by the Rev. Lisa Heffernan
In August, I attended the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Milwaukee, Wis., as a voting member from South Dakota. I’d seen the assembly on live stream in years past, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect.
Long hours, motions, and tough conversations filled most of our days. But so did grace, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the commitment that “We Are Church.” It was a good, hard week.
Highlights for me were meeting and committing to support our interfaith siblings, declaring ourselves a sanctuary church (a tough topic that will take time and intentional conversation to understand), and issuing a statement of apology to our members of African descent. We are and were church! And for that, I am thankful.
Great opportunities ahead
I am a member of the ELCA’s Disability Ministries advisory team, so I paid attention to accessibility issues, representation, and topics lifting up this ministry. Sometimes the lack of representation or inclusion disappointed me.
But, that only tells me that we have a great opportunity to be intentional in the future about making sure that people with disabilities are on task forces, teams, and planning groups. I was frustrated at times, yes, but I am hopeful.
The most impactful event for me was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of women’s ordination, the 40th anniversary of the first ordination of a woman of color, and the 10th anniversary of ordaining LGBTQ+ pastors who are married or in long-term partnerships. Wow, was that a worship service!
Joy, tears, thankfulness
Processing in with more than 300 of my ordained sisters in Christ is something I will never forget. I will never forget the joy, the tears, and the thankfulness for the word proclaimed.
I needed some help from a friend to get across that carpet to the worship hall, but then I took myself into that assembly. She supported me, and we then supported one another. How wonderful an image of being the body of Christ is that?
I went into that day thinking I wouldn’t get emotional. But I did, as I reflected on my own journey and the journeys of all people with disabilities called to be leaders in this church. We are called, friends.
Denominations across the board have a ways to go for this to happen, but we’re getting there. People with disabilities must do what we can. That includes having hard conversations with our churches, call committees, seminaries, and future ministries. We are gifted, called, and an important part of this body.
We are the church. Let’s continue to support one another with mutual love, so that we may share the love of Christ all the way from the assembly to our churches and homes.
Lisa Heffernan is pastor Trinity Lutheran Church, Chamberlain, South Dakota, and serves as an advisory team member for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Disability Ministries. This article first ran in the ELCA’s Disability Ministry newsletter.
Feature photo of Lisa Heffernan voting at the Churchwide Assembly in August. ELCA | Jason Brown