National Bishop Report to National Convention 2013

(as written)

It’s good to be together for the love of the world!

I want to begin today with some words of thanks. First of all I want to give thanks to our partners – it means so much to me that you have taken time to be with us. Your walking with us helps give us the strength and encouragement we need to continue as a church In Mission for Others.  I want to thank the National Church Council and in particular the officers of the church for your hard work and commitment. Thanks also to my colleague bishops for your support and partnership.  And a special work of thanks to the hardworking and dedicated staff of the NO  – Barb Wiebe, Myrna Penner, Rick Natividad, Desiree Mendoza, Catherine Crivici, Norm Coull, Gloria McNabb, Trina Gallop, Paul Gehrs, Lyle McKenzie, and André Lavergne who continue to faithfully serve on your behalf.  (I invite you to join with me in sharing your gratitude!)  I know that I do not work in a vacuum, but rather I’m part of a team of leadership across our church and with our partners, and for that shared leadership and collegial support I give thanks and praise to God!

As wonderful as our shared time is at this Joint Assembly, it is good to have some time to do the business of our church. In this time as we meet as National Convention, we still meet under the theme – Together for the love of the world. In many ways this theme of our joint assembly echoes our call to be a church – In Mission for Others. I hope that you have read the bulletin of reports and seen the many ways that we as a church are striving to do just that – be in mission for others, work across the church and with international and ecumenical partners, together, for the love of the world.

One of the reasons it is good to have some time in separate sessions is that it gives us the chance to speak frankly and openly with one another. Even when it comes to our Full Communion partners, there are some things it is easier to talk about when we are apart- for them as well as us!

The reality is that it has been a very challenging two years since we last met. The decisions we made at the last convention to adopt a social statement on Human Sexuality and allow for changes in practice regarding the rostering of gays and lesbians and same-sex marriages and blessings have had consequences, some good and some bad. In some parts of our church congregations and rostered ministers have welcomed these changes and found that they have attracted new members and opened up new possibilities for ministry. And in some parts of our church we have had rostered ministers and congregations decide that they can no longer be a part of this church. As a church we reflect the body of Christ. And it has been painful for our church body to be diminished.

We are beginning to work our way through these challenges. The strongest message I have heard across the church is that people want to move on and return their focus to mission and ministry.

The other major challenge that we need to acknowledge is around structural renewal. Two years ago this National Convention voted in principle to accept the recommendations brought forward by NCC from the work of the Structural Renewal Task Force. Based on that decision, we went ahead and appointed national and synodical implementation teams to put flesh on the recommendations, which included the amalgamation of synods and the creation of ministry areas. Well, we all know that the synods involved did not support the proposals for amalgamation. It is indeed their right and I respect their decisions.

Nevertheless, the original challenges which led us to begin the structural renewal process still remain. We have been experiencing and are still facing a steady decline in membership and financial resources. In order to more fully understand the extent of the challenges we will be facing, the Conference of Bishops asked Ernst& Young to do a financial and demographic analysis and to make projections. I want to share some of their findings with you.

This first slide shows the number of congregations 1986-2012. We have been in a state of steady decline after the first year of our church. Note the significant decrease in 2012 after the last convention.

The next slide shows the number of baptized members from 1986-2011. Again, you can see the steady rate of decline.

This slide shows Congregational vs synodical receipts from 1986-2011. The dark grey bars show an increase in giving at the congregational level. This is a wonderful thing given the fact that the number of giving units has decreased. The yellow bars at the bottom show what congregations have passed on to synods. It has been pretty steady across the life of our church, but it does not show the long term effects of inflation. You can see that it is beginning to decrease in actual dollars.

We now look at Synodical vs national receipts from 1986-2011. The blue bars at the top of the graph show the amount of benevolence dollars forwarded from congregations to the synods. The yellow bars at the bottom show the amount of benevolence dollars forwarded from the synods to the National Church. The large reduction in 1996 represents the change in the funding for Canadian Mission support and the decision for synods to retain those funds within their synods. Still, you notice that there has been a significant reduction in funding at the national level. Again, this does not show the impact of inflation.

None of this information is new, although it has been updated to include the last couple of years. This information was widely shared during the structural renewal process. It is similar to the reporting that is included in the BOR.(page reference?)

But here is another way of looking at this same information that was included in the Ernst & Young report. It compares synodical and national benevolence as a percentage of congregational receipts. So in 1986 congregations were forwarding almost 10% of their receipts to the synods for the work of the wider church and the synods were forwarding almost 5% of congregational receipts on to the National Church for our national and international work. In 2011 we see that congregations are only forwarding 5 ½ % to the synods for the work of the  wider church, and the synods are forwarding 1 ¼ % of congregational receipts on to the national church.

As long as I have worked in this church, as a choir director, youth worker, pastor, assistant to the bishop and National Bishop I have heard conversations about shortfalls in funding. Sometimes I feel like we are stuck in a bad pattern. Like the movie groundhog day, each day, each year, we wake up and keep doing the same thing. It reminds me of this story, Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson.

