Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
ClassificationMainline Protestant
PolityModified episcopal polity with some powers reserved to the congregation as in congregationalism
Presiding BishopElizabeth Eaton
RegionUnited States and Caribbean
HeadquartersLutheran Center, 8765 W Higgins Rd, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
OriginConstituting Convention on April 30, 1987, in Columbus, Ohio,[1] operations began January 1, 1988[2]
Merger of
Congregations8,640 (2022)[3]
Members2,904,686 baptized members (2022)[3]
MissionariesAbout 150 fully supported, including nine evangelists[4]
Official websitewww.elca.org

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a mainline Protestant Lutheran church headquartered in Chicago, Illinois. The ELCA was officially formed on January 1, 1988, by the merging of three Lutheran church bodies. As of 2022, it has approximately 2.9 million baptized members in 8,640 congregations.[3]

In 2015, Pew Research estimated that 1.4 percent of the U.S. population self-identifies with the ELCA.[5] It is the seventh-largest Christian denomination by reported membership,[6] and the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States.[7] The next two largest Lutheran denominations are the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) (with over 1.8 million baptized members[8]) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) (with approximately 340,000 members).[9] There are also many smaller Lutheran church bodies in the United States, some of which were formed by dissidents to the major 1988 merger.

The ELCA belongs to the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and the Lutheran World Federation. The ELCA is in full communion with the Episcopal Church, Moravian Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), Reformed Church in America, United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.[10]


Historically, various Lutheran church bodies in the United States had been formed resulting from immigration waves from various countries. For instance, members of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) (centered in New York City, New York, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) were largely descendants of immigrants in the colonial and mid-19th century period. The American Lutheran Church (ALC), with headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, was influenced by descendants of the waves of Scandinavian and German immigration to the Midwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) (which had earlier withdrawn from the LCMS after 1975), was made up of many congregations throughout the lower Midwest. Over time, the national or ethnic identification by certain church associations lessened as descendants became more assimilated into general American society. Members across organizations began to have more in common as areas of the country urbanized and more people made their livings in suburbs and cities, rather than in rural farming areas. The ALC and LCA were already the result of earlier mergers among associated congregations once related to ethnic immigrant groups.[11]

In 1970, a survey by Strommen et al. found that 79 percent of Lutheran Church in America clergy, 62 percent of American Lutheran Church clergy, and 58 percent of Lutheran Church Missouri Synod clergy surveyed agreed that "a merger of all Lutheran groups in the United States into one organization is desirable".[12] A group of congregations left the LCMS after 1975 as it became dominated by theological and social conservatives; they formed the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC).[11]

Following several years of discussions, the LCA, ALC, and AELC formally agreed in 1982 to unite. Implementing this agreement took longer: the new Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) was effective on January 1, 1988, creating the largest Lutheran church body in the United States. The ALC and LCA had been formed by previous mergers.[11][13]

American Lutheran Church

In 1960, The American Lutheran Church had been formed as a merger of the earlier ALC of 1930, largely members of German heritage; the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (UELC), with members of Danish background; and the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC), made up of members of Norwegian background. The Lutheran Free Church (LFC) joined three years later in 1963.

The ALC brought approximately 2.25 million members into the new ELCA. It was the most theologically conservative of the forming bodies, having a heritage of Old Lutheran theology.[14] It had been in fellowship for a decade with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and officially held to biblical inerrancy in its constitution. It seldom enforced that stance by means of heresy trials or other doctrinal discipline. Its geographic center was in the Upper Midwest, especially Minnesota. Its headquarters and publisher (Augsburg Publishing House) were based on South Fifth Street in Minneapolis and one of its several seminaries was located in neighboring St. Paul. Its denominational magazine was The Lutheran Standard, published in Minneapolis. Some congregations in the ALC chose not to join the 1988 merger and instead formed the American Association of Lutheran Churches.

Lutheran Church in America

Evangelical Lutheran Church (Frederick, Maryland) (1752)

The Lutheran Church in America (LCA) had been created in 1962, by a merger among the United Lutheran Church in America (created in 1918 by an earlier merger of three German Lutheran synods in the eastern U.S.); Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, of Swedish ethnicity with some dating to the colonial era; the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; and American Evangelical Lutheran Church, made up of ethnic Danish families.

The LCA was the slightly larger partner and brought approximately 2.85 million members into the new ELCA. Their administrative offices were in the Church House, a former townhouse mansion on Madison Avenue in New York City. Its publishing house, Fortress Press, was on Queen Lane in northwest Philadelphia, and produced the church magazine, The Lutheran. Its demographic focus was on the East Coast, centered on Pennsylvania). It also had large numbers in the Midwest and some presence in the Southern Atlantic states. There are notable exceptions, but LCA-background churches tend to emphasize liturgical expression more than the ALC-background churches. Its theological orientation ranged from moderately liberal to neo-orthodox, with tendencies toward conservative Pietism in some rural and small-town congregations. Its theology originated in the Neo-Lutheran movement.[14]

The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches

In 1976, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC) was formed by 250 congregations that had left the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) in a schism precipitated by disputes over biblical inerrancy and ecumenism. These were part of the overall fundamentalist–modernist controversy that had been roiling American Protestant churches for several decades. In 1969 the LCMS had elected more conservative leadership under President Jacob A.O. Preus, replacing moderate incumbent Oliver Harms. The new leadership opened an investigation at the synod's Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, about the faculty's commitment to inerrancy in biblical interpretation. It also opposed ecumenism.

As a result, most of the faculty and student body walked out and established a separate institution named "Concordia Seminary-in-Exile" (but usually referred to as "Seminex"). The AELC was formed in 1976. It brought approximately 100,000 members into the ELCA. Its ethnic heritage was primarily from German immigrants of the mid-19th century, who came to the US following the revolutions in various principalities. Many were abolitionists and Unionists during the American Civil War. By the 1980s, the AELC theology generally resembled that of the LCA.


