RALEIGH, N.C. — On Nov. 17, the LCMS Board of Directors (BOD) and Council of Presidents (COP) met together for two hours, apart from their separate meetings here.
Synod leaders focused on four topics in that session — Concordia University, Ann Arbor (CUAA)/Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW) merger discussions; the case before the U.S. Supreme Court titled Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al.; national LCMS program restructuring; and the Wittenberg Project.
“It’s a joy to be with and support each other in ministry in this joint session,” the Rev. Dr. Larry Stoterau, COP chairman and president of the LCMS Pacific Southwest District, told the group. He co-chaired the session with BOD Chairman Rev. Dr. Robert Kuhn.
After BOD member Curtis Pohl read the proposed resolution concerning CUAA and CUW that the Board later adopted, Michigan District President Rev. David Maier, who serves on the CUAA Board of Regents, said, “We’re very grateful and thankful for President Harrison’s leadership in this [and] we’re going to pursue this.”
Offering insight on the Hosanna-Tabor case was Attorney Sherri Strand, a partner at Thompson Coburn LLP, outside General Counsel for The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Strand served as co-counsel for Hosanna-Tabor in the case before the Supreme Court.
Details of the Hosanna-Tabor case were given in a November Page 1 Reporter story, available at reporter.lcms.org/?19327.
Basically, as that story pointed out, the case centers on a former commissioned-minister teacher at the now-closed Redford, Mich., Hosanna-Tabor school. Hosanna-Tabor is an LCMS congregation. The key issue in the case is whether the congregation’s decision to rescind that teacher’s call is subject to judicial review or protected from review under the “ministerial exception” — a First Amendment doctrine allowing churches the right to choose their religious leaders.
The former teacher, Cheryl Perich, took her complaint against Hosanna-Tabor to U.S. District Court, rather than following the dispute-resolution process set forth in the Synod’s Bylaws. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) joined her in that complaint. The court found for the congregation, upholding its right to the ministerial exception.
The case was appealed to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, which reversed the District Court’s ruling on the reasoning that the ministerial exception applies only if the employee’s “primary” duties are quantitatively religious.
As pointed out in the November Reporter story, “Fewer than 1 percent of petitioners seeking certiorari (the right for an appeal to be heard) from the U.S. Supreme Court get it, but in March of  the court agreed to hear Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, et al. Oral arguments took place in a crowded courtroom Oct. 5.”
“We’re very excited that the Court granted ‘cert’ and will be deciding this important issue of religious freedom,” Strand told those at the joint meeting.
Nebraska District President Rev. Russell Sommerfeld noted that even smaller churches and schools need to have “clear job descriptions and policies,” and that the Synod and districts “should remind congregations what they need to know.”
Strand pointed out that the Congregational Treasurer’s Manual and the Employment Resource Manual — both available on the Synod website — “have helpful information” on such matters.
For information and copies of such resources, visit http://www.lcms.org/page.aspx?pid=1138.
Barbara Below, an assistant to the Synod president, explained that “phase 2” of Synod staff restructuring mandated by the 2010 Synod convention is nearing completion. For phase 2, “new processes and ways of working” are being put into place after phase 1 organizational changes were made that reflect the convention actions.
“It’s still a mountain,” she said of the restructuring process, “but we’ve made significant strides to get up that mountain.”
She said that at this point in phase 2, “everyone’s involved – not just the Offices of National and International Mission, but a complex matrix of everyone to get up that mountain.”
Below spoke about a “change network” in place at the LCMS International Center — of “talkers in the organization.” She said that network “continues to provide input via grapevine types who speak honestly, identify opportunities, pass along suggestions — all important in developing a culture that fits the restructure.”
Below also mentioned an online “functional directory” available for the Synod offices that grew out of the change network. She described the 27-page directory as a document compiled by employees of “who does what.”
Also on the International Center’s intranet site is a “Your Voice” feature for input and feedback and containing all the documents for restructure.
Below said that such features have led to an “improved mood throughout the building” about restructuring.
She also indicated that a new chart of accounts reflecting the restructured staff is being developed for use in planning the Synod’s 2011-12 budget.
Discussion of the Wittenberg Project in the joint session was minimal.
For information about the LCMS Board of Directors’ later actions concerning that project and discussions of a merger involving Concordia University, Ann, Arbor and Concordia University Wisconsin, see “Board encourages Ann Arbor, Mequon, merger discussions.”
Posted Dec. 21, 2011