By Pamela Nielsen
In their first official meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of this year, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Council of Presidents assembled online for two days of video conferencing Sept. 14–15.
Since the start of national rolling lockdowns, the group has regularly gathered online with Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison and First Vice-President Rev. Peter Lange. These informal check-ins have provided weekly opportunities for reporting on and working to solve the many challenges faced by LCMS congregations, schools and rostered workers during the pandemic. The gatherings have enabled swift solutions and the sharing of resources while fostering a spirit of collaboration and support among the district presidents.
When the shutdowns began, parish pastors had to switch gears with little to no preparation as they sought to navigate ever-changing rules and restrictions set by local governments to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Distancing requirements, sanitation of the sacred vessels, face masks and online worship all created unique challenges.
The regular September meeting carried on those discussions in a formal fashion as the group considered the continuing impact of the virus across the church while looking ahead to what will happen when the pandemic subsides and the country fully reopens. Topics discussed included how the effects of COVID-19 will continue to impact worship, attendance and giving.
The council is organizing a “What’s Next Task Force” with representatives from each region. The task force will be co-chaired by Harrison and COP Chairman Rev. Dr. David P.E. Maier. Its task is to consider ways to meet the needs of congregations without pastors while upholding Synod decisions on the necessity for call and ordination for those regularly preaching and administering the Sacraments.
Harrison and Lange provided their regular reports, as did Synod Secretary Rev. Dr. John W. Sias, who shared details about nominations and elections per the Synod Constitution and Bylaws, as well as requirements for conducting business at district and Synod conventions in light of anticipated challenges due to the coronavirus.
Much of the meeting was focused on the challenges, still present some eight months into the pandemic, surrounding the provision of the Sacrament in the Divine Service, when services are often virtual, or restrictions mandated by local officials require changes to how worship is physically carried out.
The following presentations were heard over the two days, with opportunity for question and answer as well as discussion.
- “Close(d) Communion: The LCMS Position on Admission to the Lord’s Supper (with a little help from the CTCR)” — Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director, LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
- “What is Responsible Lutheran Table Fellowship Practice in Twenty-First Century North America?” — Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb, professor emeritus of Systematic Theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
- “Closed Communion: Rigid and Legalistic Impediment to the Growth of the Evangelical Practice for Those Faithful to God’s Word and the Spread of the Gospel?” — Rev. Steven Briel, chair, LCMS Board for National Mission.
- “The Lord’s Supper in the Early Christian Church” — Rev. Dr. Mark Seifrid, professor of Exegetical Theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
- “Close/Closed Communion Flowing from the Old Testament” — Rev. Dr. Daniel Brege, president, LCMS Indiana District.
The group resolved to continue their discussions on these matters under the Word of God and with prayer in future meetings. The next meeting is slated to be held in St. Louis this month with about two-thirds of the group planning to attend in person and the remainder using Zoom. The meeting will take up issues of racism and online communion.
Posted Nov. 9, 2020