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appy hearts were pounding among the more than 2,000 worshipers. The soaring strain of hymns of praise filled the Columbus, Ohio, convention hall as—25 years ago—bishops of three Lutheran church bodies poured water from three bowls into a baptismal font and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was born.

Years before that worship service

Bishops of three Lutheran church bodies—James Crumley, Will Her- zfeld and David Preus—pour water into the baptismal font in the con- vention hall in Columbus, Ohio, as worshipers celebrate the creation of the ELCA at the 1987 constitut- ing convention. The ELCA was offi- cially born Jan. 1, 1988.

The ‘new’ ELCA celebrates 25 years By Charles Austin

there had been prayers, standing ovations, tears of joy and shouts of “Hallelujah!” as delegates to con- ventions of the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches heard the results of votes approving the plan to end separate lives and merge into a new Lutheran church. Some of us had been through previous mergers. Unions over many decades had brought together Lutherans of German, Swedish, Danish, Finnish and Norwegian heritage into congregations, synods, districts and national affiliations which—while honoring the heritage of our homelands—reflected more precisely the life and witness of Lutheranism on the North American continent.

The most recent of those merg- ers, in 1960 and 1963, created the ALC and the LCA. The AELC didn’t come from a merger, but from a schism. It was composed of pas- tors and congregations that broke from the Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod in the 1970s after a long, bit- ter dispute over theology and inter- pretation of the Bible.

Now, following years of discus- sion and negotiation, there was to be a new Lutheran church giving us a stronger, more unified witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, guided by the teachings of Martin Luther, taking a firm hold on the 20th century and carrying that witness into the 21st century, just 12 years away. “It was a time of youthful ideal- ism, even playful idealism,” said Ann Hafften, Weatherford, Texas, an ALC staff member at the time. “We were looking toward a oneness that was very holy and believed that was the direction we should be headed. We were looking at the world differ- ently and at a world that was going to be different.”

The world of our new ELCA would be different, but in some unsuspected and surprising ways.

Leaders emerge

The constituting convention elected Herbert Chilstrom, head of the LCA Minnesota Synod, as bishop of the new church. (The term “presiding bishop” wasn’t chosen to describe the office until several years later.) On the fifth ballot, Chilstrom received 626 votes, with David Preus, then head of the ALC, receiving 411.

22 

Austin is a retired ELCA pastor in Teaneck, N.J., who was director of news for the Lutheran Church in America in the years just prior to the ELCA merger.

August 2013 21

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