Dear Members of the Eastern North Dakota Synod of the ELCA,
I’ve just returned from a week of worship, prayer, reports, business and fellowship at our triennial churchwide assembly in Milwaukee. I give thanks for the 19 voting members from Eastern North Dakota Synod who joined nearly 1000 voting members and visitors who gathered from across this church. It was quite amazing to spend time with ELCA brothers and sisters in Christ from Alaska (our domestic companion synod) to the Caribbean to Hawaii and every state in between.
There was much accomplished. You can find a list of assembly actions taken by visiting www.elca.org /cwa-2019/. The one action which is getting the most attention is the decision to declare this church as a “sanctuary” denomination. Though there was agreement welcoming people is a matter of faith and not a political issue, how we live into being a sanctuary denomination was unclear. In good Lutheran fashion, we wrestled with the question “what does this mean?” After much deliberation, the assembly directed the church council, synods and congregations to continue to wrestle with the question.
The ELCA has a long history of advocating for immigrants and working to welcome and resettle refugees. In fact, several congregations in our synod sponsored refugees following World War II and again after the Vietnam War. In its simplest form, becoming a sanctuary denomination means that the ELCA is publicly declaring that walking alongside immigrants and refugees is a matter of faith. Without a doubt, each synod and congregation will be led in different ways to respond to current and future challenges and opportunities related to immigration.
Today, people migrate for all kinds of reasons. For some it might be hunger or employment while others are fleeing violence and are literally running for their lives. Most immigrants desire to be in their homeland, but to no fault of their own, there is no option other than to flee. Nearly 70 million people have been forced to leave their homeland. Those finding themselves and their families in horrific situations is at an all-time high.
I trust we can all agree this is not God’s desire for God’s children. Furthermore, I hope we can all agree this should be a concern for the church. If we can agree on these two, they become the common ground where our churches can pray, converse and discern. While we may have different ideas about how to fix a broken immigration system and may have different ways of loving our neighbors, our call to do so is central to our faith. This is where we begin.
Some members will volunteer or donate to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), others may wish to learn more and/or support the ELCA’s AMMPARO* strategy, others may wish to write letters to legislators or to join a march to advocate for change, still others may find ways to support immigrant families in their own communities or help improve conditions in other countries through mission work.
Unfortunately, as our church begins the conversation of what this action means, some media outlets have tried to answer the question for us. This has caused confusion and misinformation. Please know, from a polity standpoint, nothing in this action binds synods, congregations, or any other organizations affiliated with the church. Simply put, though I hope we roll up our sleeves and respond to those who are unimaginable situations, this action does not require congregations to do anything. Also, there is no call in the action for civil disobedience or any illegal actions.
In response to this churchwide assembly action, it is my hope and prayer as individuals and congregations you will thoughtfully engage in prayer, discernment and conversation. As you do so, a centering question might be: how are we being called to work for justice and peace in this place and in this time?
Please know if you have questions, concerns or hopes, you may contact the synod office at 701-232-3381. As always, the synod staff and I stand ready to assist you and your congregation in whatever way is helpful.
Bishop Terry A. Brandt
* AMMPARO stands for Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities. Learn more at: https://www.elca.org/AMMPARO?_ga=2.194819885.1858412697.1565982890-1384365241.1548869289
Eastern ND Synod Bishop Terry Brandt adds, "South Sudan Lutheran's creativity, passion, dedication and faithfulness is Spirit led.The congregation is a wonderful example of the church at it's best. It will be joy for all who witness and partner with our brothers and sisters in Christ as they expand their ministry as a result of the Big Dream Grant."
What are they doing?
South Sudan Lutheran hopes to leverage the Big Dream grant to develop financial support and security by organizing a contributing membership base and inviting support from allied organizations and individuals to supplement grants.
Three goals and supporting objectives –
1. Collaborate with other leaders of color working to benefit communities of color to organize a giving circle with members from our respective communities, inviting members to each annually contribute a meaningful amount of money – different for each member – to stipend community organizers to respond to community needs, resolve concerns, reconcile conflicts and represent community interests in the public realm.
If we can organize communities of color to collectively fund work to represent their interests and realize their objectives, we can formalize their power and work to advance the interests of our community with some independence from funder requirements and constraints.
2. Coalesce a circle of annual donors external to our community interested in matching the annual membership contributions of community members.
3. Continue to identify alignment between the priorities and programs of South Sudan Lutheran and local, regional and national grant opportunities, and secure funds to sustain the church’s community-building and commitment to social change.
Alier continues, "Our community believes the church is the heart of the community – not just a place for worship, but a center for the life of our community and a home for people displaced from their homes and often living on the periphery of their new hometown of Fargo-Moorhead. While English-speaking communities in Fargo-Moorhead have a range of organizations to host and facilitate their community interactions and support their needs – religious organizations, service organizations, nonprofits, arts and cultural institutions – our South Sudanese community interacts with the church as its primary institution. For us, it is our place of worship, community center, social service agency, counseling center, youth organization, educational resource center, job placement agency and cultural organization. Our church gives us cultural, financial, physical, relational, social and spiritual support, but we also believe it exists not just for our benefit. We believe that our church can be a place to connect many communities together."
CONGRATULATIONS TO SOUTH SUDAN LUTHERAN!
View the "Big Dreams" story in the April Living Lutheran
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