Yesterday during worship, I mentioned that the ELCA Churchwide Assembly would be meeting this week in Pittsburgh. (This has been a bi-annual assembly, but will soon change to every 3 years). I hate to admit it, but I received only polite stares and nods of heads. Now, I don't know if it is because people had no idea what I was talking about and/or they didn't have any particular interest in it.
To talk about the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is it's own kind of anomaly. The ELCA can be that place in Chicago where the churchwide offices are or just some sort of vague notion about Lutherans. We might know that we are an ELCA congregation, but that might be as far as it goes.
In this day and age, as denominations (particularly mainstream churches such as the ELCA) are diminishing in size and centrality in people's lives, is becomes its own kind of adiaphorous (indifferent) of being. For decades, people have "shopped" for churches, not based on its denomination but rather other criteria such as hospitality and welcome, children's ministries, etc. We are at the point now in our culture that even this kind of shopping has waned.
So, the questions remain - what is the purpose or the point of having denominations? Do we even "need" them?
There are plenty of arguments on both sides of these questions. And I, for one, get frustrated with the institutionalization of faith. While there may be some value to the institution, it is when it becomes more important that discipleship that we have already lost something.
Yet, having attended a Churchwide assembly six years ago as well as numerous National Youth Gatherings, these kinds of events do remind us about what it means for us to be the Church. In these events, we can see the Church sharing its faith through a wide variety of ministries - world hunger and justice ministries, mission outposts, colleges & seminaries, and so many different churches that make up the ELCA. Attending these gatherings can open us to see beyond our own local congregations and our own ministries to what is happening in places like Denver (CO), Oaks (OK), Athens (OH) and more.
Yes, the business can get boring (especially those amendments to the amendments) as the assembly turns to the more institutional portion of being the Church. However, worshipping, praying and deliberating in faith about who God is calling us to be as the Church in this ever-changing world can be inspiring and exciting.
While, we can't all be in Pittsburgh this week, we can participate virally. Here is the link for the livestreaming of the Assembly http://new.livestream.com/elcacwa
You can also visit www.elca.org or the Facebook page to get up to date information (the first ballot for the election of the Presiding Bishop will begin this evening).
This gathering may be not all the Church is called to be, but it can be a glimpse. Take a gander and see what God might be up to!