Hanson Delivers Final Report as ELCA Presiding Bishop
ITASCA, Ill. (ELCA) -- In his final report to the Conference of Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the 4-million-member church, said several initiatives underway in the denomination will have a "significant impact on the future of this church." One such initiative is the ELCA's conversation with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on the possibility of the "Declaration in Via" -- declaration on a path to unity.
Meeting here Oct. 3-8, the ELCA Conference of Bishops is an advisory body of the church that includes 65 synod bishops, the presiding bishop and secretary. The Rev. Jessica R. Crist, bishop of the ELCA Montana Synod, chairs the conference.
Hanson told the conference Oct. 4 that a "quiet conversation" between a small group of U.S. Catholics and ELCA theologians, which will center on ministry, Eucharist and study of the Christian church (ecclesiology), will hopefully culminate in a declaration to be shared with The Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican by 2017, the year in which Lutherans worldwide will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The federation is a global communion of 143 member churches in 79 countries worldwide. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States.
In 1999, Lutheran and Catholic leaders signed the Joint Declaration on doctrine of Justification -- a significant achievement in the history of Christian ecumenical relations. Signed by representatives of Federation and the Catholic Church in Augsburg, Germany, the agreement declares that The Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church have reached a common understanding on justification, agreeing that believers are saved by faith in Jesus Christ and not by works.
"Two things to remember about the [declaration] are the seeds, that gave life to that, were planted in a quiet dialogue in the United States. Similarly, [today] we are testing a new conversation, planting those seeds and harvesting them," Hanson told the conference.
"In my first visit to the Vatican and meeting Pope John Paul II, I shared that as long as I have breath, I will work tirelessly until we experience our unity at the table of the Eucharist. It is the vision, the gift and the task that is ours," he said, adding that the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, ELCA presiding bishop-elect, has encouraged Hanson to continue in this dialogue on behalf of this church.
Other significant initiatives before the church include the first meeting of a committee on ecclesiology, which is charged with leading the ELCA in a conversation about "how we understanding the nature and purpose of this church."
"How do we understand God's thought and purpose of creating this living body we call this church, and what does God have in mind for us?" he asked.
Among the initiatives, Hanson cited this church's conversation on theological education, and "how will we raise, form and support leaders for the future of this church -- not just pastors, but leadership broadly and widely understood as a shared communal call."
The presiding bishop also cited conversations with the U.S. Jewish community to establish "new norms for how we are in relationship," considering differences and opportunities.
Another initiative underway is the work of a steering committee of the ELCA's first comprehensive fundraising campaign approved by the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Pittsburgh this past summer. Hanson said that members of the steering committee are an "amazing gathering of people who love this church and see in this campaign" the priorities that ELCA members are "passionate about, as we continue to move forward."
As he approaches the conclusion of his term, Hanson said there remains some "unfinished business," citing this church's renewed resolve in its engagement in the Middle East through the Peace Not Walls campaign, as well as mission funding.
Hanson's second six-year term as ELCA presiding bishop will conclude October 31. Eaton, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, was installed as ELCA presiding bishop on October 5 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel in Chicago and will take office November 1. She was elected at the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.
"The privilege of serving as presiding bishop has been beyond measure," Hanson told the ELCA Conference of Bishops at the conclusion of his report. "These have not been 12 easy years. We have experienced diminished resources, declining membership, and yet, none of that has diminished the deep reservoir of joy that I have found in this calling, [and] the joy of serving the gospel."