ELCA Churchwide Assembly Day 3

The report on Wednesday.  In the morning riding back up in the elevator to retrieve something, I watched as multiple floor buttons were lit as people chose their destinations.  I recounted to those on the elevator that I had once been in Las Vegas attending a conference, and had noticed oddly that many times when I got on the elevator the same couple of people were on the elevator and standing by the panel of buttons, helpfully punching the floor buttons as people called out their floors.  I finally concluded that this was, after all, Las Vegas and maybe these two people were hoping that they would eventually hit the right sequence of random floor numbers, that they could make the elevator pay off.


When I said Tuesday night that anti-bullying was first up on Wednesday morning, I mistyped, in the sense that the Memorials Committee report was not going to be first up, but anti-bullying was reported to be first up whenever Memorials came up.  That also turned out to be a moving feast in that the order changed yet again, and anti-bullying moved to third up within and  Memorials moved to the afternoon.  Then the morning legislative actions ran right over the allotted time, pushing the schedule further off.  Oh, well, when all else fails to avail, re-organize it to fit where you end up.  Not a bad art form at all, adaptation.  As it turned out, LIFT discussion took more time than it apparently was thought it would; Memorials Committee did not get on the floor until late in the day.


Goodsoil Central, up on the 17th floor of the East Tower of the facility, has proven to be everything that we wanted it to be.  People come for information brochures and booklets, to ask questions, look for friends, hold meetings, make new friends, relax, and hold discussions.  It has been open daily, and will be open on Thursday, culminating in a gathering in the evening from 8:00-11:00 pm, prior to Friday’s dismantling of it.  Everyone is welcome to Goodsoil during the day and to the party in the evening.


We were told that the collection taken up on Tuesday for the malaria eradication effort raised $20,000+ and that pledges to that effort had totaled $68,000 thus far.  Later, the Secretary told us that the pledges had topped $106,000 in addition to the cash offering.  Shows what is possible if you give people something to think about.  Think about “in Africa a child under 5 dies from malaria every 45 seconds, every 45 seconds.”


LIFT Implementing Resolutions and their amendments took up a tremendous amount of time.  People were obviously engaged on the subject, in some cases skeptical, even apprehensive about the consequences of some of the changes proposed.  It was equally obvious that the assembly was going to  take the time it felt it needed to adequately air the subjects and ask pointed questions to illuminate the corners of this important issue.  There is a synopsis on the ELCA website of the actions on LIFT that will be more informative that anything I could write in quick summary.


Have I mentioned that youth are 13% of this assembly?  Have I mentioned how simply wonderful that is?  And here some of them are, stepping up to the microphones, confident in their determination to do something about bullying.  The following is the recommendation from the Memorials Committee as the substitute motion for the ones turned in by the 37 synod assemblies who sent a memorial to the churchwide assembly on bullying.  And following that are the verbatim speeches made by young people in support of the memorial.  There were no speakers in opposition:


Substitute to the Recommendation of the Memorials Committee re: Bullying, Harassment, and Related Violence (Category A1)


        To receive with gratitude the memorials of the Alaska, Eastern Washington-Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountain, Eastern North Dakota, Northwestern Minnesota, Northeastern Minnesota, Southwestern Minnesota, Minneapolis Area, Saint Paul Area, Southeastern Minnesota, Central States, Arkansas-Oklahoma, Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, Metropolitan Chicago, Northern Illinois, Central/Southern Illinois, Southeastern Iowa, Northeastern Iowa, Northern Great Lakes, Greater Milwaukee Area, South-Central Synod of Wisconsin, Southern Ohio, New Jersey, New England, Metropolitan New York, Upstate New York, Northeastern Pennsylvania, Southeastern Pennsylvania, Southwestern Pennsylvania, Allegheny, Metropolitan Washington, D.C., North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida-Bahamas synods related to bullying, harassment, and related violence;


        To encourage new partnerships among the churchwide organization, synods, congregations, campus and outdoor ministries, Lutheran School Associations, Lutherans Concerned/North America, Lutheran Social Services organizations, public schools, counseling centers, and other governmental organizations in order to support the prevention of bullying, harassment, and other related violence;


