Florida ELCA congregation is helped by Mustard Seed ELCM
by Pastor Roy A. Steward, President of ELCM (Serving a 3 congregation Parish – each of which was started as a Mission effort in 1992 -1993: Faith Evangelical Lutheran, Duncansville, PA; Barley Evangelical Lutheran, New Enterprise, PA; and Faith Evangelical Lutheran, Hollidaysburg, PA.) ELCM is Incorporated in Pennsylvania and the Office of the President is in Altoona, PA.
ELCM (Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium of North America, Inc.) was formed in September 1999 as a Biblical/Confessional Centrist Lutheran alternative option for congregations and pastors leaving the ELCA. The initial founding congregations of ELCM were all mission congregations composed of people who came out of the ELCA in early 1992. One of the founding Pastors had been a voting delegate to the last LCA Biennial Convention and to the ELCA Constituting Convention held in Columbus, OH. The Pastor voted “No” to the final merger at the concluding LCA Convention.
In early 2000 ELCM invited the Mahtomedi WAN grouping to take over the ELCM structure but WAN and its LCMC spin off preferred a different approach and at the time were mainly concerned with matters revolving around the ELCA imposition of the so called “Historic Episcopacy issue”. Some in LCMC encouraged ELCM to become a District within LCMC but the Polity models and stances between LCMC and ELCM were considerably different on several points. ELCM though a tiny mustard seed Synod decided to continue as ELCM. ELCM has steadily grown and though still small has been bolstered by a number of new congregations and pastors who have joined ELCM and left the ELCA. A number of these have followed this exact order – The have joined ELCM and then left the ELCA by ELCA Synod disciplinary action.
The current ELCM congregations and missions in North America are located in the states of Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Virginia. ELCM also has an international component with small affiliate Synods in Kenya and in India.
A number of the ELCM North America congregations have been removed from the ELCA rosters with their property after either calling ELCM Pastors and/ or joining ELCM without voting to leave the ELCA. Several have followed the normal process of voting out of the ELCA and were granted release by Synod Councils. All of the current congregations were formerly LCA congregations or in the case of the Mission congregations that formed ELCM were composed primarily of members who were former LCA members.
ELCM insists that all Pastors serving as Synod officers must be actively serving a congregation or under active Call through the ELCM Executive Board. ELCM does not desire to replicate Bureaucracy that is out of touch with Parish Ministry. The Polity of ELCM rejects the majority and super majority voting approach at the Synodical level and this is based upon the observation that all church wide majority or super majority voting consistently pulls a church body (Synod) either to the right or to the left. ELCM believes that "Concordia" was a consensus document and thus adheres to a "Consensus Model of Polity" among all congregations and pastors of the Synod. Executive Boards of Synods, Synod General Conferences, and Synod officers are granted advisory authority only with the one exception being disciplinary matters that a congregation is unable to resolve via its constitution. All title to congregation property resides solely with the respective Congregation.
ELCM has observed that the real problem afflicting the ELCA is not an issue such as "Historic Episcopacy" or "allowance for active homosexual pastors." ELCM has concluded that such issues are merely symptomatic of the deeper problem. The ELCM observation and conclusion is that the basic underlying problem is the view of and application of Holy Scripture (the Biblical Hermeneutic). The ELCM Hermeneutic insists that all affirm that the Canonical Scripture is God's word to humankind in its entirety (rightly distinguishing God's Word of Law from God's Word of Gospel but not dismissing the Word of God as Law). The Hermeneutic that the Bible is mans attempt in various ages and epoch's to say something about God and that the Bible merely contains the “Gospel” is rejected. In the ELCM view: A church body is not above Canonical Holy Scripture.
Among the ELCM member congregations there now are three of the oldest continuously existing Lutheran Congregations in North America - St. Paul Lutheran Church of Wurtemburg, Rhinebeck New York (in existence as an outlying congregation of a wider Palatine Rhinebeck parish in 1715 with present location established in 1760. The St. Paul Congregation was visited by The Rev. Dr. Henry Muhlenberg when the congregation was served by the Rev. John Christopher Hartwick); Old Zion Lutheran Church, Philadelphia, PA (formed by a merger of Muhlenberg's original St. Michael Congregation and another Philadelphia congregation - dating to the early 1700's; and Zion Lutheran Church, Harrisburg, PA (established in the 1780's and the site of the national Whig Convention that nominated William Henry Harrison for the Presidency of the USA). These were all member congregations of the original and earliest tiny Lutheran Synod in North America established by Muhlenberg - The Evangelical Lutheran Ministerium.
