By Pamela J. Nielsen
The LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) met April 21–26, traveling from St. Louis to Fort Wayne, Ind., to place pastoral and commissioned candidates, elect new leadership and work through matters of ecclesiastical supervision.
“One of the bylaw responsibilities given to the COP is to act as the board of assignments,” noted LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr. “That’s what we did [at this meeting] with prayer, naming each individual candidate … and where they are going as we assigned them. … That’s what the council is for — we place graduates, and we consult with each other on matters of ecclesiastical supervision.”
The council also approved the placement of the latest group of commissioned worker candidates, highlighting concerns about the shortage of such workers.
“Numerous open teacher/principal calls are going unfilled,” said LCMS Missouri District President Rev. Dr. R. Lee Hagan. “Lack of qualified principals is one of the biggest issues we face. They have to fill these slots with non-rostered and, at times, non-Lutheran leaders.”
The decline in commissioned candidates, particularly teachers and school administrators, generated discussion about efforts to retain and increase the number of commissioned workers on the teaching roster.
The council discussed a draft document addressing the conduct of pastors when working with female colleagues, staff and congregants, considering how such policies — meant to protect both the pastor and others — might hinder pastoral ministry. The document will undergo further revision and legal review before being shared as a resource for circuit visitors and winkels.
Meeting on the campuses of both seminaries, the COP interacted with seminary leaders and faculties. The low number of current and incoming pastoral students remains a concern.
“The actuarial tables predict harder times coming, and we’ll learn [the church] is the Lord’s Church,” said the Rev. Dr. Dale A. Meyer, president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Meyer described efforts to create a culture of recruitment, noting, “Our job as the current and passing leaders is to facilitate the raising up of the new generation of leaders.”
Meyer reported that he and the Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr., president of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne (CTSFW), frequently communicate and are “on board together with many things,” adding: “You have two stables of professors who are aware of what is going on in the world and have the time to apply resources to the challenges of the 21st century.”
The high cost of residential, graduate education is a factor being addressed by both seminaries, which have pledged to help meet tuition costs through scholarships and grants.
“Potential students fear financial setbacks,” said Meyer. “Tuition for residential students is guaranteed — not free, but guaranteed. Residential students enter into a covenant with Concordia Seminary. The result is full coverage of their tuition from scholarships, grants from congregations and foundations, from donors through the ‘Adopt-A-Student’ program, and finally through seminary institutional funds,” said Meyer, who underscored that “the guarantee is for tuition, not living expenses.”
Meeting with the CTSFW faculty, the COP listened as the Rev. Dr. Don Wiley, assistant director of the CTSFW Spanish Language Church Worker Formation program, addressed another area of concern: equipping men to serve in ethnic-ministry settings: “Please find and encourage men to enter the Specific Ministry Pastor–Español/English program so that they may teach the faithful and reach the lost among our Hispanic/Latino neighbors here in the U.S.,” Wiley said.
Rast spoke on the dynamic character of pastoral formation over the Synod’s history. “We have always been engaged in preparing the best pastors for ministry in real-life situations,” he noted. “Circumstances are challenging, but our future is bright. Now is the time to plan together for the future.”
Rast continued: “We are blessed to be able to partner with our Synod’s districts, congregations and individual supporters who want to alleviate the financial burden of seminary, which too often acts as a barrier to future pastors and deaconesses. Through this partnership, tuition at the seminary will be 100 percent covered for incoming residential students beginning with the 2018–19 academic year. But make no mistake: this isn’t free tuition. We continue to count on the support of the church, and can only offer this grant through the careful stewardship of her gifts.”
Rast went on to describe CTSFW’s tuition coverage plan, noting that endowments cover the first 77.5 percent. After that, the seminary “works with each student … to apply for additional funding from their home districts as well as through other eligible scholarships … The seminary takes care of the remaining tuition balance through the 100 percent tuition grant. And, of course, student aid is there to help in other financial quarters. The support given by the student’s home congregation and by churches, groups and individuals who sign up to care for these future servants through the Student Adoption Program goes directly to our seminarians and deaconess students for living expenses, books, food, housing and other needs as they arise. All this is only possible through the generosity of partners in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod who care about future laborers for Jesus Christ.”
Council members discussed how to support new pastors and their families as LCMS Director of Pastoral Ministry Rev. Dr. James Baneck listened. Reporting on the Post-Seminary Applied Learning and Support (PALS) program, Baneck invited input on ways to improve the effort and encouraged participation by all districts in the PALS program, even as he heard reasons why some districts have chosen not to participate.
Several procedural items relating to how and when the council conducts its business were discussed. The following district presidents were elected to serve: Rev. David Maier, Michigan District, chairman; Richard Snow, Nebraska District, vice-chairman; Rev. Peter Lange, Kansas District, secretary; and Rev. Scott Sailer, South Dakota District, and Rev. Donald Fondow, Minnesota North District, members at-large.
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison yielded a portion of his time to the Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, executive director of the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty, and the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III, director of Church Relations.
The meeting culminated with COP participation in the call and vicarage services of both seminaries. Following each service, district presidents met informally with their new vicars and pastors-elect, joined by lay leaders from several of the congregations who will receive these men, to welcome them.
“This is always the highlight of the year … it’s just so hopeful and wonderful to see all these young men,” exclaimed Harrison after the call service at CTSFW. “This is why the church is here — to send these men out for the sake of the Gospel and to care for people and seek the lost sheep.”
Posted May 30, 2018