By Joe Isenhower Jr. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ATLANTA — Rick Buff admits he was wrong about his expectations for the 2015 Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) Fall Leadership Conference here Nov. 20-22.
The LCEF congregational advocate for St. Stephens Lutheran Church, Hickory, N.C. — and one of 191 new participants in the conference that drew some 650 in total — Buff said he “expected it to be a gathering of LCEF leaders … discussing boring facts and figures from various districts, using pie charts and grafts.
“Boy, was I wrong!” he told Reporter. “What I found was an atmosphere of excitement, friendship, sharing and the largest group of caring people you would ever hope to find in one spot.”
“I love LCEF,” Buff said, explaining that “it’s not about the money” the LCMS corporate entity invests for church members, congregations and schools.
“LCEF is a mission — taking invested dollars and using those funds to build churches, schools and day-care centers in helping to build the Lord’s kingdom.”
That bottom line for Buff might be one way to apply the conference theme, “Respond in His Love.”
The theme is based on Gal. 5:13 — “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love, serve one another.”
The Rev. Max Biesenthal, LCEF’s senior vice-president of Ministry Support, explained that this year’s theme deliberately came as the final element of a “triple theme” for fall conferences, beginning in 2013 with “Receive His Gifts” and continuing with the 2014 theme, “Reflect His Glory.”
The 2015 theme came through early in the conference, with opening-session keynoter Jerry Schemmel, sportscaster for the Colorado Rockies major-league baseball organization.
Schemmel told of being one of the 185 survivors in the somersault crash landing of United Airlines Flight 232 that claimed the lives of 111 passengers on July 19, 1989, in Sioux City, Iowa.
Media reports identified him as a hero for walking out of a piece of the wrecked plane with a baby girl he found in an overhead bin. But he described that to the LCEF audience as “artificial.” He suffered from post-traumatic stress and bad nightmares from that and said that for the “first time, I was knocked down and couldn’t pick myself up.”
With encouragement from his wife, he said he prayed and then followed her advice to start regularly reading the Bible.
“It took a plane crash for God to get my attention,” Schemmel said.
“It’s great that this conference is about responding in His love,” Schemmel said as he chatted onstage with LCEF President and CEO Richard Robertson at the end of his keynote. “God gives second chances, in His grace.”
Robertson and the Rev. Ingo Dutzmann, pastor of First Lutheran Church, Boston, then interviewed each other about traumatic events in their lives during 2015.
Dutzmann explained how his family escaped a fiery early-morning March 11 explosion from a gas leak at their Taunton, Mass., home that could have easily killed them.
“It’s a God thing,” he said. “You count the blessings for what you have rather than grieve what you’ve lost.” He added that “the love of Jesus Christ came through” as Lutherans and others helped the family recover.
Robertson told of the six weeks in Lent when he underwent radiation therapy for fast-spreading cancer in the temple region of his head.
Bolstered by reading James 1:2-6 — as suggested by a fellow Lutheran in Georgia — he described the “pure joy” of sharing prayer with and receiving encouragement from doctors and technicians treating him. He also spoke of the care and Christian concern shown by family, friends and work associates including LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. He added that his oncologist recently gave him a green light to go on and “live my life.”
“We’re sharing for one reason,” Robertson said — “the blessings of being part of this church, being grounded in faith and all of you who have helped us. You responded in His love. Thank you.”
“It’s because of the love of Jesus and your responding to His love,” Dutzmann added. “It’s made all the difference.”
The next morning, Harrison spoke to the conference about “deep challenges” the Synod faces.
One has to do with the Synod’s resolve to defend its scriptural position in opposition to the “inevitable fallout” that Harrison says the LCMS faces from the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
The other challenge is how to reverse 40-plus years of declining membership figures for the Synod.
Harrison mentioned several new LCMS programs such as “re:Vitality” and “Every One His Witness” as “holding great potential for helping reverse that membership trend.”
He also said that in visitations he and Synod vice-presidents have held among districts, “we have found great people diligently engaged and working as hard as they can.”
“We have our warts, but we have Christ and His blessings,” Harrison said. “For freedom Christ has set us free,” he said. “And we respond in His love.”
Harrison also thanked Robertson and said LCEF is “certainly among our blessings in the Synod.”
Tim Goeglein, vice-president for External Relations for Focus on the Family in Washington, D.C., also addressed the conference regarding faith and the public square, especially in light of recent developments such as the Supreme Court same-sex-marriage decision.
