Today's announcement of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy will, for many people, bring to mind the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. And the conversation that ensues around that other memory often includes a recitation of where we were or what we were doing when that traumatic news was announced to us. Yes, if you were living at that time, I am certain that you can tell me exactly what you were doing when President Kennedy was killed.
Those who are active in the Church actually have similar experiences with significant ecclesiastical events, not necessarily that they can recall where they were when they heard the news, but they can recall the high emotions, expectations, and hopes or disappointments associated with such news. Examples might include the rulings of Vatican II, the first ordination of women in the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran-Catholic Catholic Joint Declaration on Justification, and this week, decisions made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).
The news about ELCA reminds me of a painful time in my childhood. One summer our family returned from a long and wonderful summer vacation, and when we went to church the next Sunday we learned that several families had left the congregation. These families included people that I loved and was close to... my Sunday School teacher, a girl in my confirmation class, others that I knew were special to my parents. Since we had been away when the families decided to withdraw their membership, the departures were a surprise ( Or at least they were a surprise to me, as a naive child). There was no opportunity to say goodbye and we never saw these people again, even in a social setting. Many years have gone by and I still feel the sting of that experience when it comes to mind.
There will certainly be some fallout from the controversial resolutions passed by ELCA. The more conservative Lutheran denominations are not happy about what they consider to be a deviation from Holy Scripture, as well as the reflection that such decisions have on the "Lutheran name. " In addition, there are many ELCA members who are disappointed and may be looking for new church homes. Wherever and whenever we intersect with ELCA people in the aftermath of their convention, let's remember to treat them with the love of Christ, to gently win them to correct thinking where needed, and to provide fresh ground for them to experience God's love in repentance and forgiveness.