The ELCM India Lutheran affiliates are the descendents of the ULCA Missions efforts in Andhra Pradesh India through the ministry of Pastor (Father) Christian Heyer. The ELCM Kenya Synod was formed by Pastors and congregations that broke from the Hierarchical Anglican system. A large portion of those in Kenya breaking with hierarchical Anglican system joined the Missouri Synod affiliated church body in Kenya. Those joining ELCM preferred the Centrist orientation alternative option.
ELCM as a Mustard seed Synod has very deep roots into the earliest strands of Lutheranism in America as well as in ULCA International Mission efforts.
In the Ministerium of ELCM the pastors are a mix of men and women who come from former LCA, ELCA, Wisconsin Synod, and Missouri Synod backgrounds. All Pastors (and congregations) subscribe to the Sola Scriptura understanding. The Ministerium also has in place a fully functioning Military and Veterans Administration endorsement program for Chaplains. One of the now deceased retired Chaplain members of ELCM, The Rev. Dr. Carl Towley, was the grandson of the final two Presidents of the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church.
The newest congregation to join ELCM has as one of it treasured members the son of the last President of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Lay leaders of our most recent member congregation initially sought help from ELCM in dealing with the Florida - Bahamas Synod, ELCA. ELCM responded enabling the Super Majority of the congregation to keep their beloved Pastor by calling him as an ELCM Pastor. The ELCM Executive Board carefully reviewed all proceedings against the Pastor of St. John and determined from all of the official documentation that a deep injustice had been done to the Pastor. The Pastor was granted Provisional rostering in ELCM and the St. John Congregation then voted with a strong Super Majority vote to issue him a new Call as an ELCM Pastor. After a visit by the ELCM President to the St. John Lutheran Church, Summerfield Florida and a lengthy Question and Answer time for the membership of the Congregation the Church Council of St. John made a unanimous recommendation to the congregation that St. John become an active member of ELCM and inform the ELCA that they would no longer be an active member in the ELCA Florida-Bahamas Synod. They did not propose to leave the ELCA but a duly scheduled Vote was announced for the Annual meeting of the St. John Congregation. The Annual meeting of St. John Lutheran of Summerfield, Florida was held on January 27, 2013 and a 76.5% Super majority at a well attended meeting voted to establish an active membership ELCM while still maintaining an inactive membership on the ELCA roster.
Several of the ELCM congregations have followed this same procedure in leaving ELCA. These, however had unanimous or near unanimous support by the voting members of each congregation and the ELCA Synods (North East Ohio Synod, Metro New York Synod, South East PA Synod, and Lower Susquehanna PA Synod) , all acted to eventually remove the Congregations with their property as stipulated in the Disciplinary sections of the ELCA Constitution. The model for this approach to leaving the ELCA via the Disciplinary action was established by the ELCA ‘s own precedent action when in the early days of the ELCA, Bishop Herbert Chilstrom supported the San Francisco, CA Area ELCA Synod in disciplining and removing several ELCA congregations with their property from the roster of the ELCA because these congregations had extended official Calls to pastors not approved (at the time) by the ELCA. The Pastors in question were active and public Homosexual Pastors.
St. John Lutheran of Summerfield, FL however has had a small minority of between 24 – 43 members who are intent upon removing the Pastor who is beloved by the Large and satisfied Super Majority of the Congregation. The minority is wholeheartedly in favor of remaining solely ELCA.
When the congregation super majority acted to extend a new Call to their beloved pastor as an ELCM pastor, The ELCA Florida and Bahamas Synod Bishop was present and in his comments which were recorded on Video he stated that he would impose “Censure” upon the congregation. Censure is the first step in the Disciplinary process as outlined in the ELCA Constitutions. However, the leaders of the small minority then sent a letter to the Bishop (perhaps at the coaching of the Synod hierarchy) asking the Bishop to implement a consultation or adjudication process based upon the little section in the ELCA Constitutions adopted at the ELCA Orlando Assembly that whenever there is disputed between factions in a congregation the Synod Council may intervene and adjudicate (consult) and if there is a failure to resolve the differences the matter then is decided by the Synod Council whose decisions are supposedly “Final.” This of course overrides the Super Majority vote of a Congregation. The Florida and Bahamas Bishop has chosen to ignore the Disciplinary segments of the ELCA constitution and to “cherry pick” only the Adjudication or Consultation portions. The Church Council of St. John has notified the Synod that they will not participate in any consultations or adjudication process – another ground for discipline - but the Synod Bishop continues his course based upon the Orlando provision (that seeks to intentionally take away the rights of the Super Majority of every congregation). The Florida-Bahamas Synod Council is scheduled to meet and issue its “Final Word” regarding St. John Lutheran Church of Summerfield on February 22- 23, 2013.
