By Joe Isenhower Jr.
DALLAS — Luther Goehring half-jokingly said he “felt real withdrawal” from not attending last year’s Lutheran Church Extension Fund Fall Leadership Conference in Orlando, after years of never missing one when serving two terms on the LCEF Board of Directors.
So, he welcomed the opportunity to come to this year’s conference here Nov. 16-18, after that board chose him as a member at-large.
“It’s good to be back. I missed seeing people,” the retired hospital administrator from Phoenix told Reporter – a thought obviously shared by many of the 620-plus who attended this conference — as they hugged on arrival, caught up with each other at meals and breaks, worshiped, attended workshops, and listened to speakers address Christian leadership and the work of LCEF.
The theme of this year’s conference was “Together in Christ — Building for Eternity.”
Goehring said he especially appreciated hearing LCEF President Merle Frietag’s conference report on the fund’s work and support of the Synod, and Synod President Gerald B. Kieschnick’s address to the conference.
“This is wonderful,” Dr. Allan (Al) Schmidt, of Seward, Neb., said of this year’s conference — the first one he’s attended.
But as the educator who LCMS World Mission called to start Concordia International School Shanghai in the 1990s — along with his wife, Sandy — Schmidt says he “well-appreciates LCEF,” since that school received an LCEF loan to build its facilities.
Schmidt was the founder of the Asia Lutheran Education Association, the umbrella organization serving 200 Lutheran schools in 13 different Asian countries on behalf of LCMS World Mission and is now an LCMS World Mission Asia school developer currently working in Vietnam.
Adriene Iverson, vice president of the LCMS California-Nevada-Hawaii District’s church extension fund, said she found that the conference’s opening keynote speaker, pollster George Barna, “really set the stage” for leadership challenges when he cited numerous statistics indicating that “faith in America has flat-lined,” as he put it.
Iverson said she also thought the women’s luncheon, with Dr. Mary Hilgendorf of the Women’s Leadership Institute at Mequon, Wis., “was great. Her point is well-taken that we are all called to lead in different ways.”
During the fall conference LCEF recognizes leadership in the church by honoring congregations, other Synod ministries, and individuals with at least six different leadership awards.
For the 2007 conference, those awards included recognizing 15 “million-dollar” congregations that have for the first time reached a dual milestone with LCEF — each attaining $1 million in investment support, plus at least 10 percent investor participation from their members.
Two ministries received the 2007 Fred E. Lietz Mission Project Award — named in honor of LCEF’s first president — “to recognize outstanding efforts on the part of mission projects associated with the … Synod,” as Freitag explained before presenting the award to representatives of Christ in the City/Crave Coffee House of St. Louis, and Zion Lutheran Church, Chicago.
Freitag said that with the help of an LCEF loan, Christ in the City/Crave Coffee House has been transformed from a dwindling congregation with only a handful of active members without regularly scheduled worship to a worshiping community of up to 100 people a week.
Reading from a nomination letter by Dennis Klussman, LCEF vice president for the Missouri District, Frietag said that facility — “once practically a vacant eyesore adjacent to the St. Louis University Medical School campus, is now a hub of activity as hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and visitors pass through for coffee and sandwiches while spending time studying, accessing the Internet, and learning about the various ministry activities” that occur there.
Quoting another nomination letter, Freitag explained that Zion, Chicago — a 116-year-old congregation without a pastor after first serving members who were German farmers, and then African-American — again has a pastor, is growing, and “now envisions daughtering a new French-speaking congregation welcoming immigrants” from three African nations.
Larry Ulrich, the LCEF vice president of the LCMS Northern Illinois District, also wrote that Zion — whose leadership started planning seven years ago in partnership with LCEF and the district — “is … a model for leveraging the physical assets of a debt-free, small urban congregation committed to revitalizing outreach.”
LCEF matched the 2007 conference worship service offering of $8,336, for a total of $16,672 to be equally divided as a gift to the two ministries that received the mission-project award this year.
In his conference address, Kieschnick alluded to the “basic denial of humanity” in the 1857 Dred Scott Decision that ruled “that no slave or descendant of a slave could be a U.S. citizen [and] … had no rights.” He also told about visiting “castles where slaves passed through to be sold” when he was in Ghana in September for the International Lutheran Council meeting.
Kieschnick recalled that as he stood on the walls of those castles, he asked himself “whether or not I would have had the courage to stand up as a leader in the socio-religious climate of the day and say, ‘Set the people free.’”
“Are we not being called to stand up and lead in such a culture of inhumanity and atrocities, even today?” Kieschnick asked his audience. “The faces of slavery are obviously different. Yet, they still exist — drug and alcohol abuse, child and spousal abuse, sexual crimes and sexual promiscuity, obsession and addiction to pornography, the fear of shootings, random killings, physical harm, disintegrating marriages and families, global religious destabilization and disintegration — all under a cloud of terror and amid threats of terror.”
“We have been called by God to see the atrocities, to take a stand for truth and justice, and to lead His people in this world today,” Kieschnick continued. “As the church, we cannot simply stand by, oblivious to the inhuman and ungodly practices that are occurring right in front of our very eyes. We are given the charge to encounter the world with the message of freedom through Christ our Lord.”
“We must lead the army of God into the battlefield of our culture, engaging it with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about our gracious God,” Kieschnick later said in his address. “We cannot be confined to a role on the sidelines w