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Presiding bishop I

By Mark S. Hanson

Telling an evangelical story We should recall abundance of Spirit’s gifts among us

f some- one asked you to

tell about the ELCA’s first 25 years (page 20), how

would you tell the story? As I have listened to the stories of many who served as “midwives” in the ELCA’s birthing, this is what I hear. There was a commitment to a

stronger Lutheran witness to the gos- pel in a rapidly changing world. There was a desire to focus on the vitality and ministry of congregations and on the growth in faith of all the baptized, while at the same time growing in our awareness of and deep engage- ment in God’s mission for the life of the world. That hope included being a strong companion to other Lutheran churches in the world, particularly through the Lutheran World Federa- tion. It was time for an evangelical Lutheran witness less identified with preserving the traditions of immi- grant ancestors and more focused on sharing the good news of Jesus Christ in an increasingly diverse North American context.

Perhaps your story of the ELCA’s

May our remembering turn us from any

nostalgic longing for the past toward God’s promised future.

first 25 years would be a chronol- ogy of significant decisions at assemblies—social statements, full com m union agreements, “The Use of the Means of Grace,” the Study of Min- istry, and the election of lead- ers. Or your narratives may

50 The Lutheran •

focus on controversies and the resulting tendency to define the ELCA by issues that divide us rather than the faith that unites us. For others the major theme may be the story of losing members and con- gregations, decreasing resources for mission and an aging membership that is still predominantly white. Responsibilities for these realities rest with all of us. Together let us engage in the critical analysis that leads to change and a strengthening in our witness to the good news of Jesus Christ and service to our neighbors. Finally, an evangelical church—a church that lives by faith, with a living,

daring, confidence in God’s grace—will tell an evangelical story. An evan- gelical narrative of our 25 years will tell the story of God’s gracious presence and work among us, though not in pious platitudes detached from reality. An evangelical narrative discovers in real people, real life situations and real events who we are as Christ’s body, what the Spirit has been doing among us with the gospel promise, and where God is taking us into the world for its good in coming years.

An evangelical narrative will be the story of the Spirit at work in the lives of

all the baptized who have been members of the ELCA. In that telling we will remember the abundance of the Spirit’s gifts among us. We will remember our failures in the context of God’s forgiveness freely given on account of Christ. We will be assured that our differences and even divisions are not outside the bounds of God’s reconciling work through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yes, God is not in the sin-accounting business. God makes us a new creation in Christ and has entrusted us with God’s message and ministry of reconciliation. Let us tell the story of our first 25 years so that it belongs to the larger bibli- cal narrative of God’s promises and God’s people. May our remembering turn us from any nostalgic longing for the past toward God’s promised future. Let us imagine the Spirit writing another chapter in the book of Acts today. As we live into God’s promised future, let us together be a church that: • Supports all the baptized, living out our varied callings to be disciples of Jesus Christ in our daily lives. • Serves the gospel—through vibrant new and renewed congregations. • Gives a clear evangelical Lutheran witness to the gospel, building upon the strong foundation of the ongoing Lutheran Reformation. • Prepares wise, courageous, imaginative and diverse evangelical leaders to serve in church and society. • Deepens and extends our global and ecumenical partnerships as we serve God’s mission of restoring community and reconciling relationships. • Welcomes all with radical hospitality, while confronting the barriers of atti- tudes and actions that block full participation in church and society. • Grows generous and faithful stewards of God’s abundant gifts. Thank you for your faith, prayers, generosity and witness, which are as important to our future as they have been to our first 25 years. 

A monthly message from the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. His email address:

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