By James Heine
ST. LOUIS — At its regular meeting Sept. 15-18, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod Council of Presidents (COP) welcomed nine new members to its ranks.
The new district presidents are the Rev. Mark Miller, Central Illinois District; the Rev. Dr. Roger C. Paavola, Mid-South District; the Rev. Dr. Dean Nadasdy, Minnesota South District; the Rev. Timothy Yeadon, New England District; the Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Steinbronn, New Jersey District; the Rev. Dwayne M. Lueck, North Wisconsin District; the Rev. Allan D. Anderson, Rocky Mountain District; the Rev. Dr. John R. Denninger, Southeastern District; and the Rev. Timothy J. Scharr, Southern Illinois District.
Although Scharr has been a member of the council since 2010, when he replaced LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr. as president of the Southern Illinois District, 2012 is the first time Scharr was elected to the post by delegates to the Southern Illinois District convention. Previously, he had been the district’s first vice-president.
Mueller was elected first vice-president of the Synod at the 2010 national convention. Scharr succeeded him as president of the Southern Illinois District.
The nine men were elected during the Synod’s 2012 district convention cycle. Orientation for new district presidents took place Sept. 13-14.
“We covered a wide range of topics,” Mueller said about the orientation. “We spent the better part of the first day discussing the theological and practical dimensions of pastoral visitation for district presidents. Visitation is a major part of the work of a district president, according to Chapter 4 of the Synod’s Bylaws.”
In a word, his first experience with the Council of Presidents was “good,” said Paavola, the Mid-South District’s new president.
His impression “was one of awe — that is, the orderliness of the agenda, the collegiality of the men assembled, the frankness of the discussion, and the magnitude of information to which we attended,” Paavola said. “The genuine nature of care and concern for all the member congregations of the LCMS was evident in every comment and conversation.”
Above all, Paavola added, “the willingness of the ‘experienced’ members of the COP to assist and explain procedure was most helpful and gratefully received.”
“It was a privilege for the Council of Presidents to welcome our new district presidents during our September meeting,” said the Rev. Dr. Larry Stoterau, president of the LCMS Pacific Southwest District and chairman of the COP. “These men have been recognized by their respective districts as respected leaders with a pastoral heart. We look forward to encouraging and supporting them in their ministry in the district and with all of us in the Synod.”
For the new triennium, Stoterau remains chairman of the COP. Also, he will serve as chairman of the COP’s Program Committee.
Other Program Committee members include the Rev. Ken Hennings, Texas District, vice-chairman; the Rev. Dr. Chris Wicher, Eastern District, secretary; and the Rev. Keith E. Kohlmeier, Kansas District, and the Rev. Paul A. Linnemann, Northwest District, as Program Committee members at-large.
In his regular report to the COP, Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison noted that he attended 22 of the Synod’s 35 district conventions. While there are some doctrinal disagreements in the Synod, his observation, based on attending the conventions, is that the Synod “is rather calm and very much united in a number of areas, including the recent HHS mandate challenge to religious freedom.” Also, he observed, “There is broad and genuine effort in the church to act according to the Synod’s constitution.”
Harrison also reported that his office has launched the 2010 Res. 8-07 committee on district structure and viability, that preparations are under way for the 2013 Synod convention and that there has been “a veritable explosion” of ecumenical activities. “There is no shortage of work,” Harrison said.
Regarding his duties as ecclesiastical supervisor, Harrison said, “I continue to grow in these duties.” He added that district presidents have been solicitous of his input in questionable or controversial cases, “and I deeply appreciate that,” he added, noting that “the importance of proper and positive ‘visitation’ is a topic that now occupies some of my attention.”
First calls, placements
Acting as the Synod’s Board of Assignments, the COP assigned first calls to 41 candidates certified for the pastoral ministry. Also, it approved 30 vicarage placements and assigned 214 ministers of religion — commissioned to their initial calls.