Chapter 1. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost… I am helpless. It is not my fault. It takes me forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I am in the same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in – it’s a habit. My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out quickly.

Chapter 4. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter 5. I walk down another street.

What gets more challenging is the information contained in the demographic and financial projections.

This slide shows a projection of Number of congregations in 2020. It suggests that we will further drop from the 2012 level of 551 congregations to 485 congregations. That’s a loss of another 64 congregations.

This slide shows projections for Synodical and national benevolence. Notice that although it is predicted that the synod budgets will drop by less than $100,000, the projections of the National church show a decline of almost $400,000.

And finally, this is what it looks like in terms of benevolence dollars as a percentage of congregational receipts. It is projected that congregations will reduce their support to synods by a further 1 ¼ % of congregational receipts. And what will be passed on to the national church will be statistically zero. It’s actually .015% of congregational receipts.

This information has been shared with NCC, and synod councils. It is a projection, and, I hope, a worst case scenario. Any number of things, large or small, can change this scenario. But to give you a better sense of what we are looking at, to help you to see the hole in the sidewalk we are dealing with, let me share some projections of what a budget for the National Church might look like in 2020.

First of all we need to understand and be grateful that not all of the income for the work of the national church comes from benevolence dollars. There is a variety of designated income from bequests, endowments, internally restricted funds, and your generous donations to specific ministries of the church. In addition there is the Praise Appeal that assists in funding the ministry of the wider church.

So here is a budget for 2020, with a few modifications built in. It shows a shortfall of just over 245,000. The easiest way to find that amount of money would be to make large staff cuts, but without staff in the office, there is no one to run or administer the programs.

One option includes a cut to all external relationships. No Global Mission program, no memberships in LWF, WCC, CCC. No partnerships with ACC. It includes a reduction in staff, including a reduction to a half-time National Bishop, since external relationships is a major part of the role of the National Bishop. Although our budget would be close to being balanced, we would become a very insular and parochial church, and also, I believe, a theologically impoverished one.

A second option focuses more on cuts to internal programming. There is a further reduction to the size of NCC. There is an elimination of worship, stewardship, leadership and youth programming at the National Office, including significant staff reductions. Without staff support it will also mean the elimination of self-funding activities such as the National Worship Conference, the Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth Gathering, the National Youth Project, the Diaconal Formation Event, the Cora Martinson Memorial Fund. Our budget is now close to being balanced, but some of our liveliest and most life-giving programming is gone.

And of course there is a whole variety of combinations in between.

We need to work together as a whole church — national, synods, congregations and specialized ministries  — together for the love of the world, to define what our core mission is and how we can best accomplish it. We are going to have some time this evening to have some table group conversation and committee of the whole time to begin that conversation. It’s a conversation I am going to ask you to take home, and I’m going to ask NCC at their September meeting to figure out a way to facilitate an ongoing conversation.

We need to be diligent in our fiscal responsibility. And we need to be open to the creative power of the Holy Spirit. God is calling us, and indeed all the churches in North America and much of Europe —  to a new thing. What’s hard, is that we don’t know what the new thing is going to be!

I was an ecumenical guest at the worship service celebrating the 50th anniversary of ordination of my friend Archbishop James Weisgerber, the Archbishop of Winnipeg. During the distribution of communion we sang a hymn I had not heard before and the words really struck me.

Sing a new church, Dolores Dufner

Summoned by the God who made us, Rich in our diversity
Gathered in the name of Jesus, Richer still in unity
Let us bring the gifts that differ, and, in splendid varied ways,
Sing a new church into being, One in faith and love and praise.

In the ELCIC we ARE rich in our diversity. We ARE richer still in our unity. And we ARE called to follow the tune set by the Holy Spirit to sing a new church into being.

Let me share with you some glimpses I’ve seen of what that new church might look like.

I think the creation of synodically recognized ministries that is being proposed in the changes to the constitution is a sign of the new church. In the future, congregations will not be the only way that we gather as a church. This will raise all kinds of questions in terms of provision of ministry and membership, but I believe it is the Spirit calling us to loosen our rules and expectations so that the gospel can spread and grace can abound.

I think the creation of ministry areas within synods is a sign of the new church. The possibility of us learning to share resources, across what is often seen as the silos of congregational boundaries, for the sake of mission is an exciting new possibility. I want to acknowledge that many places in our church have shown us the way by working in this model before the proposed changes were suggested. I also acknowledge that not every congregation will want to be or be able to be a part of this kind of cooperative ministry.

I think the discussion around the provision of word and sacrament ministry that we have begun  is a sign of the new church that God is calling us to be. I don’t know what the answers are going to be, but the fact that we are willing as a church to grapple together around our theology and consider changes to policy and practice is a good thing.

