By Joe Isenhower Jr.
Dr. Samuel H. Nafzger says he doubts “there has ever been such an assemblage” in the Synod as those invited to its third theological convocation, Aug. 18-20 at the Marriott St. Louis — Airport.
Gathered around the convocation theme of “Carrying out God’s Mission in the 21st Century: the Relationship between Polity and Theology” will be 250 Synod leaders — the Board of Directors, Corporate Synod Executives, presidents of the two Synod seminaries and 10 Concordia University System schools, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR), the Commission on Constitutional Matters, Council of Presidents (COP), heads of Concordia Publishing House and the two auxiliaries of the Synod — the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League and the International Lutheran Laymen’s League, and 100 rostered and lay leaders from the 35 districts (many of them delegates to last year’s Synod convention).
Add to that guest list two illustrious married couples from the past — Dr. Martin and Katie Luther, and Dr. C.F.W. and Emilie Walther. (More about them later.)
With unveiling of the preliminary proposals of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance planned at the closing convocation session, other main elements of the program, in order by day, will be:
Devotions, Bible study led by CTCR Executive Director Joel Lehenbauer, and table talks will occur throughout the convocation.
Co-sponsored by the CTCR and the COP, the convocation “will essentially be a tutorial on how a confessional Lutheran church goes about organizing itself for more effective and efficient carrying out of God’s mission,” Nafzger said.
“Lutherans do not believe that the Bible lays out the specific organizational structure and governance we must have in the church,” Nafzger told Reporter. “But at the same time, there are fundamental theological principles on which its structure and governance should be based.”
The task force has identified a number of theological principles outlined in a booklet titled Congregation — Synod — Church, “which it believes are important as the theological underpinnings for the structure and governance of the Synod — and the topic that the seminary presidents will discuss at the convocation’s first session,” Nafzger said. He pointed out that those principles have been studied and discussed throughout the Synod.
As stated in a June 10, 2005 memo from Kieschnick to those serving on the 13-member Blue Ribbon Task Force for Synod Structure and Governance, its task has been “to do a thorough, zero-based assessment of the entirety of the system of governance and organizational structure of [the Synod] and to make recommendations for improvements.”
Those recommendations are expected to be addressed in the preliminary proposals Greene will present to the convocation. The task force’s work culminates at the Synod’s July 10-17, 2010 convention in Houston, when delegates consider specific task-force recommendations during the convention’s first two days.
Between this year’s convocation and the 2010 convention, the task force “will seek to build consensus throughout the Synod,” Nafzger said, by discussing its proposals with each Board of Directors of the 35 districts, and by presenting the proposals at all the districts’ conventions next year. The proposals will be the main topic of discussion during nine regional caucuses for delegates to the 2010 convention — “also a part of the consensus-building process,” Nafzger explained.
So, what about those two “special-guest” couples at the convocation — the Luthers and the Walthers?
Portrayed by Rev. Clifford “Hannibal” Frederick of Hoffman Estates, Ill., “Martin Luther” will give advice on church structure; and “C.F.W. Walther” (first president of the Synod and of the St. Louis seminary) will be called on by Kieschnick at the communion service to share his thoughts on church and ministry.
Jan Struck, a Lutheran entertainer from Appleton, Wis., will impersonate Katie Luther as she gives advice on “how people conduct themselves at the table,” Nafzger said, and Emilie Walther, who will welcome convocation participants to the reception at the seminary.
Nafzger summed up the convocation this way:
“We’ll study the theological principles that are to inform how we organize ourselves, take a look at the world we live in today and tomorrow, examine in some detail the mission that God has given us to do and how we carry it out most effectively and efficiently – all the while keeping in mind the necessity that we restructure in line with what we believe, teach, and confess on the basis of the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.
“And we’ll be doing this on holy ground,” he said of the convocation meeting in St. Louis, after the first two (in 2002 and 2003) in Phoenix.
“We will be breathing the air of our forefathers,” Nafzger said. “That doesn’t mean we will speak German like they did, but we have the same mission and message to proclaim — even as we go about examining the structure and governance of ou