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August 26, 1995|JOHN DART

The nation's largest Lutheran denomination has elected as its presiding bishop a minister and college president who grew up in Southern California.

The Rev. H. George Anderson, 63, president of Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, was elected to head the 5.2-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America during the denomination's biennial convention in Minneapolis, which ended this week.

Anderson defeated the Rev. April Ulring Larson, the denomination's first woman prelate and bishop of the La Crosse (Wis.) Area Synod, by a vote of 698 to 334 on the final ballot last Saturday.

He will succeed retiring Bishop Herbert Chilstrom, who has led the denomination since it was created in 1988 through the merger of three separate Lutheran groups. Chilstrom decided not to seek reelection this year.

Adopted at a Los Angeles hospital, Anderson was baptized and confirmed in Alhambra's Grace

Lutheran Church, which dissolved as a congregation in 1988, church officials said.

He graduated with honors from Yale University, then earned a master's and a doctorate at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his theological degrees at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, based in Chicago, was formed through a merger of the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church and the Assn. of Evangelical Lutheran Churches.

The ELCA--like its mainline Methodist, Episcopal and Presbyterian counterparts--has been divided over sexuality issues. Early in this month's churchwide assembly, denominational leaders suspended efforts to write a social statement establishing church policy on homosexuality and unmarried sexual activity, among other issues, citing lack of consensus.

Anderson backed the decision, saying he is undecided about whether the church should permit ordination of gay and lesbian ministers and bless same-sex marriages. But he called for a "continued deep conversation" about sexual issues.

"We still have some really foundational discussion to do as a church on the authority of Scripture as it relates to homosexuality," he said. "For Lutherans, it always gets down to how does the word of God relate to this issue."

The ELCA has had a relatively stable membership; it lost about 13,000 members nationwide in 1994. The church reported an increase in member giving last year--the first increase since 1991--but sent less money to its national offices than in past years, forcing the headquarters staff to undergo cuts to maintain a balanced budget.

"The future is not our enemy," the bishop-elect told assembly delegates. "It belongs to God. God has promised that as long as the Earth endures, the church will be here.

"Our only task is to be sure that we are still God's church, and not just dressed up to look like it," Anderson told cheering church delegates immediately after his election.


* The largest U.S. conference of charismatic Catholics will meet for three days, starting Friday, at the Anaheim Convention Center. The 24th annual conference, which drew a high of 15,000 participants three years ago, is run by the Redondo Beach-based Southern California Renewal Communities. It will feature more than 40 speakers, including Jesuit Father Robert Faricy of Rome, Father Thomas Yasuda from Akita, Japan, and Bishop Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa, Calif. On-site registration is available daily. (310) 271-6433.


* Religious composer Jester Hairston, in celebration of his 94th birthday last month, presented scholarships to three outstanding student musicians at Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams Blvd., in Los Angeles. The annual scholarship competition and awards, bearing Hairston's name, are run by the church, which is pastored by the Rev. James Lawson.

* The Rev. Annette Drake, a onetime realtor and ex-business entrepreneur, will be welcomed officially at 11 a.m. Sunday as the senior minister of the Church of Today, 117 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton. The Church of Today, formerly the First Church of Religious Science at Fullerton, is affiliated with the Los Angeles-based United Church of Religious Science. (714) 525-1126.


* William Bennett's bestseller "The Book of Virtues," with sales of nearly 2.5 million copies, will be transformed into a prime-time animated cartoon series next year on the Public Broadcasting System. Porchlight Entertainment in Los Angeles has started work on 13 half-hour shows for fall 1996, based on the book's collection of stories. Each episode will illustrate one virtue, such as honesty, loyalty or courage. The continuity between episodes will be provided by Plato, "a wise, warm and well-traveled buffalo," who will tell the tales to his animal and human friends.


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