Mainline leaders protest NYC Correction policies on immigrants

The United Methodist and ELCA bishops of New York will take part in a press conference this morning to call for the NYC Department of Corrections to “stop using New York City resources to participate in immigration enforcement.”

According to a statement from the pro-immigration reform New Sanctuary Movement, the DOC sends about 4,000 people a year from Rikers Island to deportation proceedings.

They say: “As the vast majority of those held at the facility are awaiting trial or serving short sentences, many of those being are separated  from the families have no criminal record or minor infractions.”

An unknown number of people are fasting today as a protest. They will join the press conference at 10 a.m. today outside St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan.

Religious leaders set to appear include Bishop Robert Rimbo of the ELCA and Bishop Jeremiah Park (that’s him) of the United Methodist Church, as well as Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of  Congregation Ansche Chesed in Manhattan.

The pundits seem to think that immigration reform isn’t going anywhere.

But advocates on both sides of one of the most contentious public policy issues of the day are going to keep the Great Immigration Debate alive.

ELCA bishop: Tears of ‘joy and sorrow’ over gay-clergy vote

Bishop Robert Rimbo, leader of the ELCA’s Metro NY Synod, reflected this week on his denomination’s much-publicized recent decision to allow people who live in committed, monogomous same-sex relationships to serve as ministers.

He writes, in part:


I fully expect that our call process will fundamentally remain the same, with congregations finally determining whom to call as their pastor in a process guided by the Holy Spirit. I am grateful for the spirit of communal discernment in our church and at our Churchwide Assembly. Through it all we have come to recognize the deep love people have for this church, even as our views might vary about how best to live this out. This love was evident in the tears in the eyes of many in the Assembly hall upon the announcement of all of the critical votes. There were tears of joy and tears of sorrow and I found the tears in my own eyes to be a mixture of the two.

When difficult decisions are made, trust levels are often shaken. So let me offer some thoughts on why I believe there is reason for trust in our church to be affirmed:

The process was consistently open and democratic, sometimes to the dismay of those who wanted the authorities in our church to dictate what could or could not be. Debate was robust and outcomes were not known until announced. The 1,045 voting members made these decisions.

There was impressive respect for the deep feelings of others as votes were announced. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson reminded us that given the gravity of all of these decisions, the announcement of results should be followed by respectful silence and prayer rather than clapping or outbursts. And that’s exactly what happened: response was always restrained and prayerful. I think these are important signs of our care for each other and the growing maturity of our church.

The depth of people’s engagement on the floor of the Assembly and in many gatherings throughout our time before and during the days in Minneapolis is a clear sign of people’s great love for this church. I find hope in that, and I trust that we can continue to listen attentively to one another.


When I interviewed Rimbo a year ago, shortly before he became bishop, he told me: “After years of personal struggle, of study, of conversations, I believe that people who are gay are created that way. Who am I to deny something that God has created?”

Analyzing the ELCA’s attendance free-fall

I’ve written a lot over the years about the struggles of mainline Protestant denominations to maintain membership and church attendance.

The ELCA (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is now reporting that average church attendance on Sunday at its 10,448 congregations has fallen from 144 people to 131 — since 2002.

That’s bad.

The Lutheran — an ELCA national publication — quotes New York’s former ELCA bishop, Stephen Bouman, who is now national director of evangelical outreach for the denomination: “We’ve also lost our evangelizing power [and] that effort to instill the faith and practices of discipleship in our children and today’s emerging generation.”

Bouman also said: “There is a particular connection between vitality and attendance at worship and the connection a congregation has in mission to its community.”

Bouman and other mainline leaders have cited these problems for many years. The problem if figuring out how to fix them.

The current head of the ELCA’s New York Synod, Bishop Robert Rimbo, in his weekly message, notes the attendance free-fall:


What’s up?

This study is alarming. Why would people not come together regularly to worship? Whatever our personal spiritual lives may be, worship for Lutherans is essential, nourishing, connecting. Simply being missed should draw us back together, attract the young to their friends, the old to lifelong comrades, the lonely to kinship, the kids to a new family.

