ELCA Head Reports 'Painful Days'

The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America reported that 40 positions may be cut as the denomination struggles financially.

"These have been very painful days in this organization," ELCA Presiding Bishop the Rev. Mark S. Hanson told the Church Council Friday, according to the ELCA News Service.

Lutherans are looking to reduce their 2010 budget by 10 percent due to decreased giving over the past 30 years, the economic downturn, and the decision by some congregations to withhold funding.

Several congregations have decided to cut all funding to the ELCA following the controversial vote in August by the denomination's chief legislative body to approve a resolution allowing noncelibate gays and lesbians to be ordained.

"What the ELCA vote has accomplished is to make each congregation even more autonomous. That independence frees us to choose who we work with in mission and who we support financially," pastors at Hope Lutheran Church in Fargo, N.D., said last month. "To that end Hope Lutheran's leadership has suspended all financial support to the ELCA and will develop a process to define who our mission partners will be. We will support these partnerships with direct financial support."

Lutheran CORE (Coalition for Renewal), an association of conservative congregations within the ELCA, has urged congregations and individuals to direct funding away from the national church body.

"With our consciences captive to the Word of God, Lutheran CORE must oppose the decisions of the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly," the renewal group states.

Some churches are weighing the decision or have already voted to leave the denomination. Community Church of Joy, a megachurch in Glendale, Ariz., voted to sever ties, saying the direction the ELCA has chosen is not consistent to where God has called their church.

The recent actions compounded with the denomination's continuing decline in membership and giving have prompted a call for stronger leadership.

"However one analyzes the contributing factors, the consequences are the same: Mission is diminished. Unity is strained. Lives are impacted. And faith is tested," Hanson said, as reported by the ELCA News Service.

"I can say with all confidence that this church has never in my nine years as presiding needed the strong leadership of the Church Council as much as we need leadership from you now."

The ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the country. Membership in 2008 was at 4.6 million in 2008, down from 4.7 the year before. Total giving in 2008 dipped by 2.64 percent to over $2.7 billion.