Congregational Declaration Regarding Churchwide Actions
Is there a way whereby our congregation could formally register its dissent from the ministry policy actions approved by the 2009 Churchwide Assembly? How might we indicate that our congregation is not open to calling a partnered gay or lesbian person to serve as our pastor?
Please consult with the bishop or a member of the synod staff regarding the best process to use in considering such a resolution, as well as the status this resolution will have in the congregation’s life and ministry, e.g. a resolution by a congregational meeting, a continuing resolution, a bylaw, etc.
Rostered Leader Dual Membership
May an ELCA pastor belong to the clergy roster of another Lutheran church body, while still retaining roster status in the ELCA?
No. ELCA pastors cannot be on the clergy rosters of two different denominations.
The ELCA Manual of Policies and Procedures for Management of the Rosters (2005) states:
An ordained minister of this church who enters the ordained ministry of another church body, or who joins a religious group or congregation of another church body (except as provided in 7.41.17.), or who serves a group schismatic from this church or from a congregation thereof, shall cease to be a member of this church. The ordained minister’s name shall be removed from the roster of ordained ministers by the bishop of the synod, who shall report the action to the secretary of this church and to the next Synod Assembly.
(Part One, p. 51)
Congregational Dual Membership
I’ve heard that it may be possible for our congregation to join another denomination while still belonging to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Do the governing documents of the ELCA allow for such a possibility?
No. There is no provision in the governing documents of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for dual rostering of congregations. The one very limited exception to this rule regards the possibility of a federated full-communion congregation (9.90 in the Constitution of the ECA)—and the existence of this exception proves the rule that ELCA congregations cannot be “dual rostered.”
If a congregation joins the roster of some other denomination, it has violated the very fundamental tenets that make it an ELCA congregation under the ELCA Constitution 9.21. This does not mean that congregations cannot belong to interest groups that are not denominations.
Constitutional Process for Considering Church Affiliation
Our congregation’s constitution hasn’t been updated in line with the latest edition of the Model Constitution for Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Are we still bound by the provisions of the Model Constitution, Chapter 6?
It is always good for a congregation to keep its constitution and bylaws “up to date” with the current edition of the Model Constitution for Congregations. Nevertheless, the governing process for all congregations of the ELCA is the Constitution, Bylaws, and Continuing Resolutions of the ELCA, Sections 9.60 and 9.70 on pages 64-65. These sections “trump” whatever is in a congregation’s constitution.
The process described in Sections 9.60 and 9.70 is the same as what’s in the Model Constitution for Congregations. It is in the ELCA churchwide constitution to cover those cases where this process may not be covered in congregational constitutions. By virtue, therefore, of being a part of the ELCA a congregation obligates itself to follow this process.
Disaffiliation from the ELCA
Our congregation has decided we want to consider disaffiliating from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. What are the steps that we need to take?
The congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) are bound to one another in a continuing covenant relationship. The promises of this covenant are historically grounded in the fact that every congregation of this Church comes into being through the prayers, support and generous benevolence of other congregations of this Church. The covenant is framed by the constitutions of this Church and established by an array of interconnected public promises made by pastors and congregations.
Under certain conditions, a congregation may choose to terminate its participation in that covenant. For this reason, the covenant itself provides an honorable and respectful process for the termination of that relationship, outlined in pertinent sections of the governing documents of the ELCA. Covenants may be renegotiated, but they may not be redesigned by only one party to the covenant.
Considering a motion to disaffiliate from the ELCA is one of the most serious actions that can be taken by voting members of an ELCA congregation. The constitutional provisions are designed to ensure that voting members of the congregation have an opportunity to evaluate thoroughly the issues involved with terminating the relationship between the congregation and the ELCA. It is critical, therefore, that the governing documents of the ELCA, the synod and the congregation be strictly observed and followed.