ELCA's then-Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson speaking at the inauguration of a new Augsburg College president in 2006

See also: List of ELCA synods

The ELCA is headed by a presiding bishop, who is elected by the Churchwide Assembly for a six-year term (it was a four-year term until 1995). To date, four people have been elected to the position of presiding bishop of the ELCA. Herbert W. Chilstrom served as the first presiding bishop from 1987 to 1995. He was followed by H. George Anderson (1995–2001), who had previously been the president of Luther College. The third presiding bishop was Mark Hanson, who is the past president of the Lutheran World Federation, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Hanson began his tenure as bishop of the Church in 2001 and was re-elected in August 2007 for a second term. Elizabeth Eaton was elected presiding bishop in August 2013 and took office on November 1, 2013. She was reelected for a second term in 2019. In November, 2023, Michael Burk was appointed Presiding Bishop Pro Tempore by the ELCA Church Council following a request by Bishop Eaton to take a 4-6 month leave of absence.[15]

In addition, the body of the Church Council is composed of representatives elected for a stated number of years from the various synods. These meet regularly with legislative powers in between sessions of the Churchwide Assemblies.

The Conference of Bishops, which meets at least twice a year, is formed of 66 bishops (the 65 elected synodical bishops, together with the presiding bishop), plus the ELCA church secretary. It is consulted by the presiding bishop and the Church Council for advice on matters of doctrine, faith and order, and ecumenical relations. The ELCA website states that "While primarily advisory, the role of the Conference of Bishops is significant within the life of this church."[16]

A map of the nine ELCA regions. The Slovak Zion Synod falls under Region 7 and the Bahamas and the Caribbean under Region 9.

The ELCA is divided into 65 synods, one of which is non-geographical (the Slovak Zion Synod) and 64 regional synods in the United States and the Caribbean, each headed by a synodical bishop and council; these synods are in turn grouped into nine regions.[17] Within the ELCA the term synod refers to the middle judicatory, which is referred to in some other denominations as "presbyteries", "districts", "conferences" or "dioceses" (the most ancient and traditional term in Christianity). In other Christian churches, the term "synod" is used for a meeting or conference of ministers such as priests or bishops of a diocese, province (region) or nation or, in some Protestant churches, as the term for their annual governing convention. Some Evangelical Lutheran denominations overseas continue to use the ancient church title of "diocese".

Outside of the United States, ELCA also has congregations in the Caribbean region (Bahamas which is combined with Florida in one synod; Bermuda, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands); and one congregation in the border city of Windsor, Ontario, a member of the Slovak Zion Synod. Before 1986, some of the congregations that form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada were part of the ELCA's predecessor churches.

Within the church structure are divisions addressing many programs and ministries. Among these are support for global mission, outdoor ministries, campus ministries, social ministries, and education. They include the Lutheran Peace Fellowship, Lutheran Women's Caucus, Lutheran Volunteer Corps, and the Lutheran Youth Organization ELCA Youth Gathering (formerly known in predecessor denominations as the Luther League). They cooperate with an ecumenical inter-Lutheran college/university student organization known as the Lutheran Student Movement-USA founded in 1922 and reorganized in 1969. The denominational publishing house is Augsburg Fortress, and the official denominational magazine is Living Lutheran. ELCA predecessor bodies established twenty-six colleges and universities, which are now affiliated with the ELCA and a large number of associated theological seminaries. Some of these are associated with neighboring universities or theological consortia.

Most local congregations are legally independent non-profit corporations within the state where they are located and own their own property. Governing practice within the congregation ranges from congregational voters' assemblies or annual and special congregational meetings to elder-and-council-led, to congregations where the senior pastor wields great, if informal, power (more common in larger churches).[18]

Churchwide Assemblies

The Churchwide Assembly consists of elected lay and ordained voting members. The Churchwide Assembly met biennially in odd-numbered years until 2013. Between meetings of the Churchwide Assembly, the ELCA Church Council governs the denomination, along with the advisory Conference of Bishops.

At the Assembly, elections are held for general officers of the Church such as the presiding bishop, vice president and secretary, budgets are adopted, social statements examined and approved, and various other church business enacted, along with reports made and ecumenical visitors acknowledged. A constitutional amendment was passed in 2011 to change the Assembly to one meeting on a triennial basis after 2013. The Assembly was known as the "General Convention" in the ALC and the "Biennial Convention" in the LCA.



Lutheranism is associated with the theology of Martin Luther, with its official confessional writings found in the Book of Concord. The ELCA accepts the unaltered Augsburg Confession (not the variata) as a true witness to the Gospel. The ELCA is less conservative than the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), the second and third largest Lutheran bodies in the United States, respectively.[19] Most ELCA Lutherans are theologically moderate-to-liberal, although has a sizable conservative minority. Other Lutheran bodies in the U.S. tend to hold more strictly to Confessional Lutheranism.

Differences within the ELCA

Constituent congregations of the ELCA hold many differences of opinion, and have had disputes over social and doctrinal issues. In part, this is related to the history of having assimilated three different Lutheran church bodies, each with its own factions and divisions, but also to responses to changing social conditions in the United States. Old intra-group conflicts were inherited and new inter-group ones were created. Differences on issues usually reflect theological disputes between various parties.

