Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Miscellaneous news clips: ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton on ethnic heritage, paradox, popular culture, Lake Wobegon, Jell-O salad and multicultural Santa Lucia girls

Verbatim quotations. (Quotation marks in the indented blockquotes are those of the original newspaper story.) Posted here and quoted at length in case the newspapers don't keep archiving them indefinitely.

Ann Rogers. "New Lutheran Bishop Focuses on Gospel." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 19 August 2013 http://www.post-gazette.com/news/nation/2013/08/19/New-Lutheran-Bishop-Elizabeth-Eaton-focuses-on-gospel/stories/201308190182#ixzz3CDeHE29f.

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has a quick sense of humor, which is helpful because she often contends with an image of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America crafted by radio humorist Garrison Keillor, whose Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church is firmly rooted in quaint small town America and Scandinavian heritage.

Both of those are beautiful, said the woman just elected presiding bishop of the 4-million-member denomination. But an influx of Latino members is a bright spot in the otherwise declining ELCA. The congregation she led for 15 years in Ohio had crack houses for neighbors. Lutherans, she said, need to bring Jesus to whoever is living next door, using both old-time hospitality and newfangled social media.

"Just tell people to check us out. We're open Sundays," she quipped, then checked her words.

"We are also seeing that Sunday morning is a really bad time for many people. Maybe we have to be more flexible about making it possible for people to come."

Eaton, 58, is a native of Cleveland who has been bishop of ELCA's Northeastern Ohio Synod since 2006. … Post-Gazette story mentions loss of 500,000 members since vote on gay rostered clergy, but puts the membership issue in the context of an overall need by mainline churches for attracting young families, more sophisticated use of technology, etc. Including a wonderful quote about the printing press:

About half the churches in her synod have websites.

"We have one with no indoor plumbing," she said. "The last really effective Lutheran use of new technology was the printing press. People don't look in the phone book any more. If you want people to find your congregation, you need a website."

Popular culture … reaching beyond ethnicity …

When her college-age nephew told her that he didn't believe in God, she asked him to describe the God he didn't believe in, she said. After listening to his description of a wrathful, anti-science, anti-intellectual deity, she told him, " 'I don't believe in that God either.' We got to the point where I was able to say this is the God I believe in, this is why Jesus makes sense in my life."

Her nephew hadn't been raised among people who believe in the sort of God he described, she said. It's a stereotype that arises from popular culture more than from the church. She said that one of her young adult daughters tells her own peers that they're intellectually lazy when they say things like that.

"She'll say 'You are letting that [view] seep in from the culture. That wasn't what you experienced growing up,' " Bishop Eaton said.

Messiah Lutheran Church in Ashtabula, where she served from 1991 to 2006, was originally so ethnically Swedish that worship in English didn't start until the 1930s. Yet, by the time she arrived, church members were marrying their black neighbors. Gay couples and their families began to attend. The congregation was welcoming. Now, she said, little black and Filipino children wear traditional Swedish costumes for the Santa Lucia festival at Christmas.

Brackets in the original.

"Elizabeth Dias. "Meet the Woman Who Will Lead Evangelical Lutherans: ‘Religious but Not Spiritual’" Time 18 August 2013. http://swampland.time.com/2013/08/18/meet-the-woman-who-will-lead-evangelical-lutherans-religious-but-not-spiritual/.

Many people might not know what makes the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America unique. How would you explain the denomination?

If people even know what a Lutheran is, most people are stuck on the lovely homespun caricature developed by Garrison Keillor in Prairie Home Companion and Lake Wobegon and all that. We often have parodies of ourselves where we say that all we do is eat different kinds of Jell-O and green-bean casserole. That is no longer true about us. Our growing edges in this church are African national congregations and Latino congregations, which is bringing a whole new wonderful flavor to the Lutheran potluck, theologically and culturally.

* * *

You support the decision to allow partnered gay clergy, but you also believe that the church should make room for people who don’t. Why?

Lutherans have a history of living with paradox. There are some things that are nonnegotiable for us. But there are other things that it is possible for people who love Jesus holding the same faith together, can have very strong, very sharp disagreements, but it does not have to lead to disunity. Things like marriage or the ordering of government or certain political positions, we can and we do disagree, but we agree on the cross.

We want to be a place that says we can disagree on things that are vitally important but still listen to each other and see in the other a brother or sister in Christ, and more importantly, someone for whom Christ died.

