By Joe Isenhower Jr.
Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison says he’s looking forward to a “great convention” when the Synod’s 65th Regular Convention meets July 20-25 in downtown St. Louis.
Harrison made that observation in one of several broadcast interviews and newspaper articles that have aired and appeared since July 6, when the Synod announced his re-election to a second three-year term as president — just two weeks before the convention starts. Those broadcasts and articles have covered an array of topics, including an overview of his first term in office, specific items that he expects the convention to address and Harrison’s thoughts on his next three years in office.
That new term officially begins Sept. 1. The installation of Harrison and others elected this year is set for Sept 14, during a service in the chapel at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
“We’re going to have a great convention. It’s going to be a joy,” Harrison said at the end of a half-hour July 12 interview with the Rev. Todd Wilken on “Issues, Etc.,” a program of Lutheran Public Radio, based in Collinsville, Ill. Acknowledging that “there will be some issues — there always are,” Harrison continued that the convention will be “an occasion to see so many friends [from] across the country and to rejoice in so much good … going on. It’s a blessing.”
The day before, when Harrison sat for an interview with Buzz Ullrich of the Synod’s Worldwide KFUO broadcast ministry in the station’s new studio at the LCMS International Center, he said, “I think as conventions go, this should not be a … contentious convention at all.”
Harrison told KFUO listeners that among convention business that he expects to “cause some interest will be on the matter [of how] we train seminarians – especially … through distance education.”
During the “Issues, Etc.” broadcast, Harrison elaborated on that topic as it applies to the Synod’s Specific Ministry Pastor program, which prepares men for pastoral ministry to serve in specific situations. He explained that where he sees that program as “problematic” is when those men are going to serve as “staff pastors at large congregations,” rather than what he termed more “legitimate circumstances — [in] small, remote [or] ethnic” settings thought to be the case when the program was approved by delegates to the 2007 Synod convention.
“The main goal of conventions is really to put before the delegates the whole church, the Word of God, to encourage one another to be faithful to the Word of God and to encourage one another to leave the convention and work for the kingdom of Christ in the world,” Harrison said during the KFUO interview.
Also on KFUO, Harrison explained the Synod’s Witness, Mercy, Life Together emphasis, which was first introduced as his office spearheaded LCMS staff restructuring mandated by the 2010 LCMS convention.
“That’s what we’re about — those three things,” he told Ullrich.
The restructuring resulted in reduction of the LCMS International Center staff by 70 workers and total reorganization of national and international mission staff.
Harrison also told the KFUO audience that during the next triennium, “I think it’s really going to be important to focus on teaching … emphasizing the basics about who we are as Missouri Synod Lutherans who subscribe to the Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions … emphasizing Law and Gospel in preaching and encouraging and urging all our people — especially our pastors — to really work hard together wherever they can to improve their ability to preach and serve the people of God.”
“We’ve got to get more missionaries on the field … and we need to revitalize Lutheran congregations — help them work on taking a look at their communities and gearing their ministry toward their communities.”
“We are in an extremely difficult time,” Harrison said after Ullrich asked, “what prayers you would like to have said for you and for the [Synod].” For example, Harrison spoke of statistics revealing that one in three individuals among the U.S. population claims no religious affiliation.
He asked for prayers “that we would be faithful and that being faithful — that is, holding our confession of faith solidly — we would also be diligent in reaching out and proclaiming the Gospel; that we would not lose heart.”
During the “Issues, Etc.” broadcast, Harrison also addressed:
- what he terms “a tectonic shift” in world Lutheranism. This comes as a result of large Lutheran church bodies such as the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY, with more than 6 million members) rejecting more liberal human-sexuality decisions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and others and seeking closer ties with the LCMS and its confessional partners.
- other issues in the Synod, including what might be done to help ordained LCMS men who are classified as Candidates for Reverend Ministry (CRM) on the Synod’s roster; the “settled question [in the Synod] that it is not given to women to teach or exercise the functions of the office of the pastoral ministry”; and church discipline.
- his view of the U. S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision regarding same-sex marriage as “an absolute travesty.”
Daily newspapers in St. Louis and Fort Wayne, Ind., carried stories announcing Harrison’s re-election.
A July 6 Fort Wayne News-Sentinel story reported that Harrison served as pastor of Zion Lutheran Church there from 1995 to 2001, when he became executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
In Fort Wayne, the story noted, he “worked with the pastor at St. Peter Catholic Church to revitalize the neighborhood around the two congregations.”
In his July 7 St. Louis Post-Dispatch story about the re-election, Tim Townsend wrote that the day before, Harrison provided answers to a set of questions the newspaper had sent to him. Townsend is the paper’s religion writer.
And on July 13, the Post-Dispatch ran an article by Townsend with all of those questions and answers — covering a range of topics, including:
- what has been accomplished in Harrison’s first triennium as Synod president. As in the KFUO interview, Harrison’s response centered on the Witness, Mercy, Life Together emphasis that “has taken root and blossomed in ways I could never have imagined.” He wrote that he is “thrilled to see our life together playing itself out in our young people and our renewed focus on campus ministry.” Harrison also later pointed out there has been a $10 million improvement in the Synod’s unrestricted net assets.
- reversing the membership-totals decline in the Synod.
- why “the Synod’s constitutional prohibition on syncretism and unionism [taking part in worship services that a blend the beliefs and practices of Lutherans with those of other faiths and Christian denominations] is so fascinating to other Christians.” His response: “I can’t really speak for how other Christians view us, but what I do know is that we are called to be faithful. We are to be who we are for the sake of the Gospel. We’re to stand on God’s Word and its objective truth.”
- positive developments after last year’s Dec. 14 Sandy Hook school massacre, including Harrison’s involvement in the controversy surrounding the participation of a Synod pastor in a community prayer vigil/service two days later. “The Lord always blesses,” Harrison answered, “and we saw that from the beginning when our disaster folks were on the scene almost immediately … . It also provided an occasion for the pastor and district president and me to work and pray together to find the best way to care for those affected, both in the community and the congregation.”
Other questions and answers included topics such as the role of “large congregations” in Harrison’s “vision for the Synod”; those with whom he has “surrounded” himself, including “people who will challenge [his] perspective and give [him] honest feedback”; and his “three practical goals for the Synod over the next three years.”
Concerning those “practical goals,” Harrison answered, as follows:
“(1) Recruit, train and raise the funds for more career missionaries. Specifically, we need theological educators to help strengthen our expanding list of partner churches who are begging for help in this area. It really is the Missouri Synod’s international moment.
“(2) Back at home: Continue our efforts to revitalize and strengthen churches while planting new ones, especially among the many ethnic people God is bringing to our American shores. We will also focus on unity, healthy theology and relationships in Synod in the Koinonia Project.
“(3) Focus on our high-school [youth] and young adults, equipping them and supporting them as they move into adult life where their faith will be tried and tested.”
Harrison is set to chair the Synod convention at St. Louis’ America’s Center Convention Complex and deliver the sermon for its opening service, which starts at 7:30 p.m. (Central Time) Saturday, July 20.
Live streaming video from the convention will be available at lcms.org/convention/live.
Click here for the July 6 Fort Wayne News-Sentinel story about Harrison’s re-election.