The ELCA is a very broad denomination. It contains groups of socially and/or theologically conservative or liberal factions with differing emphases on various topics such as liturgical renewal,[20][21] confessional Lutheranism, charismatic revivalism, moderate to liberal theology, and liberal activism. The socially liberal segment of the ELCA is represented by independent organizations such as ReconcilingWorks, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, and the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women's Caucus. What is now known as the Lutheran Coalition For Renewal (Lutheran CORE) is made up of socially conservative congregations that left the ELCA after it decided to accept openly gay clergy for ordination and calling. Adherents of Evangelical Catholicism practice High Church Lutheranism and include the members of the Society of the Holy Trinity. Those oriented toward Confessional Lutheranism, Evangelicalism, or an admixture of the two include the WordAlone network, and those involved with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ. Members of the Charismatic Movement include congregations and pastors associated with the Alliance of Renewal Churches and some ethnic congregations. Additionally, there has been a recent growth in Franciscan spirituality in the ELCA through the Order of Lutheran Franciscans.


The ELCA constitution states: "This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life."[22]

ELCA clergy tend not to subscribe to a doctrine of biblical inerrancy, but see validity in various scholarly methods of analysis to help in understanding the Bible,[23] a process sometimes called Higher Criticism.[24]


Like other Lutheran church bodies, the ELCA confesses two sacraments: Communion (or the Eucharist) and Holy Baptism (including infant baptism). Guidance on sacramental practices in the ELCA is provided in The Use of the Means of Grace, a statement adopted by the 1997 Churchwide Assembly.[25]

In addition to the two sacraments, ELCA churches also practice acts which are orders. These include confirmation, ordination, anointing the sick, confession and absolution, and marriage.

With respect to the eucharist or the Lord's Supper, the ELCA holds to the Lutheran doctrine of the sacramental union, that is, that Christ's body and blood is truly present "in, with and under" the bread and wine.[26] All communicants orally receive not only bread and wine, but also the same body and blood of Christ that was given for them on the cross.[27] Members of other denominations sometimes refer to this as a belief in consubstantiation. Lutherans, however, reject the philosophical explanation of consubstantiation, preferring to consider the presence of the Lord's body and blood as mysterious rather than explainable by human philosophy. The Lutheran belief in the holy mystery character of the consecrated bread and wine is more similar to that of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief than to the views of most Protestants. In contrast, most Protestant church bodies doubt or openly deny that the true body and blood of Christ is eaten in the Lord's Supper.

Unlike certain other American Lutheran church bodies, the ELCA practices open communion, permitting all persons baptized in the name of the Trinity with water to receive communion. Some congregations also commune baptized infants, similarly to Eastern Orthodox practice. The ELCA encourages its churches to celebrate the Eucharist at all services, although some churches alternate between non-eucharistic services and those containing the Lord's Supper.

Social issues

The ELCA's stances on social issues are outlined in its Social Statements and Messages.[28] Social Statements, which are usually, but not always, adopted by a two-thirds majority of a Churchwide Assembly, have been adopted on the following topics:

Role of women

The ELCA ordains women as pastors, a practice that all three of its predecessor churches adopted in the 1970s (The ALC and LCA in 1970, the AELC in 1976). Some women have become bishops, though the number is still low. The first female bishop, April Ulring Larson, was elected in the La Crosse area synod in 1992. In 2018, the ELCA elected its first African-American female bishops: Patricia Davenport in Southeastern Pennsylvania and Viviane Thomas-Breitfeld in South-Central Wisconsin.[29] In 2013, Elizabeth Eaton became the first woman to be elected presiding bishop of the ELCA. The most recent ELCA hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, includes alternate gender-neutral invocations and benedictions in all settings. All of the psalms and many of the hymns and parts of the liturgy have been altered to remove masculine pronouns referring to God.[30] In 2000, the Cooperative Clergy Study Project surveyed 681 ELCA pastors and found that 95 percent of ELCA clergy thought that all clergy positions should be open to women, while 2 percent disagreed.[31]

Augustana Lutheran Church in Washington, D.C. is a "Reconciling in Christ" congregation, meaning they welcome all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ordination of LGBT clergy and blessings of same-sex marriages

Main article: 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly

On August 21, 2009, the ELCA's Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis voted to allow congregations to call and ordain gays and lesbians in committed monogamous relationships to serve as clergy.[32] By a vote of 559 to 451, delegates approved a resolution declaring that the church would find a way for people in "publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships" to serve as official ministers. Congregations that do not wish to call these persons to ordained ministry are not required by these policy changes to do so.[33]

In reaction, Lutheran CORE, which opposed the decision, stated that it would "initiate a process that we hope will lead to a reconfiguration of North American Lutheranism."[34] In February 2010, Lutheran CORE announced that it would secede from the ELCA and form a new denomination to be named the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).[35] As of 2008, 37 percent of ELCA pastors were found to support same-sex marriage.[36]

The ELCA, in removing sexual orientation as a bar for candidacy in the professional ministry, joined most of its Lutheran sister churches in Europe, including in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Austria.[37] The ELCA is also among a growing number of Christian churches in the United States to make this move.[examples needed]

In contrast, the board of one of the ELCA's partner churches, October 2009, the Evangelical Mekane Yesus Fellowship in North America, voted to declare disunity with the ELCA. A press release stated that the board was no longer "in good conscience" "able to commune and partner with ELCA Church that has willfully disobeyed the word of God and regrettably departed from the clear instructions of the Holy Scriptures" that "marriage is only between a man and a woman". This was followed by the general synod of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus also breaking links with the ELCA.[38]

In April 2010, the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America adopted revisions to ministry policy documents to bring them in line with the August 2009 vote, as well as adding sections on integrity, substance abuse and addiction. The release noted that the revised ministry policies would be posted on the church's website by the end of April 2010.[39]

Since August 2009, according to the office of the ELCA secretary, over 600 congregations have left the ELCA through January 2011. Income declined, with revenue of $66.7 million in 2010, down from $76.5 million in 2009.[40]

On May 31, 2013, Guy Erwin became the first openly gay man to be chosen bishop in the ELCA when he was elected to a six-year term as bishop of the Southwest California Synod.[41] In 2015, the denomination ordained, officially, the first transgender pastor.[42]

