As the Board of Directors of the WordAlone Network met in Burien, Wash., last month they were confronted over and over again with the question on so many folks’ minds these days, “Where are we going?”
Not only while the board was in session was this question confronting each member through a number of the different agenda items but also at the evening forum hosted by Glendale Lutheran Church, Burien. People who gathered to meet with members of the board wondered where WordAlone was going to lead them. They wanted to know where WordAlone’s commitments were and what the plans were for the future.
As I listened and participated in the board meeting, forum, led adult study and even as I preached I kept being reminded of a quote by H. Richard Niebuhr, “The great Christian revolutions come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there.”
Within the Christian faith, Lutheranism is a very radical theology because of its utter dependence on salvation through Jesus Christ alone--nothing and nobody added. The dependence of the Lutheran voice on the clarion call of the fourth article of the Augsburg Confession, that states nothing new but restates what Jesus preached and Paul taught--we are justified, made right with God through His grace and the faith He gives us as a gift and not by our own doing.
This is what not only distinguishes Lutherans from other Christians but also what beckons us once more in this time of turbulence and turmoil to step up to the plate and pronounce this clarion call for Christ Jesus alone in many and various ways. We are called to be the “radical Lutherans” we are by birthright and to repeat loudly that which always has been there.
With that in mind the board heard reports during its meeting of many more additions to the growing number of educational resources available through WordAlone’s educational effort, Sola Publishing. Education director Steve King has been busy producing new studies for children, women’s groups and adult studies in addition to a new brochure ministry and eye-catching thematic posters.
All materials are produced to teach the confessional Lutheran faith to those inside and outside of the ELCA. The goal is to get the Word-based materials out to as many churches and individuals at as low a cost possible. The mission of Sola is not primarily to create revenue but to teach the faith.
Reports of working together more closely with the Solid Ground Lutherans reform group in Canada were heard. The Institute of Lutheran Theology is working with Lutherans in Canada in the newly formed Canadian Association of Lutheran Churches.
Plans for our presence and witness at the churchwide assembly in Minneapolis August 2009 as an active member of Lutheran CORE were brought to the board by Mark Chavez, vice president of WordAlone and director of Lutheran CORE, together with Scott Grorud, member of the WordAlone board and the Lutheran CORE steering committee.
Discussion included reviewing the relationship between WordAlone and Lutheran CORE. The importance of WordAlone’s continuing as an active member of Lutheran CORE is a priority because it is the Network’s primary focus for reform and political activity within the ELCA. It was clarified that while WordAlone is part of the coalition--one member group out of ten within Lutheran CORE--the WordAlone network extends inside the ELCA and beyond through its own ministries, through new Lutheran ministries that started from WordAlone and to other independent Lutheran agencies with whom we relate and whom we support.
Preparations for the churchwide assembly and beyond are in progress including an official response to the proposed human sexuality social statement for the 2009 assembly and contingency plans for different scenarios that might result from votes taken there and changes made in ELCA policies and practices.
The board was updated on the status of implementation of the ELCA’S 2001 ordination bylaw amendment and learned the ELCA records show that there have been 40 non-episcopal ordinations granted in 21 synods to date including some eastern synods. The pastors receiving exceptions were graduates of all but two of the eight ELCA seminaries. WordAlone continues to try to support seminary students in various ways including making the Seminary Debt Relief Fund available to them.
The topic and speakers for the then up-coming Fall Theological Conference, "A Different Gospel--Christianity at Risk," were discussed. Plans were made for the annual spring convention with a theme of evangelism as the primary work and mission of the church. Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley, Minn., will host the convention on April 26-27.
The Institute of Lutheran Theology is working with me to launch a series for WordAlone chapters, in which I would tell the WordAlone story, and explain the new working paradigm of being the church and doing the mission of the church. The series will also introduce people to the various ministries that have been birthed by the WordAlone Network.
The audit committee reported that the annual audit of WordAlone produced a good report showing WordAlone met or exceeded the standards for non-profits during the fiscal year of 2007. It has been recommended again that WordAlone build up and maintain a six-month operating cash reserve, which we have never achieved. The need for stepped-up efforts for fundraising especially in these difficult economic times was noted.
Some proposals for organizational/structural change were proffered by an ad hoc committee tasked previously with reviewing the overall internal functions of WordAlone. One change that was made renames Mark Chavez’s position from director to vice president. This aligns his position better with the president’s and helps make a distinction in his continuing work as the director for Lutheran CORE.
Hopefully just in reading this summary of the board meeting you can see that the question of leaving the ELCA or staying in the ELCA is not the driving question of the WordAlone Network. WordAlone will continue its calling of working both inside and outside the institution. WordAlone’s calling is to network with and bring together any and all confessional Lutherans and other Protestants who still believe in the Word of God, its authority over all matters of life and faith and who know Jesus Christ is the one Lord and Savior of us all. Considering the “letters” of such a network you end up with NACL (network for any/all confessional Lutherans). Called to be “salt” of the earth.
So whether individuals or churches need to stay in the ELCA or decide to leave the ELCA or even if they are a part of another denomination, WordAlone is committed to being there to provide resources and a Network in which to be faithful and to witness. Perhaps the good Lord will use us to draw together the diaspora of Lutherans so that in these troubling times we can confess the Living Word of God, teach the faith, make disciples and be the church God called us to be. This is our purpose no matter what denomination or institution you find yourself a part of.
This way of relating and doing and being the church, no matter what affiliation you are or what letters you have on your sign, is not the discovery of something that was not known before . . . it just takes radically that which has always been there.