“What we’re living through is a moral crisis — a crisis of conscience,” Goeglein said. “The ramifications are your religious liberty.”
“Martin Luther wrote that his ‘conscience is captive to the Word of God.’ And that’s relevant to us 21st-century Christians,” he said.
“Our goal … is not to be successful,” he added. “Our goal in the public square is to be faithful to God, to serve Him and our neighbor.”
A women’s luncheon on Saturday featured Christian speaker Gail McWilliams.
Paula Krueger, a first-time fall-conference delegate from Wausau, Wis., said McWilliams “filled the room with joy — a deep joy found not in an easy life, but in a life rooted in Christ and grounded in trusting a loving God.”
Linda Nau of Midlothian, Va. — who has accompanied her husband and voting delegate Dr. William Nau at seven LCEF fall leadership conferences — said she was “particularly impressed by all the speakers this year,” including McWilliams and those leading breakout sessions.
Breakout sessions on Saturday covered a variety of topics, including the new Lutheran Federal Credit Union.
Nau also spoke of the Saturday-night conference concert featuring the Christian musical group the Gettys as “a delightful bonus.”
This was the second LCEF fall conference for the Rev. Richard Snow, who was elected last spring as the new president of the LCMS Nebraska District.
Snow said that his “biggest takeaway” from LCEF conferences is the “amazing and encouraging … ministry impact that LCEF is having on our congregations and Synod and how LCEF is searching to find even greater ways to help our church and congregations make an impact with the Gospel.”
LCEF annual meeting
During the annual meeting Saturday afternoon, Robertson reported that LCEF now has total assets of $1.705 billion and operating income of $12.5 million — “the strongest in the history of LCEF, I believe,” he said. He added that compared with the previous fiscal year, LCEF net assets in fiscal-year 2015 grew by $2 million and its capital-to-asset ratio grew by more than 0.4 percent.
Robertson said that LCEF processed more than $207 million in loan approvals during fiscal year 2015, and that its loans under management now total more than $1.4 billion.
Also at the annual meeting, some 175 voting members (delegates) elected three LCEF board of directors members: Ronald D. Wheeler (newly elected) of Lee’s Summit, Mo. (for the South Region): Carol J. Radtke (incumbent), Springfield, Ill. (East Central) and Randall J. Peterson (incumbent and LCEF board chairman), Gladstone, Mich. (North Central). Also re-elected were the five-person nominating committee.
Conference registrants took part in a two-hour servant event when they assembled 500 backpacks with provisions for homeless people served by Atlanta’s Stepping Stone Mission, an LCMS Recognized Service Organization.
Those provisions included winter caps, gloves and socks donated by conference-goers, along with personal-care items, snacks, Bibles and messages of hope and prayer from registrants.
2015 LCEF awards
The following LCEF awards were announced and handed out during conference plenary sessions:
- the Fred E. Lietz Mission Project Award to Chesapeake Community of Hope in Chesapeake, Va.
- the Fred E. Lietz Individual Ministry Award to James Ingersoll of Orlando, Fla.
- the Arthur C. Haake Leadership Award to the Rev. Jeff Miller of Hutchinson, Minn.
- the Making a REAL Difference Award to Lynne Marvin of St. Louis.
- District Awards to the Atlantic, Northwest and Minnesota South Districts.
As has been the case at previous fall conferences, the offering at Sunday morning’s Holy Communion Service was designated to benefit the Fred E. Lietz Mission Project Award Winner. This year, that gift to Chesapeake Community of Hope came to $15,312, including a match from LCEF.
LCMS Florida-Georgia District President Rev. Gregory Walton delivered the homily for that “Christ the King Sunday” Communion Service.
Walton spoke of LCEF as “a wonderful example of the Gospel in action — where investments build ministries.”
He also spoke of “freedom in Jesus,” as referred in the Gal. 5:13 fall-conference theme verse.
“We’re free from sin and death, through Jesus’ blood on the cross. … In Jesus, we are part of the free people of God — to serve Him and one another.”
Urgency to respond
“There is urgency today, more than ever, to respond in His love,” Walton said.
“As we serve the world in love, [people] may actually listen to what we say,” he added, and then ended his sermon with this question: “What will you do — not just say — in response to what Jesus has done for you?”
“We’re equipped to respond in His love,” Robertson said as the events here came to a close. “My prayer is that you’ll leave this conference motivated and empowered to respond in His love.”
The 2016 LCEF Fall Leadership Conference is being planned for Nov. 18-20 in the Chicago area.
Posted Dec. 18, 2015