By Kevin Armbrust
“The 2023 Synod convention will take place in Milwaukee July 29–Aug. 3,” announced Lynne Marvin, senior director of Travel and Meeting Planning for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). This announcement reflected the tenor of much of the Board of Directors (BOD) meeting Aug. 26 in St. Louis — continuing the work of the church while dealing with the effects of COVID-19.
After BOD Chairman Rev. Dr. Michael Kumm called the meeting to order, he invited Chaplain (Army Lt. Col.) Steven C. Hokana, assistant director of LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces, to open the meeting with a devotion based on Luther’s commentary on the Magnificat, written as a gift to his prince.
“Leadership techniques come and go,” noted Hokana. “As Lutherans, we have something to say about leadership: Number one, read God’s Word. Number two, worship.”
“I have a list of things that we have been up to during COVID and what this board has enabled,” said LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison. He reviewed the Synod’s accomplishments in the last year, noting that it has:
- Revised the whole budget;
- Reduced force and cost;
- Secured Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, which have now all been forgiven;
- Helped congregations by advising them on obtaining PPP loans and moving forward;
- Partnered with districts to produce over 900 grants for church workers to help them during COVID;
- Partnered with Alliance Defending Freedom to fight unjust regulations;
- Cared for over 300 individuals on the mission field — including some who were critically ill;
- Recruited more missionaries;
- Worked to ensure that donors remain fully aware of how we are using their funds;
- Supported the seminaries to the tune of $4 million;
- Started the Livonian Lutheran project — an online seminary based in Riga, Latvia, taught by LCMS missionaries; and
- Hosted hybrid Making Disciples for Life conferences.
Harrison also noted:
- The Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) addressed online Communion, which arose when churches were shut down;
- The church worker recruitment initiative is moving along;
- Due to the Synod’s role as leaders in the pro-life movement, the March for Life invited LCMS leaders to a scaled-down event in 2021;
- The Synod delayed the convention cycle to allow all districts to hold their conventions before the national convention;
- The president’s office worked with the International Lutheran Council to publish a document condemning actions by Finland against Lutherans there who are standing up for the biblical view of marriage;
- Disaster Response’s LERT (Lutheran Early Response Team) program produced a chainsaw manual; and
- PALS (Post-Seminary Applied Learning and Support) is going well.
Harrison’s report also expressed thanks for the new presidents at both Concordia University, Nebraska, Seward, Neb., and Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. “I just preached at the installation of Dr. Bernard Bull at Concordia, Nebraska, which included a couple of texts from Daniel, including the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,” noted Harrison. “I asked him afterward who chose the texts and he said that he did, to reflect his resolve that our schools will not back down in the face of opposition.”
Concluding his report, Harrison addressed the board, “I want to thank you for all your work, and I thank God for it. Yes, we have weaknesses and we make mistakes, but I am proud of this board. I am proud of our staff. I am proud of our work. And I stand by it.”
The Rev. Kevin D. Robson, LCMS chief mission officer, reported that he is working with the LCMS Boards for National and International Mission on needed improvements on ends policies. Robson also noted that, as of July 1, all four international regions use the same accounting system, allowing them to coordinate in real time.
This change will greatly benefit the efficiency and cooperation of all in the Office of International Mission (OIM).
The Office of National Mission (ONM) held hybrid conferences during the last year and has worked to secure a platform that will improve the ability to facilitate such conferences in the future. Disaster Response hosted a conference in October, and LCMS Youth Ministry is preparing for the Youth Gathering in Houston in 2022.
“The Synod is exceedingly complex in its activities,” explained Robson during his report. “The Gospel drives it all, of course, but this is the church in a messy world.”
Robson updated the board on the ongoing work of the ONM and OIM, along with LCMS Communications and the Office of Pastoral Education, as they serve the Synod in various ways in line with the Synod’s seven mission priorities, the Making Disciples for Life triennial mission emphasis, and according to convention resolutions.
‘Ahead of budget’
“Every area finished ahead of budget,” said Ross Stroh, executive director of LCMS Accounting, reporting on the Synod’s financial position as of June 30. On June 11, the Synod received news that the $4 million PPP loan had been forgiven. This, combined with reduced spending and contributions from donors, resulted in 236 days of cash on hand.
Keith Frndak, chairman of the audit committee, reported that his committee has approved external auditors Brown Smith Wallace, who have begun pre-audit work. After the LCMS signed a contract with the firm, Brown Smith Wallace was acquired by Armanino LLP. This change, however, should not adversely affect the LCMS’ relationship with the firm.
Resolution 7-03 committee
The 2019 Res. 7-03 committee’s proposal — which called for a new governance plan for the Concordia universities — was approved and distributed to the Synod for comment with a deadline of Sept. 30. “What I have heard is almost all extremely positive,” said Christian Preus, the committee’s chairman, regarding feedback on the proposal. “The 7-03 committee and the [Concordia University System (CUS) board’s] standards drafting committee, who wrote the LIMOs [Lutheran Identity Mission Outcomes], think it should be a deep theological review by the Synod. This would be beneficial for both the Synod and the universities.”
If approved, the proposal will eliminate the CUS and form a Commission on University Education, which will focus on accreditation of theological education at the universities.
Both the 7-03 committee’s initial bylaw proposal and the drafted LIMOs, approved by the CUS board for dissemination, were available for the Synod at-large to review until Sept. 30. The 7-03 committee, which next meets in November, will evaluate the comments received and work to make any necessary changes.
Larry Harrington, chairman of the personnel committee, reported that the search for a new Synod chief financial officer continues. Interviews of the top candidates will begin in mid-September, with the goal of narrowing the list prior to the November BOD meeting. The committee also presented two candidates to fill the vacancy on the Concordia Plans/Concordia Plan Services board of trustees and directors that resulted from the death of Dennis Becker. The BOD later selected David Hawk.
The BOD voted on several action items before moving into executive session. Among the items voted on were a measure granting approval to LCMS Texas District bylaw language as conforming to Bylaw 22.214.171.124; member appointments for the board of the Synod’s mission corporation in the Dominican Republic; revisions to the BOD policy manual; and the distribution of a $425,000 trust, according to the recommendation of the audit committee.
After lunch, Harrison addressed recent personnel changes in the president’s office. “[The Rev. Dr.] Jon Vieker, who worked for the [LCMS] Commission on Worship for a long time before coming to the president’s office, was called as the dean of chapel to Concordia Seminary. It was the right thing for him to do to take the call.” The Rev. Jeffrey Hemmer has joined the president’s office as a result of this change.
“Jeff is a very capable pastor, an excellent writer,” noted Harrison. Kumm welcomed Hemmer and said, “It’s a privilege to have Jeff in the president’s office.”
“The Board of Directors has stayed quite busy over the course of time that the pandemic has suppressed in-person meetings,” said Kumm. “The business of the church continues, and we have had to stay on top of things.
“This board has had a full plate, and I am proud of how our members have stepped up. We thank God for the blessings of increased giving and revenue during this time, allowing us to remain stable financially now and into the immediate future.”
Posted Oct. 20, 2021