The minority of the Congregation in concert with the Synod Bishop is threatening to attempt to seize the property of the Congregation via a Court Suit if the church council and the super majority of the St. John congregation does not bow the knee to the “Final” word of the Synod Council.
The St. John congregation minority sought to gather a large attendance of all the members of St. John for a special meeting on February 15, 2013 in advance of the Synod Council meeting. The meeting was held in the social Hall of a large neighboring ELCA church. The meeting was announced by emails and telephone calls as a meeting to discuss “the future of St. John congregation.” The meeting resulted in 24 attending from the minority element and 8 attending from the super majority of St. John. Those attending from the super majority did so primarily to observe, take notes, and record the proceedings. An attorney representing the minority was present and the ELCA Florida & Bahamas Synod Bishop and associates were also present.
Very accurate notes were taken by the super majority observers and the entire proceeding were tape recorded. The Attorney representing the ELCA minority element clearly tried to intimidate and discourage the super majority representatives. Emphasis was made that the ELCA is a Hierarchical Church and that the courts always rule against the local congregations [regarding property]. Emphasis by the Attorney also stated that "constitutions are for the minority" [in the congregation] and that "property resides with the congregation only with the consent of the Synod Council." This latter pronunciation was a truncated (out of context) quote from only a portion of ELCA Constitution *c.7.04 . It was clearly quoted out of context in order to intimidate and discourage the super majority representatives who were present. The ELCA Bishop spoke and then answered questions. He was asked the following question: "Who owns the property of St. John?" This ELCA Bishop is on record as answering as follows: "The property was given to the congregation, that's why it's part of the whole Church."
The super majority of the St. John congregation, however have held steadfast, have not been intimidated and in a subsequent duly scheduled vote held on Sunday Feb 17, 2013 on an additional unanimous recommendation by the Church Council of St. John increased the super majority support to 89% of the membership voting in support of the unanimous church council actions. The minority vote had diminished on Feb 17 to a total of 17 persons. As more and more members have become fully aware of what has been taking place in the ELCA (some by reading the information on “Exposing the ELCA Web site”) the numbers of the super majority have steadily Increased while the numbers of the minority registering their votes have decreased.
The Lay leaders of the St. John Lutheran congregation have been in the lead on taking the stand to confront the ELCA Synod Bishop and the small minority that is threatening legal action against the large super majority of the congregation.
ELCM is very proud to have an active member congregation such as St. John Lutheran, Summerfield, FL with active Lay leaders and members who are not afraid to emulate our beloved Dr. Martin Luther and the other Reformers in saying "Here we Stand - unless you can convince us by reason and Holy Scripture - we will not and can not recant our stance. God help us! Amen. " It is strange that a Lutheran Church body bearing the Name of Dr. Luther would be more in line with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the V before whom Dr. Luther made his Confession of Faith.
All manner of ELCA political rules have been adopted in the short history of the ELCA. Many of These have been adopted without the full awareness of most congregations. They have been foisted upon congregations as well as upon pastors. A Large number of these political rules appear to be cited as being superior to Canonical Holy Scripture.
The Lutheran Reformation of the 16th Century was in the forefront of emphasizing the clear proclamation of the Apostle Paul that “It is for Freedom that Christ has set you Free!”(Galatians 5:1ff). It is thus very strange to witness a Church Body claiming to be “Evangelical Lutheran” but binding congregations in chains constructed by the rules and regulations in a human polity (iure humano) that most of its own congregations are unaware of and have never approved. The ELCA understandings are a significant departure from even the understandings of the former Lutheran Church in America where congregational ownership of property was never in question and where the final word always rested with the super majority vote of a congregation. Even in the ELCA up until the “sneak change” of the ELCA Orlando Assembly the Constitutions of the ELCA emphasized that the super majority vote of congregations were the final word in all matters.
All manner of ELCA Political rules (which ignore other ELCA rules) may be used against the folks of St. John Lutheran, Summerfield et. al. but it is very clear that they (the “iure humano” rules) are not based or grounded in God's Holy Word .
The Evangelical Lutheran Conference & Ministerium (ELCM) is still a small Mustard Seed Synod even though it is a much larger mustard seed than it was in September 1999 but the same founding intent continues for ELCM to be a help for congregations and pastors in need of an alternative Biblical/Confessional Centrist Evangelical Lutheran alternative option. As was the case for St. John Lutheran Summerfield, Florida when others contact us for help little Mustard seed ELCM will endeavor to respond. The Polity model that ELCM follows has served well since September 1999, shown its value and enabled a wonderful spirit of walking together (Synoding) for the congregations and pastors of ELCM.