By David Strand
The committee appointed by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Board of Directors (BOD) in response to 2019 Convention Res. 7–03 to conceive of a new governance model for the Concordia University System (CUS) cleared a major hurdle at the Board’s Feb. 19 virtual meeting.
While the work of the committee is not finished — feedback from the Synod-at-large has yet to be received and reacted to, and a “couple challenging issues remain that we will keep working on,” according to committee chairman Christian Preus, who also serves as chairman of the BOD’s Governance Committee — enough progress had been made by February for Preus to present a proposed report for the BOD’s consideration. The Board unanimously approved the adoption of the report, which included a proposed new governance plan for the CUS. This sets the stage for a built-in, six-month period of comment (commencing not later than 15 months prior to the start of the 2023 convention) by the Synod’s congregations, districts and circuits, the universities themselves, and others.
As for the “challenging issues” Preus mentioned, despite many suggestions for changes to the selection and size of boards of regents and the election process for school presidents, none yet, he said, has satisfied a consensus of the committee. He noted further that, though the committee has already received and carefully weighed a great deal of feedback on earlier proposal drafts, some regent chairs and presidents have expressed a desire for more direct input in at least parts of the process.
From the outset of its assignment, the committee has followed a “two-kingdom approach,” making absolutely clear the university boards of regents’ ultimate flexibility in, and responsibility for, their own fiduciary affairs — this being the “left-hand kingdom.” Meanwhile, in the “kingdom of the right,” a proposed Commission on University Education (CUE) would take the place of the CUS, a separate Synodwide corporate entity. The CUE, as a “commission,” would deal strictly with the ecclesiastical functions and connections of the schools — matters that are central to their purpose.
An important responsibility of the CUE would be to establish an “ecclesiastical accreditation process” for each university, the aim being, said Preus, to “strengthen the schools’ relationship to the Synod and enhance their Lutheran identity.” He said he was “cautiously optimistic” the new plan would help in this regard.
“The committee wants the Synod to have a simpler yet closer connection to the schools,” he said.
Under the new model, if adopted by the 2023 Synod convention, the BOD’s already minimal oversight of property and business matters on the campuses would be eliminated, these areas becoming the responsibility of the schools’ boards of regents and administrators.
The universities would be free to leave the Synod, if they chose. Those that stay would be answerable, in working through their ecclesiastical accreditation with the CUE, to “LIMOS” — Lutheran Identity and Mission Outcome Standards — essentially a policy manual of expectations for, and procedures to ensure and further, the schools’ “effective preparation of church workers, thorough preparation of Lutheran laity for service and leadership in the church, and immersion of all students in a faithful and forthright Lutheran context and curriculum.”
Ecclesiastical accreditation is different, of course, from the academic accreditation bestowed by regional agencies overseen by the U.S. Department of Education. The CUE would be responsible for adopting and maintaining the LIMOS, a draft of which is also expected to be shared with the Synod before the proposal comes to the convention; for directing the accreditation process; and ultimately for making accreditation decisions regarding the institutions in general and their church-worker training programs in particular.
The Board heard financial reports from Frank Simek, Chief Administrative Officer and Acting Chief Financial Officer, and Ross Stroh, Executive Director of LCMS Accounting.
Stroh reported that, at the end of seven months in the current fiscal year, the Synod stood $4.9 million ahead of budget. He noted a favorable variance ($1.1 million) in the mission-and-ministry program areas, thanks in large part to reduced spending. Management & General revenue is ahead of expenses by $3.3 million, most of this owing to unrealized gains on investments.
“We’re sitting well with money in the bank,” Stroh said, “and our assets-to-liabilities ratios look good. Some previously budgeted expenditures are not being made because of COVID limitations, though of course we’re still paying for salaries, benefits and utilities.”
Simek said that general unrestricted gifts and grants “are doing great; in fact, our generous contributors have been marvelous in this regard.” Restricted gifts, on the other hand, “are a bit of a different story. We’re doing OK — close to where we were last year — but a little below our three-year average.”
Both men discussed the 10 accounts that make up the BOD’s Board-designated funds and asked the Board if any changes should be made to the designations. Board Chairman Rev. Dr. Michael L. Kumm assigned this question to the BOD’s Audit Committee, asking it to bring a proposal in the form of a resolution to the Board’s May meeting.
