Bishop Aitken's Pastoral Letter in regard to Refugees
February 1, 2017
Dear Pastors, Deacons, and members of congregations in this Synod,
At a breakfast table in the home of one of our congregation’s family members, a mother texted me this week to tell me about how her family discussed the recent orders to close down immigration and refugee resettlement in this country. They read Scripture and discussed what it means to follow Jesus. They used this Bible passage for their conversation around the table: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as you native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19: 33-34
I speak to you as your Bishop in strong, encouraging, and gospel terms. Jesus Christ, crucified and raised for the life of the whole world, has claimed you. Be bold in following him. Fear, racism, degradation of others, half-truths and hate are disseminated today with increasing fervor. The number of suffering refugees seeking help today is greater than ever before. What’s needed is the good news of God’s love, as shown to us in Jesus: Matthew 25:35-40 “…For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus knew, didn’t he, the ancient words from Zechariah, “Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.”
- Zechariah 7:10
In times like we are experiencing today Christians do what we are always called to do;
+Hear the gospel and proclaim it in word and deed
+Love our neighbor (as defined by our Lord, this means anyone who needs our help)
+Welcome the stranger, give them food and drink, clothing and shelter
+Be courageous, stand up against oppression and injustice, Christ lives in you!
+Take care of the widow and orphan, stranger and alien
+Bear witness to the incredible depth of God’s love for all people - no exceptions!
Our church, I’m proud to say, along with scores of other Denominations and hundreds of congregations in this country have welcomed refugees fleeing from bloodshed, war, rape, the separation of families, the fear of death and impossible living conditions for years. Today more than five million Syrian refugees alone are fleeing death and persecution. 51% are children. 65 million people are displaced worldwide. In our ELCA Social Message on Immigration (http://www.elca.org/en/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Social-Message) we read, “We in the ELCA minister with the most vulnerable of the newcomers through congregations and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service” (google LIRS) We work ecumenically. Our ministry resettles refugees who have lost everything, assists unaccompanied children, offers pastoral care, and aids persons with citizenship. Learn about the USA rigorous refugee screening process here: http://tinyurl.com/hux8fe3. LRIS provides foster care and related child welfare services, facilitates family reunification and advocates on policy issues affecting unaccompanied children, just as our AMPARO program does, which we enthusiastically endorsed as a church in August, 2016. (http://tinyurl.com/glx4hys) Jesus said; “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40) Luther got it. His great legacy is all about the gospel that transforms us and then sets us free to serve our neighbor.
Martin Luther: “The gospel sets us free to serve our neighbor. We are to be Christ to our neighbor since we have been granted life and salvation. God has given me in Christ all the riches of righteousness and salvation without any merit on my part, out of pure, free mercy, so that from now on I need nothing except faith which believes that this is true……I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me. I will do nothing in this life except what I see is necessary, profitable, and salutary to my neighbor, since through faith I have an abundance of all good things in Christ. Behold from faith thus flow forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise of blame, of gain or loss. For believers do not serve that they may put others under obligations….. “
- Treatise on “The Freedom of a Christian” (1520) LW 31, 367
I commend to you, two Bible study resources from Luther Seminary and LSS: 1) “My Neighbor is Muslim” 2) “And Who is my Neighbor?” These are downloadable on the LSS Website and our synod Website. If you would like to know who your elected representatives are and voice your concern about US executive actions on refugees, go to https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact
You belong to Jesus. That’s your ultimate status. Jesus doesn’t simply ask you to follow him, he empowers you to do it. And you are not alone. The writer of Hebrews says, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith…”
You are precious to God and to God’s work in the world.
Step faithfully into it!
+Bishop Thomas M. Aitken
(This letter may be read in your congregations)
The Church at Election Time
As we head into another hotly-contested election season, we tend to see a rise in questions about permissible versus impermissible political activities. Here are some helpful resources:
Being a Public Church
Politics and the Pulpit
Tax Guide for Churches and Religious Organizations (See pg 7-19)
A letter from The Rev. Chris Boerger
September 6, 2016
Dear colleagues in ministry,
This letter is to inform you of the changes to the rosters of ministers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America that were adopted by the 2016 Churchwide Assembly. The major change is that on Jan. 1, 2017, the current rosters of associates in ministry, diaconal ministers and deaconesses will be merged into one roster of “Ministers of Word and Service.” Anyone currently on any of the lay rosters will automatically be listed on the new roster. We will be working to update the website and online records by Jan. 1, 2017. It may be that this part of the transition will continue into early January.