Also in 2015, after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationally in the US, the office of the presiding bishop released a letter informing members that each congregation is free to marry gay and lesbian couples or to choose not to do so.[43]

Since 2009 blessings of same-sex marriages are allowed in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.[44]

Creation and evolution

The ELCA has not adopted an official position on creation or evolution, but there is general agreement on interpreting the Bible within its historical contexts and applying critical methods of research. In 2000, the Cooperative Clergy Study Project surveyed 681 ELCA pastors and found that 26 percent of ELCA clergy thought Scientific Creationism should be taught alongside evolution in biology classes, while 57 percent disagreed.[31]

Reproductive cloning

The ELCA has not yet taken an official position regarding reproductive cloning. However, Task Force on Genetics of the church's "Church in Society" initiative is studying the theological and ethical issues that the world is likely to face in coming years as a result of Genetic Science. The task force has issued a draft report[45] for comment and discussion. The draft statement covers a wide range of topics, from genetic testing to GMOs. A section in this report which has been described by an independent reviewer as "a remarkably nuanced analysis and statement regarding a very complex scientific, social, and religious issue."[46] The task force recommends opposition to reproductive cloning, as almost all religious groups currently do. However, the main theological reasoning is unique. Lewis D. Eigen explains:[46]

The argument they articulate is not the common but weak argument that it would be "offensive to God," "against the will of God" or "man encroaching into God's domain", but they observe that the clone would be denied the dignity of possessing a unique human genotype. This is an extremely interesting argument—that each and every human being has the right to his or her own uniqueness—particularly a unique genotype.

The draft statement further asserts that any clones that might be created should have full acceptance as human beings and access to rites of the church.


The issue of abortion is a matter of contention within the ELCA. In a Social Statement adopted in 1991,[47] the church set out its position on the matter as follows. The ELCA describes itself as "a community supportive of life", and encourages women to explore alternatives to abortion such as adoption. However, the Social Statement asserts that there are certain circumstances under which a decision to end a pregnancy can be "morally responsible". These include cases where the pregnancy "presents a clear threat to the physical life of the woman", situations where "the pregnancy occurs when both parties do not participate willingly in sexual intercourse", and "circumstances of extreme fetal abnormality, which will result in severe suffering and very early death of an infant." Regardless of the reason, the ELCA opposes abortion when "a fetus is developed enough to live outside a uterus with the aid of reasonable and necessary technology." The ELCA opposes "laws that deny access to safe and affordable services for morally justifiable abortions", and "laws that are primarily intended to harass those contemplating or deciding for an abortion." The statement emphasizes the prevention of circumstances leading to abortion, specifically encouraging "appropriate forms of sex education in schools, community pregnancy prevention programs, and parenting preparation classes." In 2000, the Cooperative Clergy Study Project found that one fifth of ELCA clergy favored banning abortion with a constitutional amendment.[48] Lutheran CORE, which represents theologically conservative members of ELCA, together with the North American Lutheran Church, through their Joint Commission an Theology and Doctrine, approved an official anti-abortion stance in the document "The Lord Is with You" – A Word of Counsel to the Church – The Sanctity of Nascent Life", on December 14, 2012.[49]


The ELCA official statement on "End of Life Decisions", adopted on November 9, 1992, disapproves euthanasia: "We oppose the legalization of physician-assisted death, which would allow the private killing of one person by another. Public control and regulation of such actions would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. The potential for abuse, especially of people who are most vulnerable, would be substantially increased."[50]


ELCA ministers Richard and Bonnie Jensen

As a Lutheran church body, the ELCA professes belief in the "priesthood of all believers" as reflected in Martin Luther's To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, that all baptized persons have equal access to God and are all called to use their gifts to serve the body of Christ. Some people are called to "rostered ministry", or vocations of church leadership and service. After formation, theological training, and approval by local synods these people are "set aside, but not above" through ordination.[51]

An extensive "Study of Ministry" was embarked upon immediately after the 1988 merger as it became apparent that there were still discordant viewpoints and influences, especially by the pressure for a renewal of the office of deacon and its different manifestations to a more ancient and traditional view predating the Reformation into the earliest days of Christianity. The church makes a clear distinction between the deacon's "Ministry of Word and Service", and the Pastor's "Ministry of Word and Sacrament".

In the ELCA, ordination refers to the setting apart of pastors in the ministry of word and sacrament and deacons in the ministry of word and service (before 2019, consecration was the term for setting apart deacons). The similar rite for setting apart a bishop is called installation. These rites (for bishops, pastors, and deacons) are formal liturgies, with prayer and the laying-on of hands by the bishop, or by the presiding bishop in the case of the installation of a new bishop. Since 2000, the ELCA has required all installations of new bishops to include the laying-on of hands by not fewer than three bishops who are known to be within the historic line of apostolic succession.


Deacons are called to a "Ministry of Word and Service".[52] The former lay rosters of deaconess, diaconal minister, and associate in ministry were all merged onto one roster, called Deacons, beginning in January 2017.

Deacons serve in many roles in and beyond congregations. At their ordination they may be presented with a towel and basin (in reference to Jesus washing the feet of his disciples) as a sign of their servant ministry, but the rite of ordination (published in January 2017) also allows for other symbols to be presented, reflecting the broad range of diaconal service. The rite states: "Other symbols of the ministry of word and service may be given, which may reflect a particular focus of the deacon's call and vocation, such as a vessel containing oil, a Bible, or the book of worship."[52]


Pastors are called to the "Ministry of Word and Sacrament" and considered a "steward of the mysteries" of the Church (the means of grace). Pastors primarily serve congregations, but some serve in specialized ministries including those of hospital chaplain and military chaplain.

