December 20, 2017
Greetings in Christ’s name!
I write today to share news of a recent visit to North and South Dakota by churchwide staff. This trip comes as a follow-up to last June’s visit by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton. During her follow-up visit in the aftermath of Standing Rock, Bishop Eaton heard some expressed concern that there is a disconnect between churchwide statements and the lives of some ELCA members here in North Dakota. Out of that trip Bishop Eaton felt it is important other churchwide staff be given the same opportunity for open conversation.
During this most recent visit we welcomed:
· Rev. Stephen Bouman – Director of the Domestic Mission Unit
· Rev. Amy Reumann -ELCA Director of Advocacy
· Ruth Ivory-Moore – ELCA Advocacy Program Director, Environmental and Energy Policy
· John Johnson – ELCA Advocacy Program Director, Domestic Policy
This most recent trip came about through the work of South Dakota Bishop David Zellmer, Eastern North Dakota Bishop Terry Brand and myself. One churchwide guest flew into Sioux Falls, one into Fargo and two into Bismarck. On December 13th churchwide staff engaged in an agriculture tour in the synod they arrived in. Here in Western North Dakota we left a Bismarck hotel at 7:00AM and made stops at St. John, Killdeer, an Earth Lodge Village at New Town, the Roise Ranch north of Ross, the Lick Ranch near Ruso and St. Olaf Lutheran, rural Turtle Lake.
During this agriculture day we attempted to show churchwide staff that ELCA members across Western North Dakota are diverse in their political views, that they are stewards of the land, that they are deeply faithful Christians and that some statements made by our churchwide partners are troubling because they are made without understanding the consequences to people who live on the land.
On Thursday, December 14th, the entire group came together in Bismarck and traveled to the Beulah area. Synod Council Vice President Bruce Carlson, retired manager of Verendrye Electric Cooperative, set up a tour of the North American Coal Cotteau Coal Mine, the Basin Electric Antelope Valley Power Plant and Basin’s Coal Gasification Plant. That evening we ate in Bismarck with a group of ELCA Lutherans who work in the energy industry. Our conversations were broad ranging but included conversations around the Clean Power Act, regulation of the petroleum industry and the energy industry’s efforts to be stewards of the land.
Friday, December 15th, we gathered at the synod office in the Lutheran Social Services conference room for a conversation about rural economic development. We then spent time unpacking what we had heard and seen during our days together. This visit helped us share with churchwide staff :
· our deep love of this church, for it is our heritage.
· our concern that the divergent views between urban and rural views in this country are also being reflected in church life.
· That there are people here on the prairie who are leaders in the agriculture and energy industries and who are willing conversation partners when this church considers taking faith-based stands on policy issues.
· that members of our congregations hold a variety political persuasions, have deep faith in the risen Christ regardless of their political affiliation and want that fact recognized and respected.
I am thankful for the opportunity given to us to engage with our churchwide partners with honest conversation where we could speak both of our joys and our hopes for the future. I am also thankful for a large group of faithful members of this synod who took time out of the very busy December schedules for the sake of these conversations. My hope is that through all of this our partnership will be strengthened.
Serving as Bishop of the Western ND Synod – ELCA