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ELCA presiding bishop visits Willmar

Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton addresses an audience Friday from Bethel Lutheran Church. She said congregations need to remember that each church is “one pixel that makes up the entire picture” and that the ELCA synod is “all of us together.” Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR –– Since being elected as the fourth presiding bishop — and the first female presiding bishop — of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America last year, Elizabeth Eaton has been traveling across the country to meet with some of the 10,000 ELCA congregations in the country.

On Friday she was in Willmar.

During a talk and open forum with church leaders from the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, Eaton talked about the role of the ELCA in local and worldwide communities.

“First and foremost we are church,” she said, and a place where people worship together.

She said congregations need to remember that each church is “one pixel that makes up the entire picture” and that the ELCA synod is “all of us together.”

While Garrison Keillor, the host of the popular “Prairie Home Companion” radio show, has etched a dour picture of a stoic Lutheran, Eaton joked that there are many Lutherans that have never eaten Jello and have no intention of eating it.

But some of the stereotypical images may hit too close to home. Eaton said “Lutheran quietism has not served us well” and the “Lutheran voice” needs to be brought to the conversation of public service.

She said congregations need to get involved with community organizations to find out what people need, and churches should be used as “mission stations.”

She said the ELCA needs to care for the vulnerable and care for their causes, and hinted that the church shouldn’t shy away from getting involved with public policy.

Her encouragement coincided with the ELCA’s world malaria day and efforts to raise $250,000 to initiate a program in Namibia.

“We’re church for the sake of the world,” said Eaton.

In an interview, Jon Anderson, bishop of the Southwestern Minnesota synod of the ELCA, said he was thrilled that Willmar was on Eaton’s list of stops. Earlier this week she was in South Dakota and North Dakota. She is scheduled to be in North Carolina today.

“It’s very exciting to have Elizabeth be able to be here. She’s a gifted and brand new leader,” said Anderson.

“I’m confident she’ll help our people understand better the whole church that we’re a part of, because it’s so easy to think of about our local congregations and not see that we’re really called to be churched together,” said Anderson.

Both Eaton and Anderson addressed the issue of declining church attendance.

In the past going to church was a “culture of duty,” said Anderson and now there’s a “culture of discretion.”

Anderson said the church has to adapt to that new culture, while still being true to the Gospel and caring for families.

The church needs to “look forward instead of getting stuck remembering the way it used to be,” he said.

Congregations need to spend time “praying, thinking, wrestling with how to be churches in a way that serves this mission field today and the mission field of the future.”

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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