         To encourage these partnerships to create or join with existing preventative programs that:


           a.        Utilize positive, inclusive, empowering and developmentally appropriate materials;

           b.        Raise participants’ awareness about the issue;

           c.        Focus on prevention;

           d.       Seek to change bystander behavior into ally behavior;

           e.       Create partnerships between youth and adults; and

           f.        Address the use and abuse of social media and technology as they are used to bully and harass others;


        To encourage these partnerships to seek funding for these efforts from existing and/or new funding sources not otherwise accessible individually, such as foundation grants, synod and other Lutheran organizational grants, and private and governmental funding sources;


        To refer these memorials to the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit in order to facilitate and communicate these efforts in collaboration with the Office of the Presiding Bishop, Women of the ELCA, Lutheran Men in Mission, and Lutheran Services in America, with the request that ELCA-related educational, social service, and youth and young adult networks continue to expand their ministries in support of new partnerships to prevent bullying, harassment, and related forms of violence and to support and publicize such efforts throughout this church as financial and staff resources permit; and


        To request that the Congregational and Synodical Mission unit report to the ELCA Church Council at its November 2012 meeting.  END OF MEMORIAL COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATION


Go to the ELCA website, watch and listen to these young people’s witnessing:


Speaking FOR the recommendation: David Bukowy, Jr, New England Synod

“Bullying is a big part of people’s lives today.  I once was a victim of bullying.  I can remember 5th grade year as if it were yesterday.  “Big Nose”… and “Crooked Mouth”… were two names I had been called as a child for many years — both stemming from things I couldn’t control: my big nose from my dad, or, as I call it, the Polish gene, and my lip which had an underdeveloped muscle which caused it to slant to one side.  It was mid-winter, and I was on safety patrol.  While I was walking back in from my post, passed by me was one of two bullies I received these names from.  From behind me I heard my name, so as I turned to see who called, my jaw was met with an ice ball.  I was admitted to the hospital for a broken jaw, told to see a psychiatrist, and told by the school system to be home-schooled for the remainder of the 5th grade, for my “safety.”  I share this story to enlighten you on what one case of name calling can lead to.  It is crucial that we, as a church, take a stance to fight against bullying, to not only say you are welcome, but you are also safe.”


FOR Travis VanHorn, Oregon Synod

“While education is an essential part of growing up, school can be an intimidating place, full of pressures from both the classroom and students in it.   If you are different, you are an outcast.  I followed the crowd, trying to remain just like everyone else. Hoping that no one would suspect I was anything but normal.  However, I knew I was different.  I had known for some time that I felt an attraction towards the same-sex.  An ultimate red flag in schools was to be gay.  The most common expressions were “that’s so gay” and “no homo,” as well as refusing to go within a ten-foot radius of anyone what was known or suspected to be gay.  I felt that the only way I would be able to carry out a normal life, would be to to hide my feelings.  However, I had been taught by the church to stand up for myself, my beliefs, and to welcome diversity as an essential part of any community.  And on those principles, I made the decision to come out when I was 16.  I was shut out by many friends, and the people that talked to me only did so to call me things… not really appropriate to say in front of this assembly, and for a time I became depressed and suicidal.  I remember feeling like there was nowhere to turn, and I don’t want any other youth to have to feel that way, regardless of whether it be because of their sexuality, ethnic background, gender and gender identity, disabilities, social class, or any other unique attributes.  Youth and people of all ages need to know that their ELCA church will work to end bullying, harassment and related violence whenever and wherever it occurs.  I ask you to join me in supporting this memorial.”


FOR Amy Catalino, South Carolina Synod

“I am speaking in favor of the recommended action of the memorial, that I am overjoyed to say that my home synod has also brought forward before the churchwide.  I want to speak about how relevant this memorial and these actions are to our young people and our young adults, within our church and within our nation.  I want to speak in favor of the line item d in the resolution which says “seek to change bystander behavior into ally behavior.”  To that I want to say that high school and even college can be a really tough place, because everyone wants to fit in, everyone wants to feel included.  And just like bullying can be the result of ignorance and fear, silence and not standing up against bullying can also be a result of ignorance and fear.  I believe that many young people know that harassment is wrong, and want to stand up in support of their peers, but not knowing how to do so, or the fear of not fitting in if they do so, can leave you stunned and silent.  By intentionally fostering programs and partnerships to prevent bullying you are equipping our young people to not only believe that bullying is wrong, but to stand up in support of their peers, and wrap them with the loving arms of Christ’s love.  Thank you.”


