More than 3,000 people are gathering in Pittsburgh for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America biennial church-wide assembly.
Each time the group meets, it releases a statement on a specific social issue.
“(This year) we will be considering a proposed social statement called ‘The Church and Criminal Justice: Hearing the Cries,’ said Kurt Kusserow, bishop of the local synod. "This is a social statement that tries to understand both the experience of victims in our criminal justice system and the justice system itself.”
In addition to Lutherans, the assembly will include ecumenical partners as well.
“We have ecumenical relations with six church bodies that have resulted in full communion,” Kusserow said, “and that is the Episcopal Church, and the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Reform Church in America and the Moravian Church.”
Representatives from the Roman Catholic Church will also be in attendance as well as people from the Jewish, Islamic and Sikh communities.
“It is our desire to care for the well-being of people, whatever their religious affiliation, especially those who do not have a strong voice for themselves. I think that’s, in particular, why we are having the personal presence of someone from the Sikh community this time,” Kusserow said.
But the gathering won’t be all about faith. In an effort to cut down its carbon footprint, the assembly this year is going paperless.
“The David H. Lawrence Convention Center is the first and maybe still the largest LEED-certified convention center in North America,” Kusserow said, “so we have an environmental emphasis, we’re trying to have electronic binders rather than big paper binders for everyone. If we pull it off we’ll save about 7,000 pounds of paper.”
The group will also elect a bishop of the national church. The position is currently held by Bishop Mark Hanson, who is up for re-election. Though the assembly has met every two years, from now on it will meet every three years in different locations.
This is its first Pittsburgh meeting since 1964.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated the year the Lutheran body previously met in Pittsburgh. It was 1964, not 1974. The story has been updated.