A message from Eastern ND and Western ND Bishops
Dear Lutheran siblings of North Dakota,
As Bishops of our Eastern and Western North Dakota Synods, it grieves us to share with you the difficult news of the closure of a key Lutheran partner in ministry. Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, after 101 years of important ministry, has reached the end of its life as a faith-based service organization in our midst.
Lutheran Social Services has extended caring ministries that have often grown from congregational input and support. They have provided healing, help, and hope across the state, especially among vulnerable populations such as children, families, seniors, and New Americans.
We cannot at this time fully imagine the loss that this closure represents. Important ministries and services will be discontinued. Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota will no longer be able to live out their faith-based mission to offer healing, help, and hope. For all of this, we express deep lament and sadness.
At this time, we hold those directly impacted in prayer – especially LSSND clients and staff. We look to all of us as Lutherans across North Dakota to consider what this means for our call to love our neighbor. We ask God to lead us in extending the love of Christ in our communities in new ways that will now be even more needed.
As people of faith, Jesus Christ is ever our comforter and our hope. The empty tomb proclaims that death will not have the final say. As we experience this collective loss, we give thanks for the 101 years of impact of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota in so many lives and we invite you to join us in prayer:
Dear God, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus agonized in prayer about the difficult path that lay before him and asked you to “take this cup from me.” We, too, as the community of Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, wish for different circumstances, times that could have spared us from needing to make this decision. Our hearts are heavy. Be with us as we travel this path, guide those who accompany us, and give us peace. With watchful hope, we lean on your mercy and grace. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
(adapted from “All Creation Sings”, pg. 54, Augsburg Fortress Publishers.)
Bishop Tessa Moon Leiseth Bishop Craig Schweitzer
Eastern North Dakota Synod Western North Dakota Synod
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
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