By Joe Isenhower Jr.
ST. LOUIS — Board members and others at the LCMS Board for National Mission (BNM) meeting here Sept. 22-23 expressed thanks for the National Mission Conference that met Sept. 20-22 in the same hotel as the board.
To read more about the conference, see “Mission conference seeks stakeholder input,” click here.
Several at the BNM meeting indicated they were especially grateful that the entire board was able to hear questions, ideas and comments from other conference participants about ways the board and the LCMS Office of National Mission might especially coordinate their work with districts, Recognized Service Organizations (RSOs) and others represented at the conference.
BNM Chairman Rev. Steven C. Briel thanked all the board members at the meeting for their participation in the conference. “It’s important that we were there,” Briel said, adding that “soliciting advice” is valuable as the board continues to develop policy for the LCMS Office of National Mission (ONM).
Briel told Reporter that the board “especially appreciates very much the participation of the LCMS Council of Presidents and district mission executives in the conference.”
Policy development continued during the September meeting of the board, when it also heard from new ONM Executive Director Rev. Bart Day and several other members of the ONM staff, continued work with LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison on a theological preface for policies of the national and international LCMS mission boards and heard a report on the Lutheran Malaria Initiative.
As board members reviewed the mission conference, Carla Claussen said several people at her conference table asked questions about “what it is that we really do.” She said she sensed that “they knew we are intentional about letting them know that we care [about their input].”
The Rev. C. Bryan Wolfmueller said that the subject of the level of trust districts have for the national Synod surfaced at his table. “There was good dialogue about this,” he added.
While acknowledging that there are “differences among us,” Harrison said the conference afforded opportunities for “hearing conversations, which is good. … We must always invite people to the table.”
‘Work toward common themes’
Assistant to the President Barbara Below also reviewed aspects of the conference for the board.
“The last couple days there has been dialogue to work toward common themes and to narrow them to objectives,” Below said.
She observed that conference discussion covered a wide range of topics, including how participants “should work [with a] proactive level of engagement” concerning the services offered by the Office of National Mission.
Referring to a straw poll taken at the conference, Below said its results “seem to indicate that the Office of National Mission should be about networking, resources and advocacy.”
“If that’s what’s wanted, how does this impact the written policies to be developed?” she asked. “How do you put meat on networking?”
Below suggested that the board might discuss with Day what such considerations mean for them.
Board member Linda Stoterau said that those at her conference table advocated for a “centralized data resource base,” to connect people with what’s available in different locations without having to receive printed resources.
Claussen added that conference participants seated around her noted the need for resources “available for specific needs” for districts and congregations.
Similarly, the Rev. Thomas Engler said that he heard from conference participants that national mission resources must fit local needs. “We need to corral the best that’s available,” while emphasizing “what makes us distinctively Lutheran,” he said.
Harrison began his report for the board meeting with the observation that much work had been conducted lately in the Synod. “We’ve had meetings since last week,” he noted — first the LCMS Council of Presidents, then the National Mission Conference and ending with the BNM meeting.
He said that Synod staff restructuring “has continued to go extremely well and that its current second phase may prove to be “the most difficult part,” including consideration of the question, “how are we going to operate as a culture?”
Harrison also said the announcement that Mark Hofman had accepted the new position to head fund development for the national Synod indicates that “absolutely outstanding people” continue to be added to the national-Synod staff.
The Synod president and the board also continued work on Harrison’s theological preface to the policies of the two new Synod mission boards.
Harrison said his goal for work on the preface is to “go slow and end up with something we feel good about.”
At the end of discussion about the preface, board chairman Briel expressed the board’s appreciation to Harrison and said, “we encourage him to keep working on this.”
National staff reports
Below referred to Day as “upbeat, great to work with,” as she introduced him prior to his first report to the BNM. He has led the new Synod national mission staff since July 1.
“It’s like a new, exciting game of pulling resources together to collaborate,” Day said.
Day then provided an overview of the work of the national mission office.
He also introduced several ONM staff members, who provided reports to the board and made suggestions concerning their areas of responsibility and policies the board is developing in those areas.
ONM staff who addressed the board were:
- the Rev. Carlos Hernandez, director of Hispanic Ministry, who spoke of “Gospel Seeds” workshops he has facilitated in more than 100 LCMS congregations since 1999. Those workshops equip members to combine mercy and mission through interviews they conduct with neighbors of their churches, asking them how the church might better serve their own needs and those of the community.
- the Rev. Al Tormoehlen, director of “The 72 — Partners on the Road” program that prepares volunteer trainers to equip congregation members for outreach ministry in their communities. Tormoehlen said that through June, 223 Synod congregations had participated in the program since 1996. He added that congregations equipped for outreach through “The 72” typically experience increases in worship attendance and the number of baptized and confirmed members.
- Deaconess Dorothy Krans, director of RSOs, who explained the many ways in which she works with the organizations within her area of responsibility. She and Below (who previously was director of social ministry organizations with LCMS World Relief and Human Care) also answered a number of inquiries from board members about policies and procedures for RSOs.
- William Cochran, director of School Ministry, which offers a variety of services and resources for the nearly 2,400 early childhood centers, elementary schools and high schools operated by Synod congregations. Introducing Cochran, Day explained that for policy review, Christian education also would be included with schools in discussion and policiy development for the board.
- the Rev. Dr. Terry Dittmer, director of Youth Ministry, who spoke about the variety of opportunities and resources for youth ministry in the Synod. Day also mentioned the existing policy manual for National LCMS Youth Gatherings.
The board adopted several resolutions resulting from discussions with these ONM staff members. Basically, they call for:
- the board to review the processes that the ONM uses for granting and revoking RSO status.
- the board to work with the schools office to review the emphases of that office and to work with that office to explore ways to affirm and refine those emphases.
- the ONM to “encourage Lutheran congregations to consider their Lutheran schools as integral to their mission and work together in ministry for furtherance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the communities they serve.”
Toward the end of the board’s two-day meeting, Martha Mitkos, LCMS director of the Lutheran Malaria Initiative (LMI), reported on that campaign of the Synod and Lutheran World Relief, Baltimore.
With the goal of increasing awareness of malaria and raising $45 million to help fight the disease, LMI seeks to help eliminate malaria deaths in Africa by 2015. It currently claims 800,000 lives each year.
Mitkos noted that Lutheran congregations and schools are engaging in the initiative. For instance, she said that five Lutheran schools in Texas have formed a “collaborative partnership” with the goal of collecting $500,000 for the campaign.
Day added that some LCMS districts have pledged that all the students in every Lutheran school in their borders will participate in LMI. He said he hopes that Lutheran schools will raise at least $1 million for the initiative.
The next meeting of the LCMS Board for National Mission is set for Feb. 3-4 here.
Posted Oct. 20, 2011