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Leaders ‘back then’ left their marks T

wenty-five years ago we wondered what kind of church the ELCA would be. We could have learned by looking at those who led us into the merger and the man we chose to lead the “new” church.

David Preus, last presiding bishop

of the American Lutheran Church, and Herbert Chilstrom, first presiding bishop of the ELCA, have both writ- ten memoirs. Preus wrote Pastor and President: Reflections of a Lutheran Churchman (Lutheran University Press, 2011). Chilstrom’s autobiog- raphy is A Journey of Grace: The Formation of a Leader and a Church (Lutheran University Press, 2011). Preus’ parish ministry led him into struggles to combat urban blight and a term on the Minneapolis school board as schools integrated. He

joined the civil rights struggle, inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.’s call for freedom, justice and courage.


president, his main concern was for con-

gregations and their ministry. At the same time, he took the ALC’s con- cerns into the corridors of Washing- ton, D.C., carrying pastoral messages on the Middle East, anti-Semitism, justice for Native Americans, apart- heid in southern Africa and ecology. Preus’ commitment to the central- ity of the congregation and its pastor led him, he says, to regret supporting the change to use “bishop” rather than “president” for district and national leaders, fearing the subtle suggestion of a hierarchy undercuts the impor- tance of the congregation. In merger talks, Preus was the

leading champion of the local parish as the most important expression of the new church. Chilstrom’s memoir overflows with concern for pastors and parishio- ners facing grave challenges. Having known sorrow and struggle, he sees the toll that ministry takes on the fam- ily. But he felt the need for the church to face issues such as sexual- ity and didn’t hold back, let- ting his experi- ence as pastor and synodical bishop guide him as ELCA presiding bishop.

Both men

write of ecumenical discussion and emphasize dialogue nationally and internationally. Neither fears that

By Charles Austin

something “Lutheran” will be lost as partnership with other church bodies expands.

Preus laments declining relation- ships with the Lutheran Church– Missouri Synod. But he felt before the ELCA merger that the conser- vatives in the LCMS sought “total victory” and would “drive out” their opponents. He says ALC sympathy was clearly with the moderates who formed the Association of Evangeli- cal Lutheran Churches, the third party in the ELCA merger. Chilstrom’s memoir doesn’t deal with concerns for the LCMS.

Priority of the congregation, its pastor and people, engagement with tough issues in the world and ecumenical dialogue were all key elements of both men’s leadership as the ALC and LCA, with the AELC, became the ELCA. The leaders we chose “back then” left their marks. 

20 Largest ELCA congregations in 2012 Hope, West Des Moines, Iowa

Mount Olivet, Minneapolis

Santa Maria de Guadalupe, Irving, Texas Hope, Fargo, N.D.

St. Philip the Deacon, Plymouth, Minn. Shepherd of the Valley, Apple Valley, Minn. St. Andrew, Mahtomedi, Minn. Bethlehem, Minneapolis

Lord of Life, Maple Grove, Minn. Good Shepherd, Naperville, Ill. Sheridan, Lincoln, Neb.

Our Savior of East Mesa, Mesa, Ariz. Prince of Peace, Burnsville, Minn. Mount Calvary, Excelsior, Minn. Southwood, Lincoln, Neb. Community, Las Vegas

Our Saviour, Naperville, Ill. Good Shepherd, Madison, Wis. St. Paul, Davenport, Iowa Hope, The Villages, Fla.

Average attendance 9,539

6,000 4,500 3,258 1,968 1,920 1,894 1,698 1,483 1,475 1,432 1,418 1,389 1,375 1,345 1,258 1,222 1,216 1,195 1,183

Statistics in this cover story were supplied by ELCA Research and Evaluation. August 2013 27

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