service/servant event during, or a day prior to, future synod assemblies.

I suggested that cutting the guest speaker would have shortened the duration of the assembly. I have to admit, I thought she was very good. It was Tana Kjos of A.R.E.: A Renewal Enterprise who spoke about the six mission priorities of our synod's vision for mission. Those priorities are:
1. We want to be a synod that is passionate about our relationship with God, in Christ.
2. We want to be a synod that nurtures leaders who encourage and equip other leaders.
3. We want to be a synod that works in partnership with others.
4. We want to be a synod that reflects the diversity of our society.
5. We want to be a synod that is generous.
6. We want to be a synod that is engaged by challenging questions.
Tana is very good at holding up an outward looking missional focus, and at pointing out that business as usual doesn't really cut it anymore.

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