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Embracing Unity: Who We Are as the Church of God

As we seek to live out our identity as people united with Christ in baptism, traveling the way of Jesus, and joining God's reign of justice and radical love – What's church got to do with it? Who is the church? What is the purpose of the church, and what does that mean for how we participate as individuals, congregations, the synod, and the churchwide expression? I have engaged the synod in this conversation about the church. If you missed the opportunity to join one of our online engagements, you can watch the recording of the presentations.

What prompted this conversation and questions is a concern I have heard expressed in various settings regarding the ELCA, which is something we are all a part of. "The ELCA is too liberal and progressive. Those who are conservative no longer feel that they have a place in the ELCA." Honestly, the more I hear this comment, the more confused I become. What does it mean to say that a congregation and its members are conservative? I know that conservative is defined as "adverse to change, holding and maintaining existing views and traditional values." But haven't congregations had to engage in change with everything from adding sound and technology systems to our buildings to responding to the changing needs in our communities? As the ELCA, we continue to proclaim belief in the Triune God, Jesus Christ as the Word of God incarnate, and the historic creeds of the church. We all hold the traditional gospel values: forgiveness and reconciliation, dignity, compassion and justice, inclusion and diversity. We follow Jesus, who welcomed all to the table.

Maybe that is a better way to talk with one another about the ELCA. We are followers of Jesus, and all are welcome to the table. At this table, we can discuss our differing interpretations of Scripture and how we live out God's word. At this table, we can respect and perhaps even learn from the changes others are embracing, wondering if this just might be the work of the Holy Spirit. At this table, we can truly welcome people to come into the fullness of their being, knowing that all are God's beloved. At this table, we can even challenge one another, knowing that we are united not in our opinions but through Christ, in the waters of our baptism that flow freely in our lives.

It is time to stop talking "politics" in the church, not by remaining silent regarding issues and injustices encountered daily by God's people in society, but by discontinuing the use of partisan language, such as conservative and liberal, that divides and separates us. Maybe it is time for us to take seriously our call to witness, to alternative ways of being community, the body of Christ, centered in grace and motivated by love of God and love of neighbor. After all, we are the church, and isn't that who the church is?

Bishop Candea

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