I am home from the 59th annual synodical convention of the ELCE (held the past two days in Sunderland). It was two days of meetings, worship, and wonderful hospitality from all the St Timothians; there were times of laughter and consensus, debate and confusion; sessions ran to time except for the financial discussions which ran overtime across three sessions grabbing time where possible; yet at the appointed time for the close of the two days, all matters had been handled – we have ways forward for the coming synodical term, and, I think, delegates had a better understanding of what we are as a synod and how we should be synod together.
A crisis will do that to you. Make you look carefully at things. Focus the mind so to speak. A bill of over £200,000 would do it. That’s the total amount of em-ployer liability owed by most (but not all) ELCE con-gregations and by the ELCE central administration because of an undersubscribed pension fund that the British Government has said must be restored by the employers. Some congregations are not involved; others have a minimal amount to pay; still others have amounts to pay that ‘hurt’; and for a few more congregations, this liability will send them to the wall. Some congregations are wealthier than others. What to do as synod? Are we ELCE franchises that sink or swim alone? How do we, as church, negotiate between financial responsibility and synodical care for those who struggle? Ascension faced the same issues at her last congregational meeting – just prior to synod – and encapsulated the issues and the solution with their advice to their delegates – we want to help … sensibly. And that is precisely what has emerged from the convention – a ‘formula’ whereby we all help each other according to our ability, those who have the liability pay a bit more, and we use some of the ELCE General Funds as well. The details will be presented soon but I wanted to make the point that in the debate and discussion – about, of all things, money – the ELCE showed herself ready to wrestle with issues before us that show both justice and compassion. (And I think you can’t ask for more from any organisation.)
Of course there was a lot more to the synodical convention than this matter. Pastor Steve gave the synodical essay about the history of Lutherans in Great Britain and our place today in Brit-ish Christendom which gave me a wry smile as I thought of the accents of the four preachers at synod (American, Canadian, Brazilian, and Australian). Chairman Jon Ehlers began his report quoting Charles Dickens ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ and yet no matter what the ELCE faced we were all held, upheld, and carried by Jesus, the Lord of the Church. We looked at our words and our deeds in this land and want to go out into the community but always under the shadow of the cross. We gave reports to each other – boards and committees and Westfield House – and also congregations shared their joys and struggles and how often does a synod get to hear from all member congregations in one place?!
I was pleased to attend this convention – and I’m pretty sure Andy was as well (thank you, Andy, for being our delegate for this synodical year) – because I think I got a glimpse of congre-gations wanting to work together in this land, supporting each other more, and being creative in sharing the Gospel. And of course we’re part of it! — GS