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Synod fails to respond—to clarification requests

by Betsy Carlson (Editor, WordAlone Network)

July 22, 2003

Reactions to a statement printed in a 2003 Southern Ohio Synod Assembly “Daily Summary,” raised concerns among WordAlone leaders as to perceptions that the movement or its members are unwilling to communicate with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

WordAlone Director Mark Chavez wrote to that synod expressing those concerns and asking for a clarification. He also asked that it and a summary of communications between the WordAlone (WA) Network and the ELCA, which he prepared, be mailed to synod delegates as well as to congregations to whom the synod may have sent the “Daily Summary.”

Chavez wrote to the Southern Ohio Synod: “I am concerned about how some are interpreting the article, ‘Schneider Answers Assembly’s Questions,’ in the ‘Daily Summary,’ final edition, for the Southern Ohio Synod Assembly 2003 and in particular this paragraph:

‘Bishop [Theodore] Schneider [Metro Washington D.C. Synod] clearly stated that the ELCA would like to talk with the WordAlone network. The ELCA considers itself to have made significant concessions already without response. There is some frustration that there is no emerging dialogue.’”

The WA director wrote also that the article had made it onto the Internet. He cited one reaction as an example:

The second paragraph surprised me. I have had the understanding that the WordAlone network has been taking whatever opportunity to dialogue with ELCA leadership that they could find. But the bishop stated clearly just the opposite that they (ELCA leadership) have wanted to talk and have made concessions already without any apparent response from WordAlone. He spoke of their frustration over no emerging dialogue with WA. My question - what is truth here? - and who is blocking the dialogue attempts?

Chavez stated: “If this is how people on the Internet are interpreting the article, it is likely that some of the recipients of The “Daily Summary” also understood the report that way.”

The synod has not responded to the letter or to phone calls and an email.

BULLETIN – July 23, 2003: The Southern Ohio Synod wrote to WordAlone today that WordAlone’s request may be presented to the Synod Council when it next meets, in September.

Chavez wrote also to Bishop Schneider.

Schneider responded that the article was essentially correct although he indicated he didn’t remember his exact words. He noted that he, as a synod bishop, could not possibly know of all the communication efforts within the ELCA about Called to Common Mission (the full communion agreement between the ELCA and The Episcopal Church USA). He wrote that it wasn’t his intention to convey the idea that WordAlone had refused to communicate with the ELCA.

Schneider indicated that he had been attempting to say that many were frustrated because they did not sense any "reciprocity" for what they believed had been, over the years, evidence of “the sensitivity the ELCA clearly had demonstrated for concerns raised by WordAlone and others.”

Chavez concluded to the Ohio synod: “WordAlone has repeatedly attempted to converse with the ELCA. Because the report can be read to say just the opposite, I request that you send this letter and the enclosed summary to all people who attended your assembly. If the ‘Daily Summary’ was also distributed to the congregations of your synod, then I ask that you send this letter with the enclosed summary [see below] to them as well.”

Conversations between the WordAlone Network and the ELCA

The “Daily Summary,” final edition, for the Southern Ohio Synod Assembly 2003 includes an article, “Schneider Answers Assembly’s Questions.” Metro D.C. Bishop Theodore Schneider was the ELCA’s representative to the synod assembly, and the article reports on his answers to questions he received while at the assembly. The report includes this paragraph:

Bishop Schneider clearly stated that the ELCA would like to talk with the WordAlone network [sic]. The ELCA considers itself to have made significant concessions already without response. There is some frustration that there is no emerging dialogue.

Unfortunately, people are interpreting the report to mean that Bishop Schneider suggested that the WordAlone Network is unwilling to converse with the ELCA, which was not the bishop’s intention.

For the record, here is a brief account of the history of the conversations between the ELCA, the WordAlone Network and opponents of the full communion agreement between the ELCA and The Episcopal Church USA.

All Lutherans who participated in the first and second Lutheran-Episcopal Dialogues (1969-80) objected to the Episcopal Church’s requirement for unity, which was a mandatory historic episcopate. Three of the eight Lutherans in the third Lutheran-Episcopal Dialogue (1983-91) also objected to the required historic episcopate. After 1991 the ELCA completely excluded those three opponents from all formal dialogue with the Episcopal Church leading to the full communion agreements, and not once did the ELCA ask the three to participate in discussions and presentations within the ELCA concerning the full communion agreements, although they could have brought balance to such events.