I think demographics play a part. The next generation is largely unchurched, families with children are overextended, retirees move to the shore in summer and the south in winter, the faithful grandparent generation is dying.

The culprit may be our leisure society. And, believe me, I know what you are facing: working hard all week makes us feel we’ve fulfilled our obligations, need to connect with family, and enjoy that blessed reprieve of a weekend at the beach or mountains or maybe just sipping an unhurried cup of coffee while reading the Times. We want to play with the toys we worked hard to buy.

When did God’s gift of the Sabbath become a weekend away from our Lord and from each other? Without getting into worship wars, poor preaching, church disputes, or bad music, we must ask more fundamental questions. How important, how powerful is our need simply to be together? The early Christians obviously felt the presence of Christ in their gatherings but they experienced a kind of rare community, koinonia, they called it (Acts 2.42). Is there a way we can be accountable to each other as sisters and brothers in Christ? Would a pastor or deacon, a council member or a friend simply call Sunday afternoon and say “We missed you”?

Pastors tell me it starts when people join, and I have experienced the same reality. Many new members don’t intend to worship weekly. Do they need other options to be together? Could the standard for membership be two gatherings each week? How else could one hope to sustain any relationship? Let us start from the truth that we are members of a Body, not names in a directory. Let us all speak lovingly: we miss each other, we enjoy each other, we long to be together. Then we will depart strengthened, and I’m guessing we will return to be strengthened again.

ELCA bishops heading for Middle East en masse

Bishop Robert Rimbo, the new boss of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for the “Greater New York” region, will be among 60 ELCA bishops visiting the Middle East next month.

That’s 60 out of 66 bishops.

They’ll meet with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian religious and community leaders.

The Rev. Allan C. Bjornberg, bishop of Denver and chairman of the ELCA Conference of Bishops, called the visit “unprecedented:”

I am proud of the commitment of our bishops, and those of the ELCIC, to visit this fascinating and troubled region of the world to learn, to support Christian sisters and brothers, and to advocate for peace and justice for all people. As we prepare for this historic visit, members of the Conference of Bishops are working diligently for a successful and meaningful journey. We thank members throughout the ELCA for their support of this visit. We pray that our journey will bring many blessings to the ELCA.

There has been tremendous controversy in recent years over the positions that mainline Protestant denominations have taken on the Middle East. Jewish groups have criticized Presbyterian Church (USA) and other denominations for coming down hard on Israel. Within denominations, there have been many squabbles between “peace and justice” advocates and more conservative voices.

The ELCA has a campaign called “Peace, Not Walls,” that calls for “a viable, contiguous Palestinian state; a secure Israeli state at peace with its Arab neighbors; and a shared Jerusalem with equal access and rights for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.”

Pix up of ELCA bishop installation

The Metro NY Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has posted some photos of the recent installation of Bishop Robert Rimbo, who is beginning a six-year term.

The ceremony was held on Oct. 12 at Central Synagogue in NYC (it was available and had enough space).

That’s Rimbo in the middle. To his left is Bishop Mark S. Hanson, presiding national bishop of the ELCA. To the far left (behind the candles) is Bishop Mark Sisk, the Episcopal bishop of New York.


Here’s a nice shot of the whole affair:


ELCA bishop to be installed Sunday

Bishop Robert Rimbo will officially take the reigns of the Metro NY Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Sunday — when he is installed at Central Synagogue in NYC.

tjndc5-5k7d0cwls8h52ryarb_layout.jpgI mentioned a few weeks ago that Rimbo would have his big day at a synagogue because it was the only place available that could fit 800 people. Rimbo is also buddies with the senior rabbi there, Peter Rubinstein.

All are welcome to the 3 p.m. service at 55th Street and Lex.

