by Roland Lovstad
Photo: Kris Bueltmann
The first two days of the convention will be devoted to considering the proposals from the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, which was appointed by LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick in 2005. (See p. 10 for more information.) Decisions on task force proposals, including a four-year convention cycle and a decrease in the number of boards and commissions, will have a bearing on elections that will occur later in the convention.
Delegates will elect LCMS officers, including the president, first vice president, and secretary. If one restructuring proposal is adopted, the treasurer will no longer be an elected position. Depending on another decision related to structure and governance, future officers will serve either three-or four-year terms. Other proposals would change the future manner of electing other officers.
The convention also will elect laypersons, pastors, and commissioned ministers to serve on the boards of regents of the 10 LCMS Concordia colleges and universities and two seminaries.
Based on the number of nominations submitted by congregations, the candidates for LCMS President are Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, 48, St. Louis; Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, 67, St. Louis; Rev. Herbert C. Mueller Jr., 57, Waterloo, Ill.; Dr. Carl C. Fickenscher II, 55, Fort Wayne, Ind.; and Dr. Daniel L. Gard, 56, also of Fort Wayne. (See pp. 12–20 for candidate statements.) Other men received sufficient nominations to make the ballot, but chose not to run for the office.
There are 1,218 voting delegates, equally divided between lay delegates and pastor delegates. With advisory delegates, staff, exhibitors, and spectators, the convention attendance could exceed 2,500.
With “ONE People—Forgiven” as its theme, the convention opens with a Communion worship at 4 p.m. July 10. The first business session is at 8:30 a.m. July 11. The schedule calls for adjournment at 11:30 a.m. July 17.
Other major convention topics relate to continuing cooperation in agencies and ministries with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and a proposal to participate in a Lutheran initiative to curb malaria.
Received this year were 207 overtures, compared with 361 in 2007 and 494 in 2004.
The overtures are included in the Convention Workbook, which was mailed in late April to congregations and delegates. The workbook also lists voting delegates, Synod representatives (advisory delegates), and special representatives; members of convention floor committees; a listing of LCMS officers and boards; reports from officers, boards, commissions, agencies, and districts; a list of rostered workers who died during the past triennium; opinions of the Commission on Constitutional Matters; and theological documents from the Commission on Theology and Church Relations.
The convention mailing included a separate booklet with biographical information on nominees for officers and boards, plus the final report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance.
The Convention Workbook, along with other convention information, is online also, at www.lcms.org/convention.
Over the May 21–24 weekend (after this issue of The Lutheran Witness went to press) eight convention floor committees began incorporating the content of overtures and reports into resolutions for the convention. The committees will hold hearings on July 9 and 10 in Houston and will continue their work prior to and during the convention.
A “gavel to gavel” Webcast of the convention can be accessed from www.lcms.org/convention. The site also will carry regular reports of convention actions, including election results.
Following is a brief review of the submitted overtures, according to the floor committees to which they were assigned.
Committee 1: Missions
One of the 11 mission-related overtures proposes the formal close of the Fan into Flame fund-raising campaign on Reformation Day 2011 while keeping the support mechanisms in place until remaining districts and congregations complete their efforts. As of late April, the campaign had raised more than $56 million for mission support, with 18,000 gifts generated and about one-fourth of LCMS congregations and 32 of 35 districts participating.
Other overtures urge outreach to immigrants; appointment of a Director for Strategic Development of Hispanic Ministries; outreach to Islam; participation in Operation Barnabas, a ministry to returning war veterans; exclusively Lutheran theological training for missionaries; a day of fasting and repentance over low response to reach the lost; visits by district presidents to other districts’ institutional ministries; use of “Lutheran” and “LCMS” in the names of mission starts; support of church transformation; and evaluation of the Transforming Churches Network.
Committee 2: District and Congregational Services
Several overtures deal with reaffirming basic doctrines such as salvation only through Christ, justification by faith alone, and the authority of Scripture. Others encourage study of the Lutheran Confessions and two-kingdom theology; encourage pastors to study the biblical languages; encourage use, or abandonment, of certain Bible translations; advocate a commission to study congregational size, generations, and life-stage ministries; call for responsible worship; and encourage support for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program.