T.K. Barger. "Bishop Eaton Stands for Inclusion." Toledo Blade 1 February 2014 https://www.toledoblade.com/Religion/2014/02/01/Bishop-Eaton-stands-for-inclusion.html

[lede] The presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA, is Ohioan Elizabeth Eaton, who moved to Chicago to take office at the beginning of the year. She works for the larger community, but her roots are strong. When asked if she had words specifically for Toledoans, she said, “What I'm really concerned about are those people in Toledo, some of them root for Michigan. I want to say to my brothers and sisters in Toledo, don't go to the dark side, come back, come back to Ohio State.”

* * *

One more question had to be asked. With the presiding bishop the ultimate authority, in a way, in the church, what's the deal with green bean casserole at potluck dinners?

“Oh, geez, I'm not supposed to talk about that anymore,” Bishop Eaton said. “That's a caricature of northern central European, you know, Garrison Keeler [of the NPR show A Prairie Home Companion]. This is what we eat, so you can find it at a lot of potlucks.” She gave an example of a church staff member who is a lifelong Lutheran, but her Puerto Rican heritage doesn't include the dish. “In the Garrison Keillor understanding of what Lutherans are like, that's not who we are, and we have a need to understand that's not who we are anymore.”

But she also said, “Anything that has cream of mushroom soup as an ingredient is probably something that we can do.” Look for variety—and a mushroom or two—on Bishop Eaton's plate at the many church dinners she'll attend as presiding bishop.

Brian Albrecht, "Rev. Elizabeth Eaton ready to take the plunge as first female bishop of ELCA" [Cleveland] Plain-Dealer 23 August 2013 http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2013/08/rev_elizabeth_eaton_ready_to_t.html.

She expects to be challenged by such issues as the declining membership of the church, and all Christian churches, with the increasing secularization of society. Eaton said the ELCA needs to respond to that problem by reaching out to a younger and more diverse audience.

“Our church is overwhelmingly European-American. We’re a very white church,” she said. “We really need to find a way to open up space and make room for people who are not in the traditional European/Lutheran mode to have a voice and power and leadership in the church.”

She hopes that ELCA churches can “re-engage” their communities. “Connect with them and tell them there is a God who loves and cares deeply about you and your life, and here’s a place where you can find meaning,” she said. “We don’t have to go overseas to be missionaries anymore.”

Eaton is realistic about the challenge. “Sometimes I have an image of the church as an aircraft carrier,” she said. “To change the direction of an aircraft carrier takes a lot of time and a lot of space.

“I don’t think there can be some miraculous turn-around of an organization this large, and with this many moving parts.”

Eaton said she will miss her role as an area bishop who could go out each Sunday and visit the local congregations. “And hey, potlucks are great!,” she added.

Some hometown ties will endure. Eaton swore that when she goes to Chicago, “I will never be a White Sox fan, nor will I ever root for the Bulls.”

As for the long-term future of the church, beyond her tenure as bishop, Eaton said, “I don’t think I’m a really great future thinker. I’m just going to leave that in God’s hands.

“I just hope that we don’t cling too tightly to what we have or what we know, so that we’re not able to be open to what’s going to emerge,” she added.

Eaton said she isn’t worried about the future church, even though “I don’t know what it’ll look like. It’s God’s church, not mine.”

Is that faith? Optimism? “Yes,” she replied.

ELCA Presiding Bishop-elect Elizabeth Eaton sits down to talk with Windy City LIVE - WLS-TV -- 3 Oct. 2013 ABC7 Chicago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8SvaOAlL_Ts

This interview aired on October 3, 2013. [My notes: Paradox. beauty in diversity ... We're a church where everyone is welcome, so we would say. We also hold fast to this notion -- it's not orginal to us, it's original to God, obviously -- that we're loved by a God who wants to lavishly, unconditionally love every one of us. And that's a gift that we have, and since we have been loved in this way we're free then to love the world and serve the world. e.g. malaria So our church Q. Pope Francis - missionary church that reaches out to minorities, gay, etc., even nonbelievers -- gay clergy -- When we say we welcome everyone, I think that's very important. That was a costly decision for us, but if it's the right decision, then no cost is too high. But when we say we welcome everyone, we also welcome those who disagree with that decision. They are fully members of our church, because we can agree on the cross of Jesus Christ. Q what do you say to critics who say h is a sin ... [5:15] q. decline in attendance? A. I think the church for a long time has had a privileged place in our society and our culture and it was taken for granted, I would say in the 50s that it was not only your religious duty, it was your civic duty to be in a faith community. And that's not the case any more. We're not the only game in town, and so we've need to be more ready to be missionaries once again, and to tell people this is a place where you're accepted and you're loved unconditionally and freed in that love, you can go out and make a difference in the world.]

Val Warner (left) and Ryan Chiaverini

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