Last month, Anglican Journal welcomed a new column entitled Concerning Lutherans, modelled after a similar feature in Canada Lutheran magazine, Concerning Anglicans. The column is written by a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). When the good ship ELCIC was launched on Jan. 1, 1986, a blueprint for its biennial conventions was endorsed, whereby a delegate, lay or clergy, would represent each parish. A constitutional formula was established to ensure a greater number of lay participation than clergy. Although there are 627 congregations, due to multi-point ministries parishes were entitled to send 510 delegates (310 lay and 200 clergy). Other attendees included 16 National Church Council (NCC) members, four officers and five synod bishops, plus staff, official guests and visitors. The ELCIC would meet to enact the necessary business of the church and celebrate the spirited life God breathed into her sails.
The trouble is that there has never been a full complement of delegates at national gatherings to take ship. The last four assemblies, for instance, have realized a total eligible attendance ranging from only 67 to 74 per cent. Congregations not sending representatives do not share in the ever-increasing operational costs, which now range from $800 to $1,000 per delegate. The reality is that convention disbursements exceed registration income (covering airfare/travel, housing and facility costs), resulting in deficits eventually covered by the national church budget.
ELCIC’s navigational snags have resulted in repeated requests for convention reform. To that end, a task force was established and reported its recommendations at the March meeting of NCC. Included in task force proposals were two national assembly models.
In the first model, participants would consist of the membership of NCC and each of the five regional synod councils for a total of 92 delegates, 46 clergy and 46 lay. In the second, 50 delegates (plus national executive officers) would be elected by their synods based on proportional baptized membership.
Each prototype would be large enough to adequately represent the church, but small enough to be cost effective. They would also meet the principles of representation from each synod and offer a balance between lay and clergy. Delegates would only meet to handle the business of the church, thereby reducing the length and cost of each convention to be held in central locations, like Winnipeg or Toronto – thereby further trimming expenses.
If, for example, attendance were reduced to 200 participants and shortened to three days of business, the estimated shared cost would be $500 per parish, whereas 100 delegates over two days would be $350 and 54 delegates over two days would be $75. A self-funded “festival” or “celebration” event could be held at one or more localities to allow fuller participation from the church at large.
The recommendations are a “jumping off point,” says Rhonda Lorch, ELCIC’s national staff director of administration, to facilitate church-wide discussion, including alternative suggestions. These proposals will be distributed to each congregation, each synodical delegate and synod councils for input in time for the September sitting of NCC. The constitution and bylaw committee will then craft the necessary administrative bylaw amendments for the 2005 Convention in Winnipeg. Rev. Dr. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Lutheran church, Toronto, serves on the ELCIC’s National Church Council and writes for various church and secular publications.