During an in-service portion of the meeting, the Rev. Russell L. Sommerfeld, president of the Nebraska District, offered an overview of the creation of call lists and a district president’s responsibilities in the formation of such lists. District presidents “are afforded the privilege of assisting congregations in the calling of pastors,” Sommerfeld said.
A district president can become informed about the calling congregation through a variety of ways. Sommerfeld said. These may include a congregational self-study, personal visits, and consultations with the circuit counselor or a district vice-president. To prepare a congregation for the call process, a district president should teach the theology of the divine call from Scripture and the Confessions, encourage the congregation to immerse itself in prayer and provide information on the practice of the call process itself, Sommerfeld said.
In all calling situations, the district president is responsible for guiding the call process “to be conducted in an open and Christian manner,” Sommerfeld added. “The call process should give clear evidence that it is being directed by God the Holy Spirit and the people involved are his instruments,” he said.
Those making presentations to the COP included the following:
- The Rev. Dr. Jeffery Gibbs, chairman of the Exegetical Theology department at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, offered a Bible study on “The Church’s Calling of Witness: Filling in the Blanks.”
- Deaconess Cheryl Naumann, president of the Concordia Deaconess Conference, an LCMS Recognized Service Organization, reminded the council that the Synod has more than 200 deaconesses on its roster and encouraged the district presidents to hold up before their congregations the work of deaconesses and as appropriate encourage them to consider placing deaconesses in their ministries.
- The Rev. Gregory Walton, Florida-Georgia District president, facilitated the COP’s continuing study of the Augsburg Confession.
- The Rev. Terry Forke, president of the Montana District, continued facilitating discussions on the office of the public ministry.
- Chaplain Mark Schreiber, director, LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces, presented an update on Operation Barnabas, a program the LCMS began in 2007 as a way to help returning veterans, especially Reserve and Guard chaplains, readjust to civilian life after war zone tours of duty. Schreiber reported that 18 LCMS congregations are participating in the Operation Barnabas program and that another 14 or 15 are ready to “become operational.” Schreiber also said the LCMS has 171 chaplains serving in active duty, Guard, Reserve or Civil Air Patrol positions, and it has more than 160 congregations supporting military bases.
- David Strand, executive director of LCMS Communications, offered an update on “Religious Liberty: Free to Be Faithful” initiative, an education and awareness campaign aimed at inspiring LCMS rostered members and laity to take informed action to protect the freedom of religion.
- The Rev. Dr. Glen Thomas, executive director, Pastoral Education, provided a progress report on the PALS (Post-Seminary Applied Learning and Support) program, which assists new seminary graduates and spouses during the first three years of parish life. Thomas said the curriculum “is expanding in response to the expressed needs of the new pastors.” He said new study topics include preaching, handling conflict, counseling and referrals, community engagement, premarital pastoral care and stewardship in the local congregation.
“Participation in the Operation Barnabas program means that those 18 congregations hold monthly meetings, usually staffed by veterans from within the congregation,” Schreiber told the COP.
Thomas noted that about half of the seminary graduates eligible for the program participate in it. “Our goal is to reach 75 percent in the next five years,” he observed.
Before the meeting closed Sept. 18, COP Secretary Wicher reported that 194 LCMS congregations were calling sole pastors; 29, senior pastors; and 33, associate or assistant pastors, for a total of 256 congregations calling pastors.
Numbers from 32 of the Synod’s 35 districts were included in his report, Wicher said.
Also, Wicher noted, since the spring COP meeting April 28-May 3, LCMS districts had reported seven new starts and seven closures.
The COP next meets Nov. 13-15 in Orlando, Fla. The meeting will be held in conjunction with the annual LCEF Fall Leadership Conference Nov. 16-18. During the meeting, the COP will elect members to additional committees and participate in a joint session with the LCMS Board of Directors.
Posted Oct. 17, 2012 / Updated Oct. 18, 2012