“Here in this place, new light is streaming,” began the first hymn of the opening eucharist as the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) met in a four-day convention at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont.
Addressing the gathering in June, Eastern Synod Bishop Michael Pryse compared the 10th Biennial Assembly to going to a family reunion. There is a keen, enthusiastic attendance by many, but a restless reluctance by others. “We also reconvene to catch up on what happened in the interim,” he said, “but only in meeting again, do we begin to enjoy one another after a while.”
In describing the personalities of various family members come together, Bishop Pryse brought to mind the myriad harmonious voices and competing, discordant opinions which comprise our synodical family. He reminded us that although we are gathered to answer hard questions, “by God’s grace, we are being formed into something new.”
The assembly authorized numerous substantial motions, including an urgent appeal to all levels of government to ensure safe and affordable housing and to safeguard Canada ‘s universally accessible health care system.
In light of the ELCIC Retiree Pension deficit (reported in the September Journal), the assembly authorized the exploration of alternative means to reduce the cost of health and dental care plans. Merging with another denomination’s health structure like that of the Anglican or United churches was suggested.
The tough decisions commenced in a sometimes intense debate centred around the principal motion that “all persons are welcome to full participation in the organizational and sacramental life of this church, regardless of gender, race, ancestry, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, age, record of offences, marital status, sexual orientation, economic status, family status or disability.”
Then, in a move similar to that of the Anglican General Synod which deferred its decision on the blessing of same-sex unions, delegates voted 247/90 that the National Church Council initiate a “study of the theological, ecclesiological and pastoral implications of authorizing a parish-based local option to perform such blessings,” for consideration at next year’s National Convention in Winnipeg.
For some, the one-year time-frame seemed too short; for others, it was simply wrong, as the blessing of same-sex unions was considered unscriptural and therefore sinful — confusing love with approval.
Many others spoke in favour, asking how much more study is necessary. Numerous clergy identified urgent pastoral difficulties of integrity, service and witness.
Others still regarded same-sex blessings as an issue of justice — that the gay person in our midst is not asking for special treatment, only equal treatment and if Canadian law can provide such, why can’t the church?
Until this question is brought to our next national convention, how will Lutherans in the pew respond? That depends on whether they regard the church as standing or falling on this single issue.
Rev. Dr. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Lutheran church, Toronto, and writes for various church and secular publications.