We have also changed the title of the rosters. Previously, one roster was referred to by its entrance rite. Now we will use the rosters’ primary functions to describe them: “Ministers of Word and Sacrament” and “Ministers of Word and Service.” Those on the roster of Ministers of Word and Sacrament will still be called pastors. Those on the roster of Ministers of Word and Service may be called deacons.
The issue of what entrance rite will be used for the new roster has been deferred to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly for final decision. In the interim, the rite of consecration will be used for this new roster while the whole church engages in conversation on this issue. Ordination continues to be the rite used for ministers of Word and Sacrament.
The impetus for this change has come from those on the current lay rosters and from the Word and Service Task Force, which was formed by the ELCA Church Council to study the way in which this church recognizes and implements the ministry of the diaconate. Those involved with this change hope that the discussion of the role of diaconal ministry will be enhanced in all of the expressions of this church.
A significant number of constitutional changes will need to take place to facilitate this new roster. The Churchwide Assembly adopted changes to the Constitution, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Synod constitutions have been modified by the certification of the required sections of the Constitution for Synods. The non-required sections will need to be acted upon by synod assemblies. All of the amendments in the Model Constitution for Congregations will need to be adopted at a congregational meeting.
The entrance rite and questions about the place of the new roster in the representational principles of this church are being studied by the Entrance Rite Discernment Working Group, which will have a series of Bible studies and FAQs available shortly. I want to encourage you, your congregation and other groups to participate in these discussions so the proposals to the 2019 Churchwide Assembly will reflect the best thinking of this church.
God be with you as you continue in your call to serve in Christ’s church.
Grace and peace,
Wm Chris Boerger
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
"In baptism we have all been marked with the cross of Christ and are all called not to run away but to run to those dark places, bringing the light and life of Christ."- Bishop Elizabeth Eaton at the Churchwide assembly in New Orleans 2016.
Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin to retire as CEO of Minnesota Council of Churches after 21 years
Bishop Fred Washington, president of the board of the Minnesota Council of Churches, has announced that the MCC CEO, the Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin, has made known her desire to retire from her work with the Minnesota Council of Churches and the MCC Executive Committee has accepted – with regret - her letter of intent in that matter.
On Oct. 13, 2016, Chemberlin and Doug Swanson (the MCC COO) shared with the MCC Executive Committee, their belief that this is a good time to maximize the stability of the Council. The Executive Committee agreed.
The MCC Executive Committee has approved a plan for a transition which will bring a new CEO on board between June 1 and Aug 1, 2017. The plan includes ongoing involvement of top leadership and results in full alignment of the Council’s internal operations, complete ordering of the council’s legacy, and thorough preparations for the next era of the Council’s life. During this time Chemberlin’s work will focus on the transition. MCC’s normal responsiveness to arising community needs will be somewhat curtailed. Existing programs will continue to run as planned.
Bp. Washington said, “After 21 years of Peg’s superb leadership and a lot of growth and success, it is appropriate to be thinking about a transition, I suppose. We will find time to rejoice for the years of shared ministry, as well as look at the opportunities that are provided to us in this season. We are grateful for the work of our CEO and COO in leading the preparation for the successful integration of the new CEO. We also give thanks for Peg’s leading in the letting go process.”
About Minnesota Council of Churches
The Minnesota Council of Churches’ mission is to manifest unity in the church and to build the common good in the world. The Minnesota Council of Churches programs align with three broad categories: welcoming refugees, mobilizing the faith community to engage in public policy, and strengthening communities through relationships and understanding. For more information, visit www.mnchurches.org
Meet ELCA Vice President Bill Horne
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,I hope that you have made plans to view our next live webcast, “Ecumenical Witness on the Eve of the Reformation Anniversary,” on Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7 p.m. CDT.
