By Cheryl Magness
On Nov. 17 and 18, 2023, at Concordia University Wisconsin (CUW), Mequon, Wis., DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel hosted a conference titled “Courageous Conversations: Christian Responses to the Cultural Wreckage of Sexuality.” In addition, during a banquet the evening of Nov. 17, DOXOLOGY celebrated 15 years of service to the church and honored Dr. Beverly Yahnke for her even longer tenure as one of DOXOLOGY’s founders as well as its executive director for Christian Counsel.
After Evening Prayer in CUW’s Chapel of Christ Triumphant on Nov. 17, DOXOLOGY Board of Directors Chairman Deaconess Pamela J. Nielsen presented Yahnke with a watercolor and ink painting of the Woman at the Well commissioned by DOXOLOGY from artist Jonathan Mayer of Scapegoat Studio. Nielsen said the painting, based on the account of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in John 4, depicts “a woman who received God’s mercy and went to tell others. That’s what you have done, Beverly. We thank you, and we thank God for you.”
A group met in 2006 to begin the process of starting a nonprofit organization. Shortly thereafter, DOXOLOGY became a Recognized Service Organization of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and, in December 2007, sent a mass mailing to LCMS clergy announcing the first DOXOLOGY event for pastors in July 2008.
Yet DOXOLOGY’s genesis goes back even farther to December 1998, when a group calling itself the “Spiritual Care Recovery Project” began meeting at Elm Grove Evangelical Lutheran Church, Elm Grove, Wis. The project was the brainchild of Elm Grove’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Harold Senkbeil, who had long pondered the need to train pastors in theologically sound strategies for caring for their own mental health as well as that of their flock.
Senkbeil shared his idea with Yahnke, an Elm Grove member who was, at the time, a practicing clinical psychologist and a member of the psychology faculty at CUW. With funding from the Elm Grove Lutheran Foundation, the two invited a small group of LCMS theologians, both pastors and seminary professors, to come together to explore strategies for fostering mental health in light of biblical truth as well as contemporary Christian psychology.
Over the next few years, project participants researched biblical, historical and pastoral texts regarding the nature of the soul. Drawing on that research along with insights gained from contemporary Christian psychology, they prepared and presented a number of scholarly papers on mental health and the care of the soul. The insights gained from those presentations were key to what would become the DOXOLOGY classic program, a three-part cycle of training and renewal for pastors, their wives and their lay leaders.
Thank you, Dr. Yahnke
On Friday, Nov. 17, at the River Club of Mequon, Wis., a veritable “Who’s Who” of the LCMS brought greetings and congratulations via letter, video or in-person remarks to Yahnke and the entire DOXOLOGY organization. Speakers included LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison; the Rev. Keith Boheim, executive director of the Schwan Foundation, an early and ongoing source of funding; Dr. Erik Ankerberg, CUW president; the presidents of both LCMS seminaries; the Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Weber, executive director of the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany; the Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, professor emeritus at Australian Lutheran College; and Deaconess Sarah Longmire, president of the Concordia Deaconess Conference.
Harrison spoke of DOXOLOGY’s impact — “Is it only 15 years? It seems like you’ve always been around” — and thanked Yahnke for her “steadfastness and joy … in the work that you have so magnificently founded by the Lord’s hand and which He has so blessed.” Boheim, a college classmate and longtime friend of Yahnke’s, called DOXOLOGY one of the “highlights of the projects I’ve been involved in.”
Ankerberg highlighted Yahnke’s past service at CUW, noting, “People do not remember [college] presidents, but they do remember great faculty.” Kleinig thanked Yahnke for “the blessing you have been to me personally” as well as to the church, especially in teaching “the wisdom of the cross … that comes from fearing and loving God and leads to having rightly ordered lives in a disorderly … world.”
Senkbeil, who was honored for his service to DOXOLOGY with a festschrift in 2016, gave a brief history of his 30-year-long “treasured” working relationship and friendship with Yahnke and of her efforts to show “how counseling and pastoral care intersect” and complement each other.
“She has given of herself over and over again to families and pastors and church workers,” Senkbeil said. “I doubt there’s a table here that hasn’t been touched by her care and compassion.”
