It's an interesting time to be church. As awareness of social injustices grows throughout the country and the world, the same is happening within the church. As the Gospel shows us time and again, Jesus' favor, attention, and ministry was directed toward freeing and uplifting the poor and oppressed. However, the way ELCA churches have lived that out has been...well...not the best.
When I was going through the assignment and call process, I distinctly remember all of my seminary classmates and I being called to a meeting with our discernment person from the seminary and the Bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod. During that meeting, they laid out the process we were entering into. They told us what we needed to do to stand out to bishops and churches, what paperwork we needed to fill out, they gave us deadlines, and they let us know what we could expect in the process ahead. Then...they laid out some realities for us.
They told us:
Why is this a reality? Well...because it turns out there are many churches who are simply not ready or willing to consider more diverse candidates. It's an injustice happening right inside our church body. When we embrace the full diversity of God's church and open ourselves up to leaders with voices different than our own, we are opening ourselves up to the Holy Spirit's work to take us to new places for the sake of the Gospel.
To be fair, often times the first time a congregation is asked to consider looking at a female, person of color, or LGBTQIA+ candidate is when they have already entered into the call process. At that point they're grieving the loss of their pastor, and they have a short amount of time to make a decision to keep the process toward a new pastor rolling. Realistically, it's simply not the right time to enter into the many deep threads of conversation and dialogue that are needed to consider diverse candidates, and how to make the congregation a welcoming place for those candidates should they become the congregation's pastor.
When congregations are unwilling to partner with diverse candidates, not only does the church miss out, but seminary students who invested at least 4 years of their lives and a lot of money into becoming a pastor are left to live in a constant waiting game.
So how do we address this injustice?
We start with conversation in our own congregations who already have called pastors and are not in the call process.
But how do we get congregations to do that?
Through a resolution! A resolution is an official statement that is lifted up, voted on, and adopted at our annual Synod Assembly. A well-written resolution will state a problem, then offer up a way of resolving that problem. In order for a resolution to be lifted up at Synod Assembly, it has to be endorsed by a congregation, a committee, or a minimum of 10 individuals.
Luckily, the Christ the King Church Council has endorsed a resolution to address this very issue!
Here is the resolution being lifted up:
Resolution Title: Opening the Way for Women, People of Color, and LGBTQIA+ Candidates
WHEREAS, the body of Christ is made of a collection of diverse images of God; and
WHEREAS, God calls us to work for peace for all people through justice; and
WHEREAS, women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ candidates wait longer for calls than their white, straight, male, cis-gendered colleagues; and
WHEREAS, the ELCA is the the least racially diverse denomination in the US; and
WHEREAS, representation in leadership matters; and
WHEREAS, the covid-19 pandemic is leading to burnout of clergy and a push toward transitions of call; and
WHEREAS, faithful discernment in the calling of pastoral candidates takes time and discussion facilitated by trusted leaders; and
WHEREAS, the first time many congregations engage in conversation about calling women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ candidates is when they are just about to or have already entered the call process
THEREFORE BE IT
RESOLVED, that congregations of the ECSW with a called pastor begin conversation and discernment on the future calling of women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ candidates; and BE IT FURTHER
RESOLVED, that congregations in conversation also create action plans for making their congregation a more safe working, living, and ministry environment for women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ pastors through a commitment to education, training, continued prayerful discernment, and systemic change.
Let's be clear here: This resolution is not aiming to force any congregation to accept a female, person of color, or LGBTQIA+ candidate. That doesn't serve congregations or candidates well.
What it IS doing however, is encouraging congregations to have discussion about accepting diverse candidates while they STILL have a trusted pastor who can lead and facilitate those conversations. Additionally, it is asking congregations to take an honest look at their practices and congregational culture to explore how they could move themselves toward being a more accepting or hospitable place for candidates to serve.
The endorsement by the Church Council is representation of all of you! By endorsing this resolution, you all are taking an active role in addressing injustices that happen within the larger church -- this is work to celebrate! Thanks, Holy Spirit!
Peace be the journey,