Pastors are ordinarily trained at one of seven ELCA seminaries located throughout the United States, although there are alternative paths for ordination to serve particular communities in which it is difficult to provide trained ministers or to allow rostering of clergy transferred from other denominations. Pastors generally hold a Bachelor of Arts degree or its equivalent, as well as a four-year master of divinity degree. They are required to learn biblical Hebrew and Greek, and spend at least a summer doing clinical pastoral education — an intensive program that gives them time to reflect on their pastoral craft, usually in a hospital setting. They are required to complete a one-year internship of full-time service in pastoral ministry.


A bishop is a pastor called to serve (usually for a six-year term, which may be renewed) as the overseeing minister of a synod, or called to serve as the presiding bishop of the ELCA.

The Called to Common Mission agreement with the Episcopal Church in 2000 means that bishops are now installed according to Apostolic Succession. The fixed term of service as head of a synod has not changed, and there was no requirement in 2000 for existing ELCA bishops to be re-installed within the historic episcopate; instead, the apostolic succession was received as a sign of historic continuity, without denying the traditional Lutheran belief that the Church is truly present where the sacraments of baptism and holy communion are administered, regardless of the historic nature (or otherwise) of the ministry. Before 2000 a pastor had served in the office of bishop and then returned to being known simply as a pastor when service as a bishop had ended. Following the 2000 agreement a former bishop may still return to the work of a local pastor, but is often referred as bishop emeritus, even if not exercising that ministry.


Published in 2006, Evangelical Lutheran Worship is the main hymnal used in congregations. Some congregations, however, continue to use the older Lutheran Book of Worship published by the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship in 1978, and some even continue to use the older Service Book and Hymnal (SBH) of 1958 or its antecedent precedent-setting Common Service of 1888 which laid out a traditional American Lutheran liturgy and later was included in subsequent worship books and hymnals of various churches especially The Common Service Book of 1917, adopted by the old United Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor of the LCA to 1962, and The Lutheran Hymnal (TLH-1941) of the LCMS. Many congregations also make use of supplementary resources recently published as well besides those authorized for the LBW by Augsburg-Fortress, Publishers. Many ELCA congregations are classically liturgical churches. Their liturgy is rooted in the Western liturgical tradition, though recent international Lutheran-Orthodox dialog sessions have had some minimal influence on Lutheran liturgy. Because of its use of the Book of Concord of 1580, with the Confessions, documents and beliefs of the Reformers, including the Augsburg Confession of 1530, Luther's Small Catechism of 1529 and the Large Catechism and its retention of many pre-Reformation traditions, such as vestments, feast days and the celebration of the Church Year, the sign of the cross, and the usage of a church-wide liturgy, there are many aspects of the typical ELCA church that are very catholic and traditional in nature. Many Evangelical Lutheran churches use traditional vestments (cassock, surplice, stole for services of the Word or non-Eucharistic liturgies or alb, cincture, stole, chasuble (pastor) or dalmatic (deacon), cope (processions) for Eucharists (Mass, Holy Communion), etc.). On special rare occasions even a bishop's cross/crozier and mitre (bishop's headpiece) have been used to designate the ancient robes and traditions of the Church originating in Roman times of which Luther and his fellow Reformers like Philip Melanchthon considered as "adiaphora" or of permissive use. Since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, most major parts of the ELCA's popular liturgies are worded exactly like the English language Mass of 1970 of the Roman Catholic Church. Many ELCA congregations use informal styles of worship or a blend of traditional and contemporary liturgical forms.

Springing from its revered heritage in the Lutheran chorale, the musical life of ELCA congregations is just as diverse as its worship. Johann Sebastian Bach, the most famous Lutheran composer and African songs are part of the heritage and breadth of Evangelical Lutheran church music. The musical portion of the Lutheran liturgy includes metrical psalter, metrical responses and hymns. Evangelical Lutheran Worship has ten settings of Holy Communion, for example. They range from plainsong chant, to Gospel, to Latin-style music. Congregations worship in many languages, many of which are represented in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Other books used in ELCA churches include the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), and its supplements: With One Voice, This Far by Faith, and for Latino/Hispanic congregations: Libro de Liturgia y Cántico.

Ecumenical relations

The ELCA is a member of the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, and Christian Churches Together and is a "partner in mission and dialog" with the Churches Uniting in Christ (formerly the Consultation on Church Union) formed in 1960.

Full communion

The Church maintains full communion relationships with other member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (which is a communion of 140 autonomous national/regional Lutheran church bodies in 78 countries around the world, representing nearly 66 million Christians) which was reorganized in 1948 from the earlier Lutheran World Convention of 1923. The ELCA has additionally full communion with the Episcopal Church, in which several congregations are jointly affiliated and hold mixed services. Also the ELCA has since established official full communion relationships with other Christian denominations such as the Moravian Church in America (with the exception of the Alaska Province), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, and The United Methodist Church.[53]

In 2013, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus severed ties, including communion and pulpit fellowship, with the ELCA over the issue of practices and teachings connected with homosexuality.[54]

Roman Catholic Church

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 reconcile a historical theological divide between the two communions. The Declaration also states that the mutual condemnations between 16th century Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church no longer apply to those that have signed onto the document. This was part of a series of "Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogues" have been taking place on an official basis every few years with statements and booklets on various theological topics published since 1966.

Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod

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The differences between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) arise from theological, historical, and cultural factors. The LCMS was briefly in fellowship with the former The American Lutheran Church, one of the ELCA predecessor bodies from 1969 to the early 1980s. Although the denominations cooperate through Lutheran World Relief and some university/college student ministries and military chaplaincy, they are not officially in communion with each other.

