By David L. Mahsman
The Synod’s Board of Directors and Council of Presidents (COP) had plenty to talk about when they met in St. Louis Feb. 6 and 7.
Each group had asked independently to meet with the other. The agenda included such high-profile issues as the Synod’s finances, including proposals for funding national and international work; synodical higher education; Board resolutions that said eight opinions of the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) are “of no effect”; and outside legal opinions on the Board’s authority obtained last year by the Board.
By the time the meeting ended, the Synod’s chief financial officer, Thomas Kuchta, said he would gather more financial information from the Synod’s 35 districts before the Board proceeds with work on a funding plan. And the chairmen of the Board and CCM each agreed to ask their respective panels to reconsider some of their actions.
The first day of the meeting was largely given over to financial issues. Board of Directors Chairman Robert Kuhn introduced the topic, saying that there is “a crisis in the Synod as far as funding the national body and the work we do together.”
Kuhn and COP Chairman C. William Hoesman co-chaired the meeting.
Thomas Kuchta, the Synod’s vice president–finance/treasurer, presented a paper on financial issues, including five proposals that have been made for funding national Synod ministries such as missions and higher education.
“The church must decide whether it should continue to administer national ministries in a centralized manner under the control and direction of Synod,” Kuchta said in his paper. “If it is decided to continue with the present structure, it will be necessary for the church to determine the method for funding these ministries.”
Kuchta said that since 1971, district contributions to the national budget have declined slightly, but inflation exceeded 345 percent. He noted that LCMS World Mission has had to reduce its budget from $32 million to $26 million in recent years, cutting the number of career missionaries from 100 to 68 and staff in St. Louis from 68 to 34. He added that direct subsidies for the Synod’s colleges and seminaries have dropped from $10 million to zero between 1992 and 2001.
(The meeting’s agenda included a separate discussion of higher-education issues. During that discussion, Dr. William Meyer, executive director of the Board for Higher Education and president of the Concordia University System, said some of the Synod’s colleges and universities have been facing difficult fiscal challenges in recent years. He added, though, that the situation has improved markedly.)
A number of district presidents told Kuchta that focusing only on unrestricted income — funds that flow largely from congregations through the districts to the national budget — presents an inaccurate picture of congregation and district support for national ministries.
Ohio District President Ronald Bergen, for example, indicated that the $367,290 in unrestricted giving to the national Synod for fiscal year 2002 is only part of the story. He said that direct cash gifts from district congregations, organizations and individuals to national ministries totaled $467,535; that expenses “transferred” to the district from the Synod cost $161,636; and that deferred gifts that year were $497,497. The actual total raised by the Ohio District for national ministries, Bergen said, was $1,493,958.
Later in the meeting, Kuchta said he will contact each district for more complete financial information. He said that he will present the Board of Directors a revised analysis, which he said “will show that the districts give a significant amount to the Synod.”
Kuhn told the gathering that “nothing is set in concrete,” as far as plans for funding national ministries are concerned. He said the Board may not be able to develop an acceptable funding plan in time for consideration at this summer’s Synod convention.
Several district presidents indicated their support for national ministries and urged that more attention be paid to stewardship education. Kuhn later told Reporter, “Because stewardship education is carried out in the congregation, it’s not something that the national Synod can determine.”
North Dakota District President Larry Harvala said the discussion showed that $1.2 billion was given to LCMS congregations in fiscal 2002 for mission and ministry, “but only $23 million had to go through the Board of Directors.” Because neither amount is enough, though, Harvala said, “we need to raise both of those numbers” — the total given and the amount available to the Board of Directors as it sets the national budget.
“I give thanks to God for the generous financial gifts of the people, congregations and districts of the Synod, designated and undesignated, given to the glory of God for the building of His kingdom through The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod,” Synod President Gerald Kieschnick said after the meeting.
“I recognize the challenges faced by national Synod, particularly in providing the fiscal resources required for faithful Gospel witness in world mission, training of pastors and teachers, and human care,” Kieschnick continued. “I pray for God’s blessings upon our efforts as leaders of the Synod to address the issues and challenges ahead, mindful of our imperfection and thankful for His mercy and forgiveness.”
CCM and Board authority
The second day of the meeting focused on two issues regarding the authority of the Board of Directors: two resolutions adopted by the Board in November that say eight opinions of the CCM are “of no effect,” and outside legal opinions that the Board obtained last year that deal with the Board’s authority under Missouri law.
At the end of the day, Kuhn said that the Board will reconsider its two resolutions regarding the CCM opinions. At the same time, CCM Chairman Walter Tesch said that the CCM would “take another look” at the eight opinions — five define limits to the authority of the Board of Directors, three deal with “ecclesiastical supervision,” all of which Board spokesmen have said create legal liability issues for the Synod.
The announcements from Kuhn and Tesch were greeted with applause. After the meeting, the two issued this joint statement:
“The chairman of the Commission on Constitutional Matters (CCM) attended the second day of the meeting, during which discussion took place regarding decisions of the CCM which the Board of Directors (BOD) believes to be contrary to the laws of the State of Missouri. The BOD will review its recent actions which