The Lutheran church in Maryland can possibly trace its roots as far back as 1747 when small numbers of Lutherans and German Reformers began meeting in private homes primarily in northern Carroll and Frederick Counties.
"The first church building in Carroll County was erected by the Lutheran and Reformed congregations of Manchester in 1760…," according to a history, "Carroll County Maryland," written by Nancy Warner.
In Westminster, Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church is celebrating its 146th anniversary this month. The historic church located at 21 Carroll St. in Westminster was chartered September 20-23, 1867, according to various accounts including a history of Grace Lutheran published in 1967.
Last month, while many were wrapping up their summer vacations or preparing for family members to return to school, the 13th Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was held Aug. 12-17, at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.
The ELCA's 65 synods and 9,638 church-congregations from across the nation were represented at the assembly by 952 voting members who gathered to make decisions and set church policy for the 4-million members of the church.
Those decisions included the election of a new presiding bishop and secretary, the deliberation and adoption of various budgets, financial campaigns, social statements and approximately 80 "memorials" or requests from synods asking for churchwide action on significant issues.
The business of the assembly and the many decisions that faced voting members was made amidst daily worship, prayer and Bible studies under the theme "Always Being Made New," based on 2 Corinthians 5:17.
The assembly also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the formation of the ELCA, which was formally established on January 1, 1988, when the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches merged. The ELCA is currently the seventh largest religious body in the nation.
The churchwide assembly is designated as the "highest legislative authority" of the church. For the past 25-years, the assembly has met every two years. This year's assembly, which was hosted by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, was the last biennial gathering. From now on the assembly will meet on a triennial cycle. The next assembly meeting is scheduled for August 2016 in New Orleans.
This was also the year when voting members said farewell to the seven-pound binders full of papers used in the past to conduct the business of the assembly. Many referred to this year's assembly as 'paperless in Pittsburgh.' The 3-ring binders were replaced with a mobile app, the "CWA 3013 Guidebook," on an iPad or Android tablet.
Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster was represented among the approximately 3,000 attendees - who included support staff, volunteers and voting delegates at the assembly. Beth Clementson, Caroline and Evelyn Babylon and Kevin Dayhoff all served as volunteers throughout the week.
Some of the many tasks they assisted with during the week included sewing and ironing albs, registering guests and delegates, technical support for the electronic voting machines, the 'eGuidebooks,' and tablets, and staffing the speaker microphones located throughout the floor of the assembly.
Early in the week, the assembly gave a warm welcome and sustained standing ovation to the remarks of Catholic Bishop Denis Madden of Baltimore, who made mention of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's Protestant Reformation that began in 1517.
On Wednesday, August 14, the assembly elected a new presiding bishop, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, by a vote of 600-287, on the fifth ballot; after the initial ballot on Tuesday, in which 122 were nominated.
Bishop Eaton, 58, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School and the College of Wooster, is widely considered a moderate-centrist, and was the only candidate who reached out to church conservatives when four of the candidates for bishop had the opportunity to address the assembly after the third ballot Wednesday morning.
Her remarks recognized that that being an inclusive church meant maintaining our distinctive Lutheran theological principles while respecting those with a different understanding of scripture and doctrine - and that those people also have a voice in this church. We need to make room for those who do not agree with us...
In addition to Bishop Eaton, among the top three vote getters on the ballot after the third ballot were the presiding bishop since 2001, Bishop Mark Hanson, 66, from the Saint Paul Area Synod, considered to be a 'moderate-liberal,' and Bishop Judith Crist of Montana, who chairs the Council of Bishops, considered liberal.
Hanson was the third presiding bishop of the ELCA. He had served for 12 years and before the assembly convened he had been considered the favorite, widely accepted to be asked to stay in office for a third term.
Previously, Herbert W. Chilstrom served as the first presiding bishop from 1987 to 1995 and then H. George Anderson served from 1995–2001.
Among the other major religious denominations, the Episcopal Church also has a female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was elected in 2006. The first female bishop in the ELCA was Bishop April Larson, who was elected in 1992.
In addition, the assembly approved a number of synodical memorials on a wide range of subjects that included community violence, Israel and Palestine, immigration reform, hydraulic fracturing, fossil fuels and more.
The assembly also approved resolutions on issues ranging from the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation to "The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries," a social statement on criminal justice.
The statement affirms the fundamental principles of the U.S. criminal justice system, such as due process of law and the presumption of innocence.