By Roland Lovstad
Synodical procedures and responsibilities for professional workers, including disciplining pastors, calling commissioned ministers, and overseeing lay ministers, occupied the agenda of the Council of Presidents, meeting Nov. 14-17 in Palm Springs, Calif.
The council heard a presentation on “The Divine Deposal/Dismissal of Ministers of Word and Sacrament” from Dr. Will Sohns, retired president of the Wyoming District. Although potentially divisive, he said situations where a congregation seeks to discipline or dismiss a pastor may also be opportunities for growth in the Gospel, growth in relationships, and growth in mission and ministry.
“Nurturing relationships” has been an ongoing theme of meetings as the council focuses on the use of Synod Bylaws 2.14 to 2.17 dealing with discipline of professional workers and congregations. The COP is comprised of 35 district presidents, the Synod president, and the first through fifth vice presidents.
As he led discussion, Sohns said congregations have the right and responsibility to call a pastor, a right and responsibility to expect faithfulness in office, and the right and responsibility to admonish or even depose the pastor. He underscored that district presidents have responsibilities for protecting both professional workers and congregations. It is, he said, a ministry of reconciliation and restoration.
In other action, the COP reviewed and returned to the Board for Communication Services (BCS) a list of five potential candidates for the position of director of News and Information. The director, who also serves as executive editor of The Lutheran Witness and Reporter, must receive endorsement from the COP under synodical bylaws.
In a communication to the BCS, the council stated that none of the names received a majority vote and, therefore, none was endorsed.
“The Board for Communication Services was very surprised and disappointed that, at the end of an intensive, six-month search process — which resulted in five candidates with strong theological, educational, and relevant vocational backgrounds — none of these candidates was considered qualified,” said Rev. Kevin Vogts, BCS vice chairman and chairman of its editorial search committee. “We have recently invested a great deal of time and finances in a planned revitalization of our flagship publication, The Lutheran Witness, which was set for 2006. However, this unforeseen delay puts those efforts in jeopardy and also places a great deal of strain on our remaining staff, some of whom have been covering multiple positions for many months.”
The council affirmed written procedures for calling and placing Ministers of Religion-Commissioned. The rubrics outline procedures for first placements, calls to another congregation, call documents, inclusion on the LCMS roster of professional workers, and installation procedures. The document was approved by the COP at its last meeting and was sent to the Commission on Constitutional Matters for review.
Noting a 1981 Convention resolution dealing with procedures for calling personnel, the council affirmed that offers extended to eligible persons but erroneously referred to as “appointments” or “contracts” are also to be considered calls.
The council also continued its discussion of lay deacons or elders serving under special circumstances in congregations. District presidents reported on their districts’ use of licensed deacons and the kinds of ministries in which they serve.
COP Secretary Vernon Schindler, president of the South Dakota District, said a large number of deacons tend to be in ethnic ministry.
“It is done carefully in the districts, and there is concern for training and ongoing supervision,” Schindler noted. “I think there is a fair uniformity in the districts as we are very carefully administering the provisions of the Wichita Convention. All district presidents are mindful that we abide by what Augustana Article 14 says about the call. All expressed that there needs to be a proper ordering of the use of people in special conditions.”
In their ongoing consideration of the supply of pastors, the district presidents reported 434 actively calling congregations — 326 calling a sole pastor, 42 calling a senior pastor, and 66 calling an assistant or associate. Another 412 congregations are not actively calling because they are receiving pastoral services through other arrangements.
Schindler said the number of actively calling congregations increased by 39 from September. While he said there are no overall clear trends, the number of non-calling congregations continues to rise.
Posted Dec. 1, 2005