The ELCA has returned to Orlando, Florida, the World Center Marriott, site of the 2005 Churchwide Assembly, for its 2011 Churchwide Assembly.  The World Center Marriott has been expanded in the interim.  We thought it immense at the time, large enough then to easily accommodate an assembly with more than 1000 voting members.  Now it is even larger, even better able to facilitate the work of the assembly.  The ELCA itself has expanded its own welcome, recognizing the God-created diversity that LGBT people are, and removing the barriers to those LGBT people who are in committed same-gender relationships and are called by God to service as ministers. The Marriott is better for the pain and cost of construction; the ELCA is similarly better for the pain and cost of its struggle to be more fully inclusive.  More to do, to be sure, but better for what it has done.


Before I forget:  if you are here at the assembly in Orlando or live locally, come and be a part of the Goodsoil worship service at 8 pm, Wednesday the 17th, in Grand Ballroom 8 AB at the Orlando World Center Marriott.  And, be a part of the choir; it’s music you know.  Next rehearsal is Tuesday the 16th, 7:00 pm in the Harbor Beach room at the Center.  The evening Goodsoil worship service is open to anyone to attend, as are the daily worship services of the assembly.


So, what to tell you about first: malaria, LIFT, the bishop’s sermon, the rules vote, the devotional booklet, anti-bullying, the wonderful red jacketed ELCA volunteers, our steadfast volunteers, the young people present?  How about Fred Phelps? Yeah, Fred Phelps is first.


Fred Phelps, or at least some of his people, paid the assembly a visit.  We made it to Fred Phelps’ schedule!  The people from Westboro Baptist Church gave us one hour of their time, us being the ELCA.  I should say they tried to pay a visit.  I didn’t actually see them, because Marriott refused to let them on the property, which left them and their hate-filled, inaccurate signs about a tenth of mile down the access road, on the highway that runs past the facility.  At last, a useful purpose found for heat and humidity.  Actually, if you want to see some of the very bad things God’s name and Holy Scripture get used for, visit their website.


The assembly is as magnificent as it always is.  Serious business by people serious about the work of the church.  Glorious, praising worship services.  New and renewed friendships. Fellowship.  Sharing a common ministry and mission.


Yesterday was arrivals day for many, and was not a good day for some of the airlines or ground transportation companies.  Weather interfered with many an East Coast traveler: flight delays, cancelled flights.  Others missed their connections.  Periodically, some airline would give up its hostages and a huge wadge of those refugees would line up orderly (Lutherans) circling around the lobby atrium to get their hotel room, all telling their variation of a flight schedule gone badly akimbo story.


The assembly opened with the usual matters: orienting those new to assemblies, approving the agenda, and the assembly settling on the rules that will govern the assembly.  Rules.  Took all of 10 minutes, only one rule pulled out for separate attention, the time allowed for individual speeches at microphones. The motion by a Voting Member (VM hereafter) to lengthen it to 5 minutes versus 2 was defeated.  Some of you may recall that the 2005 assembly rules session in this facility went on till past midnight and was a session that no one wanted to ever repeat, very contentious.


Today was mostly set-up, preparation for the work to come. 


We had an introduction to the LIFT (Living into the Future Together) report and recommendations, from a Task Force set up by the Church Council ELCA Church Council “to develop and recommend options for the future of the ELCA in light of its identity, changes in its environment and its call to God’s mission.”  The chair of the TF, Rev. Diane “Dee” Pederson, made a presentation, a curtain lifter, on the report and recommendations to be taken up later in the assembly.  This is really important stuff, not just how often to have a churchwide assembly or how many synods should there be – go have a look at this on the ELCA website at http://tinyurl.com/ELCA-LIFT.  More later as this is taken up.


The Budget curtain lifter was presented for future consideration later.  The budget being proposed, $80.3 million overall, is 24% smaller than its predecessor.  Of that, the world hunger program is $18.5 million and the rest of the budget, so-called Current Fund Budget, is $61.8 million, down 19% from 2011.  As part of LIFT, the headquarters will be reduced by some 61 staff positions, with consolidations that are designed to produce an HQ that is smaller, stronger, and positioned for deeper collaboration, according to the presentation.  You can find materials on this subject in Section 2 of the Treasurer’s Report in the Pre-Assembly packet on the ELCA website, www.elca.org.


Malaria was discussed: the project to raise $15 million over four years to curb this pernicious, deadly disease that is both preventable and treatable.  In Africa, a child under 5 dies of malaria every 45 seconds… … … every 45 seconds.  This the assembly voted on.  The project to raise the money was approved.  See the News section of the ELCA website for their release on that. Think about “…every 45 seconds.”


Volunteers.  They are wonderful.  Those that have volunteered to help with LC/NA’s presence and work at the assembly and those that are working with the ELCA – some are doing both.  They distribute materials, staple, make copies, hang signs, provide helpful information, help people get unlost, smile, make you feel less stupid.  They are wonderful.  Thank you to them.  Thank you.


We released our devotional booklet, themed around anti-bullying, as a resource for the assembly and an abiding resource for the future, devotions written by Pastor David Eck, Abiding Savior, Fairview, North Carolina.  Theological reflections and stories.  See our website, www.lcna.org, under the Resources tab to view or download a copy.  Tomorrow we will release an intergenerational anti-bullying curriculum designed for large and small group discussion in congregations. 


There are lots of young people attending the assembly, adding their considerable energy, thoughtful contributions to discussions, pertinent questions to debate, their stories and commitment to the proceedings.  At our first meeting with voting members interested in our activities, half the attendees were under 30.  


Bishop Hanson is an excellent preacher, as many of you know.  But this time, the opening worship service, he outdid himself.  The text was the Annunciation story from Luke 1:26-38, 46-55.  He asked if we were ready, like Mary, were we ready to be moved by the Holy Spirit?  Were we ready to have our lives so disrupted, to move from a “How Can It Be?” church to a church that sings, and acts out, Mary’s song.  We must stop seeing the stranger with suspicion.  We must reach out to people, examine what we say and do, making sure that we are not making them feel like less than a whole person. We must resist giving in to the temptation to be content with ourselves as a church.  We are a community of faith freed to serve.  He observed that it is not the people who truly sing Mary’s song, the Magnificat, who try to fill stadiums for prayer sessions.  It was a challenging, uplifting, rousing sermon that was getting “Amens” from round the room.  He said the “vote” on whether we were ready to be challenged and moved by the Holy Spirit would come on Friday.


More on anti-bullying tomorrow.


One last thing, you can see the webcast of the assembly live, including the worship services, for the first time this year.  See the ELCA website for how to do that; believe me, it’s simple – couple of clicks.  www.elca.org.  If you do, I am the good-looking guy in the visitors section at the back of the assembly room.  Just pick out the best looking guy.  Yep, that’s me.  Wave to me…