Governing Documents Must be Observed Carefully and Completely
Considering a motion to disaffiliate from the ELCA is one of the most serious actions that can be taken by voting members of an ELCA congregation. The constitutional provisions are designed to ensure that voting members of the congregation have an opportunity to evaluate thoroughly the issues involved with terminating the relationship between the congregation and the ELCA.
It is critical, therefore, that the governing documents of the ELCA, the synod and the congregation bestrictly observed and followed. The pertinent governing documents are section 9.62 in the Constitution, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and chapters 6 & 7 in the Model Constitution for Congregations. These provisions apply to all ELCA congregations, regardless of whether the congregation’s own governing documents have been updated to align with the latest revision of pertinent ELCA governing documents. Moreover, it is not within the purview of a congregation’s council or a congregational meeting to alter or set aside any provisions of these governing documents.
A Special Meeting
A vote to disaffiliate can take place only at a special meeting of the congregation, called in accordance with the congregation’s governing documents. This means that a vote to disaffiliate may not be included on the agenda of a regular (e.g. annual or semi-annual) meeting of the congregation’s voting members. ELCA constitutional provision 9.62 provides that both the first meeting and the second meeting must take place at a “legally called and conducted special meeting…” Special meetings are distinguished from annual meetings in Chapter 10 of the Model Constitution for Congregations, and they are distinct under non-profit corporation law.
Proper Notice to Voting Members
Note also that C10.02 specifies: “The call for each special meeting shall specify the purpose for which it is to be held and no other business shall be transacted.” C10.03 specifies notice requirements, including announcement on two preceding Sundays and mail notice to members at least 10 days in advance of the date of the meeting. The requirement of a special meeting cannot be waived or modified by action of a Congregation Council.
Two-thirds of Voting Members Present
It also is important to note the vote requirement in both 9.62.a. and 9.62.c. There must be a quorum present to transact business at a special meeting, and 2/3 of those present must vote in favor of the resolution for disaffiliation for the action to be adopted. Note: This is not the same as “present and voting;” 2/3 of all the voting members present must vote in the affirmative to pass a motion to disaffiliate.
Some congregations have inquired about the appropriateness of absentee ballots or voting by proxy. Both Robert’s Rules of Order and the Model Constitution for Congregations (C10.05) prohibit such options unless the congregation’s governing documents specifically allow the use of absentee ballots or voting by proxy.
Determine Eligibility of Voting Members
Only voting members may participate in the discussions and deliberation at congregational meetings. In determining who is eligible to vote at a congregational meeting, please note what is said in chapter 8 of the Model Constitution:
Voting members are confirmed members. Such confirmed members, during the current or preceding calendar year, shall have communed in this congregation and shall have made a contribution of record to this congregation. Members of this congregation who have satisfied these basic standards shall have the privilege of voice and vote at every regular and special meeting of the congregation.
Congregations are advised to have voting members “sign in” at the start of the meeting. As is the case in any special congregational meeting, proper minutes must also be recorded.
Proper Notice to the Synod Bishop and to Voting Members of Adoption of the Resolution
If the resolution to disaffiliate is adopted by the 2/3 majority vote of those present, the secretary of the congregation shall submit a copy of the resolution to the synodical bishop and shall mail a copy of the resolution to voting members of the congregation. This notice shall be submitted within 10 days after the resolution has been adopted.
Consult with the Synod Bishop
The bishop of the synod shall consult with the congregation during a period of at least 90 days. Such consultation shall be arranged by the synod bishop and the president and/or pastor of the congregation, and it may include other representatives of the synod.
During the period of time following the “first vote” to disaffiliate, the congregation shall (if it has not yet done so) consider options for affiliation with another church body, should the “second vote” result in disaffiliation from the ELCA. Please note that section 9.70 of the Constitution, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America deals with issues related to property ownership when a congregation votes to disaffiliate from the ELCA (see especially sections 9.71.d and 9.71.e and the comparable material in Chapter 7 of the Model Constitution for Congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). It is crucial for a congregation to consider carefully the ramifications of becoming independent or affiliating with a non-Lutheran church body, because taking either of these actions means that consent must be obtained from the Synod Council for title to property to remain with the congregation.