Other officer reports
In his remarks to the Board, Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison applauded the “extraordinary participation” of congregations in the recent “Congregational Referendum on Convention Deferral,” in which the vote was overwhelmingly in favor of extending the triennium by one year, allowing district conventions to be held in either 2021 or 2022 and moving the national Synod convention from 2022 to 2023. (Earlier in the meeting, Synod Secretary Rev. Dr. John W. Sias, in reviewing how the vote transpired, said “participation by all districts of the Synod” was “fantastic … remarkable.”)
Harrison commended LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Peter K. Lange for his ongoing work on the issue of licensed lay deacons. “The Synod in convention has voted to phase out [service in essentially a pastoral capacity by] these unordained laymen,” he said, “with district presidents and the Colloquy Committee having to approve any exceptions — usually to keep a struggling congregation from failing or closing.
“Pastor Lange,” Harrison continued, “is moving things along in the right direction. We currently have nine alternate routes to the pastoral office, and I don’t think we need another.”
Harrison spoke of the Office of International Mission (OIM) as being “full go,” citing the examples of the Board for International Mission placing nine Brazilian “alliance missionaries” in Latin America and Africa and of the OIM having 300 days of funding on hand for its network-supported missionaries. As for the Office of National Mission (ONM), he said “people are still participating in the ONM’s January Making Disciples for Life virtual conference by downloading podcasts from the event.”
Lamenting the recent closure announcement from Concordia College New York, Bronxville, N.Y., Harrison called the situation “painful. It’s very hard [for a Synod college] to function in a context with so few Lutherans, on the edge of Lutheranism. It’s just difficult to survive.”
He said he was “very pleased” about the election of the Rev. Dr. Thomas J. Egger as president of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. “I’ve never heard a negative word about the man.”
Harrison then congratulated Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, for attaining a 10-year accreditation extension. “Accolades are in order,” he said, “because 10 years is as high as it goes.”
LCMS Chief Mission Officer Rev. Kevin D. Robson said the five programmatic units that report to him “continue to operate under the seven mission priorities that frame our work.” Along those lines, “the Boards for National and International Mission jointly issued a resource document [“LCMS Triennial Mission and Ministry Emphases and Priorities: Ideas and Guidance for Walking Together” — lcms.org/doc/emphases-priorities-resource-guide] that will inform discussion on, and possible amendments to, the church’s triennial mission emphases and priorities going forward. The feedback so far has been good.”
Robson said his office is working diligently on FY22 budget proposals for the BOD’s May meeting. These proposals will include requests for much-needed staff in the OIM and ONM, both of which have suffered distressful cuts in personnel in recent years.
He described the “very successful launch” of the Riga [Latvia] Luther Academy’s online, English-speaking, bachelor-of-theology degree program. As of now, he said, “30 full-time and four part-time students from Italy to Pakistan are participating in seminary course offerings.” (The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the LCMS have been in altar-and-pulpit fellowship since 2001.)
Further, he said, “We have piloted ‘LCMS Missions Unpacked,’ a delightful set of mission resources that bring people, in effect, into the field. It’s not fancy, but it gives users a wealth of tools, insights and information about our four global regions.”
Another highlight, he added, is that “the ONM’s ever-expanding Making Disciples for Life Internet Resource Center is delivering many witness-and-outreach resources that used to be delivered in person, pre-COVID, at conferences.”
In light of the postponed 2022 convention, the Board gave Lynne Marvin, the Synod’s Director of Travel and Meeting Planning, more time to research venues and costs for the 2023 convention (and the 2026 convention, for that matter).
Details on the three committee reports — Governance, Audit and Personnel — as well as summaries of the action items (mainly appointments made) are available in the meeting minutes (pending) on the BOD’s webpage.
Two noteworthy items from the Personnel Committee were (1) the reconstitution of the search for a full-time Chief Financial Officer. “COVID derailed our original search,” said Chairman Kumm. “It’s time to take a fresh look at this”; and (2) a letter of appreciation sent by Kumm on behalf of the Board, thanking LCMS International Center staff for a job well done throughout the difficult months of the pandemic.
The BOD next meets May 21–22 in St. Louis. It will be the Board’s first in-person meeting since February 2020.
Posted March 8, 2021