Please listen to what Saint Paul said to the people of Ephesus,
“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there…” Acts 20:22
Dear People of the Southwest California Synod,
God's grace and peace be with you as we continue as a people of resurrection and hope in these Easter days.
All of my communiques between now and the first weekend in June will have some comment or insight about our upcoming Synod Assembly and what is before us there and these days in the SWCA Synod.
Today I want to remind you why the participants of synodical and churchwide assemblies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are referred to as Voting Members. When the ELCA was formed and framed as three church bodies coming together and creating a new church in the late 1980s, one of the important decisions we made was how people would come together in the assemblies to be part of the process of shaping the church for the future. For an ELCA Synod Assembly, congregations send their rostered ministers and two or more laypersons from the congregation. We come as Voting Members, a designation utilized by the ELCA indicating that we are there to listen, to speak, to debate, to pray, and to be led by the Spirit of God as we elect Bishops and other officers of the Synod, as well as other positions provided for by the governing documents of the Church. Voting members approve budgets and spending plans. They may submit, amend, adopt, or defeat proposed resolutions and memorials. They are there to lead their Synod into the future and the mission of God in the way they believe the Holy Spirit is guiding them and the whole of the Synod and the Church.
ELCA Voting Members are not “delegates” or “representatives.” Those two designations normally indicate that people come to a gathering bringing with them the posture of the group from which they came or were sent. If you were coming to the Synod Assembly as a “representative” or as a “delegate,” it would be anticipated or even expected that you were there on behalf of a larger group and your votes would be representing and reflecting the thinking, mindset, and perspective of the congregation from which you came. In this church, however, we are Voting Members who are given the freedom to attend and participate in the Synod Assembly, ready to allow the other Voting Members to help shape our votes by the speeches we hear, by the dialogue, discussion, and debate that takes place on the floor of the Assembly, by the prayers that are prayed, and most of all, by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us to lead us to make the best decisions possible.
With some frequency in my years as Bishop of our neighboring Synod, Voting Members at either a Synod or a Churchwide Assembly told me something like this, “I came to this assembly with my mind already made up. I know how the folks back home were expecting me to vote. I heard the leadership of my congregation and other people speak about it and I know the way they believe I should have voted. But then I heard others speak from another part of the Church. I listened to the debate and the speeches. I realized there was more to this issue or this candidate than what I knew when I came. I ended up voting differently than I thought I would when I first stepped foot into this Assembly. I believe the Spirit moved me in the right direction.”
If you are a Voting Member who will be attending the 2021 Southwest California Synod Assembly, please come ready for the people of the Assembly and the Spirit of God to help shape your thinking and your hearts about the matters before us. If you know who the Voting Members are from your congregation, please forward this message to them if they have not seen it.
May the Spirit of God guide us and move us to give shape to God’s Church in the days ahead.
The Rev. Murray D. Finck