The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a mainline Protestant denomination headquarted in Chicago, Illinois. The Church is headed by a presiding bishop, elected by the Churchwide Assembly for a term of six years. The Churchwide Assembly meets in odd-numbered years and consists of elected lay and ordained delegates. Between meetings of the Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA Church Council governs the Church. Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson was elected in 2001.

The Church is divided into one special and 64 regional synods, or dioceses in the United States and the Caribbean each headed by a synodical bishop and council. The ELCA uses the term synod differently than the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which are separate denominations.

The ELCA was formed on January 1, 1988, creating the largest Lutheran church body in the United States. The Church is a result of a merger between the Lutheran Church in America, The American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.

The three churches that formed the ELCA were results of previous mergers and splits in Lutheran synods.

  • The American Lutheran Church
In 1960 the American Lutheran Church, United Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church merged to form The American Lutheran Church . The Lutheran Free Church joined in 1963.

  • Lutheran Church in America
In 1962 the United Lutheran Church in America , the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church , Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church and American Evangelical Lutheran Church formed the Lutheran Church in America .

  • Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches
In 1976 the AELC was formed from congregations that left the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod over issues of biblical literacy, academic freedom and ecumenism.

The ELCA has over five million members and is one of the largest Christian demominations in the United States. The Church maintains full communion relationships with the Lutheran World Federation (which includes many automomous national/regional Lutheran church bodies throughout the world), The Episcopal Church, the Moravian Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ.

Beliefs and Practice

The ELCA is a Christian church body holding to the teachings of Protestant reformer Martin Luther. The ELCA's doctrine and requirements for entry are less conservative than those of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS) or Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), the second and third largest Lutheran bodies in the United States.

Like other Lutheran church bodies, the ELCA practices two sacraments, communion (or the eucharist) and baptism (including infant baptism).

Unlike the other Lutheran denominations in the United States, the ELCA ordains women as pastors. Generally speaking, ELCA clergy are less likely to take the bible literally than those in the LCMS or WELS. In addition, the ELCA generally takes a more moderate stance on social issues such as abortion and homosexuality.

Worship styles can vary. The ELCA is a liturgical church, and its services would be familiar to a Roman Catholic or Episcopalian. Lutherans believe in the true presence of Christ in the sacrament of communion through consubstantiation, whereas Roman Catholics and eastern Orthodox believe in transubstantiation and many other Protestants doubt the true presence.

Pastors are trained at one of eight ELCA seminaries located throughout the United States, and generally hold a Bachelors of Arts degree or equivalent, as well as a masters degree in divinity, and are required to learn biblical Hebrew and Greek. ELCA seminaries and colleges generally teach the historical-critical method of biblical analysis. Pastors are ordained by bishops under terms of Called to Common Mission, the full communion agreement between the ELCA and The Episcopal Church which calls for the ELCA to adopt apostolic succession in its ordained ministers.

On October 31, 1999 in Augsburg, Germany, the Lutheran World Federation, of which the ELCA is a member, signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Roman Catholic Church. The statement is an attempt to narrow the theological divide between the two faiths. The Decleration also states that the mutual condemnations between 16th century Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church no longer apply.

The headquarters of the Church are at 8765 West Higgins Road, Chicago IL 60631.

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