Presiding Bishop delivers final report

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PITTSBURGH (ELCA) — In his last report as presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Rev. Mark S. Hanson said there is an opportunity for the 4-million-member church — in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation — to let go of being competitive in a religious marketplace and embrace the opportunity to be who we are in Christ.
Hanson delivered his report to the 952 voting members of the 2013 ELCA Churchwide Assembly meeting here Aug. 12-17 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The churchwide assembly is the highest legislative body of this church. The theme for the assembly is “Always being made new.” This year marks the 25th anniversary of the ELCA, and the 500th anniversary of the Reformation will be observed in 2017.
“We are ambassadors bearing the good news that God is not in the sin-accounting business,” said Hanson. “To do that, to bear the witness of whom God is in the world is to be who we are as evangelical Lutherans. As Paul wrote, ‘we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ.’”
Hanson said that in his past 12 years as ELCA presiding bishop he has been blessed “to witness the Spirit’s power at work throughout this church and among our global and ecumenical partners.”
He said he sees “the Holy Spirit at work” among ELCA congregations who are responding to the call to be engaged in mission planning, among the thousands of ELCA youth gathered in New Orleans in 2011 for worship and service, in the wisdom, patience and strength of the ELCA’s 65 synod bishops and the ELCA Church Council, among people who are affected by natural disasters and in the lives of people overseas.
“Yes, we can trust the Holy Spirit, who is at work through this church as we are deeply rooted in Christ and always being made new,” Hanson told the assembly.
“We have something to say to people who are searching for the good life. It is the story of a gracious God who calls each one of us by name through baptismal waters, gathers us into the community of faith, the living body of Christ and sends us forth in so many varied callings in daily life to love and serve the neighbor, to care for family and friends and God’s creation to strive for justice and peace and in word and deed to share the good news of Jesus Christ,” he said.
In his report, Hanson shared that on a flight back to Chicago he noticed a bottle of soap in the airplane restroom. “I took it out and asked the flight attendant if I could borrow it for a few minutes … to copy down the brand and description [which] is called ‘Pure Grace.’”
“Think how prevalent this message is in our lives: if you live more purely, invest wisely, pray fervently, think positively, give generously, advocate passionately, then you will have achieved a state of grace and made your life whole,” he said. “People deserve to hear a different Gospel, the message about the God who really is pure grace, the God who really does wash us clean — body, soul and spirit. What an opportunity we have in the coming years when attention will focus on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.”
Throughout his report, Hanson responded to the question, “What if the Holy Spirit is writing new chapters for the Book of Act? What will those chapters tell of what the Holy Spirit is doing among and with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America?”
He said that it is his hope that the writer of the new chapters of Acts would describe how the Spirit empowered the people of the ELCA with attentive listening, spiritual renewal in the personal lives of members and in the nearly 10,000 congregations of the ELCA, moving into becoming communities of radical hospitality and deepening this church’s engagement globally.
Among the videos shown in his presentation, Hanson shared a video of Archbishop Kawak of the Syrian Orthodox Church and invited the assembly “to witness to the power of the cross and resurrection in the midst of unimaginable suffering and death” in Syria. Hanson also offered a prayer for the people of Egypt in light of lives lost there.
“Such is the work of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts and in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Planting the church and being uprooted, moving on for the sake of the Gospel, we are committed to respond to those who have been uprooted by war and famine, by natural disasters and political oppression, by poverty and ecological destruction,” he said.
In his continued response to what would be written in the new chapters of Acts, Hanson said that “let it be told with all humility that the generosity of ELCA members became the occasion for jubilation and thanksgiving for God’s amazing grace” and that in the coming years for the ELCA, “let us build upon our strong system of theological education” and leadership development in this church, particularly recognizing and supporting the leadership already being given by youth and young adults.
As he concluded his report Hanson said, “May those chapters added to the Book of Acts declare the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit and in Christ is always being made new.”
After his report, Hanson was presented with the Servus Dei Medal.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 4 million members in nearly 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of “God’s work. Our hands,” the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA’s roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.