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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, January 28, 2006

Lutherans pursue vibrancy

By Mary Kaye Ritz
Advertiser Religion & Ethics Writer


The presiding bishop of the ELCA, the Rev. Mark Hanson, has these events on his agenda:

At 2:30 p.m. today: Preach at a Eucharistic worship service for ELCA members in Hawai'i, Calvary-by-the-Sea, 5339 Kalaniana'ole Highway.

At 9 a.m. tomorrow: Preach at the 125th anniversary celebration of Lihu'e Lutheran Church, 4602 Ho'omana Road, Kaua'i.

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It's been an interesting five months for the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

After choosing to uphold a ban on gay clergy in August, the denomination watched a few congregations leave but oddly enough, not those who wanted to allow gay clergy.

"They were conservative churches," explained Hanson, adding that the group's choice to not go further in the ban angered others, too. "... We chose to live with rough edges around certain issues. ... I think we matured as a church, learning to deal with issues that are divisive (but) didn't tear us apart."

Hanson is spending the weekend in Hawai'i, his first official visit to the Islands. After getting the admiral's tour of Pearl Harbor with Lutheran chaplains, Hanson and Bishop Murray Finck of the Pacifica Synod took a break yesterday to talk about why Hawai'i is important to the ELCA.

While one other presiding bishop of the largest U.S. Lutheran denomination has visited Hawai'i before Herbert Chilstrom came in 1992 this weekend's trip has a broad purpose, with a multi-island visit and interfaith elements, said Pastor Ruth M. Peterson of Joy of Christ Lutheran Church.

To evidence this, after the interview, Hanson and Finck had a private meeting with Roman Catholic Bishop Larry Silva and other interfaith leaders at St. Andrew's Cathedral. In 2003, Hanson also was elected president of the Lutheran World Federation, headquartered in Switzerland, and serves on the executive board of the U.S. National Council of Churches of Christ, so he takes ecumenism seriously.

Hanson's last stop of the day was at Chinese Lutheran Church.

It is the largest Asian church in the ELCA and offers services in three languages, fostered 17 pastors in the past 22 years and is the largest congregation in Hawai'i.

Churches like these are important bridges to the rest of the world, "pictures of the church we're seeking to become," Hanson said.

"In places like Hawai'i and Southern California, if we don't figure out how to be vibrant, we'll be remnants of a distant past," Hanson said.

Finck added that he's urging Pacifica Synod churches to be bilingual, if not trilingual.

Tomorrow, Hanson will be on Kaua'i to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Lihu'e Lutheran Church.

Hanson was elected bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod in 1995 before being chosen presiding bishop in 2001.

The U.S. evangelical Lutheran Church has about 5 million people in 10,585 congregations. In Hawai'i, there are 11 congregations, with about 3,000 members, Peterson said.