ELCA Churchwide Assembly 2019

Recap and open letter



Gathering under the theme “We are church,” voting members of the 2019 Churchwide Assembly of theEvangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) made a number of key decisions to further the mission and ministry of this church. The assembly, the chief legislative authority of the church, met Aug. 5-10 at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee.

Go to ELCA.org/cwa for the official website of the Churchwide Assembly.


More than 900 voting members:

  • Reelected on the first ballot the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton to a six-year term as ELCA presiding bishop.

  • Elected Deacon Sue Rothmeyer to a six-year term as ELCA secretary. Rothmeyer, currently serving as executive for administration with the Office of the Secretary, was installed during the assembly’s closing worship on Aug. 10 and will begin her term Nov. 1.

  • Approved the social statement “Faith, Sexism and Justice: A Call to Action” and its implementing resolutions. The social statement, in part, names patriarchy and sexism as sins and calls the church to action on a range of issues, including gender-based violence, workplace discrimination and economic inequality.

  •  Adopted A Declaration of Inter-Religious Commitment,” which will serve as church policy for inter-religious relations. The policy statement was adopted with the witness of 39 ecumenical and inter-religious guests in attendance.

  •  Approved the triennium budget for 2020-2022, which includes a current fund spending authorization of $68,378,325 for 2020, a current fund income proposal of $68,442,034 for 2021 and $68,507,018 for 2022; and an ELCA World Hunger spending authorization of $21.5 million 2020, and an income proposal of $21.5 million for 2021 and for 2022.

  •  Adopted the “Strategy Toward Authentic Diversity in the ELCA,” which consists of a report and recommendations on how the ELCA exhibits authentic diversity and formulates goals for racial diversity and inclusion.

  •  Witnessed the presentation of the “Declaration of the ELCA to People of African Descent,” which was accepted by the Rev. Lamont A. Wells, president of the African Descent Lutheran Association (ADLA), and members of ADLA.

  •  Adopted 26 memorials en bloc, ranging in topics from gun violence to engagement in the Holy Land and gender identity to seminary tuition.

  • Adopted a memorial that affirms the ELCA’s long-standing commitment to migrants and refugees and declares the ELCA a sanctuary church body.

  • Adopted a memorial that calls for the development of a social statement and social message on the relationship of church and state.

  • Adopted a memorial to encourage all synods and congregations to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ELCA’s ordination of women in 2020, the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women of color in the Lutheran tradition and the 10th anniversary of the ELCA’s decision to remove barriers to ordination for people in same-gender relationships.

  • Adopted a memorial to support the vision and goals of the Poor People’s Campaign that align with the ELCA’s social teachings.

  • Adopted a series of amendments to the “Constitutions, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,” including one that makes ordination the entrance rite for ministers of Word and Service, and an amendment to no longer count deacons as lay people for representational principles.

  • Adopted a resolution that committed the ELCA to support the World Council of Church’s “Thursdays in Black” campaign toward a world without rape and violence.

  • Adopted a resolution to commemorate June 17 as a day of repentance in the ELCA for the martyrdom of the Emanuel 9—the nine people who were shot and killed June 17, 2015, during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

  • Adopted a resolution to condemn white supremacy, calling all ELCA congregations to engage in a “study of the structures and rhetoric that empower and fuel racism and white supremacy and to take to heart the teaching of Scriptures, so we may all be better equipped to speak boldly about the equal dignity of all persons in the eyes of God.”

  • Celebrated the end of Always Being Made New: The Campaign for the ELCA, which concluded June 30 with nearly $250 million raised in cash, multiyear commitments and planned gift commitments. At the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, voting members approved the $198 million campaign to help sustain and grow ministries of the church.

  • Elected members to serve on the ELCA Church Council, churchwide committees and churchwide boards, including Portico Benefit Services, the Mission Investment Fund and 1517 Media.

southern ohio synod

Bishop Dillahunt letter

Dear Members, Friends and Colleagues in Ministry in the Southern Ohio Synod,

Grace and peace be with you in the name of Jesus Christ our risen Savior and Lord. 

In the past week you have heard a lot from me about the senseless killings in Dayton and yet, here is another Note as we navigate the choppy waters of our neighborhoods, communities, world and Church.  So please read on…this one is long but necessary.

Scripture calls and guides our lives as Church.  Micah 6:8 is easy to read but often hard to live out.  Matthew 25:35 invites us to see others differently.  What we do as church is to be Jesus to others. Without Jesus our work is empty.

