By Joe Isenhower Jr.
RALEIGH, N.C. — The Synod’s Board of Directors adopted a resolution at its Nov. 17-18 meeting here stating that it “intends to encourage, support and facilitate continued discussions between” Concordia University, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Concordia University Wisconsin, in Mequon, Wis., “for a merger of the two institutions.”
That intent of the Board is stated in the resolution’s only “resolved,” which follows two “whereas” statements noting that the Board “has been informed that representatives of Concordia University, Ann Arbor (CUAA) and Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) have been in discussions concerning the possibility of the entities merging or otherwise combining and collaborating,” and that the Board “wants to express its support and appreciation to CUAA and CUW for their hard work and Christian dedication to working together in order to continue the ministry of higher education and foster the mission of [the LCMS] in Ann Arbor, Michigan.”
Those two universities are among 10 higher-education institutions in the LCMS Concordia University System (CUS).
After the resolution was adopted, Board Chairman Rev. Dr. Robert T. Kuhn offered “a sincere word of thanks” to representatives of the Board and CUS who have been involved in discussions regarding Concordia, Ann Arbor.
The Board’s discussion of the matter primarily took place just after Dr. Alan Borcherding, interim president of the CUS, introduced his report to the Board by speaking of current developments relating to CUAA.
In recent years, CUAA has experienced a number of financial, enrollment and administrative difficulties. Within the past year, CUAA and CUW began a partnership in curriculum, budget and administrative areas. For the current academic year, CUAA’s enrollment is up.
In another action, the Board decided to replace three members of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW) board.
Two of those ILSW board members — Dr. Thomas Kuchta and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Nafzger — were appointed by the Board of Directors. The third ILSW board member from the Synod — Kermit “Butch” Almstedt — was jointly appointed by the Synod Board and Concordia Publishing House (CPH).
The Board of Directors action also names Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and the Rev. Michael Kumm to replace Kuchta and Nafzger; and asks Harrison to confer with CPH regarding a joint appointment to replace Almstedt.
The ILSW board has six members — three from the LCMS and three from the Synod’s partner church in Germany, the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK — the acronym for its German name).
Since it was established in 2008, the ILSW — an LCMS Recognized Service Organization — has been responsible for developing what has been referred to as the “Wittenberg Project.” Two goals of that project since its inception have been to establish a new Lutheran ministry center and Gospel outreach in Wittenberg, where Martin Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church started the Reformation in 1517.
The ILSW’s development of that project has ranged in scope from initially proposing a bookstore, a welcome center for tourists, space for academic programs and a human-care office that would be housed in an “Old Latin School Building” just steps away from the church where Luther preached; to a later-proposed multi-media “Martin Luther Experience” either in that building or on a larger scale in a new facility.
The historic Latin School building, a gift of the LCMS Central Illinois District, awaits refurbishing under ILSW supervision.
Harrison began discussion of the project at the November Board of Directors meeting with an overview of its history.
He told the Board that he agrees with the Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt, bishop of SELK, that the plan for the “Martin Luther Experience” is not feasible because of its expense (from $20 million to $40-plus million). Harrison suggested “pulling back to the original scope of the project.”
In addition to replacing the three LCMS Board-appointed members of the ILSW board, Harrison asked that the Rev. David Mahsman, an LCMS missionary in Germany, be allowed to continue work on the project. Harrison also said he intends to appoint a 15- to 20-member president’s cabinet on Wittenberg to assist with the project — “people of means, interest and business acumen,” he said.
Since its inception several years ago, planners have set sights on the Wittenberg Project to be in place by 2017, to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Oct. 31 of that year.
Revised master plans were adopted by the Board for property and buildings on the campuses of Concordia College, Selma, Ala., and Concordia University Nebraska, at Seward.
Board member Kermit Brashear noted that such plans are useful for showing donors and alumni about plans of educational institutions “15 years out.”
And Dr. Gloria Edwards, also a Board member, emphasized that the Selma college needs the revised plan to start a funding campaign for campus improvements.
“Step-by-step, it would mark a positive change for the whole culture of that campus,” Edwards said.
The Board appointed two other members — the Rev. Drs. Victor Belton and Raymond Hartwig (the Synod’s secretary) — to the CUS Task Force on Strengthening Governance. A background statement for the proposal explained that the task force is needed to “work on a special project to seek ways to improve governance in the Concordia University System,” which the CUS Board and campus presidents have resolved to achieve.
