by Linda Post Bushkofsky—
Women of the ELCA leaders were thinking about new models for ministry—models that could best serve the mission and purpose of Women of the ELCA in a changing world. Based on recommendations from an exploratory committee, the churchwide executive board at its October 2019 meeting sent many proposed constitutional changes to the voting members of the Eleventh Triennial Convention (2021). The board was envisioning a future for our organization that allowed for greater flexibility and nimbleness—a future that was more reflective of all God’s people, more hospitable, more welcoming. As with most change, this was not without risk.
A few months after the board’s action, the global pandemic thrust us into unfamiliar and unpredictable territory. Our churchwide constitution calls us to be flexible and adaptable as an organization, but that flexibility and adaptability had never been tested as it would (and continues to be) during the pandemic. Individually and collectively, we figured out creative ways to accomplish what needed to be done. In fits and starts, we managed the uninvited change wrought by the global pandemic. Let’s celebrate that!
Fast-forward a few months and the organization held its first digital convention. While not without some challenges, voting members carried out the work of the organization. The proposed constitutional changes were adopted, save one. Among the changes was a reduction in the size of the churchwide executive board from 21 members to 15. The diversity commitment of the organization was expanded so that now at least 20% of the executive board members are women of color or whose primary language is other than English. Previously that commitment had been 10%. The diversity commitment was also expanded, with a requirement that at least 20% of the board be women under 45 or who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. Such a requirement was not previously part of the churchwide constitution.
These bold commitments expand the leadership table. They are concrete means to live out our purpose of affirming our gifts, supporting one another in our callings and promoting healing and wholeness in the church, society and the world. These are not only history- making commitments, but they are also supported by the history of Lutheran women’s organizations.
When Lutheran women established their organizations in the 19th century, they were creating leadership roles for women at a time when the church did not allow women to hold leadership positions. When Lutheran women funded the education of women as mission personnel and supported them in overseas placements, they were creating leadership roles for women not otherwise available in the church. Women’s organizations were instrumental in the movement that led to women’s ordination. And we’ve prayed for and supported women as bishops even as we’ve prayed for and supported women as seminary professors, college presidents and social service leaders.
It’s what women do: Make history. Expand the table. Support those who are marginalized. Help to usher in the commonwealth of God.
Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA. She’s a member of United Lutheran Church, Oak Park, Illinois, where her husband, Dennis, serves as pastor.