As you know, last week the Churchwide Assembly was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “We are Church” was the theme.  Things happened: elections for the Presiding Bishop and Secretary were held.  We hold Presiding Bishop Eaton in prayers and thoughts as she continues leading this church. We also hold Deacon Sue Rothmeyer in prayer as she begins her new call as Secretary.  Other decisions were made about the Entrance Rite for Deacons, now to be ordained;  a declaration of apology to our siblings of African descent;  approved the support of the World Council of Church’s “Thursdays in Black” awareness movement for a world without rape and violence;  voted to commemorate June 17 as a day of remembrance  to honor the Emanuel 9; approved the recommendations from the strategic task force, which is studying how to work toward authentic diversity in the church, adopted a Declaration for Inter-religious commitment affirming ecumenical and interfaith partnerships; adopted a new social statement, “Faith, Sexism and Justice” and elected people to Church Council as well as other elections.

However, one decision made has caused a flurry of questions, debate, interest, comments, criticism, anger and rejoicing in social and news media, from members, and concerned friends from across the country.  On August 7, the Assembly adopted a resolution that, among other things, declared the ELCA to be “a sanctuary church body”.  We received questions and comments as well, some in support of the action and some against. There is a lot of misinformation swirling around and I want to invite you to stop and breathe, creating space to look at and absorb exactly what all of this means.  It is important to look at the materials and the resolution itself.

So as we breathe together and ask the Lutheran Question: ‘What does this mean?’ keep in mind the following:

•   The Churchwide Assembly’s declaration as a sanctuary denomination binds ONLY the ELCA Churchwide Organization; it does NOT bind congregations, synods or other organizations.  

•   Furthermore, the resolution passed this past week affirmed “the long-term and growing commitment of this church to migrants and refugees and to the policy questions involved”.  Declaring the ELCA to be a sanctuary church body is a public declaration that we will continue doing what we have been doing as a church for a long time in support of refugees and immigrants.

•   The Churchwide Assembly did NOT define what it means to be a sanctuary denomination, but rather requested that the ELCA Church Council provide guidance as to what it means to be a sanctuary denomination.

•   The Churchwide Assembly (and this is important) did NOT call for any illegal actions. All actions mentioned by the assembly are legal, and whether any person or organization chooses to engage in civil disobedience and accept the consequences is up to them.


I repeat, NOTHING in this action binds synods, congregations or any other organizations affiliated with the ELCA…It binds Churchwide and Churchwide alone. And the question of what does this mean and how we live into this is the Church Council’s work. We have to expect people to interpret the declaration in many ways.

What can you do?   Keep breathing and do some homework…

•    Review the resolution as reported in the Assembly’s Legislative Update

•    Take a look at and re-read the ELCA Social Teaching Statement on Immigration which helps provide the context and history that informed the decision 

•    View the videos of the discussion on the floor of the Assembly (Time stamps for videos provided below)

•    Wed. morning – Discussion begins at 1.09: https://youtu.be/EbOyMdeAqV0?t=4142

•    Wed. afternoon – Discussion starts at 1.21: https://youtu.be/a0-QMl5szYU?t=4867

•    AMMPARO, Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities…this was passed 3 years ago at CWA

•    Review the 2018 SOS Resolution on the Separation of children from parents which, we as a synod, passed:   2018 SOS Assembly Resolution

•    FAQs from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): ACLU Sanctuary Congregations and Harboring FAQs


Finally, remember the mission, vision and values of this Synod:

Our Mission is to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection…we share and invite others to know God’s love and grace in Jesus. 

Our Vision and Values: Stronger and Better Together…Joining Jesus in the Restoration of the world as we Clarify, Cultivate and Collaborate.


Please SOS, breathe, read, reflect and then respond.



Bishop Suzanne Darcy Dillahunt


What does this mean?


God's mission has a church

An open letter by pastor layne


"Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor."  Romans 12:9-10

Siblings in Christ,

Thank you for taking the time to read and discern the actions taken at the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly (CWA), of which I was elected a voting member by our own Synod Assembly.  This kind of assembly happens only once every three years, with the elected Church Council handling business on behalf of the ELCA in between assemblies. I am also very happy to tell you that the next CWA, in 2022 will be happening right here in Columbus, Ohio! We will be needing a great number of volunteers, so mark your calendars now for the first full week in August 2022!


This was my first time being elected to the CWA and I was blessed to be immersed in the prayerful reading, discussions, debating, and voting of the gathered people of God in the ELCA. It was a gift to be there. Both my head and my heart were uplifted and challenged. It was amazing to be a part of the larger church at work.


