By Joe Isenhower Jr.
MILWAUKEE — Sharing ideas with others and the “message” sent by two seminary presidents who jointly emceed the event were highlights for participants at the Synod’s Sept. 12-14 National Circuit Counselor Conference here.
The first such conference since 1991, this year’s gathered 598 circuit counselors — or about 93 percent of all circuit counselors in the Synod, 120 district presidents and vice presidents, the Synod’s praesidium, and corporate Synod executives.
The conference program, with “Strengthen the Spirit” as its theme, included presentations from Synod representatives, worship, Bible study, small-group discussions, fellowship, and several meals for district delegations.
The Synod’s two seminary presidents — Dr. Dale A. Meyer of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Dr. Dean O. Wenthe of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne — introduced speakers and other segments of the program. Wenthe and Meyer frequently peppered their remarks with humor.
“What they did set the tone for a very good conference,” said Rev. Steven Carlson, third vice president of the Pacific Southwest District and pastor of First Lutheran Church, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
“If nothing else,” Carlson said of the seminary presidents, “they got the message across that we in our church can work together despite our differences and need to be able to laugh at ourselves a little.”
Carlson, who also attended the national conference 15 years ago, said that he found this year’s “more practical,” describing small-group table discussions as “really worthwhile.”
Rev. Aubrey Watson, a circuit counselor and pastor in New Orleans, said he also appreciated what the seminary presidents did. He gave high marks to small-group discussions, where he said he learned that “we basically have the same joys and challenges.”
Watson described Synod Presi-dent Gerald Kieschnick’s presentation to the conference as “very good.”
In that presentation, Kieschnick explained the Synod’s “One Mission, One Message, One People” vision, spoke of the connection between that vision and the office of the circuit counselor, and encouraged circuit counselors as leaders toward accomplishing the “One” vision. The components of the vision were sub-themes for the three days of the conference that focused on fellowship, unity, and missions.
Kieschnick pointed to six “hopes, dreams, and objectives for the years ahead that I pray we will work together to achieve.”
- “Keeping the main thing the main thing. Our Lord’s mission to reach lost people for Christ is and must remain the central focus of our life and reason for existence.”
- “Restoring health and vitality in congregations of the Synod.”
- “Proper and powerful preaching of Law and Gospel.”
- “Recruitment, training, compensation, and retention of professional church workers.”
- “Funding the mission.”
- “Integration of doctrine and practice.”
“In all these matters,” Kiesch-nick said, “it is important for all of us to remain faithful to our common confession of faith.”
Nebraska District President Russell Sommerfeld addressed the assembly a number of times about a revised circuit counselor manual which was given to each conference participant. Sommerfeld headed a three-man committee that revised the manual.
Sommerfeld said that the 2006 revision “ provides updated information for circuit counselors for vacancies and calls, dispute reconciliation, assisting pastors with retirement, and lay ministry. The role of the circuit counselor as assistant to the district president is also detailed. The revised manual also updates all references to the 2004 Handbook of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.
He said that since the 2006 edition of the manual is printed in a three-ring binder and available on a CD, “periodic updates as needed will also be more plausible.”
Small-group discussions around tables included sharing about those roles and responsibilities. In a final small-group session, counselors brainstormed to flesh out ideas for circuit projects which they were urged to implement back home.
Dr. Jon Diefenthaler, Southeastern District president and chairman of the 10-member conference planning committee, encouraged the circuit counselors to take home an outline of their projects “that reflects a spirit of unity and fellowship” in the Synod. Diefenthaler indicated that district presidents would find out about the circuit projects and report them to the Synod’s Council of Presidents.
Others who addressed the conference, in addition to Synod officers and unit executives, included devotion leaders Rev. Barrie Henke of Edmond, Okla., and Dr. William Knippa, Austin, Texas; Rev. Thomas Eggebrecht of Milwaukee, who spoke on “Missions and Circuit Counselor Skills”; Rev. Lane Burgland of Churubusco, Ind., who addressed “Fellowship and Circuit Counselor Skills”; North Dakota District President Larry Harvala, whose topic was “Unity and Circuit Counselor Skills”; and Rev. Donald Schaefer of Rehoboth Beach, Md., who led Thursday’s closing worship. Dr. Dean Nadasdy, Synod fifth vice president, introduced and led a new Bible study written for use at circuit pastors conferences.
Trinity Lutheran Church of Milwaukee hosted the Wednesday evening conference Communion service in its historic sanctuary within walking distance of Midwest Airlines Center, where conference sessions were held.
Before that service began, ushers handed each conference participant a copy of the Synod’s new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, to use during the service and to take home, courtesy of Concordia Publishing House.
“We who are in Christ are … one people, a team, partners, people who are accountable not only to God, but to each other,” said Dr. Ronald E. Meyer, president emeritus of the LCMS South Wisconsin District, in his sermon for the service.
Addressing the conference in its closing session, Kieschnick said that such national gatherings of circuit counselors “need to happen more often. We have many things to accomplish.”
Thrivent Financial for Lutherans made the conference possible with a $490,000 grant. Districts provided $350 for each of their circuit counselors and vice presidents. Concordia Plan Services and Lutheran Church Extension Fund also made funds available for funding and support of the 2006 National Circuit Counselor Conference.