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Finns share similar challenges with ELCA T

he Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland reported a member-

ship drop to 4.2 million (78 per- cent of Finns), with 80,612 mem- bers leaving in 2010—double the numbers of the previous year. But 13,816 members joined (not includ- ing 47,943 children and infants who were baptized).

Harri Palmu, acting director of

the church research center, said res- ignations primarily are part of an erosion over time. But he said res- ignations spiked after an October 2010 televised discussion of same- sex marriage. Increasingly, people resign over views that the church is either too hidebound or too reform- minded, he added. “The largest group of leavers ever since the 1970s has been 18- to 24-year-olds living in the cities,” he said. “Earlier there was discussion of a sense of alienation from reli- gious life, but a more accurate ren- dition would be that the church is no longer held to be of sufficient per- sonal significance to remain within its bounds.”

Much like the ELCA, Finn- ish Lutherans are seeing declining

 11

residents also had become angered over plans by Muslim migrants to build a mosque in the city.

Churches & new Cuba policy Calling it “an important first step toward more just and open rela- tions between the U.S. and Cuba,” Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches general secretary, wel- comed a White House decision Jan.

14 to lift travel restrictions that made it difficult for churches in those coun- tries to engage one another. Religious organizations and accredited insti- tutions of higher education now can sponsor religious travel to Cuba under a general license and U.S. groups can help fund religious activities in Cuba.

Rwanda: New bishop Mugabo Evariste was elected

Clarification: Joyful Harvest Church, Johnsburg, Ill., approved two votes to leave the ELCA (February, page 46), but subsequently rescinded the decision.

For more news, see 12 The Lutheran •

Cold nose ministry Winter is the time for cold noses, but

one making the rounds of northern New England congregations and Lutheran Social Services programs has a special purpose: to help Sister Carol M. Weaver, LSS church relations associ- ate, reach out. It belongs to Gracie, a miniature toy poodle-Bichon Frise mix that Weaver considers her full partner in ministry. In the photo above, Weaver, a member of Grace Lutheran Church, Auburn, Maine, introduces Gracie to Jim (last name not given) at his LSS group home in Westbrook, Maine.

church income. Unlike the ELCA, the Finnish church’s income is based on a state tax paid by citizens, who are automatically church members unless they resign. Nearly half of its congregations ran a deficit last year, as staff, pension, maintenance and other costs increased.

Ahti Hirvonen of the “Church 2015+” working group, told the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper that the church is administratively “living beyond its means,” saying only about 15 percent of members (600,000 people) are active and the others could cancel at any time. But the newspaper reported that 5,000 (one-quarter of all staff) church employees are expected to retire within the decade—most not to be replaced. Pension costs are increasing by about $13 million a year, but church leaders hope stock market gains will help.

Leena Rantanen, director of the

church’s central treasury, told the paper that last year the pension fund grew by some $17 million, and “the income from the fund has been good all the time that it has existed.”

bishop of the Lutheran Church of Rwanda at its December assembly in Rwamagana. George Wilson Kalisa retired after eight years as bishop of the 40,000-member church.

Help after Brazil’s floods Churches continued to organize help for Brazil after more than 600 people were killed in floods and mudslides near Rio de Janeiro. The disaster dis- placed thousands from their homes, and ecumenical efforts include the Lutheran Federation of Diaconia and ACT Alliance.

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