A Second Special Meeting
If the congregation, after consultation with the synod bishop, still desires to terminate its relationship, such action may be taken at a legally called and conducted special meeting by a 2/3 majority of the voting members present, at which meeting the synod bishop or an authorized representative shall be present.
Proper notice to all voting members must be provided, as noted above.
If the Second Disaffiliation Vote Passes
If your second vote on disaffiliation passes, you should proceed immediately to consider a motion that the congregation affiliate with another Lutheran church body. ELCA governing documents require that this vote also receive a 2/3 majority vote.2 After the meeting, please inform the synod bishop of the outcome of both votes—the vote to disaffiliate from the ELCA along with the subsequent vote to affiliate with another Lutheran church body; please name the new Lutheran church body that your congregation will be part of.
Proper Notice to the Synod Bishop
If the resolution to disaffiliate is adopted by the 2/3 majority of those present at the second special meeting, a certified copy of the resolution to terminate its relationship shall be sent to the synod bishop, at which time the relationship between the congregation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America shall be terminated. Notice of termination shall be forwarded by the synod bishop to the secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and published in the periodical of the ELCA.
The relationship officially terminates only upon transmission to the synod bishop of the certified copy of the resolution to terminate adopted at the second congregational meeting, unless Synod Council approval isnecessary. In cases where Synod Council approval is necessary, termination occurs upon transmission to the synod bishop of the certified copy of the resolution or approval by the Synod Council, whichever is later.
Congregations which had been members of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) or congregations that had been established by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), shall be required, in addition to the foregoing provisions in 9.62., to receive synodical approval before terminating their membership in this church. This approval would come through action of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod Council.
Other Fiduciary Responsibilities
In addition to following the constitutional process for disaffiliation, synodical and congregational officers need to remember that almost all ELCA congregations are corporations in the state in which they are located. Because congregations and synods are corporations, members of the Congregation Council and the Synod Council also have fiduciary responsibilities; issues of state and federal law also are embedded in the termination decision. For example, many congregations have tax-exempt status through the ELCA’s group ruling from the IRS, which will not apply if a congregation terminates its relationship. Synod Staff Available for Consultation Please consult with the synod bishop or any member of the synod pastoral staff if you have any other questions about the appropriate process to follow in voting on a resolution of disaffiliation.
A Checklist of the Requirements
As noted above, considering action to disaffiliate is a serious action, involving a multi-step process. For simplicity, here is a checklist of the requirements and some other key things to remember:
- First, make sure you have read through and followed the suggested process for discussion in the resource, Reflections on Leaving the ELCA, available in the Post-2009 Churchwide Assembly Resources Page on the Northwestern Minnesota Synod website, www.nwmnsynod.org.
- A special meeting of the congregation shall be properly called. The call for this special meeting shall specify the purpose for which it is to be held and no other business shall be transacted.
- Notice of this meeting of the congregation shall be given at the services of worship on the preceding two consecutive Sundays and by mail to all voting members at least 10 days in advance of the meeting.
- There can be no voting by proxy and/or absentee ballot.
- Adoption is required by a 2/3 vote of all those present at the legally called and conducted special congregational meeting of a resolution indicating intent to disaffiliate from the ELCA.
- Notify the synod bishop and all voting members of the congregation within 10 days of adoption of the resolution at the first vote.
- Consult with the synod bishop during a period of at least 90 days and prior to the second vote.
- Carefully consider options for affiliation with a different Lutheran church body, paying attention to section 9.70 of the Constitution, Bylaws and Continuing Resolutions of the ELCA.
- Notice of a second special congregational meeting must be mailed to all voting members at least 10 days in advance of the second meeting.
- Adoption is required by a 2/3 vote of all those present at a legally called and conducted special congregational meeting, at which the bishop or a representative is present, of a resolution to terminate the relationship. If the second vote to disaffiliate passes, the congregation should proceed immediately to join another Lutheran church body.
