By James Heine
At its meeting Sept. 17-20 in St. Louis, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Council of Presidents continued its ongoing conversation about ecclesiastical leadership in a post-church culture.
The COP also heard reports from Synod Secretary Rev. Dr. Raymond L. Hartwig; Martha Mitkos, LCMS director of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative; Deaconess Dorothy Krans, director of social ministry organizations for the LCMS Office of National Mission; and Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison.
Hartwig offered the COP an update on how the changes mandated by the 2010 LCMS convention will affect 2012 district conventions. Mitkos and Krans provided insight into the next phase of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative and the current status of Recognized Service Organization (RSO) approval and renewal, respectively. Harrison updated the COP on the work of his office during May, June, July and August, and summarized the status of reorganization efforts at the LCMS International Center.
From Sept. 20 to 22, the COP also participated in the National Mission Conference organized by the LCMS Office of the President and the Board for National Mission.
2012 district conventions
In a wide-ranging presentation, Hartwig reminded the COP of the bylaw changes implemented by the 2010 LCMS convention. He encouraged the COP to ensure that their offices, circuit counselors, pastors and congregations understand the implications of the changes and how those changes will affect the work of their district conventions, as well as the activities of the 2013 Synod convention in St. Louis, including the election of the Synod’s president — which actually will occur before the 2013 convention begins.
“My concern is that there is not a general understanding of what happened at the last convention,” Hartwig said.
Hartwig added that a timely understanding is crucial to the smooth implementation of the new procedures.
In addition to the new procedures for the election of the president, other changes that will affect district conventions include the following, Hartwig said:
- Districts can realign their circuits without stipulations for required numbers of congregations and communicant members. (Such realignment may affect the formation of electoral circuits for the national convention.)
- The election of circuit counselors will be conducted differently. The district president will be more involved, and the selection of the circuit forum must be ratified by the district convention.
- Congregations, circuits and districts will have the opportunity to influence the work of the Synod by participating in a process to determine the triennial mission and ministry emphases of the Synod.
His office has begun mailing congregations, circuit counselors and district presidents reminders of these important changes, Hartwig said. His office will continue to do so in the months to come, he added.
“These mailings will provide the information they need at the time they need it,” he said.
The information is also available online, Hartwig emphasized, at lcms.org/convention/procedureupdates.
Lutheran Malaria Initiative
Mitkos reminded the COP that the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI) is a campaign of the LCMS and Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore, to help eliminate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. LMI’s goals are to increase awareness and raise $45 million to help fight the disease, Mitkos said.
The plan is to work in areas where the LCMS has strong relationships already, such as with partner churches, Mitkos told the COP. Within those individual areas, one of the goals is to reach “last mile” communities, she said. Such communities seldom have access to even basic health care, she explained.
In addition to providing background on the project, Mitkos asked the COP for help in appointing district champions for the initiative. Such a champion would serve as a liaison between various district constituencies and LMI leaders and encourage congregations and schools to participate in the initiative. Mitkos said a district champion would be an active and committed LCMS member, passionate about LMI and willing to make LMI the focus of his or her volunteer activities for the next 12-18 months. Mitkos estimated that the position would require 15-20 hours of effort a month.
This is an “opportunity for us to be God’s hand reaching out in mercy,” Mitkos said.
RSO approval and renewal
In light of recent political developments with regard to civil unions and the restrictions some states have placed on religious social-service organizations that receive state or federal money, Krans, along with Hartwig and Harrison, updated the COP on the status of RSOs, especially those that provide foster-care and adoption services. As an introduction to that overview, Krans also summarized the Synod’s process for approving or renewing RSO status.
In Illinois, Krans explained, because of the adoption of civil-union legislation, the state has informed Catholic Charities that, if it wants to continue to receive state funding or contracts it must treat same-sex couples in the same manner as heterosexual couples when it comes to the issue of foster care or adoption, even though church teaching opposes same-sex unions. If the state’s position is ruled valid, the ruling will affect Lutheran social-service organizations as well, Krans added.
