By James Heine
ST. LOUIS — At its regular meeting Feb. 18-21, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Council of Presidents (COP) commended Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison for the statements he made in response to the recent United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate.
The controversial mandate requires nearly all private health plans, even those offered by religious organizations, to provide contraceptives in their benefit plans, including those contraceptives that serve as “morning after” (abortion) pills.
In a resolution adopted without dissenting voice Feb. 21, the COP said it “stands with” and “commends” the LCMS president for his statements regarding the HHS mandate and his Feb. 16 appearance before Congress.
In a statement prepared with the resolution, the COP reiterated that it stands united “in full support” of Harrison’s testimony, as well as with “all citizens of the United States — Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, other Christians, as well as members of other faiths — in defense of religious liberty and freedom of conscience for individuals and institutions.”
The statement was signed by all 35 district presidents and the Synod’s five vice-presidents.
Harrison and other religious leaders testified in opposition to the HHS mandate before the House of Representatives Committee on Government Oversight and Reform Feb. 16. At the hearing, Harrison reminded committee members that “religious people determine what violates their consciences, not the federal government.”
For more information about the LCMS response to the HHS mandate visit www.lcms.org/hhsmandate.
A full agenda
In addition to endorsing the statements of the Synod president, the COP met with the faculty of Concordia Seminary, was introduced to LCMS Chief Mission Officer (CMO) Rev. Gregory K. Williamson, received the regular report of Synod President Harrison and a Koinonia Project update from Synod First Vice-President Rev. Herbert C. Mueller.
Also, Bruce Wurdeman, executive director of Lutheran Hour Ministries, introduced tourism representatives from the German states of Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt, who highlighted the Reformation plans the two entities have put in place and invited LCMS Lutherans to include a Reformation visit in their travel plans.
Conversations with the faculty
After a welcome from Concordia Seminary President Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer, the meeting between the COP and the Concordia Seminary faculty centered on three items: pastoral formation at the seminary, the Specific Ministry Pastor program and issues related to 2010 Convention Resolution 5-05A, “To Support Pastoral Formation.”
The Rev. Dr. Tim Saleska and the Rev. Dr. Bruce Hartung presented the overview of pastoral formation at the seminary. From admissions to certification for ministry, the seminary offers a “holistic plan of formation,” Hartung said.
Saleska is Concordia Seminary’s dean of Ministerial Formation; Hartung, its director of M.Div. and Alternate Route programs.
In updating the COP on the status of the SMP program, the Rev. Dr. Glen Thomas, LCMS executive director of Pastoral Education, and Concordia faculty members Rev. Dr. Charles Arand and Rev. Dr. Glenn Nielsen provided data on the program, an outline of the curriculum and observations gleaned from visiting students in their specific-ministry context.
“These are some of the most sacrificial men I have met in my 23 years,” Nielsen said of the men enrolled in the SMP program. “They have high respect for the office of the ministry. … They will be well qualified for the pastoral office.”
In his part of the presentation, Thomas noted that an SMP “white paper” providing program data would be available to the Synod in early March.
Regarding Res. 5-05A, South Dakota District President Rev. Dr. Dale L. Sattgast and Southern District President Rev. Kurtis D. Schultz moderated a discussion on continuing education in the context of the resolution.
“The big challenge is moving from encouragement to expectation in the Synod,” Sattgast said at the end of the discussion, noting that the 5-05A Task Force will continue to meet and submit a report to the 2013 Synod convention in St. Louis.
Meeting the CMO
After introducing himself to the COP, Williamson provided a brief assessment of his position and its responsibilities. He reminded the COP that the Synod’s Constitution and Bylaws, mission statement and convention actions provide “a policy framework” or “boundaries” that shape ministry. Those boundaries are shaped also by the Synod’s mission emphases and by economic realities.
“Given these parameters,” Williamson said the Office of the President had identified six priorities:
1. Plant, sustain and revitalize Lutheran churches.
2. Support and expand theological education.
3. Perform human care in close proximity to Word-and-sacrament ministry.
4. Collaborate with the Synod’s members and partners to enhance mission effectiveness.
5. Nurture pastors, missionaries and professional church workers to promote spiritual, emotional and physical well-being.
