Worship conference planners seek 'collegial' input

Organizers of the Synod’s Model Theological Conference on Worship, set for Jan. 11-13 in St. Louis, are taking deliberate steps to include pastors, musicians, and laity who represent a range of worship styles from “traditional/liturgical” to “contemporary/contextual.”

In guidelines for district presidents to nominate five parish representatives, thworship-lehenbauer.gife conference planners are seeking a mix of participants who are “conversant” with “traditional/liturgical” and “contemporary/contextual” worship styles.  Also invited are chaplains from the 10 LCMS colleges and two seminaries, executives of boards and commissions, and members of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) and the Commission on Worship.
“Our deep desire is to have people engage in fruitful conversation about the real-life practical and theological issues related to worship and worship practices in our Synod,” said Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, CTCR executive director. “It’s difficult to think of an issue that is more central and critical in the life of the Synod.”

The CTCR and the Commission on Worship are sponsoring the conference. Their stated goal is to “bworship-johnson.gifuild greater understanding of our theology of worship and foster further discussion of worship practices that are consistent with that theology.” The goal comes from resolutions of the 2007 and 2004 LCMS conventions that called for such a conference.

The conference is a beginning for worship dialogue, according to Rev. David Johnson, executive director of the worship commission. He said, “The goal is to have a wide variety of people who are well-versed and winsome in traditional/liturgical and contemporary/contextual forms. We’re trying to bring people together to engage in healthy conversations.”

Lehenbauer and Johnson commented that the “Theses on Worship,” distributed recently by the Council of Presidents, also contributes to collegial discussion. Noting that it was approved unanimously, Johnson said the document was “thoughtfully conceived.”

This is the fourth synodwide theological conference. It is intended to provide a model for conferences in district and local settings. For this conference, the planners increased the district representation to six people, including the president.

The conference is funded entirely by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans Foundation as part of its block grant to the Synod.

The conference theme is “Toward a Theology of Worship That Is …” and leads to topical sessions of the program:

  • “… Scriptural and Confessional,” with an opening presentation by Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs, professor of exegetical theology, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.
  • “… Pastoral and Sacramental,” opened by Rev. Larry Vogel, CTCR associate executive director.
  • “… Personal and Contextual,” begun by Dr. Dien Taylor, pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Bronx, N.Y.
  • “… Missional and Vocational,” opened by Rev. Mason Beecroft, senior pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Tulsa, Okla., and Rev. Jeffrey Cloeter, pastor of Reliant Church, an urban ministry at the site of St. Stephens Lutheran Church in St. Louis.
  • “… Practical and Theological,” begun by Dr. Charles Arand, professor of systematic theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.

The format includes responses from seminary faculty, musicians, and pastors, plus a variety of discussion formats. Ted Kober, president of Ambassadors of  Reconciliation, will serve as conference moderator.

In their letter with selection guidelines to district presidents, Lehenbauer and Johnson acknowledge that worship has been a topic of debate and even dissension in the Synod. “While it may be tempting to resign ourselves to a polarized status quo, we all know that such division is not pleasing to the Lord and that we sorely need — under God’s blessing — renewed unity in this vital area of our church and life.”

The conference planning committee — which includes representatives from the two commissions, both LCMS seminaries, and the Council of Presidents — provided detailed parameters for selecting participants. District presidents were asked to select two parish pastors, two musicians, and one lay member.

The district presidents were encouraged to identify one pastor who is conversant with “traditional/liturgical” worship and one conversant with “contemporary/contextual” worship. There are similar guidelines for musicians and laity.

The conference will include worship in several styles and will meet at Concordia Lutheran Church in Kirkwood, Mo., which has both a traditional sanctuary with a pipe organ and a worship center with multi-media projection.

“We will intentionally model different types of worship opportunities, utilizing Concordia’s two distinct worship spaces,” Johnson commented. “In the life of the church, we are trying to ignite healthy and meaningful conversations regarding worship practice.” 

While serving as a model for district conferences, Lehenbauer said, “It’s also intended to model how people of the church can talk, do theology, and engage in fruitful and meaningful discussion of sensitive theological issues.”

Posted Nov. 11, 2009

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