We, the over 900 elected voting members, met with confidence in God’s grace around word and water, wine and bread, to carry on the work on behalf of the entire church.


While there are many good things that I would enjoy reporting to you, our attention must be diverted to something some have found to be contriversal.  


The ELCA got a good amount of press by voting to become North America’s first church denomination to declare itself a Sanctuary denomination.  CNN and Fox News covered it.  It even made the Washington Post as the word Sanctuary has become a buzz world in our culture.


Many of us have an immediate reaction to the word “sanctuary” as it is applied to the issue of immigration.  We largely think of providing safe space for those fleeing deportation processes, which means breaking the law in aiding those individuals.  Many have asked the question, “Did the ELCA Churchwide Assembly advocate that we break the laws of our country by declaring ourselves a sanctuary church body?”  

Others of us wonder if the ELCA can mandate that congregations fall in line with this understanding of “sanctuary,” and more specifically, will AdventELC begin to offer sanctuary to those not wanting to be deported?

I have talked with the President of the Congregation, Craig Dame, and we do not have any plans to open AdventELC in such a way that we offer living accommodations for people facing deportation.  There is no interest for us to pursue this path as it relates to our mission.   

The ELCA Churchwide organization is now "Sanctuary." Let me be clear this does NOT bind us as a congregation, a synod, or any Lutheran organization (e.g. Lutheran Social Services).  This does not call on us to conduct illegal action or engage in civil disobedience.  Most people I speak with agree with the work our wider church is currently doing: advocating for reform with our legislators to create a good and fair system for immigration, helping refugees to resettle through the work of different social service agencies, and praying for a resolution to this difficult issue to quickly come.


I am thankful for the work and ministry of AMMPARO, the ELCA's strategy to Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities (AMMPARO) which provides avenues and opportunities to legally carry out our compassionate care for our immigrant and refugee neighbors.

I tell you in full transparency that I felt uneasy at the time of this vote as I would have liked for the CWA to have better answered the standard Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” before we voted.  I feel this discussion needed more time for debate and definition as the intentional ambiguity we now have creates more anxiety and disagreement due to its lack of clarity.


At the same time I also understand the urgency for a statement such as this.  Between what seems to be endless mass shootings filling the news and those deemed to be illegal immigrants being detained and deported without an equitable process (see NPR article here), offering our thoughts and prayers without those thoughts and prayers leading us to action is frustrating.  Prayer is a time for us to come to God with all that we have and all that we are and to leave all that we are thankful for and that burdens us at the foot of God’s throne of grace. Prayer is also to be a conversation with God that empowers real, authentic, tangible change so that God’s will and way will be done on earth as it is in heaven.


LET ME BE CLEAR, this is NOT a matter of politics.  This is a matter of Christian faith. The ELCA is trying to be faithful to the faith we collectively claim and proclaim.  Have they, are they, will they mess it up? Yes. Yes. And yes. Have they, are they, will they also get things right? Yes. Yes. And yes.  Just like you and me.  

I agree with Presiding Bishop Eaton when she said at the CWA,

“God’s church doesn’t have a mission… God’s mission has a church.”


We here at AdventELC are a family of faith who does have a mission that points us to God’s mission: Worship God, Follow Jesus, Serve Others, and Make Disciples.  In our core value statement on service we state, “In love and service to God and being led by the Spirit, we share our gifts with the congregation, the community, and the world. We celebrate all these gifts, knowing that in giving we also receive and live out the call to do God’s work.” In our core value statement on welcoming we state, "Responding to our Lord’s call to 'love one another,' we invite and embrace all into the family of God so that they may encounter the risen and living Christ."

We will not always agree and we will not always get it right.  But will do agree on so much more and will not always get it wrong.  And as we are rooted in Scripture, grounded in prayer, nurtured in worship and given the means of grace in the sacraments, let us give thanks be to God for the Spirit that inspires and encourages us, Christ who saves and frees us, and God the Father who continues to create and call us as we go to serve and love our neighbors in Jesus' name.


Dear church, this action from the Churchwide Assembly has created an opportunity for us as people of faith to consider more of our thoughts about this issue in light of Scripture and prayer.  It has generated more interest and questions about how our wider church works and I’m happy to help you understand the intricacies of this relationship.


May we focus on living into our core values and mission, as we keep our eyes and lives on Christ, fully acknowledging that God’s church doesn’t have a mission… God’s mission has a church.


Blessed to serve the Savior alongside you,

Rev. Aaron Layne

Pastor, AdventELC