ELCA Head Urges Lutherans to Be 'Evangelical'

The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is turning things around to make the denomination more "evangelical."

"I suppose one of my greatest frustrations in six years as presiding bishop is, it just feels like we haven't been able to turn around what I think is a deep ambivalence and resistance in this church to being what we claim in our name, and that's evangelical," said ELCA Presiding Bishop the Rev. Mark Hanson, according to the ELCA News Service.

Although such resistance will not change quickly, Hanson indicated, the presiding bishop recently announced that 65 ELCA synods will be given a one-time $10,000 grant to be used for "evangelical outreach."

"We want you to use your imagination," said Hanson. Suggestions for outreach included evangelism, training, transformational mission or to help synods fund new mission starts. Beyond programs, Hanson pointed out that becoming more evangelical requires a "deep, fundamental cultural change."

Funding for the grants, which will be delivered immediately, come from advance grants made from the 2006 church-wide budget to help start new churches this year. The evangelical outreach grants do not "jeopardize" funding for the planned 50 new starts for 2007, Hanson noted.

The push for evangelical outreach comes in addition to Hanson's efforts to draw diverse people groups into the churches. Hanson expressed concern over the dominantly white and elderly denomination, which claims 4.85 million members, and began meeting with youth and African Americans to break barriers.

Moreover, Hanson called for multicultural and multi-lingual churches rather than segregated congregations of white and other ethnic groups.

The recent grants were announced at a meeting with the ELCA Conference of Bishops, an advisory body of the church. Other topics of discussion included full communion relationship with the Episcopal Church, currently wracked by theological differences, particularly over homosexuality.

"We continue to pray for a church body that's experiencing incredible tensions, challenges and opportunities," said Hanson. "I hope that you're reaching out to your Episcopal bishop colleagues for personal support, and I hope you're continuing to convene conversations (about) how we can be in mission together. ... This is not a time to pull back from a church that's facing issues not unlike those we face, but it's a time for remaining together in full communion."

A full communion relationship between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church was inaugurated in January 2001.