6. Enhance elementary and secondary education, and youth ministries.
“These six priorities are incorporated into the overall budget strategy,” Williamson told the COP, adding that he had instructed his program directors to “implement a five-year planning cycle.”
As with his appearances before the LCMS Boards for National and International Mission, Williamson also explained the values that will guide his work and that of the Office of the President, and noted that the Synod has an opportunity to make a “generational decision.”
Any international organization must think globally, Williamson explained. “To attach to terrain rather than the culture fosters static and parochial traditions at the expense of fulfilling the Great Commission. It is the Church’s responsibility to seek and save the lost wherever they may be, and it is her responsibility to be able to communicate that message effectively accompanied by acts of mercy.”
Report of the president
In addition to updating the COP about his testimony on Capitol Hill (the full text is available at www.lcms.org/hhsmandate), Harrison also spoke briefly about the budget challenges confronting the Synod as it moves into fiscal year 2013, the recent LCMS campus-ministry think tank, ecumenical discussions with the North American Lutheran Church, and the Wittenberg Project.
In a wide-ranging discussion following Harrison’s comments about his experiences on Capitol Hill, several suggestions were offered about ensuring that the Synod’s voice is heard in the public square. Among them: (1) better communication with and among district presidents regarding matters of legislation, social policy and religious liberty; (2) media-skills workshops for district presidents, pastors and others; (3) advice for congregations and pastors regarding letters to public officials and (4) help for congregations, pastors and church workers in understanding how our Lutheran approach to discussion and advocacy in the public square — our Two Kingdoms approach — sets us apart from other religious institutions and organizations.
It is important also to remember the spiritual dimension of this struggle, observed the Rev. Dr. David Benke, president of the Atlantic District, because we struggle, not just against “flesh and blood,” but also against the “principalities and powers” and the dark forces of this world.
Regarding the campus-ministry think tank (click here to see a related Reporter story), Harrison said, “As we seek to stem the tide of attrition between Baptism and adulthood in the LCMS — as much as 60 percent by some estimates — reconsidering how best we can go about campus ministry in the LCMS will become a factor.”
In his update on the Koinonia Project, Mueller reported on the progress of Draft 10 of the Koinonia concept paper, noted the formation of pilot projects in the Northern Illinois, Nebraska and South Wisconsin Districts, as well as in several circuits around the Synod. In the coming months, there will be a presentation to the Synod’s seminary faculties, he added.
More information about the Koinonia Project is available at www.lcms.org.
First calls and vacancies
In other action, the COP assigned first calls to 32 candidates certified for the pastoral ministry and 41 candidates certified as commissioned ministers. Also, it approved 11 vicarage placements.
At the conclusion of the meeting, COP Secretary Rev. William Klettke, president of the New Jersey District, reported that 243 LCMS congregations were calling sole pastors; 34, senior pastors; and 63 associate or assistant pastors, for a total of 340 congregations calling pastors.
Klettke also reported that 306 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, Nov. 15-17 in Raleigh, N.C., the districts had reported seven new starts and four closures.
Compared with his November vacancy report, Klettke said 22 more congregations were calling sole pastors, three fewer were calling senior pastors and 18 more were calling associate or assistant pastors.
In his February report, there were 98 fewer congregations calling a pastor than in November, 14 fewer mission starts, three fewer closures and a total of 37 more calling congregations, Klettke added.
The COP next meets April 27-May 3, first in St. Louis and then in Fort Wayne, Ind. As the Synod’s Board of Assignments, the COP will assign first calls to certified seminary graduates of Concordia Seminary May 1 in St. Louis and May 2 at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne.
Also as the Board of Assignments, the COP will assign third-year students to their vicarages.
To download the complete COP statement and resolution, click here.
Posted Feb. 27, 2012/Updated March 1, 2012