CTS conference takes fresh look at urban ministry

By Jayne E. Sheafer

Participants in an Oct. 21-23 conference titled “In the World for Good” at Concordia Theological Seminary (CTS), Fort Wayne, Ind., indicated that the event definitely achieved its goal of opening up a timely conversation on urban ministry.

A panel discussion takes place during the Oct. 21-23 urban-ministry conference at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. (Kristian Bjornstad)

A panel discussion takes place during the Oct. 21-23 urban-ministry conference at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. (Kristian Bjornstad)

The conference attracted 86 clergy and lay participants from across the United States who serve in a variety of urban venues. They heard presentations from leaders in the field of urban ministry and shared experiences and ideas with each other.

“The quality of the speakers, the timeliness of the topic and the open atmosphere of sharing and learning was applauded again and again,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Pulse, associate professor of Exegetical Theology at CTS and pastor of Shepherd of the City Lutheran Church — an inner-city congregation in Fort Wayne. “The mix of speakers from both inside and outside The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod led to lively discussions and many ‘Ah ha!’ moments for participants.”

“When we first conceptualized an urban ministry conference and gathered a remarkable group of expert speakers, it was with a clear understanding that while the urban centers were growing, the church’s footprint there was shrinking,” said the Rev. Robert Shonholz, coordinator of the conference and advancement officer at CTS. “There were many organizations, including government agencies, which are more than willing to give handouts but little in the way of a hand-up. Working in the inner city must be less about dependency-creating activities and more about being relation-based if it is to be effective.”

Running throughout conference presentations and discussions was the key theme that the Synod, as well as LCMS congregations and individuals, must be more engaged in outreach and support among — rather than to — those who are living in poverty. That includes identifying those who need assistance, listening to them, pinpointing the challenges that are inhibiting them, creating a strategy to overcome these challenges, working together to help them build capacity, and then implementing a plan for accountability.

According to conference keynote speaker Rev. Dr. John Nunes, the LCMS has a good base for this in the Synod’s focus of Witness, Mercy, Life Together.

“All three components are needed [because they] engage people with the Gospel that is liberating,” said Nunes, who holds the Emil and Elfrieda Jochum Chair at Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Ind.

Nunes pointed out that the Synod has a long history of witness through many schools and congregations in cities, as well as through acts of mercy such as food banks and after-school care.

He said that life together is no less important. “It takes that life together, koinonia, to learn who these people are and walk with them. Once they are connected in this life together, change will begin.”

Nunes observed there are no easy answers, no four quick tips and three easy steps toward building up struggling urban communities. He emphasized that having a supportive network is essential and also observed that the conference brought together experts with resources to assist those serving in such communities.

In addition to Pulse and Nunes, conference presenters were:

  • the Rev. Dr. Mike Fechner, president and founder of H.I.S. BridgeBuilders, Dallas, Texas, hisbridgebuilders.org.
  • the Rev. Everette E. Greene, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, and a member of the board of directors for Building Hope in the City, Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Michael M. Miller, research fellow and director of Acton Media at the Acton Institute, and PovertyCure, Grand Rapids, Mich., povertycure.org.
  • the Rev. Dr. Mark G. Press, director of the Hoffmann Institute for Christian Outreach, St. Paul, Minn., hoffmann-institute.org.
  • Deaconess Kimberly Schave, assistant director, administration and operations, for the LCMS Office of National Mission.
  • the Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Steinbronn, mission executive and president of the LCMS New Jersey District.
  • the Rev. Charles L. Wildner, senior pastor of St. Thomas Lutheran Church, Baltimore.

Conference participants voiced their hope that In the World for Good would be the first of many conversations at CTS about working together to teach the faithful, reach the lost and care for all.

For more information on these efforts, contact Shonholz at Robert.Shonholz@ctsfw.edu or 260-452-2195.

Jayne E. Sheafer is director of Public Relations for Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.

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