by Cindy Novak and Elizabeth Hunter
More than 251 Women of the ELCA voting members worshiped together, conducted business and elected new officers and churchwide executive board members during the Twelfth Triennial Convention, Sept. 18-21, in Phoenix, Arizona.
The voting body elected Myrna Wells-Ulland, Phoenix, Arizona (Grand Canyon Synodical Women’s Organization), as president.
“Women of the ELCA is a wonderful organization,” said Myrna Wells-Ulland , elected on the fourth ballot as the organization’s president for the 2023-2026 triennium. “I love the things we do [and] all of the initiatives we have. I know they are challenging… I am really excited about the capabilities we have for this next triennium. [In Hebrew], hineni means ‘Here I am, Lord. You called me. Use me. So I’m going to close with that. Hineni.”
Other officers elected are: Lorie Garcia, Corpus Cristi, Texas (Southwestern Texas Synodical Women’s Organization) , vice president; Gwen Edwards, Bellevue, Nebraska (Nebraska SWO), secretary; and Jennifer Armstrong-Schaefer, Latrobe, Pennsylvania (Southwestern Pennsylvania SWO), treasurer.
Those elected to serve on the churchwide executive board are:
Jean Pishaw, Forest Grove, Oregon (Oregon Synodical Women’s Organization); Maria Lokensgard, St. Peter Minnesota (Southwestern Minnesota SWO); Jennifer Ackerman, Elyria, Ohio (Northeastern Ohio SWO); Julia Sabella, Hillsborough Township, New Jersey (New Jersey SWO); Sheena Foster, Silver Spring, Maryland, (Metropolitan Washington, DC, SWO); Anna Jetson, Spring Grove, Minnesota (Northeastern Iowa SWO); Tracy Williams, Long Beach, California (Southwest California SWO); Yma Mulero, Carolina, Puerto Rico (Carribean SWO); Ginger Cutrell, Manchester, Tennessee (Southeastern SWO); Joyce Brooks, Detroit, Michigan (Southeast Michigan SWO); Merrily Burmeister, Bemidji, Minnesota (Eastern North Dakota SWO).
Officers and churchwide executive board members will serve the 2023-26 term.
It was the first time the convention had met in person in six years, after many changes wrought by the pandemic. As executive director Linda Post Bushkofsky told voting members in her report, “Few things remain the same… The pandemic and all that it brought caused us to focus, with laser precision, on what really matters. It caused us to try different ways of being together in community.”
Far from taking its last breath, the Women of the ELCA is evolving, changing and being transformed, Post Bushkofsky said. “Does a dying organization launch a $1 million campaign, expand its hospitality to those in the margins or recommit to its anti-racism work? Does a dying organization embrace online learning and worship in new and diverse ways? No. …The Holy Spirit is pushing and pulling us forward. Some of us are jumping on board, moving into that future. [Others] of us won’t be making that journey, resisting the reality of where we are going. But the good news is, that the journey has begun. …We are a big, beautiful, flawed community, created in the image of God, [living] as disciples of Jesus.”
Opening worship preacher the Rev. Julia Seymour, pastor of Big Timber Lutheran Church, Big Timber, Montana, preached about Moses telling the people to get the bones of Joseph (Exodus 13), and the man with paralysis, whose friends lowered him through a roof to see Jesus (Mark 2). “The bones of Joseph were a reminder to the people of everything God has done before,” Seymour said. Likewise, in Mark, the four friends who tear a hole in a roof, “have to know, before they do some pretty significant property damage [that] Jesus can give their friend what he needs—not just for his body, [but] for his soul and for his spirit. How do they know? … When the spirit has persuaded us of it, we know it in our bones.” Today, “the bones of what God can do, what God has done, and what God will do in Jesus Christ are in us,” Seymour said. “And they give us the strength to tear the roof off anything.”
In a range of actions during plenary sessions, voting members:
- Encouraged Women of the ELCA participants to participate in the Truth and Healing Movement and to ask their congregations to create their own land acknowledgment statements.
- Recommended that Women of the ELCA participants engage in Now Is the Time: A Study Guide for ELCA Declaration to People of African Descent, which “stresses realism, self-examination and accountability as the church acknowledges and apologizes for the history and impact of slavery and systemic racism,” according to www.elca.org/Resources/Racial-Justice.
- Rejected two attempts to reduce future triennial convention costs, via a memorial and a proposed bylaw change that would have set the number of voting members to three per synod in addition to synodical presidents.
- Adopted a 2024 churchwide budget of $1.9 million.
- Received a greeting and a special “Just Love” plaque from Faustina Nillan, National Director for Women and Children, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. The plaque was to commemorate the Women of the ELCA Just Love Triennial Gathering, which began after the convention closed.