Four overtures submitted by the Board for District and Congregational Services, which would be melded into a national ministries board under one of the restructure proposals, call for adequate funding and appropriate staffing for children’s, family, youth, school, and stewardship ministries.
Committee 3: Theology and Church Relations
Several overtures address the LCMS relationship with the ELCA, which last summer voted to permit clergy in same-sex relationships to serve as pastors. The overtures call for various degrees of response—from proceeding cautiously to ending all cooperative efforts or theological talks. Other overtures propose theological talks with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and with groups that have split off from the ELCA.
A range of other actions are proposed: asking partner churches to withdraw from the Lutheran World Federation; affirming the inerrancy of the Bible; opposing higher criticism of the Bible; using the Words of Institution in the Lord’s Supper; practicing closed Communion; further study of the role of women in the church; opposition to all birth control; study of the practice of cremation; encouraging theological opinions from seminary faculty; and study of the relationship of the congregation and Holy Ministry.
Committee 4: Administration and Finance
This floor committee will consider overtures recommending changes to the Articles of Incorporation and addressing bylaw changes apart from those proposed by the task force on structure. Some of the proposed bylaw changes—submitted by congregations, districts, and circuit forums—call for clarifying terminology and changes in convention practices.
In the area of finances, overtures call for more direct financial support to seminaries; suggest uses for proceeds from the sale of KFUO-FM; re-establishing a board for stewardship; better reporting of designated gifts; reducing full-time staff (including part-time district presidents); and allocating earnings from invested gifts to the Board for Human Care.
Committee 5: Seminary and University Education
The use of lay deacons will likely come before the convention, based on the number of overtures submitted by congregations and districts. Lay deacons have been trained and licensed by districts to serve in mission locations and congregations too small to employ a pastor. A concern is that the men are serving in a public ministry which ordinarily requires ordination and a congregational call.
Other overtures deal with the core curriculum for the Specific Ministry Pastor program; recruitment and training of full-time church workers; supporting “For the Sake of the Church,” the campaign to build endowments at the 10 LCMS colleges and universities; identifying congregations that are well-suited for vicarage experiences; increasing disability awareness for seminarians; teaching six-day creation at LCMS colleges; providing deaconess colloquy through the seminaries; and requiring male presidents at LCMS colleges and universities.
Committee 6: Human Care
Malaria kills an estimated 1 million people a year, and the convention will decide whether the LCMS participates in the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, a large-scale effort to curb the disease. The LCMS has been invited to participate in a fund-raising and awareness campaign with the ELCA and Lutheran World Relief. The United Nations Foundation is providing funds to begin the campaign.
Other human-care overtures call for denouncing U.S. President Barack Obama’s signing of the “Mexico City Policy” that allows the use of tax dollars to fund abortions outside the U.S.; requiring that pastors support the LCMS position on abortion; allowing calls to institutional chaplains; permitting the timely posting of obituaries of called workers on the LCMS Web site; stating opposition to human trafficking/slavery; providing resources on gender-identity issues; and denouncing hate-crimes legislation as it may limit free speech.
Committee 7: Ecclesial Matters
A variety of topics will be considered by the floor committee as it forms resolutions for the convention. One is a proposed change in the LCMS bylaws to include financial support and statistical reporting as expectations of a congregation’s membership in the Synod. Other overtures seek to clarify that the Synod is an advisory body where congregations are concerned; to amend the bylaws to allow calling pastors from and by church bodies in full altar and pulpit fellowship with the Synod; to create a means to place workers who are on candidate status; to clarify limitations on Specific Ministry Pastors; to post dispute-resolution standard operating procedures manuals on the Web; to establish a procedure for removing individual board or commission members; and to make changes in the current expulsion process.
Several overtures deal with the Commission on Constitutional Matters, advocating a convention override of certain opinions and changing the manner of selecting its members.
Committee 8: Synod Structure and Governance
This floor committee has been assigned 81 overtures, all dealing with the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance (p. 10). The topics range from requests for more time to consider the proposals, to offering specific changes, to rejecting all the recommendations. Among expressed concerns are voting rights of congregations, balance of lay and pastor delegates to conventions, representation for commissioned ministers, and district realignment.
About the Author: Roland Lovstad is an editor-at large for The Lutheran Witness and a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Perryville, Mo.