Rimbo has already been quite busy getting his six-year term moving. He’s met with pastors on Long Island and taken part in a bishops’ meeting in Washington on the Great Immigration Debate. He’ll take part in a Lutheran/Anglican/Roman Catholic dialogue in Dix Hills on Nov. 5.

The man is not likely to have much down time for the foreseeable future (although the bishop’s spiritual retreat — “Opening the book of faith—Lutheran insights for Bible study” — has been scheduled for Nov. 19 to 21).

When no churches are available for 800 people…

tjndc5-5k7d0euaqrm2v93darb_layout.jpgBishop Robert Rimbo, just taking over as leader of the Metro New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, will be installed on Oct. 12 in a pretty usual place: a synagogue.

Here’s his explanation from this week’s synod “e-letter:”

Bishop’s installation at Central Synagogue?
I’m sure that some people are wondering about that location-in fact, I’ve heard from a couple of pastors about my decision. Let me share some basic facts about why the installation will be at this historic place of worship.

We were invited by the Senior Rabbi, Peter Rubinstein, a friend of mine. There is a long history of Central sharing its space with Lutherans: St. Peter’s, Manhattan, used it when their church was being built in the mid-’70s, and Central used St. Peter’s after their fire in the late ’90s. So it’s not the first time a Christian, even Lutheran, congregation has worshiped there. We sought other likely places, and none were available: St. John the Divine is still in disrepair, and St. Patrick’s will not allow us to celebrate the Eucharist. We need to accommodate 800 people, and there MUST be complete accessibility for all. Places like Riverside Church were booked already. And I think we must make efforts in this synod to broaden our partnerships with other faith groups as well as strengthen our own ecumenical relationships. So those, in short, are the reasons.

I hope you’ll plan to be with us on Sunday, 12 October, at 3 p.m.-with gathering music starting at 2:30 p.m.

Bishop Rimbo

Rimbo, by the way, has started the process of traveling around the vast synod — which stretches from NYC to Long Island and up the Hudson Valley — to meet people and get the pulse of what’s going on. He’s scheduled to visit all regions of the synod by May.

To think, when I interviewed Rimbo in June, he didn’t even have a car.

‘I trust the Giver because of the gift’

Bishop David Olson is just about done serving as acting bishop of the New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

rew_20080516_058.jpgHe took over in February, shortly after Bishop Stephen Bouman departed for a gig with the national denomination in Chicago. On Aug. 1, the synod’s newly elected leader, Bishop Robert Rimbo (pictured), will begin a six-year term.

In Olson’s last weekly commentary, he writes about gratitude:

Gratitude is fundamental to faith. This has been the theme of more than one Thanksgiving sermon, admittedly a tangential occasion to lift up such a crucial theological truth. It is my theme today.

The Scripture is replete with examples: the 10 lepers, the plea Paul makes for offerings, the joy of the woman who found the lost coin, the tears in the eyes of the Waiting Father, Simeon in the temple, even the Eucharist.

I have found myself distributing communion to strangers in synod churches with tears in my eyes. What is in the manner, the hands, the mouths, the eyes of so many communicants that breaks into what seems routine? It is gratitude. It is for them and for me for such a privilege.

The beauty of summer days and nights, the fruits of the earth, the orange full moon appearing low and large behind distant trees on the shore still my soul with reverence, awe, and thanksgiving. Gratitude for a gift given to millions from time immemorial stirs my soul and drives it to search for or presume a Giver. All summer I am a recipient. I trust the Giver because of the gift.

I can still see my seven-year-old daughter (this week 44!) singing in children’s choir: “Good morning, God. This is your world. I am your child. Show me the way.” I think she has more of her mother’s theology than mine. Nancy’s prayers at table are unfailingly grateful. My prayers with another pastor always move to thanks.

One is grateful to be entrusted with something precious. This synod and its people have become precious to me and refreshed my faith by trusting me to be pastor and bishop. This has been a time of great gratitude and renewed faith. A new servant is about to experience the same thing. I believe he is worth your trust and common thanksgiving. Grow together in gratitude and grace.