Among other actions at its November meeting, the Board of Directors approved updates to its policy manual and received the audited consolidated financial statements of the LCMS for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
Reports to the BOD
The Rev. Dr. David Birner, interim co-executive director of the Office of International Mission for the Synod, provided an overview for the Board of the work of Synod-related schools in Asia, in preparation for the heads of school for the LCMS international schools in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Hanoi to visit with the Board during its February meeting.
Birner spoke of the excellent reputations of Hong Kong International School and Concordia International School Shanghai, which he noted are both debt-free; as well as positive prospects for Concordia International School Hanoi, which opened this fall.
He said that David B. Shear, the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam, told those at the Hanoi school’s opening that “Concordia will welcome outsiders and acquaint them with the people of Vietnam.”
Birner also told the Board about the fourth conference of the Asia Lutheran Education Association, Oct. 20-21 in Hong Kong, which emphasized the importance of Christian service connected with Christian education.
Martha Mitkos, LCMS director of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI), reported to the Board on that initiative. LMI is a joint effort of the Synod and Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore, and is supported by the United Nations Foundation.
Through heightening awareness of malaria and raising $45 million to help fight the disease, LMI seeks to eliminate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. Currently, the disease claims more than 800,000 lives each year, including children who die of malaria at the rate of one every 45 seconds.
Mitkos emphasized to the Board that one of the unique aspects of the Synod’s part in the campaign is involving members of LCMS partner churches in Africa — “those at the last mile,” as the
y deliver insecticide-treated nets, medicines and other resources, along with Christian hope to the communities that most need help.
Mitkos also said that to date she had met with church leaders in 19 LCMS districts, and that several of those districts had already made pledges for the Synod initiative that runs through 2013.
Harrison, Edwards and Dr. Kurt Senske also voiced support for the initiative, urging Board members to make personal financial commitments to it as an example for others.
Concordia Plan Services (CPS) President James F. Sanft and CPS Board Chairman Fred G. Kraegel also updated the Board on several developments.
They included an update on health-care reform, which they also covered for the Council of Presidents meeting here.
Sanft said that he knows of one LCMS ministry enrolled in the Concordia Health Plan that had received a check back for $22,000 after qualifying for a credit under the Small Business Health Care Tax Credit Provision of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed by Congress.
The legislation allows qualified small businesses and organizations that are providing and paying a portion of health coverage for their workers to claim a refundable credit.
For more information and a sample calculation guide for the credit, visit www.concordiaplans.org and look for the “quick link” titled “Small Business Health Care Tax Credit.”
Sanft said that over the past two years, CPS has participated along with the LCMS Foundation and Lutheran Church Extension Fund on a joint investment committee that seeks ways to accomplish investment efficiencies through “parallel partnerships.”
He also said that CPS has launched a comprehensive four-phase risk-management study of the Concordia Retirement Plan.
Synod Chief Financial Officer Jerald C. Wulf continued a report he started at the Board’s August meeting, in which he is reviewing the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Funding the Mission of the Synod. For the November meeting, he concentrated on Recommendations 3 (“Harmony in the LCMS”) and 4 (“Communication”).
While discussing harmony, Synod First Vice-President Rev. Herbert C. Mueller Jr. provided an update on the current Koinonia Project for harmony that he oversees.
Noting that the project is “a huge mountain to climb,” Mueller said possible approaches are being proposed for pilot groups in three LCMS districts and elsewhere, and that he also has met with representatives from the two LCMS seminary faculties, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations and others to discuss the project.
He added that the project would include intense work on issues at the district, circuit and congregational levels. He indicated that the ninth version of a concept paper for the project is available online (click here), and a new draft is being developed.
“The Koinonia Project has created a very, very ambitious goal of wholesale changes in culture and attitude throughout the Synod – not just agreement,” he said. “This will have to be done through God’s Word, in time. God only requires faithfulness.”
And the Rev. Michael Kumm, who serves as interim general manager of the Synod’s KFUO Radio ministry, reported that “KFUO is doing very well.”
He indicated that in addition to AM operations, Web-streamed Classic99.com continues to operate continuously, and that each of them is often audibly identified as “a broadcast ministry of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.”
The Board of Directors was one of several Synod groups to hold meetings here in conjunction with the 2011 Lutheran Church Extension Fund Fall Leadership Conference, which took place Nov. 18-20.
Posted Dec. 21, 2011