- Synod Council approval is required if the congregation was established by the ELCA, if the congregation was a former member of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), or if the congregation will become independent or relate to a non-Lutheran church body Transmission to the synod bishop of a certified copy of the resolution to terminate adopted at the second special congregational meeting.
- Notice is given to the Office of the Secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
If we close our congregation, what happens to church properties?
Please reach out to the synod office and invite a member of the synod staff to visit your congregation’s council and discuss possibilities that might allow your congregation to continue in mission and ministry. For example, sometimes two or more congregations talk together about forming a new ministry partnership that will allow these congregations to stay open, serving God and their neighbors.
In the event that your congregation does discern that it’s time to close, again, please contact a member of the synod staff to sit down with your council and discuss that process. If that is where your congregation is at, it’s important to “close well” and care for your members and dispose of your property in an orderly fashion, hopefully leaving a legacy in mission from the resources that remain. See the document Steps in the Dissolution of a Congregation.
Regarding the church property itself (the building, contents and land on which the building is situated), in general this property is and remains the property of the congregation. As part of the closure process the leaders and members of the congregation decide on the best way to dispose of such property. Only in very rare cases, might the property revert to the synod—basically, that happens only if the congregation isn’t able to dispose of all properties prior to officially closing for some reason (see below, Chapter 7, with the key word being “undisposed”). The synod *prefers* that you dispose of your property, in keeping with your values as a congregation and in light of the ways your congregation has sought to serve God, God’s mission and God’s people.
Here are the pertinent portions of the Model Constitution for congregations of the ELCA :
POWERS OF THE CONGREGATION
*C5.01. The powers of this congregation are those necessary to fulfill its purpose.
*C5.02. The powers of this congregation are vested in the Congregation Meeting called and conducted as provided in this constitution and bylaws.
*C5.03. Only such authority as is delegated to the Congregation Council or other organizational units in this congregation’s governing documents is recognized. All remaining authority is retained by the congregation. The congregation is authorized to:
a. call a pastor as provided in Chapter 9;
b. terminate the call of a pastor as provided in Chapter 9;
c. call or terminate the call of associates in ministry, deaconesses, and diaconal ministers in conformity with the applicable policy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America;
d. adopt amendments to the constitution, as provided in Chapter 17, amendments to the bylaws, as specified in Chapter 16, and continuing resolutions, as provided in Chapter 18.
e. approve the annual budget;
f. acquire real and personal property by gift, devise, purchase, or other lawful means;
g. hold title to and use its property for any and all activities consistent with its purpose;
h. sell, mortgage, lease, transfer, or otherwise dispose of its property by any lawful means;
i. elect its [officers][,] [and] Congregation Council, [boards, and committees,] and require [them] [the members of the council] to carry out their duties in accordance with the constitution[,] [and] bylaws[,] [and continuing resolutions]; and
j. terminate its relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as provided in Chapter 6.
*C7.01. If this congregation ceases to exist, title to undisposed property shall pass to the (insert name of synod) Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
- The Introduction includes some language from a letter from Bishop Wayne Miller to the Metro Chicago Synod ELCA. ↩
- From the ELCA Model Constitution for Congregations:
*C7.03. If a two-thirds majority of the voting members of this congregation present at a legally called and conducted special meeting of this congregation vote to transfer to another Lutheran church body, title to property shall continue to reside in this congregation. Before this congregation takes action to transfer to another Lutheran church body, it shall consult with representatives of the (insert name of synod) Synod.
*C7.04. If a two-thirds majority of the voting members of this congregation present at a legally called and conducted special meeting of this congregation vote to become independent or relate to a non-Lutheran church body, title to property of this congregation shall continue to reside in this congregation only with the consent of the Synod Council. The Synod Council, after consultation with this congregation by the established synodical process, may give approval to the request to become independent or to relate to a non-Lutheran church body, in which case title shall remain with the majority of this congregation. If the Synod Council fails to give such approval, title shall remain with those members who desire to continue as a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. ↩