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Above board!

—A report on the recent board meeting (rev.)

by Pastor Jaynan Clark Egland (President, WordAlone Network)

October 15, 2003

photo of Jaynan Clark

Pastor Jaynan

(The paragraph marked with an asterisk is being added today to this report. It did not appear originally because we wanted to make sure Bishops Andrea Degroot-Nesdahl and Jon Anderson were apprised that we were planning to release our letter publicly. We did this as a courtesy because their comments at the meeting in Milwaukee were repeated in the letter. We confirmed yesterday that they had both been contacted. The editor.)

The quarterly meeting of the WordAlone Network’s board of directors took place Oct. 3-4 in metropolitan Buffalo, N. Y. It was a productive and very important meeting of the board. As elected leaders of the Network we realize that not all congregations and individuals that comprise WordAlone will be in agreement on many of the issues facing the church today, not the least being the questions regarding sexuality.But we are confident that we all agree that open conversation can be valuable and is necessary if we are to continue as a voice and movement called to renewal, reform and deeper theological reflection within the wider church. The call to faithfully engage in such matters is certainly “above board.”

The board wrestled with many important issues facing the Network specifically and the church as a whole. The following are highlights of our activity:

  • The board moved up the 2004 annual convention from the fall to the spring, so that WordAlone can help people respond to “Journey Together Faithfully, Part Two: The Church and Homosexuality,” the second study guide from the ELCA sexuality task force that was sent to every congregation last month. The deadline for responses to the task force is Nov. 1, 2004. The WordAlone convention will be set up as a model of how the Church can discuss controversial issues based on biblical and confessional Lutheran foundations, accepting that God’s word is authoritative over us. We will engage in open debate and pro and con discussions by offering workshops and small group sessions as well as by inviting top scholars from biblical theology, systematic theology and scientific/sociological disciplines. Participants will come away better equipped to respond to arguments put forth on the sexuality questions facing the Christian Church as a whole and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), in particular. The question of whether to ordain people in homosexual relationships and bless homosexual relationships will be voted on at the 2005 Churchwide Assembly. A new social statement on sexuality is expected to come up at the 2007 churchwide assembly.
  • *The board reviewed a letter that had been sent to the ELCA bishops by Network director Mark Chavez and me. This letter was written to clarify misconceptions about the Network that surfaced at a meeting of WordAlone officials and members with bishops and synod staff members during the ELCA churchwide assembly in Milwaukee last summer. We had learned during that conversation that there have been many misunderstandings regarding the Network and its activity. These perceptions seem to have impeded conversation and healthy working relationships between WordAlone Network members and ELCA leadership. This letter will be shared with the Network through the Network News and our email lists.
  • We will continue to pursue examination and application of the “Admonition for the True Peace and Unity of the Church” by the Lutheran Episcopal Coordinating Committee and the ELCA Division for Ministry. The Admonition was written by the WordAlone Network’s Theological Advisory Board. (The Coordinating Committee originally was referred to as the Joint Commission in the Called to Common Mission full communion agreement.)
  • The board considered the possibility of future alliances and partnerships with other voices, movements and agencies across the ELCA. Proposed criteria for such relationships are to be presented at our January meeting. Our participation in the ACR (Association for Church Renewal), with other mainline renewal movements and our initial conversations with Voice of the Faithful (a Roman Catholic reform movement) have been hopeful regarding the churches and the accountability of their leaders.
  • The treasurer’s report was both encouraging and distressing news. It is encouraging that as a non-profit organization in this difficult economic climate, WA is holding its own better than most. Yet we are restrained from doing more as a movement because of financial limitations. But the reality of what needs to be done is daunting. The tasks all cost money, for example: forming chapters; preparing for the churchwide assemblies of 2005 and 2007; producing education and communication resources; and holding conferences, conventions and supporting the annual meetings of the Theological Advisory Board (international in its composition). However, the reality of forming chapters also brings with it the reality that funding stays closer to home for local efforts with less being available for national and international efforts. It is time to encourage through fundraising appeals the generous support of the Network by congregations and individuals so our important call to engage in renewal and reform is not minimized by financial constraints.
  • The fund for reducing the seminary debt load of WordAlone pastors who are in their first five years of service was reviewed. We decided to increase our efforts to grow that fund so that as the number of exceptions under the bylaw amendment increases we have money available to help those who apply for the financial help.
  • The Call and Candidacy Committee presented a pamphlet entitled, “Responsibility, Freedom and Accountability of Call Committees.” The board endorsed the piece and now it will be produced and made available to congregations in the call process.

Presently the board meets four times annually, with two of their meetings at the WordAlone office in Minnesota and the other two meetings in other locations. At the other locations we attempt to have members of the board preach and lead adult forums in the local churches on Sunday mornings after the board meetings. Eight board members and our director were in seven different churches in the Buffalo area last week. We have seen that this helps expand the Network and increases the flow of communication. Our hosts in New York made our time together very pleasant and productive!