Yahnke, who had not known the anniversary banquet would also be paying tribute to her, said, “It has been my joy … to work with some very gifted people, including Harold Senkbeil. … We’ve been blessed with so many that have supported what we’ve done. … I thank God for all of you.”
Since its launch in 2008, DOXOLOGY has served an estimated 900 pastors through its classic program. In 2023 alone, it conducted over 40 conferences for pastors, commissioned ministers, teachers, laity and pastors’ wives. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, DOXOLOGY partnered with the LCMS to offer multiple “Take Heart” respite retreats for LCMS pastors and workers. Internationally, DOXOLOGY has offered retreats for pastors in Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Canada, England, Latvia, Lithuania and South Africa, and for LCMS missionaries in Taiwan and the Philippines. DOXOLOGY has also helped prepare new LCMS missionaries for deployment.
In 2013, DOXOLOGY founded the Collegium, a group of LCMS pastors who are DOXOLOGY “graduates” that are regularly approached by their peers for advice and counsel. (Two of those graduates now serve as district presidents.) The Collegium’s primary purpose is to model the pastoral art of caring for souls, enhance the body of knowledge regarding that art, and publish its journal, Seelsorger: A Journal for the Contemporary Cure of Souls.
In 2020, the Rev. David Fleming became DOXOLOGY’s executive director for Spiritual Care, and Senkbeil assumed emeritus status, stepping back from actively directing DOXOLOGY but continuing to oversee the Collegium and the journal.
‘Christ at the center’
At the Nov. 17 anniversary banquet, almost 150 of DOXOLOGY’s strongest supporters came together to celebrate the last 15 years and to pray for DOXOLOGY’s continued service to the church. One of those was Carol Feuerhahn, widow of the Rev. Dr. Ronald R. Feuerhahn, former professor of Historical Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Ronald served on DOXOLOGY’s founding team, writing and presenting several of the early papers.
“Ron grew up in a time when you were supposed to give ‘psychological’ sermons,” Carol said, referring to preaching that is more informed by psychology than by Law and Gospel. “It was a big thing. So it surprised me at first how willing he was to accept DOXOLOGY and its premises. But it was the way they approached it, with practical help but with Christ always at the center.”
Another 15 years
Yahnke says that, in addition to the Schwan Foundation and, early on, the Siebert Foundation, the LCMS has played a pivotal part in DOXOLOGY’s journey.
“DOXOLOGY is forever grateful for the ongoing encouragement and financial support of the LCMS, with our very first funding coming from LCMS World Relief and Human Care. We remain deeply thankful to the LCMS Office of National Mission for its history of generous funding that has continued to sustain our programming throughout our years of service.”
Asked about the next 15 years, Yahnke says DOXOLOGY will stay the course.
“The primary purpose of our organization is to provide training, mentoring and consultation services for pastors seeking to enhance their ability to help people struggling with the ever-increasing personal, family and social complexities of contemporary life. The retreat training environment, grounded in Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, ensures that pastors will be emotionally and spiritually refreshed and equipped by their participation.
“DOXOLOGY provides a safe environment for clergy to reflect on their own spiritual and emotional health and assists them to review and enhance their professional competencies and skills as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s sacred mysteries. DOXOLOGY strengthens pastors so they can more faithfully pastor others.”
In 2024, the LCMS Office of National Mission is funding two DOXOLOGY projects: a series of “Take Heart” retreats for LCMS educators and commissioned workers, and a series of conferences on Christian sexuality.
The “Take Heart” retreats will underscore participants’ identity as God’s baptized children and offer opportunities for rest and refreshment in God’s Word; resources for flourishing, not merely surviving, in their work; and strategies for personal and professional resilience.
The Christian sexuality conferences will provide Biblical wisdom, resources and skills for equipping pastors, commissioned ministers, teachers and parishioners to understand and appreciate Christian sexuality as God’s good gift. The conferences will also equip participants to care for and respond with greater confidence to the increasing number of LGBTQ adults and transgender children and their families in LCMS schools and parishes.
All DOXOLOGY events include worship that keeps God’s Word at the center.
For more information, visit doxology.us.
Posted Jan. 31, 2024