By Joe Isenhower Jr.
ST. LOUIS — The Rev. Steven E. (Steve) Sutterer says he feels “great joy” and gratitude over the Synod’s Board for National Mission (BNM) extending to him its first-ever call to a church worker.
The board decided to extend the call to Sutterer — a staff chaplain at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Mich., since 2011 — at its Sept. 26-27 meeting here. Delegates to the 2013 Synod convention authorized the board to issue calls to such specialized pastoral ministers with adoption of Resolution 2-05B by a vote of 875-61.
Sutterer serves his chaplaincy at Sparrow’s 600-bed main level-one trauma center and at its other site in Lansing that handles various specialties.
“It was a great joy,” Sutterer told Reporter, to hear of the board’s decision to extend the call from the Rev. Joel Hempel, interim director of Specialized Pastoral Ministry (SPM) for the Office of National Mission.
After writing to Hempel March 26 that he would “like to receive” the board’s call to serve as staff chaplain at Sparrow, Sutterer participated in a required extensive process leading to the board’s decision.
Included in that process are the determination if the call candidate is eligible for the call (based on a number of criteria), as well as letters of evaluation and recommendations from the candidate’s circuit visitor and district president. The Office of National Mission then makes the recommendation to the board whether to extend the call.
‘A good process’
“It is a good process, with the idea of updating various parts of your profile and [addressing] questions that go with it,” Sutterer said, including “opportunity to reflect on … ministry, my practice, my belief and my faith. … In all, the process works and I believe gives good focus for those who want to go through [it].”
Sutterer says he’s convinced that such calls to specialized pastoral ministers “are great opportunities to be recognized for the ministry in which hundreds of people engage every year in places where there is a great need. To have the Board for National Mission recognize this mission … is a great credit to their wisdom in seeing God’s hand touching many lives that have great need to hear the love of God in Christ Jesus … [bringing] affirmation from the greater church.”
“It makes me proud to be a part of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s efforts in compassion care for people in many places of ministry,” he said. “It shows we see ministry with wide eyes and places where that happens. It is a great affirmation of the Great Commission from our Lord.
“I am extremely grateful for the efforts of so many who have helped to pave the way for this moment and time in our church’s history,” Sutterer said.
‘Recognition and confirmation’
“In a church body that understandably celebrates congregational ministry, those in SPM can sometimes feel overlooked or under-appreciated,” Hempel wrote in an email to Reporter. “Because many of them serve our Lord faithfully, having only a contract with the agency that hires them, the divine call from the Synod is both recognition and confirmation of their ministry to those who are suffering or struggling in places where congregations are unable to reach.”
The Rev. John A. Fale, associate executive director of Mercy Operations for the Synod, noted that the BNM’s call to Sutterer “culminates a 10-year process to extend divine calls to ministers serving in specialized pastoral ministry.”
Fale added that such a call from the BNM “conveys to the church that a specialized pastoral minister represents the LCMS in service of the Gospel [in] care for the souls of those who are in hospitals, hospices, long-term care facilities, prisons, jails, fire departments, law-enforcement agencies, pastoral-counseling centers and other specialized settings. This is a wonderful acknowledgement of the rich and long history of specialized pastoral ministry as an integral ministry of the LCMS.”
“It is wonderful to see the Board for National Mission extend calls to those serving in specialized pastoral ministry,” said ONM Executive Director Rev. Bart Day. Noting that the board spent months preparing for this first call, he added that it “sees this as a special way to serve the needs of the church.”
In other action at its Sept. 26-27 meeting, the BNM gave its final approval to Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison’s “A Theological Statement for Mission in the 21st Century.” The statement was approved by the LCMS Board for International Mission in February.
Two new BNM members were welcomed to their first board meeting — Deaconess Shaina M. Mitchell of Muncie, Ind., and the Rev. Timothy J. Droegemueller of Cumming, Ga. They were respectively appointed by Harrison and the LCMS Board of Directors to fill vacancies on the national board.
The board refined work on its policies and established a subcommittee made up of board members Julia Habrecht and Carla Claussen to monitor policies and work on policy development.
Also discussed were the ONM’s strategic plan, updates on 2013 convention actions that have to do with the BNM or ONM and a self-appraisal survey that board members completed with the assistance of the Synod’s Office of Rosters and Statistics.
In his report, Day said that the “biggest development” since the board previously met in May was the beginning of pilot visitations of the ONM staff with district staff members, for which 14 districts volunteered to participate.
At the time of the board meeting, visitations at the LCMS International Center had involved the North Wisconsin, South Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Central Illinois and Southern Illinois Districts.
District visits a ‘first’
Day said that most district staff members indicated that “this was the first time they know of that they had been asked by the Synod to share” about their ministries.
In those joint staff meetings, “we focus on revitalization of congregations, schools and workers,” he explained, especially “what’s being done, what’s working well and not so well, and talk about budgets and strategic plans. We share together about all our efforts, what we could do together.”
“Those connections have been great,” he told the board.
Day also provided an update of the various ONM ministries and staff members, a financial overview of the ONM, and an update on three task forces (for Domestic Violence, Disability, and God’s Gift of Sexuality).
He also highlighted several conferences and events involving the ONM.
Harrison spoke to the board on a number of items, telling members that he is “delighted to see progress on many fronts in the Synod’s national-mission work.
He spoke of visitations his office is conducting with districts — “all going quite well.”
He also expressed concern over continuation of the 40-plus year decline in membership figures for the Synod, which he considers due to factors including members marrying later and having fewer children, lack of aggressiveness in planting churches and reluctance — if not “failure” — to reach out to non-Anglo populations.
Harrison also updated the board on developments related to the church body’s “Free to Be Faithful” initiative and the Synod’s international work with partners and others.
Two ONM department leaders also gave overviews of their areas of responsibility — Deaconess Dorothy Krans, director of Recognized Service Organizations, and the Rev. Marcus Zill, director of Campus Ministry and LCMS U.
The next meeting of the LCMS Board for National Mission is set for Feb 2-3.
Posted Oct. 23, 2014