In fall 1997, after the churchwide assembly rejected the original full communion agreement or “Concordat,” Dr. Todd Nichol, an opponent of a required historic episcopate, was included in the rewrite committee for an agreement. The other Lutherans on the committee, Drs. Martin Marty and Michael Root, were in favor of a required historic episcopate.

Presiding Bishop H. G. Anderson instructed the committee at its first meeting to change the agreement in any way, except that they must include a required historic episcopate. This effectively negated the participation of Dr. Nichol. Toward the end of the rewrite process, Dr. Nichol requested twice that his minority report opposing “Called to Common Mission” be published as an appendix to the proposed agreement. Both times Marty and Root refused the request, the second time with the support of the ELCA ecumenical staff person present. The ELCA Church Council invited Marty and Episcopal representatives to the Council’s November 1998 meeting so they could present the final draft of CCM.

Nichol was not invited to attend the Church Council meeting and the ELCA did not publish or distribute his statement.

In February 2000, the late Claire Strommen, a leading Lutheran layman, initiated a formal two-day mediation session in Milwaukee and invited the ELCA and the WordAlone Network. The WordAlone Network accepted the invitation. It was the only time that the opposing points of view on Called to Common Mission were equally represented. The assembled group voted 17-1 for the Milwaukee Common Ground Resolution. (It called for essentially the same freedom from episcopal ordination for both bishops and new pastors as that requested now in the “Admonition for the Sake of the True Peace and Unity of the Church,” which was written by the WordAlone Theological Advisory Board in 2002). The Common Ground Resolution was sent to the Presiding Bishop, the Conference of Bishops, WordAlone and the ELCA Church Council.

The WordAlone Network endorsed the Common Ground Resolution at its March 2000 constituting convention. WordAlone invited the Presiding Bishop to speak at its convention. The invitation was declined—a full calendar was cited. The Presiding Bishops have been invited to speak at all subsequent annual WordAlone conventions. Each invitation has been declined for the same reason.

Four WordAlone members (three were members of WordAlone’s Board of Directors), at their own initiative, attended the April 2000 ELCA Church Council Meeting at which the Milwaukee Common Ground Resolution was supposed to have been discussed. The Church Council did not address the Common Ground Resolution directly but talked about an idea from the Conference of Bishops suggesting a limited concept of ordination in unusual circumstances. The Church Council did not recognize nor speak with the four WordAlone members present.

WordAlone presidents have met with presiding bishops on four occasions—twice with Bishop Anderson and twice with Bishop Hanson. WordAlone initiated all four meetings. A third meeting between Bishop Hanson and WordAlone leaders, again initiated by WordAlone, occurred in mid-June.

The one and only conversation initiated by the ELCA resulted from an invitation from the Presiding Bishop’s office to WordAlone to provide input for the ELCA’s strategic planning process. The ELCA offered to send two staff members to meet with a few WordAlone leaders, and requested a minimum of 90 minutes, but said they preferred three hours. WordAlone responded by inviting the ELCA staff to its January 2003 Board of Directors meeting, and set aside three hours with the ELCA staff.

The “Admonition for the Sake of the True Peace and Unity of the Church” was mailed with a cover letter to all ELCA bishops, the ELCA Church Council, and many other ELCA leaders as well as to the Episcopal Bishops and the Episcopal Standing Commission on Ecumenical Relations. No ELCA leader responded directly to this mailing from WordAlone. The one and only direct response was from an Episcopal bishop.

Dr. James Nestingen, chair of WordAlone’s international Theological Advisory Board, wrote to the Presiding Bishop in April 2003 to seeking a response to the Admonition. Bishop Hanson declined to respond to the Admonition and instead invited WordAlone to respond to a new statement from the Executive Committee of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), “The Episcopal Ministry Within the Apostolicity of the Church—a Lutheran Statement, 2002.” WordAlone’s Theological Advisory Board immediately studied the LWF statement at its late April 2003 meeting. The advisory board’s response to the LWF statement soon will be made public.

The events listed here are attempts by the national WordAlone movement to communicate with the ELCA. Local, synodical and regional WordAlone members have also tried to initiate many discussions at their levels. Many of these have been rebuffed, as well.

As a final note, the report in the Southern Ohio newsletter uses “dialogue” to refer to the relationship between WordAlone and the ELCA. “Dialogue” usually is used for the process of negotiations between church bodies. WordAlone is a renewal movement including ELCA members and congregations within the ELCA, not another church body.