I think the increasing signs of a missional focus across the church is a sign of the new church. I see an increase in congregations engaged in food banks, community kitchens, out of the cold programs, community gardens – signs of a commitment to indeed be a church in mission for others. I see that same commitment to a missional focus in the increased support to the important work of CLWR – sharing from our gifts for those in need around the world. And let me take this opportunity to urge you to continue to support the work of Canadian Lutheran World Relief. You certainly have the freedom to make contributions to World Vision, Samaritan’s purse, or any other charity. But CLWR is our agency with an excellent track record of work around the world in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation and with low administrative costs. I encourage you to support our agency!

I see the signs of a new church in the deepening of partnerships, locally, nationally, regionally, globally. We are moving beyond tokenism – pulpit exchanges and agreements on paper, to new ways of working and being together. Yes, necessity is part of the reason for this. But if it takes necessity for us to open up to working more closely with our existing partners and  to the possibilities of new partners, then I say, thank God for necessity! Partnership can no longer be about being each other’s church bff’s. Instead, it must be about shared ministry along with shared mutuality and accountability. So, for example, we say to the Lutheran World Federation – thank you for the work that you do on our behalf. We support you with the gifts we bring as a church in ways that help further our joint ministry. And we receive the gifts from other partner churches that enhance our ministry. But we do not replicate work that is being done in other parts of the communion. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of control in partnerships, but it is in the letting go that I see signs of a new church.

I see signs of a new church in the way that people are catching hold of the call to spiritual renewal. I feel so strongly that the need to deepen our faith and strengthen our daily walk with our Lord as we pray, read, worship, study, serve, give and tell is key if we are going to be prepared to be reformed into God’s new church. It thrills me when I hear about the ways individuals, congregations, and other groupings are diving into one or more of these spiritual practices. This is the church that I want to be a part of!

Despite the challenges that are in front of us, challenges that we cannot ignore and must face, as the ELCIC we ARE rich in our diversity. We ARE richer still in our unity. And we ARE beginning to follow the tune set by the Holy Spirit to sing a new church into being. This is what gives me hope. Hope because I know that in the end this is God’s church and that it is God’s leadership and vision and faithfulness that will see us through our challenges and help us to grow and sing into the vision for ministry that God has for us.  And that because of this we will be a blessing to our hurting world.

Thank you to you all for your support and encouragement and your partnership in ministry.  It is an honour and a privilege to serve as your National Bishop.  Thank you for your kind attention this afternoon.

3 Responses to “National Bishop Report to National Convention 2013”

  1. Naomi Parker July 5, 2013 at 6:57 am #

    Underneath the joy of meeting fellow Christians and listening to inspiring leaders, there is a sadness and weariness that pervades the reports given by officials of the ELCIC. I wonder if the focus of our church should be firstly on returning to spreading the message of the Gospel, God’s solution for us separating ourselves from God. accomplished by God justifying us by GRACE through FAITH, the basis for our Christianity. THEN, secondly, we can reach out in Mission for Others. It seems as if the first step is not emphasized anymore or taken for granted, and that, now, the ELCIC is a struggling church, struggling by itself without being conscious anymore of God’s power, struggling to be relevant to the new(?) world in which we find ourselves, struggling with shrinking budgets and membership, and struggling with this focus on Mission for Others , which should be our RESPONSE to God’s reaching our for us with a solution for the brokenness in the world. I applaud the ELCIC for its ideas on mission, but I believe that we have become so “advanced” in our thinking that we are barely even mentioning the power of the Gospel in OUR OWN lives. Are we trying to transmit this power to others without asking God himself for the power to do it?

    • Fleming Blishen July 6, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      These are fascinating questions Naomi and in many ways core to our life in Christ. I had a bible study the other day at church where the men asked me these same questions. As we discussed it we came to the conclusion that, as you have already pointed out, the mission is a response to God’s “mission” for us. The concern was that we’ve put the mission as the primary focus and the gospel as secondary. The danger is that our “mission” becomes a form of works righteousness. It becomes our way to God rather than Christ. That’s when the weariness sets in because it’s like a treadmill that you run on forever while never getting anywhere.

      That being said many of my experiences of God being in mission for me have come while I was out in mission for others. So where is the line? Does God’s transforming power in Christ come to us as we hear about this grace or as we experience it (are driven out in response to that grace)? Luther would say hear, but I would say both. We are constantly dying and being resurrected, both as we hear the law and gospel and experience it in our discipleship journey.

      The thing is the response which manifests itself in discipleship really is what we spend a majority of our lives trying to figure out and living. I think for the ELCIC the pendulum has swung towards discipleship. I think it’s critical but here is where another question came from the bible study. Don’t we come to church, meet with other Christians in fellowship and worship so that we can be reminded that we are grounded in Jesus, explore the depths of that love and then go out as disciples? They found it somewhat pejorative that after being given the grounding they couldn’t figure out for themselves what this discipleship looked like. It may be about responsible resource extraction, yes, but it could be about 1000 other ethical issues that they encounter in their discipleship journey. In my mind it is all summed up in that old proverb “If you give a person a fish you feed them for a day, if you teach a person to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.” Perhaps our job as a church is more about teaching a person to fish rather than giving them fish after fish. After all you can’t do it all.


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