While at present the Illinois rule is being challenged in the courts, the implications of such legislation in Illinois and elsewhere are broad, Krans said, and may eventually spill over into areas such as senior-living, nursing-home and other aspects of care offered by religious-based organizations that incorporate government funding in their model for doing business.
During the discussion that followed Krans’ presentation, Hartwig also noted that, while a district president does not have ecclesiastical supervisory responsibilities of an RSO located in his district, he does have such responsibility for any staff of the RSO who are also on the roster of the Synod.
Reorganization: Phase II
As part of his report to the COP, Harrison briefed the council on the status of the restructuring of the national offices of the Synod mandated by the 2010 convention. Phase I is complete, and now Phase II has begun, he said.
Harrison said Phase II would help the newly reorganized units and departments develop processes and policies to support the new organizational structure.
“This is really the hard part,” he added.
To help the process, the Office of the President has retained the services of Robert Gleason, an experienced consultant in the area of organizational change. Harrison said he anticipated the work of Phase II would be completed by the end of 2011, in time for the arrival of Chaplain Greg Williamson, the Synod’s new chief mission officer.
Harrison also reported on his June trip to Korea and Japan. He especially emphasized the Japan portion of the visit because of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and because of the recently strained relationship between the LCMS and its partner church, the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC). Harrison said the visit gave him the opportunity to see firsthand the parts of Japan devastated by the earthquake and tsunami, to be brought up to date on relief efforts and to meet with leaders from the JLC.
The relationship between the LCMS and the JLC had become “somewhat strained” because the JLC had been considering the issue of women’s ordination, Harrison said. However, at its convention earlier this year, the JLC decided not to proceed in that direction.
The meeting with JLC provided an opportunity to clear the air, confess mutual shortcomings and “rejoice in the forgiveness and love we share in Christ Jesus,” Harrison said.
In a separate session, Harrison continued his discussion of Walther’s theses on the pastoral office.
Other presentations to the COP included the following:
- LCMS First Vice-President Rev Herbert C. Mueller updated the COP on the progress of the Koinonia Project. In a discussion subsequent to Mueller’s presentation, the COP decided to investigate the possibility of a combined COP/circuit-counselor meeting in September 2012. However, funding for such a meeting would have to be found.
- The Rev. Terry Forke, president of the LCMS Montana District, offered a presentation on “When Congregations Can No Longer Afford their Pastor.”
- The Rev. Dr. Lane Seitz, president of the Minnesota South District, offered guidance on the issue of Internet pornography and its consequences as it affects the church, rostered workers, family relationships and congregations.
- Monsignor James B. Ramacciotti, a canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, offered an overview of ecclesiastical supervision in the Catholic Church.
- The Rev. Dr. Charles P. Arand, chairman of the Department of Systematic Theology and the Waldemar A. and June Schuette Professor of Systematic Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, offered a confessional study of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIV.
- The Rev. Dr. R. Reed Lessing, director of the graduate school and associate professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary, presented a Bible study of the Book of Jonah.
First call and vacancies
In other action, the COP assigned first calls to 25 candidates certified for the pastoral ministry and 178 candidates certified as commissioned ministers. It also approved 39 vicarage placements.
At the conclusion of the meeting, COP Secretary Rev. William Klettke, president of the New Jersey District, reported that 227 LCMS congregations were calling sole pastors; 48, senior pastors; and 36, associate or assistant pastors. He also reported that 440 congregations were listed as having temporary non-calling vacancies. Numbers from all 35 LCMS districts were included in his report, Klettke said.
He also noted that since the last COP meeting — April 29-May 3 at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. — the districts had reported 20 new starts and five closures.
The COP next meets Nov. 15-17 in Raleigh, N.C. The meeting will be held in conjunction with the annual Lutheran Church Extension Fund Fall Leadership Conference Nov. 18-20 and a meeting of the Synod’s Board of Directors Nov.17-18.
Posted Oct. 14, 2011/Updated Oct. 17, 2011
In a previous version of this story, the photo caption incorrectly identified the Rev. Dr. James Baneck as Rev. Russell Sommerfeld.