I’m excited to announce that American Lutheran religious scholar, Martin Marty, and other great panelists will be joining me for this conversation. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore:
If you would like to submit a question to be considered during the live webcast, please send it to email@example.com and provide your name and your congregation’s name, city and state. We also invite you to participate and join the conversation by using #ELCAwebcast on social media.
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
What happened at the 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly? The Rev. Chris Boerger, ELCA secretary, outlines key actions and outcomes
Synod Creation Care Study Available......
Earth Stewardship and the Missio Dei: Participating in the Care and Redemption of All God Has Made is the title of Pastor David Carlson’s Doctor of Ministry dissertation, which he defended at Luther Seminary in March 2016 and is making available to more readers. In it, he reports findings from a synod-wide survey and four congregational interviews and evaluates their earthkeeping practices and perceptions using eight conceptual lenses: (1) sustainability, (2) globalization, (3) global civil society, (4) nature as an active subject in scripture and liturgy, (5) biblical stewardship as participating in God’s mission, (6) perichoresis as modeling reciprocal relationships with nature, (7) eschatological themes of redemption and reformation, and (8) sacramental imagination.
The church in general and Lutherans in particular are well-suited to help society address ecological needs and the problems of climate change, and congregations are ideal settings for modeling the kind of earth stewardship needed for a more sustainable world. This timely resource invites clergy and lay leaders to grow in understanding their local earth stewardship as a component of participating in God’s mission, and take steps to integrate creation care practically in ministry areas of worship, education, congregational life, building and grounds, and community engagement.
Signed copies are available in paperback (243 pp.) for $10 payable to Pastor Carlson at the Gloria Dei Lutheran Church office located at the synod office building, lower level, or at mailing address
219 N. 6th Ave. E., Duluth, MN 55805.
To ship in the U.S., add $4.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
– Psalm 46:1
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Hurricane Matthew, one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes in years, hit Haiti, Cuba and Jamaica earlier this week. It is expected to hit the Bahamas today and could make its way to the east coast of the United States.
The National Hurricane Center calls Matthew "extremely dangerous," and conditions are favorable for it to maintain its strength. In areas of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Hurricane Matthew has left a trail of destruction with landslides, streets flooded and homes flattened. Where the hurricane hit the hardest, Lutheran Disaster Response has local partners and companions ready to respond.
Your gifts are needed now for Hurricane Matthew. Your support through Lutheran Disaster Response will bring God’s hope and healing to those who have been or will be affected by this hurricane. Our response already spans across several countries. Together, we will work with trusted partners and companion churches that know the communities well and are preparing recovery efforts. Although the hurricane has not yet reached the U.S. coast, Lutheran Disaster Response coordinators are collaborating with local community leaders, civic organizations, ecumenical partners and officials to begin planning the proper response.
The storm is not over. You can help now. Gifts designated for “Hurricane Matthew” will be used in full (100 percent) until the response is complete to help disaster survivors recover and rebuild.
Stay connected to the latest events and our response to this and other disasters through our Facebook page. Join me in prayer and partnership, and use this bulletin insert in your congregation to help spread the word. Thank you!
The Rev. Daniel Rift
Director, ELCA World Hunger and Disaster Appeal
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
DONATE | LEARN MORE | SHARE/PRAY
Ways to Give
Checks or money orders should be sent to:
Lutheran Disaster Response
P.O. Box 1809
Merrifield, VA 22116-8009
Write "Hurricane Matthew" on your check memo line.
Give by phone at 800-638-3522 or online.
Mission Planning Cluster
Saturday, October 22, 2016
Immanuel/Dell Grove, Grace/Sandstone, Bethlehem/Askov, First/Hinckley
This past Saturday, I met from 10 am to 2 pm, with the above four congregations in our synod. We came together as a geographic cluster to begin work on the vision I cast a couple years ago to “begin, develop, renew or redefine” an Intentional Missional Plan for each congregation.
We met at the museum building in Askov, a building utilized by
the community for a variety of purposes. The site worked perfectly and enabled us to include a roast beef and mashed potatoes lunch!