When the first Lutheran immigrants came to North America, they started church bodies that reflected, to some degree, the churches they left behind in Europe. Many maintained until the early 20th century their immigrant languages. They sought pastors from the "old country" until patterns for the education of clergy could be developed in North America. Eventually, seminaries and church colleges were established in many places to prepare pastors to serve congregations.

The earliest predecessor synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was constituted on August 25, 1748, in Philadelphia under the influence of Henry Muhlenberg, known as the "Patriarch of American Lutheranism". It was known as the Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States. The earliest nationwide "synod" or "union of synods" was established in 1820 as the General Synod, followed later by the General Council. The ELCA was created in 1988 by the merging of the 2.85-million-member Lutheran Church in America (1962), 2.25-million-member The American Lutheran Church (1960), and the 100,000-member Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (1978). Previously, the ALC and LCA in the early 1960s came into being as a result of two mergers of eight smaller ethnically based Lutheran bodies composed of German, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Slovak, Dutch, and others organized over 150 years. Some of these smaller ethnically based bodies previously had ecumenical arrangements involving the Missouri Synod.

The LCMS was established in 1847 by German immigrants fleeing the forced Prussian Union between Lutherans and Reformed church members in European Germany, who later settled in Perry County, Missouri. It grew through immigration, offspring, and church mergers while participating in some, but not all of the dialogues, controversies, and compromises which affected the various predecessors of the ELCA during the 19th and 20th Centuries. In the mid-1970s the Seminex controversy at their Concordia Seminary in St. Louis over use of historical-critical biblical study led to the formation of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, later one of the predecessor bodies of the ELCA. The LCMS is the second largest Lutheran church body in North America with 1.8 million baptized members.

The ELCA tends to be more involved in ecumenical endeavors than the LCMS, which prohibits its clergy from worshiping in ecumenical gatherings. The ELCA is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, World Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches of Christ, USA. The LCMS rejects these as being unionist.

Both the LCMS and the ELCA have policies relating to clergy sexual misconduct. Perry C. Francis, a former ELCA pastor turned professor, along with psychology professor Tracy D. Baldo, published the results of their 1994 study of clergy sexual misconduct in the journal Pastoral Psychology. Out of 270 ELCA and 117 LCMS clergy surveyed, 13.7 percent of ELCA clergy and 4.3 percent of LCMS clergy admitted to sexual misconduct with another person since they began their ministry.[55]

Comparison to LCMS in ELCA's point of view according to the Honoring Our Neighbor's Faith[56] These conclusions are not agreed upon by the WELS or LCMS.

1 Believe in triune God Same
2 Accept Lutheran Confessions as true teachings of biblical faith Same
3 Believe that God comes to us through the Word and the sacraments Same
4 Teach justification by grace through faith Same
5 Believe that the Bible should not be subject to higher critical methods Many within the ELCA believe that the Bible can speak effectively through the use of higher critical study.
6 Believe that the Bible restricts women from certain church positions including ordained ministry Believes the Bible permits, even encourages, full participation by women in the life of the church
7 High degree of doctrinal agreement necessary before fellowship is possible Agreement on a more basic level is sufficient for fellowship.



The table below presents demographic data for two different years of the Pew Research Center U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 2007 and 2014.[57] It is divided into several demographic categories like age, gender, marital status, etc. Eategory has percentages out of 100 for 2007 and 2014, along with a column indicating the percent change (±).

Demographic[57] 2007
Age 18–29 8 12 Neutral increase +4
30–49 36 27 Neutral decrease −9
50–64 29 30 Neutral increase +1
65+ 27 31 Neutral increase +4
Gender Male 44 44 Steady no change
Female 56 56 Steady no change
Marital status Never married 11 16 Neutral increase +5
Married 63 62 Neutral decrease −1
Cohabitation 3 4 Neutral increase +1
Divorced or separated 10 9 Neutral decrease −1
Widowed 13 9 Neutral decrease −4
Parent of
of child under 18
Yes 30 24 Neutral decrease −6
No 70 76 Neutral increase +6
Race and
White alone 97 96 Neutral decrease −1
Black alone 1 2 Neutral increase +1
Asian alone 1 1 Steady no change
Other race alone 1 1 Steady no change
Hispanic and Latino 1 1 Steady no change
Immigrant status Immigrant 3 4 Neutral increase +1
Second gen. 6 8 Neutral increase +2
Third gen. or higher 90 89 Neutral decrease −1
Region Northeast 19
Midwest 51
South 16
West 14
Less than high school 6 31 Neutral decrease −13
High school 38
Some college 26 33 Neutral increase +7
Bachelor's degree 19 21 Neutral increase +2
Post-graduate 11 15 Neutral increase +4
Household income Less than $30,000 24 19 Neutral decrease −5
$30,000–49,999 24 22 Neutral decrease −2
$50,000–74,999 35 32 Neutral decrease −3
$100,000 or more 17 26 Neutral increase +9

Beliefs, practices, and views

The following table compares beliefs, practices, or views of members of ELCA across two years, 2007 and 2014.[57] Each row represents a specific belief, practice, or view. Columns show the percentages for each year and the change between them. Each entry is broken down into different responses. For example, in the "Do you believe in God or a universal spirit?" row, responses are categorized as "Yes, absolutely certain", "Yes, fairly certain", etc. The percentage of respondents who chose each response for each year is displayed, along with the change in percent from 2007 to 2014.

