By Cheryl Magness
The congregations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) have approved, by over 90%, a proposal to extend the current 2019–2022 triennium, pushing the Synod’s previously scheduled 2022 national convention to 2023 and extending the timeline for districts that wish to delay their conventions from 2021 into 2022. The measure comes as the impact of COVID-19 continues to be felt in both the church and the world.
Noting, among other concerns, that a number of districts would not be able to hold their conventions due to COVID restrictions, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison informed the LCMS Council of Presidents (COP) of his willingness to put the proposal before the Synod’s congregations, per LCMS Constitution Article XI B 8, provided there was strong support for such action within the COP. The COP voted unanimously (with one abstention) in favor of the move. Harrison also consulted with the Synod Board of Directors (BOD) in accordance with Article XI B 8.
In a Dec. 7 letter to the entire Synod, Harrison posed the question: “Shall the Synod add a year to the current 2019–2022 triennium, allowing districts to hold their conventions in either 2021 or 2022, and moving the upcoming national Synod Convention from 2022 to 2023? [Thereafter, the triennium cycle will continue forward from 2023 in three-year increments, as before (i.e., with district conventions held in 2025, 2028, etc., and Synod Conventions held in 2026, 2029, etc.).] Vote: Yes or No.”
The vote, held electronically, commenced on Jan. 1 and closed at 11:59 p.m. CST on Feb. 15. It was conducted by the LCMS Office of the Secretary and assisted by the LCMS Department of Rosters, Statistics and Research Services and the LCMS Technology Application Group. To be effective, the vote required participation of at least one-quarter of the Synod’s 5,872 congregations. The final percentage of congregations responding was 63.32%, or 3,718 votes. Of those, 90.67% — a number of votes also representing the majority of all member congregations — favored lengthening the triennium.
- 3,718 (63.32%) of the Synod’s congregations participated in the vote;
- 3,371 (90.67%) of these congregations voted “Yes”; and
- 347 (9.33%) voted “No.”
Effects of the delay
The delay of the Synod convention shifts some timelines for prior events. The national Synod office is working to make arrangements for the next regular convention of the Synod to convene in the summer of 2023 and will keep the Synod apprised as plans are finalized. The vote to delay the Synod’s national convention does not mandate that individual districts also delay their conventions; each district may decide for itself whether to proceed with its convention as scheduled in 2021 or postpone it until 2022. Congregations are advised to watch closely for communications from their districts regarding their plans to meet, either in 2021 or 2022, and to pay attention to pre-convention schedules that may be in flux.
The delay also affects other aspects of the convention timeline. The period for submission of officer, board and commission nominations for consideration by the Committee for Convention Nominations has already opened and will be held open until nine months prior to the rescheduled 2023 convention. Task forces formed by the 2019 convention are being urged to issue reports on their original schedules for the sake of districts meeting in 2021, while being free to continue to develop, revise and extend their work in the “extra” year of this triennium. Overture and report due dates, as well as dates for other registration, nomination and election processes related to the convention, will be announced when the 2023 date is finalized.
High congregational participation
LCMS Secretary Rev. Dr. John W. Sias said he was “ delighted” at the high participation rate of member congregations in the voting process.
“In the last constitutional amendment ballot, concluded after six months of voting in March 2020,” Sias noted, “only 23% of congregations participated. In this 45-day vote, the congregations in each district of the Synod more than doubled that typical rate.”
Sias also expressed appreciation to “district offices that encouraged” participation in the voting process and to Rosters, Statistics and Research Services and the Technology Application Group for developing a new electronic system that allowed “efficient, secure, and verifiable voting, with instant tabulation and the ability to identify congregations that had not yet, at any given point, registered a vote.” The same system will be used for future constitutional amendment ballots and for voter registration for Synod president.
Sias concluded, “Beyond helping districts best to accommodate full-fledged and well-attended conventions under otherwise difficult circumstances, I hope and pray this pause in our usual triennial cycle will allow precious time for renovation of some key processes and fundamental reflection on the purposes for which we come together and on how we do it. If so, this extra year might also come to bear fruit in theologically and practically richer conventions across the districts and at the national level.”
Sias also encouraged congregations that are now in the process of submitting their annual statistical reports and lay leader information to supply the requested administrative and lay leader email addresses, which will be used for official purposes such as this one to ensure congregations have timely notice and helpful information on how to participate in the governance of the Synod.
Harrison said, “This is certainly not an ideal situation. There will be extra costs. I thank the Synod’s BOD, Chairman Rev. Dr. Michael Kumm, the COP and all who have had to try to weigh this situation in the best interest of all involved. Secretary Sias, CAO Frank Simek, Senior Director of Event Planning and Procurement Lynne Marvin and others have been invaluable. Most of all, I thank the pastors and people of the LCMS for their strong response. It is decisive.
“But I also want to state clearly my thanks for those congregations who registered their vote against adding a year to the triennium. Your voice is important, and it needed to be heard. God continue to grant us all faith, hope and love in these challenging days. The Lord bless you with a clear confession of Jesus Christ and His cross and continue to make you a great blessing to many.”
Read more about the convention referendum and lengthening of the triennium.
Posted Feb. 16, 2021