Care and supervision of church workers — including hurricane relief, lay worker training, new worker placements, and military reserve chaplains — occupied major segments of the Sept. 17-21 Council of Presidents (COP) meeting in St. Louis.
The COP includes presidents of the 35 LCMS districts and the LCMS president and vice presidents.
References to Hurricane Katrina were frequent during the four-day meeting as LCMS district presidents talked about their efforts in raising donations and providing other support for congregations and workers in the Southern District. As part of his report on LCMS World Relief efforts, Executive Director Matthew Harrison offered $1 million to the LCMS districts “to maximize your participation and capacity to respond.”
Harrison offered a challenge: “How can your districts use that money to raise your collective capacity to respond?” He suggested, for example, that some funds could be used to match individual donations for hurricane relief.
Rev. Kurtis Schultz, president of the Southern District, reported the district now has temporary offices in Baton Rouge. He said the district expected to have an assessment of needs by Sept. 22. A district task force will direct assignments of volunteers.
Among major needs are salary support for professional workers, especially in hard-hit areas where churches have been damaged and member contributions have dropped off.
As part of its regular fall duties, the COP officially placed 380 commissioned workers. The teachers; deaconesses; and directors of Christian education, outreach, family-life ministry, and parish music have completed their college or colloquy requirements. Their names will be included on the synodical roster. Also approved were interim placements of 38 spring candidates from seminaries or colloquy programs and assignment of three vicars.
The council discussed district lay training programs and the related questions of whether to ordain lay deacons — laymen who are licensed by their districts to serve small congregations and mission assignments. They also considered whether calls should be extended to those lay deacons who preach and administer sacraments in the congregation.
“We want to have this conversation so our districts know what each other is doing and we inform each other as to how we are responding,” said Rev. William Diekelman, Synod first vice-president, who led the discussion with Synod Secretary Raymond Hartwig. One concern is that training will be consistent across districts. Another concern is to continue honoring the Lutheran understanding of pastoral ministry and the regular call, as articulated in convention resolutions since 1989.
Dr. Andrew Bartelt, vice president for academic services at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, advised that the discussion should not be a debate on the doctrine of the ministry. “Those who pastor are pastors,” he said. “I think the discussion is about how we get men put into that office in a way that is regularized.”
Bartelt proposed that the process have three parts: identification-education; examination-certification and call-ordination. “Our pledge is that the seminaries be here to help, to listen and be part of the solution,” he said.
The council will continue the lay deacon topic at its next meeting on Nov. 15-17.
Chaplain Mark Schreiber, director of the Ministry to the Armed Forces with the Board for Mission Services, spoke to concerns for pastors who are called to active duty as their military reserve units are mobilized to serve in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations. MAF has provided a model mobilization agreement to guide the pastor and congregation regarding arrangements such as use of the parsonage by the chaplain’s family, Worker Benefit Plans and his return to ministry in the congregation.
Schreiber said MAF has a small amount of funds to assist when reserve chaplains resign their call and receive a peaceful release from their congregations after mobilization. The funds will provide financial support for them to serve as missionaries at large in their districts until another call is offered.
“A lot of chaplains who were mobilized are facing the possibility of being mobilized again,” Schreiber noted. Noting that the armed forces are short of chaplains, he said some pastors have the option to be called by Mission Services to active duty with the regular armed forces.
Other topics considered by the COP included:
- A review of synodical bylaws and convention resolutions by Dr. Walter Rosin, former LCMS Secretary, as part of discussions of “Ecclesiastical Supervision as Nurture.”
- A presentation by Rev. Thomas Lapacka, executive director of the Board for Communication Services, describing changes in The Lutheran Witness, including articles that coincide with the church’s liturgical calendar and redesign of the magazine’s appearance.
- A presentation on Ablaze! efforts to enlist healthy congregations in starting new U.S. missions. Rev. Yohannes Mengsteab, national director for new mission field development with LCMS World Mission, invited the district presidents to identify 10 percent of their congregations to engage in a church planting movement.
A briefing on the “Fan the Flame” campaign to raise $100 million in support of Ablaze! initiative to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with 100 people worldwide. Half the funds would be earmarked for international mission and the other half used for U.S. mission, including goals to begin 2,000 new congregations by 2017.
Posted Sept. 29, 2005