By Pamela Nielsen
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Council of Presidents (COP) met online the week of Feb. 4 under the Word of God and in prayer. In a devotion led by LCMS Sixth Vice-President Rev. Benjamin Ball, Ball pointed the group to 2 Corinthians 12, where St. Paul asks his Lord to take away his thorn in the flesh.
“There’s often the one thing that hurts [you in your office]; a thorn may be in your flesh or perhaps in your spirit,” said Ball. “Satan is attacking, and there’s nothing you can do about it except to go to your Lord and ask for His deliverance. … So hear Jesus, when He replies to St. Paul. … ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness through our Lord Jesus Christ.’”
The three-and-a-half-day virtual meeting agenda was packed with reports, presentations and other business. Synod Secretary Rev. Dr. John Sias provided detailed information on the high rate of participation by congregations in the vote to extend the triennium, delaying the Synod convention for one year, to 2023.
Sias fielded questions and explained how a vote to extend the triennium would impact convention processes at the district and Synod levels. Detailed communications regarding the timeline for a 2023 Synod convention will be distributed once a definite date is set. Districts are busy communicating with their congregations as schedules may have shifted — or may yet shift. On the Synod level, he noted that efforts are underway to simplify and reorganize the convention webpage with the decision to move from a postcard notification system. He also underscored the importance of congregations providing LCMS Rosters and Statistics with up-to-date email addresses.
“We’re going to rely much more on those email contacts of the congregational leadership,” Sias said, “to make it dead simple for them to participate and give them more active links to useful stuff … and we hope it will encourage increased participation.”
Prompted by questions and feedback coming from the districts regarding the role of the district president in a congregational controversy, Sias noted a recent opinion of the Synod’s Commission on Constitutional Matters (Op. 20-2951, Jan. 15–16, 2021).
“It was a good opportunity to address this ‘fundamental article,’ ” said Sias, referring to Article VII in the Synod Constitution, “and what it means that Synod is ‘only advisory.’ Well, it means that congregations need to make their own decisions, but it also means that it is your job as district presidents to advise authoritatively on the basis of the Word of God and the Lutheran Confessions as they regulate doctrine and practice in the Synod.” Sias underscored that “when you come [in] doing that, it would be inadequate to consider what you’re saying as mere advice, because, of course, the Word of God is never just mere advice, and so it gets to the nature of your office and the relation of your office to the congregations.”
LCMS First Vice-President Rev. Peter Lange reviewed the COP’s work, since 2016, of implementing Resolution 13-02A, which dealt with licensed lay deacons in the Synod, clarifying and further explaining the resolution’s directives that now govern districts regarding the remaining deacons. “I’m simply trying to facilitate what the convention has given to all of us to do,” said Lange, who reiterated the many routes to ordination available in the Synod.
Study and discussion
As part of their ongoing education series organized by the program committee, the group listened and learned from the Rev. A. Trevor Sutton, author and pastor at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Okemos, Mich., on “The Theology of Technology”; Dr. Bernard Bull, president of Concordia University, Nebraska, Seward, Neb., on “The Future of the Church — 2021 and Beyond”; and LCMS Minnesota South District President Rev. Dr. Lucas Woodford on “Responding to Critical Race Theory.” All three presentations fostered much discussion in both the full group and the COP’s smaller koinonia groups.
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison gave an overview of the state of the Synod, reporting on the recent Making Disciples for Life conferences and other efforts in the LCMS offices of National Mission and Pastoral Education.
Harrison described his and LCMS Fifth Vice-President Rev. Christopher Esget’s involvement in this year’s National March for Life in Washington, D.C., which was significantly scaled back in the aftermath of the Capitol riot that took place three weeks earlier. A very small number of hand-picked pro-life leaders were invited to participate in the event, including Harrison and Esget.
Harrison introduced the Rev. Ted Krey, director of the Synod’s Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region, who provided an overview of the ever-expanding work in his region. Concordia the Reformer Seminary in Palmar Arriba, Dominican Republic, continues to prepare men for the ministry who are called to serve parishes and mission starts throughout the region. A companion effort, VDMA, is a growing digital library of theological works in Spanish that has become a key resource for both seminary classes and continuing education of pastors throughout the region.
Krey highlighted a new initiative in collaboration with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB). The LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM) has partnered through the LAC and Africa regions to place pastors in seven countries. The IELB and LCMS are working to place Brazilian pastors as alliance missionaries working alongside of LCMS ones. An alliance missionary is a Lutheran pastor from a sister church who is called by that church but engages in missionary service on the OIM’s behalf.
The IELB is an LCMS partner church that began in 1904 as the LCMS Brazil District. It remained a district of the LCMS until 1980. Today, the independent church body has nearly 2,000 congregations and a quarter-million members.
Call service plans
The council discussed plans for future meetings with continued COVID-19 restrictions in place across the country and their great desire, after a year, to meet in person. Chief among the concerns expressed was how to gather in April, as is custom, by dividing the meeting between both seminaries. The weeklong traveling meeting normally enables the full COP to attend the vicarage and call placement services and meet, in person, those men who will be serving in their districts.
The annual standing-room-only services will look much different this year as both seminaries continue to limit how many may gather in their chapels. After considering various options, the council resolved to meet virtually and work with the seminaries to connect with the men placed in their districts. A strong contingent of the COP will be at both call and vicarage services, and most of the Praesidium will be at both.
Reflecting on the meeting after its completion, Harrison said, “While COVID-19 and its effects on the church linger, it’s clear that work is returning to a new normal. The well-being of pastors, church workers and congregations is of deep concern. There’s a lot of fatigue.
“Our people and parishes have experienced the gamut of good and bad. District presidents have their hands full with all the normal challenges in addition to the return of more regular needs and tasks. But the spirit of the council is good. The Lord blesses His church most profoundly through crosses.”
Posted April 12, 2021/Updated April 21, 2021