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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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'A prophetic vision'

African American Lutherans gather to form a plan for the future

Under the theme "Proclaiming the Power 2000," about 650 African American Lutherans shared ideas and planned for the future at several regional events in 2000-2001.

 Funded in part by Aid Association for Lutherans, the events were intended to help the evangelism efforts of African American ELCA congregations, 52 percent of which have memberships under 175, compared to 26 percent for ELCA congregations overall. At each event, participants discussed necessary steps for becoming a healthy congregation, taking time to share what works in their contexts.

Pat Keen, pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran, an aging congregation in New Orleans, called the events affirming and transforming: "We learned that all of our problems aren't unique to our congregation."

Since attending the event, four young people from Bethlehem "have made commitment a part of their language, when I hardly ever heard them use it before," he added. "They're asking each other: 'What's your commitment? Why are you or why are you not committed?' The impact they've made is contagious."

Joseph Donnella, chaplain of Gettysburg [Pa.] College and the events' facilitator, cautioned: "Each congregation is in a different place, so there is no one generic answer that will fit every situation. We want [people] to understand how to shape themselves around what makes a healthy congregation."

"Our church is struggling with leadership development in the black and African American communities," said Eric Campbell, ELCA director for African American ministries. "People like the idea of us coming to them and listening to their concerns and ideas. We are lifting up a prophetic vision for the church that comes through the church--not hierarchically given, top-down. It's what the people say they want to happen within their community."


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