In her Report to Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s (ELCIC) National Convention, Bishop Johnson was frank and honest about the realities facing the church.
“It has been a very challenging two years since we last met,” said Bishop Johnson, referring to how decisions made at the last national convention to adopt a social statement on Human Sexuality and to 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.”
Bishop Johnson spoke about how some parts of the church have welcomed these changes, while others have made the painful decision that they can no longer be a part of the church.
“As a church we reflect the body of Christ,” said Bishop Johnson. “And it has been painful for our church body to be diminished.”
The bishop also acknowledged that the other major challenge was around the area of structural renewal.
At Synod conventions last year, proposals for amalgamation were not affirmed. Bishop Johnson acknowledged that she respected the decisions that were made although the challenges that led to the structural renewal process still remain.
Bishop Johnson took delegates through a series of financial and demographic projections prepared by Ernst and Young, commissioned by the Conference of Bishops.
The projections provide updated numbers on baptized members and benevolence. While giving at the congregational level has increased, it has served to mitigate the fact that the overall number of giving units has decreased. Congregational giving to synods has remained consistent but does not show the long-term effects of inflation and therefor is beginning to decrease in actual dollars. Synod to national receipts has resulted in a significant reduction in funding at the national level.
Bishop Johnson clarified, “none of this information is new,” it’s just been updated with current numbers. She compared moving forward without reacting to the realities of this type of statistical information, “like the movie Groundhog Day. Each day, each year, we wake up and keep doing the same thing.”
Several budgeting scenarios for the church in 2020 were presented. In order to come close to a balanced budget, the scenarios dramatically slash staff and/or programming.
Bishop Johnson identified a pressing 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 need to be diligent in our fiscal responsibly,” said Bishop Johnson. “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!”
The power of assembly song was evident as Bishop Johnson led the convention in singing the hymn “Sing a New Church.” The words written by Sister Delores Dufner, OSB, sung to the tune Beach Spring, inspire a spirit of unity.
“In the ELCIC we are rich in 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,” said Bishop Johnson.
Bishop Johnson shared glimpses of what a new church might look like: the creation of flexible ministry models in the proposed synodically recognized ministries; shared ministry areas within synods that break down “silos of congregational boundaries”; theological discussions beginning around provision of Word and Sacrament ministry; increased congregational support of food banks and community kitchens; deepening local and global partnerships which model new ways of being together.
“This is what gives me hope,” she said. “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.”