ELCA presiding bishop Elizabeth Eaton addressed the more than 2,000 women attending the Ninth Triennial Gathering of Women of the ELCA meeting in Charlotte, N.C., July 24-27. In offering her thanks to Women of the ELCA and the ELCA’s predecessor church bodies for making it possible for women to be ordained, Eaton told those assembled that they should all consider themselves to be leaders in the church.
“You have to understand that you also are leaders, that women are leaders in congregations. Sometimes I think we discount our leadership if we are not elected to positions of elected leadership in our congregations.”
Eaton spoke of the many ways women serve in their congregations and highlighted the money raised by Women of the ELCA for the ELCA’s Malaria Campaign.
“The Women of the ELCA, for their 25th anniversary, gave the Malaria Campaign a gift of $75,000. But wait, there’s more. You had $9,000 left from the last triennium, so you gave that. You have given $84,000 in official capacity,” said Eaton adding that additional funds were contributed by Women of the ELCA that have helped the campaign raise to date over $12 million. The campaign was launched by the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and seeks to raise $15 million by the end of 2015.
Eaton said the ELCA needed to be an “alternative face” in the world, quoting ELCA executive for global mission, the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla. “I would like us, as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to be the alternative face of Christianity in this country. Very often the way the church is portrayed in media, in movies and popular culture, is an institution that is rigid, that is against everything, that is judgmental, that is not inclusive, that does not engage in advocacy for those who maybe are the most vulnerable,” said Eaton. “We’re just seen as being anti-everything, being people who are far more interested in the moral escapades of other people than we are in compassion and love that was clearly demonstrated in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So we need to be an alternative face.”
Eaton highlighted the work of the ELCA in welcoming the thousands of unaccompanied children coming to the United States to escape the violence and instability in their home countries, noting that delegates to the Ninth Triennial Convention, meeting here prior to the Triennial Gathering, committed the women’s organization to pray for guidance and direction in the current humanitarian crisis of unaccompanied children entering the United States.
“We are a church that says God is your ultimate hope, and we want to be a sign of that. We talk about God’s work, our hands. Well, now it’s going to be tested. And already, we as church together are making a significant difference. We have lots of ways to act as church,” said Eaton, describing the work of Lutheran Disaster Response, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services and the ELCA Advocacy office in Washington.
Eaton also discussed the issue of human trafficking, noting a resolution passed by the convention.
“We also, as Women of the ELCA, passed a resolution raising up the horrible specter of human trafficking, which overwhelmingly affects women and girls,” she said. “We’re not going to remain silent, and we are not going to judge and condemn these women and girls. We are not a church that’s against. We stand with a God who is for the world, for his precious people, for the church as a means to bring the wholeness, the love, the abundant life that Jesus promised in the gospel according to John.”
Eaton also shared four emphases in which she is organizing the work of the ELCA churchwide organization, based in Chicago, and is inviting the 65 ELCA synod bishops, pastors, members and others across this church to embrace: We are church. We are Lutheran. We are church together. We are church for the sake of the world.
Eaton ended her remarks by encouraging the women to be an “undercover force” in their congregations.
“Since now there are about 2,400 of our closest friends here, you’ll go back, and you need to be the undercover force that starts working in your congregations. And when people start saying ‘yes, but,’ you’ve got to start saying ‘no, thank God.’ That is the message we need to give. We have already been given everything that we need by the Holy Spirit to be the church in the world. We have everything – everything. So when people start saying ‘there isn’t enough’ and ‘we can’t’ and ‘yes, but,’ just say ‘thank God, and let’s get going.’ So sisters, as I said at the (2008) Triennial in Salt Lake City, we are a sister act, but sisters, let’s act.”
Photos: Top: Bishop Eaton speaks with Marcia Goerss, Atlanta, Ga., Emmanuel Lutheran at the meet-n-greet session Thursday night. Right: Bishop Eaton speaks during Friday’s plenary.
Candice Hill Buchbinder/ELCA News Service