John Lamb, Published January 30 2011
ELCA event helps unify members: Congregations offer each other supportMark Narum, bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod, has some advice to churches facing a vote to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“Any congregation wondering what to do, don’t take a vote,” Narum said Saturday night. “Votes don’t settle the issue; they cause deeper divisions in God’s church.”
Narum was one of the organizers of this weekend’s Rebuilding the Remnant event at Concordia College. The event was designed to give ELCA churches from across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota a chance to talk and share ideas about how to deal with rifts following the ELCA’s 2009 decision to ordain gay clergy members in same-sex relationships.
About 120 pastors and lay leaders from all three states attended the seminars. Events were closed to the general public.
Narum stressed that in addition to prayer, communication is key.
“Seek help in learning how to talk with one another,” Narum said. “Society has a hard time with civil discourse. There are people who can coach you on how to disagree without those disagreements becoming personal. There are good, faithful people on all sides of this issue.”
Narum said it’s easy to dwell on what was lost as people and congregations have split with the ELCA, but there were glimmers of hope through the trouble.
For example, churches reported more activity in Bible studies.
Also, some members have taken the opportunity to step up as leaders with good ideas, he said.
He added that this weekend they also discussed how to “grieve good friends who leave churches and respect them for their decisions.”
The gathered faithful found comfort hearing that they are all experiencing similar growing pains.
“It doesn’t matter the size of our congregation, our stories are so similar,” said Susan Hopp of Benson, Minn.
Hopp and her husband, Duane, were among the six representatives from the East and West Zion Churches in Benson.
While a first vote at East Zion to leave the ELCA failed, members of the congregation left the small church.
Susan Hopp said the loss was “huge” and average services dropped from up to 60 participants down to as few as 40.
“Our church is so small, it was more of a family,” she said. “It’s our family members that are gone. It’s almost like there was a death in the family.”
The Rev. Bill Tesch, associate to the bishop of the South Dakota Synod, said the event was valuable for churches with recent conflict. Members at such churches could talk to parishes that have been through similar stresses and hear how they endured.
Phil Leer, interim pastor at First Lutheran Church in Harvey, N.D., which split in two last year, said he felt able to help those now going through the “intense, agonizing, painful journey” his church already experienced.
His advice to those churches dealing with potential splits – “hang in there.”
“I tell my church, ‘In our deepest suffering, that’s where Jesus is, rolling up his sleeves,’ ” Leer said. “God will meet us in those dark places. God is in the midst of this. God will see us through.”
Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533