Belief, practice, or view[57] 2007
Do you believe in God or a universal spirit? Yes, absolutely certain 77 67 Neutral decrease −10
Yes, fairly certain 19 28 Neutral increase +9
Yes, not too or at all certain 2 3 Neutral increase +1
No, do not believe <1 1 Steady no change
Don't know, refused, or other 1 1 Steady no change
Importance of religion Very important 62 58 Neutral decrease −4
Somewhat important 32 24 Neutral increase +2
Not too important 4 7 Neutral increase +3
Not at all important 1 1 Steady no change
Don't know <1 <1 Steady no change
Attendance at religious services Weekly 46 35 Neutral decrease −11
Monthly/few times a year 43 50 Neutral increase +7
Seldom or never 10 14 Neutral increase +4
Don't know <1 <1 Steady no change
Belief in Heaven Believe 83 85 Neutral increase +2
Don't believe 8 8 Steady no change
Other or not sure 10 7 Neutral decrease −3
Belief in Hell Believe 62 59 Neutral decrease −3
Don't believe 24 30 Neutral increase +6
Other or not sure 14 11 Neutral decrease −3
Interpreting the Bible Word of God to be taken literally word for word 23 20 Neutral decrease −3
Word of God, but not literally true word for word 49 44 Neutral decrease −5
Not the word of God 20 29 Neutral increase +9
Don't know or other 9 8 Neutral decrease −1
Abortion Should be legal in all/most cases 61 65 Neutral increase +4
Should be illegal in all/most cases 33 32 Neutral decrease −1
Don't know 7 2 Neutral decrease −5
Homosexuality Should be accepted 56 73 Neutral increase +17
Should be discouraged: 33 22 Neutral decrease −11
Neither/other 6 2 Neutral decrease −4
Don't know 5 2 Neutral decrease −3


Percent ELCA by state, 2010

Over 500,000 people have left the ELCA since the church's human sexuality decision in 2009.[58] Approximately 700 congregations have voted to withdraw from the ELCA, representing about 7 percent of its 2009 congregational membership. As of 2022, the ELCA has a baptized membership of 2,904,686 people.[3] In 2015, Pew Research estimated that 1.4 percent of the U.S. population, or roughly 4.4 million adherents, identify with the ELCA, which is moderately more than rostered membership suggests. Another 0.7 percent, or 2.2 million adherents, identify with mainline Lutheranism in general.[5] A number of members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are former Roman Catholics.[59] As of 2022, the ELCA has approximately 8,640 congregations.[3]