My vision as your Bishop has been to ask and to help resource
each congregation in our synod to be at least “knee deep” in this
planning by the 500th anniversary date of the beginning
of the Reformation, October 31, 2017 and to complete
the Written Mission Plan by 2020.
Our trustworthy and faithful deans are on board with this, and will be
an extension of my encouragement to all of you going forward.
About 25 people were present with their pastors to be led through
the beginning stage of this Missional Planning Process. We are utilizing
“The Mission We Share” which is an excellent step by step template
that takes any Vision Team in a simple but powerful journey
into missional planning. (Click here)
Those gathered on Saturday were fun and faithful!
I appreciated being a part of this process as a resource person, and
I learned, right along with the rest; how rich and marvelous are
the opportunities to live faithfully into God’s future as
effective congregations in the 21st century.
Call me with any questions you may have, or talk with your
conference dean about it. (Click here for contact info for your dean.)
About fifty six congregations in the 3 years have begun this process.
+Bishop Thomas M. Aitken
Dual Identity: Citizen and Disciple of Jesus
The Apostle Paul writing to the Christians in Rome: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. (Romans 13:1)
The word of the LORD came to Zechariah, saying: Thus says the LORD of hosts: Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another; do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. (Zechariah 7.8-10)
As August ends and September begins, we enter ‘political season’ . . . A time when we will be inundated with countless news stories about candidates for local, state, and federal offices. And of course, the premiere contest will be between the Democratic and Republican candidates for president. Federal law prohibits churches and clergy [in the exercise of their office pastor] from endorsing a candidate for any office. To violate this portion of the tax code puts a church’s tax-exempt status at risk.
Unfortunately, there are some clergy, congregations, and church bodies that have chosen to become involved in partisan politics by endorsing specific candidates. While this is a clearly illegal, we also encounter ‘religious’ political action committees. They are groups that purport to identify candidates who will support God’s political agenda for our nation. It always surprises me to when political parties claim that their political agendas is identical to God’s agenda for the Kingdom.
With this as a guide, we have a dual identity: Citizen and Disciple. So how does one honor both of our identities?
First, I believe that it is a responsibility of discipleship to take an active role in government. One of the ways this responsibility is exercised is by voting. In his letter to the Christian congregation in Rome, Paul reminds them that government is a gift from God, instituted, he argues later, for the good of all people. Paul could even make this statement under a form of government which included an emperor who claimed to be chosen by the gods of Rome. Contrary to what some political extremists argue, government is not inherently evil. In his discussion with the Pharisees about the image of Caesar on a Roman coin, Jesus sets the limits of governmental authority. There is a distinct line between that which is Caesar’s domain and that which is God’s. We are Christians first, then citizens. In our nation, God has blessed us by allowing us to choose our leaders.
Therefore, government is what we make it . . . It is a reflection of who we are and it is our responsibility to do our part and vote.
Second, I believe that one should vote with using primary criterion suggested by the prophets of old. The prophet Zechariah puts it succinctly that all governments are judged by their concern for the poor, the widows, the orphans, and the strangers [foreigners] in the land. Whether one political affiliation is Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Green, the prophetic critique must be applied to all candidates for office as well as their proposed programs. In the parable of the shepherd separating the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, Jesus includes this social mandate for those who would be his disciples: ‘TRULY, I TELL YOU, JUST AS YOU DID IT TO ONE OF THE LEAST OF THESE WHO ARE MEMBERS OF MY FAMILY, YOU DID IT TO ME.’ [Mt.25.25.40] Even though we are part of the world, there may be times when we must speak for the Kingdom of God, irrespective of the cost. Sometimes to speak for the Kingdom is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.
So how should we vote? The choice falls to those who hold dual citizenship . . . Disciple and Citizen. My only suggestion is that one look at how each candidate would deal with the powerless in our society. According to the prophets, this is the criterion by which God will judge our society. We need to elect men and women, be they politically liberal or conservative, who will govern with a sense of compassion. Vote on November 8th!
In Christ [☩] ,
(The Rev. Steve Olson, Zion Lutheran Church, International Falls.)