FOR Erica Staab, Southeastern Minnesota Synod

“I speak in favor of this motion.  I come to you wearing many hats.  One is the Director of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Agency in Fairville, Minnesota, and two as a voting member from the Southeastern Minnesota Synod who is one of many who helped to put this memorial before you, and third as a human being, a member of this church, and an ally of many people I love who have been victims of violence, who, as a result of violence, have lost their voices, though I am offering mine.  I have been reminded this week of the importance of being welcomed, of being seen, of being visible, of people going out of their way to make you feel that you mattered.  As we have been reminded, time and time again this week, that this is what we are called to do and this is who we are.  It is that simple.  Violence in any form, be it physical or verbal, tears at the fabric of our heart, it tears at the fabric of our community, it tears at the relationships we place so much emphasis on building.  Last night as I was thinking of ways to approach this, one that I have devoted 15 years of my life trying to end violence, ever since I lost my friend, Julie, to domestic violence, and in Julie’s name I have committed to becoming an advocate against violence in any form.  And the song “Beautiful for Mercy Me” and this line kept resonating: “You are beautiful, you are treasured, you are sacred and you are his.”  We have a responsibility as a church to stand against violence, be it bullying or sexual or domestic violence.  We have a responsibility to remind each other that you are beautiful, you are treasured, and you are his.  I urge you, in addition to voting for this motion, to go home and seek out your domestic violence center, seek out your local sexual assault agency.  You have gifts that they need.  You know how to create community, you know how to heal, you know how to talk about we are created for a purpose.”


The question was called…

VOTE 870-85 to call the question (end debate)

Main Motion before the house

VOTE 932-23 adopted A1 the anti-bullying motion


Goodsoil Worship

Wednesday, in addition to the worship held during the assembly, Goodsoil offered worship in the evening, outside of the assembly time, in order to keep in focus the lingering incompleteness of full inclusion in the church.  The celebrant was The Rev. Richard Graham, Bishop of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod.  The Rev. Dr. Shauna K. Hannan, Assistant Professor of Homiletics, Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, preached.  The music was awesome, inspiring, and uplifting – performed by a volunteer choir under the direction of Dr. Joseph Holt.  Paul Gibson was the soloist.


The texts for the service were Ezekiel 37: 1-14, Psalm 16: 8-12, 1 John 4: 7-21.  The Gospel reading was the Lazarus story in John 11: 32-44.


Reflecting on the Ezekiel text, Rev. Shauna observed that getting dry bones to come together is going to involve making some noise.  We know about making noise to get things together.  “This process, this movement from death to life, from dry bones to living flesh, is exemplified in Jesus’ journey to the cross, and then from the cross to the tomb; occupied, empty.” But for Martha and Mary, the question was simple, and devoid of nuance or gracious salutations: if Jesus had come when called, their brother would not have died.  Their complaint and confidence is evident at once, and resonates with our own questions in moments of loss, death, and suffering: you could have fixed this, where were you?


She said we know that Jesus “is the resurrection and the life” and yet still cry out in pain that he who could do so much seems sometimes not to be doing anything to end suffering.  Rev Shauna pointed out that Lazarus was not the only one bound.  His sisters were bound too, by their “only ifs.”  Others were bound too, perhaps by wanting to stay in power or by their limited faith in God’s limitlessness.  They could not free themselves from their bonds any more than Lazarus could free himself from death or his bindings.


Note, she said, Jesus raised Lazarus up, but instructed those there to unbind him.  “Jesus raises up, but we unbind.  Unbind him.  Let her go.”  Helping someone see injustice around them unbinds them.  In baptism Jesus raises us to new life.  “In response to this, we declare that we will, with God’s help, unbind those around us.”  How? She said by “feasting together, praying together.”  By resisting evil and repenting, seeking out “opportunities to love the neighbor, to strive for peace among not only those who are like us or those we perceive to be needier than we are, or those who can pay us back generously.  We strive for justice for all people. That is what unbinding looks like.”


“To unbind is to stand up for the ‘perceived outsiders,’ for those most vulnerable, to act on behalf of those who face bullying and injustice.  Unbind them.  Let them go.” 


The full text of her sermon will be posted tomorrow on the Lutherans Concerned website, www.lcna.org. 


But now, I am gonna give this, you, and me a rest… See ya tomorrow, or later today, Thursday, actually…