Bishop Mark Hanson: Always Being Made New

ELCA anniversary not about the past but the future

Twenty-five years ago this month the ELCA came into existence. Do you remember our beginning? If so, what comes to mind?

As a parish pastor I recall thinking how much was not new. In fact, I remember parishioners wondering what all the fuss was about.

Worship order and hymns? Confirmation and Sunday school? Scripture and Lutheran confessional writings? Outreach ministry to the community and congregational leadership? They all remained the same. Yes, the beginning of the ELCA was marked by both continuity and change.

"Always being made new, 25 years together in Christ" is our anniversary theme. May it provide opportunity for us to reflect upon how deeply rooted we are as a church and how God continues to make all things new.

Together we work to end hunger, malaria and HIV/AIDS, and engage in refugee resettlement and immigration reform because our roots go back 500 years to Martin Luther and the Reformers, who were clear that faith in Christ frees us to love and serve our neighbor.

Living out our faith in service to our neighbor moved Lutherans to start hospitals, open orphanages and form social ministry organizations. Today new immigrants are bringing with them a love for Jesus and a commitment to start new congregations just as our ancestors did. The longing that all shall hear the good news of God's saving grace in Christ means the commitment to global mission is planted deep within us. 

Studying the catechism we were taught to ask: "What does this mean?" From these roots we have an insatiable curiosity about faith and life. We have colleges and universities, campus ministries, seminaries, schools and a commitment to lifelong learning.

As Luther wrote in the Small Catechism, day after day the Spirit is creating and renewing faith through the means of grace, the word and sacraments. We are a Book of Faith church because through God's word - God's living address to us incarnate in Jesus, proclaimed as law and gospel, recorded in Scripture - we are inspired, strengthened, and sent to do God's work in the world of restoring and reconciling communities. 

We will celebrate our 25th anniversary not because we nostalgically long for the past, but because memories give us confidence in God's faithfulness and openness toward God's promised future. 

In the months leading up to the ELCA's official start, I served on the transition team for the new Minneapolis Area Synod. We faced questions of geographical boundaries, planning for the first synod assembly and identifying people with gifts for leadership. But even more I remember the realization that we would be a stronger church in mission because of this new church. We would be enriched by the wisdom, faith and ministries of our new partners in evangelical witness.

Yet the host of relationships that were formed in 1988 is only a glimmer of the newness that has been arriving in our midst. Though many of us remember predecessor church bodies and the events leading to the ELCA'sofficial beginning in 1988, for a growing number of us, including pastors, this is the only church we have known. God is renewing our life together as Christ's body in the world - this is what it means when we say we are "always being made new." Daily we die with Christ in baptism, and daily we rise to life with him, not alone but together with all who bear Christ's name in the world. For it is true, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away. Look! Everything is being made new (2 Corinthians 5:17)!

The apostle Paul prefaced this joyous news with a word about how we see the world and our place in it when we have been joined to Christ in his death and resurrection: We no longer see others from a human point of view. Now we are Christ's ambassadors, servants of the ministry of reconciliation. 

We have a new life in the ELCA, not because of what was done in 1988, but because of what God has done in Christ and continues to do in and through us for the life of the world. In Christ we are always being made new. 

Taken with permission from the January issue of The Lutheran magazine. Visit