See also


  1. ^ "ELCA Constituting Convention". Archived from the original on November 2, 2009. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  2. ^ "ELCA Family History 1900s". Archived from the original on April 20, 2010. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Summary of Congregational Statistics as of 12-31-2022" (PDF). Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. December 31, 2022. Retrieved December 21, 2023.
  4. ^ David Neff. "'It's Not About the Past'". ChristianityToday.com. Archived from the original on October 14, 2012. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  5. ^ a b "Religious Landscape Study". pewforum.org. Pew Research. Archived from the original on March 29, 2016. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  6. ^ "National Council of Churches USA". www.ncccusa.org. March 20, 2012. Archived from the original on August 30, 2013. Retrieved March 23, 2019.. In 2012 larger churches in terms of number of members were the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, United Methodist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Church of God in Christ, and the National Baptist Convention, USA.
  7. ^ "Quick Facts". ELCA. Archived from the original on October 26, 2007. Retrieved December 13, 2007..
  8. ^ "LCMS Inc. Annual Report- 2020". Archived from the original on July 19, 2021. Retrieved July 19, 2021.
  9. ^ "WELS ANNUAL REPORT 2022". Archived from the original on July 21, 2016. Retrieved May 20, 2022.
  10. ^ "Full Communion Partners". ELCA.org. Archived from the original on November 16, 2017. Retrieved May 1, 2016.
  11. ^ a b c Lowell Almen, One Great Cloud of Witnesses, (Minneapolis:Augsburg Fortress, 1997) pp.9-12 for a brief recounting of the formation of the ELCA
  12. ^ For laity, the figures were 70 percent LCA, 70 percent ALC, and 62 percent LCMS. Including clergy and laity, 4,745 Lutheran adults between the ages of 15 and 65 were surveyed. See Merton P. Strommen et al., A Study of Generations (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing, 1972), p. 283.
  13. ^ "Roots of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America". Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Archived from the original on April 3, 2007.
  14. ^ a b Nelson, E. Clifford. The Lutherans in North America Archived November 9, 2023, at the Wayback Machine. Revised ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1980. p. 509
  15. ^ "ELCA Church Council appoints Michael Burk as presiding bishop pro tempore". Living Lutheran. November 15, 2023. Retrieved November 28, 2023.
  16. ^ "Conference of Bishops". ELCA. Archived from the original on August 23, 2018. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  17. ^ For further information about the ELCA's structure and organization, see 2005 ELCA Constitution Archived 2007-03-17 at the Wayback Machine (pdf document, retrieved March 27, 2007)
  18. ^ See the Model Constitution for Congregations Archived 2007-03-17 at the Wayback Machine (retrieved March 27, 2007) - especially Chapter 5 "Powers of the Congregation" and Chapter 7 "Property Ownership".
  19. ^ See also http://archive.elca.org/questions/ Archived October 11, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, "Essential Questions - Christianity and Lutheranism". Archived from the original on February 7, 2009. Retrieved January 28, 2009. and http://archive.elca.org/communication/faith.html Archived September 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ "Institute of Liturgical Studies". Valpo.edu. Valparaiso University. July 18, 2013. Archived from the original on December 5, 2013. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  21. ^ Cimino, Richard. Lutherans Today, Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 2003, 81-101.
  22. ^ For more information on the history and current documents of the ELCA, look at other resources linked to the "About the ELCA" section of the [ELCA] http://www.elca.org Archived July 31, 2023, at the Wayback Machine Web site. See the series of essays, "With Confidence in God's Future" for more on ELCA's ecumenical outlook. Get it in [Word]http://archive.elca.org/communication/WithConfidence.doc Archived August 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, or [PDF]http://archive.elca.org/communication/WithConfidence.pdf Archived August 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine format.
  23. ^ "the Bible". Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Archived from the original on August 29, 2008. Retrieved July 6, 2008.
  24. ^ "Higher Criticism". Christian Cyclopedia. Archived from the original on October 18, 2009.
  25. ^ "The Use of the Means of Grace - A Statement on the Practice of Word and Sacrament". Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. August 19, 1997. Archived from the original on October 15, 2009.
  26. ^ The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Article 8, The Holy Supper, paragraph 38 Archived October 21, 2019, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. ^ Cf. unaltered Augsburg Confession, Article 10: Of the Lord's Supper Archived August 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. ^ "Faith and Society". Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Archived from the original on November 25, 2013. Retrieved December 19, 2013.
  29. ^ Kuruvilla, Carol (May 9, 2018). "Black Women Bishops Are Making History In This Predominantly White Church". HuffPost. Archived from the original on October 23, 2020. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  30. ^ ELCA/ELCiC Celebrate New Hymnal. The Lutheran Hedgehog 1(5). Sept.-October 2006. p 6.
  31. ^ a b "Summary - The Cooperative Clergy Study Project - Data Archive - The Association of Religion Data Archives". Archived from the original on October 25, 2019. Retrieved February 13, 2014.
  32. ^ "Sexuality - Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust". Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Archived from the original on November 5, 2009.
  33. ^ Luo, Michael; Capecchi, Christina (August 22, 2009). "Lutheran Group Eases Limits on Gay Clergy". The New York Times. Archived from the original on May 15, 2013. Retrieved April 1, 2010.
  34. ^ Spring, Paull E. (September 4, 2009). "Update on Lutheran CORE's Convocation". Archived from the original on July 27, 2011.
  35. ^ "A Vision and Plan for The North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran CORE, a community of confessing Lutherans". Lutheran CORE. February 18, 2010. Archived from the original on March 4, 2010.
  36. ^ Jones, Robert P.; Cox, Daniel. "Mainline Protestant Clergy Views on Theology and Gay and Lesbian Issues: Findings from the 2008 Clergy Voices Survey" (PDF). p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 21, 2010. Retrieved September 26, 2009.
  37. ^ "Streit um homosexuelle Pfarrer". Archived from the original on July 19, 2011.
  38. ^ Weber, Katherine (February 8, 2013). "Ethiopian Church Severs Ties With Lutherans Over Homosexuality". The Christian Post. Archived from the original on June 9, 2021. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
  39. ^ "ELCA Council Adopts Significant Revisions to Ministry Policies" (Press release). Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. April 11, 2010. Archived from the original on April 29, 2010. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
  40. ^ "Financial Reports". Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Archived from the original on September 2, 2021. Retrieved September 2, 2021.
  41. ^ "Lutheran assembly elects first openly gay bishop". The Virginian-Pilot. June 1, 2013. Archived from the original on June 14, 2013. Retrieved June 3, 2013.
  42. ^ "Meet the First Trans Pastor Officially Ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church". July 6, 2015. Archived from the original on August 13, 2016. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  43. ^ "ELCA presiding bishop offers letter on Supreme Court marriage ruling". www.elca.org. Archived from the original on August 17, 2016. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  44. ^ "Same-sex unions accepted by Evangelican Lutherans". Archived from the original on June 30, 2015. Retrieved June 16, 2015.
  45. ^ Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Draft Social Statement on Genetics to be considered by the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, March 2010, http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Social-Statements-in-Process/Genetics/Draft-Social-Statement.aspx Archived March 21, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  46. ^ a b Lewis D. Eigen, "Rights & Protections of Coming Human Clones: A Remarkable Lutheran View", Scriptamus, March 19, 2010, http://scriptamus.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/rights-protections-of-coming-human-clones-a-remarkable-lutheran-view/#more-475 Archived June 23, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  47. ^ "Abortion". Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. September 4, 1991. Archived from the original on March 27, 2009.
  48. ^ Pulpit and Politics: Clergy in American Politics at the Advent of the Millennium edited by Corwin E. Smidt
  49. ^ "The Lord Is with You" – A Word of Counsel to the Church on the Sanctity of Nascent Life", Joint Commission on Theology and Doctrine of the North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran CORE, December 14, 2012[permanent dead link]
  50. ^ "End of Life Decisions". Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. November 9, 1992. Archived from the original on June 14, 2021. Retrieved June 9, 2021.
  51. ^ Information on the Division's work and the various types of rostered ministry can be found at the Division's webpage Archived February 7, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  52. ^ a b "Consecration to the Ministry of Word and Service" (PDF). ELCA. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 22, 2017. Retrieved August 23, 2018.
  53. ^ "Full Communion Partners: History". Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Archived from the original on October 25, 2021. Retrieved October 25, 2021.
  54. ^ "Ethiopian Church Severs Ties With Lutherans Over Homosexuality". February 8, 2013. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  55. ^ Francis, Perry C. Baldo, Tracy D. (1998) Narcissistic Measures of Lutheran Clergy Who Self-Reported Committing Sexual Misconduct Pastoral Psychology 47 Issue 2 pp. 81-96 Archived November 9, 2023, at the Wayback Machine
  56. ^ p. 86 Honoring Our Neighbor's Faith, Robert Buckley Farlee (ed.), Chicago: Augsburg Fortress, 1999. ISBN 0-8066-3846-X
  57. ^ a b c d "Religious Landscape Study". Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. June 13, 2022. Retrieved January 21, 2024.
  58. ^ Dias, Elizabeth (August 18, 2013). "Meet the Woman Who Will Lead Evangelical Lutherans: 'Religious but Not Spiritual'". Time. Archived from the original on August 20, 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  59. ^ Freier, Luisa Feline (2009). "How Our Lady of Guadalupe Became Lutheran: Latin American Migration and Religious Change". Migraciones Internacionales. 5 (2). SciELO.

Further reading