By James Heine
For the first time in nearly a decade, the LCMS Council of Presidents met with its Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) counterpart. The meeting took place Feb. 21-24 in St. Louis. While the two groups shared reports and conversations, each also met individually to conduct its own business.
Among those representing the LCC was Rev. Robert Bugbee, president of the LCC; Rev. Don Schiemann, president of the Alberta-British Columbia District and chair of the LCC Council of Presidents; Rev. Robert C. Krestick, LCC second vice-president; and Rev. Tom Kruesel, LCC third vice-president. Because of severe winter weather, several LCC representatives were unable to attend the meeting.
“I have been on the COP since 2000,” said COP President and LCMS Pacific Southwest District President Dr. Larry Stoterau, “and the only time I remember we were together was during placement in 2004. Our time together [in February] was the longest we have had together in many years.”
The LCC formed in 1988 when most of the Canadian congregations of the LCMS, with the blessing of the Synod, established an autonomous church body. Today, the LCC includes 319 congregations, 400 pastors and approximately 69,000 baptized members. Also, it supports two seminaries and a college, as well as mission work in Ukraine, Nicaragua, Thailand and Cambodia. As with the LCMS, it is a member of the International Lutheran Council.
Although a representative of the LCC attended COP meetings through the mid-1990s, regular meetings of the two councils have been infrequent since then.
“While it may not always be possible for the two councils to meet annually, we do believe that we will benefit from some regular rotation of joint meetings, so that ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’ stay in close contact with one another,” Bugbee said.
He added that his colleagues were enthusiastic about the opportunity to explain the realities of modern-day Canada and the LCC to the LCMS. He also noted that in recent months there have been stronger and more frequent contacts between the church bodies.
“The office of LCMS President Matthew Harrison has obviously given high priority to the U.S.-Canada relationship,” Bugbee said.
Celebrating strong ties
In his address to the council, Bugbee began by thanking the COP for the meeting opportunity and for the historically strong ties between the church bodies. “We treasure the regular conversations we have with the Missouri Synod,” he said.
Also in his opening remarks, Bugbee noted some of the similarities and differences between the two countries: While the similarities are many, including a common language and Anglo heritage, for Canadians, living next to the U.S. can be disconcerting, he observed, because of the sheer size of the U.S. and its economy. Also, Canada is officially bilingual (English and French), follows the British parliamentary system in matters of politics and while larger than the U.S. geographically, has just one-tenth the population, most of whom live within “200 miles of the border.”
Culturally, Bugbee said, Canada “is the midpoint between a pious U.S. and a secular Europe.” For example, he added, Canada is more liberal on marijuana and gender issues, was opposed to the war in Iraq, and is comfortable with its system of national health care. And if the U.S. is the “melting pot,” then Canada is a “mosaic” of peoples and groups, he explained.
Yet both the LCMS and the LCC confront similar trends: depopulation of rural areas and increasing urbanization, growing diversity, and secularization. Today, in Toronto, Canada’s largest city and one of the largest metropolitan regions in North America, “49 percent of the residents are foreign born,” Bugbee said.
In a follow-up presentation, Schiemann focused especially on how the LCC is responding to the push for same-sex marriage and the advancement of other gender-rights issues. In Canada, the gay-rights lobby is powerful, Schiemann said. Like Bugbee, Schiemann observed that Canada today is a land of religious pluralism, a “veritable banquet” of religious beliefs, post-modern thought, moral relevance and an “Oprah Winfrey approach to spirituality.”
Although the U.S. may not be far behind, Schiemann indicated that the tension between state-mandated social agendas and religious liberty is probably more acute in Canada. In some respects, “It is not a question of, ‘Are you going to be sued?’ but when,” he said.
Regarding the future, Schiemann said orthodox Christians need to be “very forthright” about their views. The LCC, in concert with other churches and groups that share its concerns, is working to make its voice heard in legislative and legal circles, and some success has come from that effort, Schiemann said. He also reminded his listeners of the essential importance of Lutheran schools, an emphasis of the LCC. “At some point in time, we’ve got to pass on the faith to the next generation,” he said.
“I enjoyed the opportunity to meet with our partners from the LCC,” Stoterau said, “and I believe the time was well spent. … We are wrestling with many of the same challenges, and we benefit from each other’s experiences.”
LCMS President Rev. Matthew C. Harrison has been invited to address the ninth LCC convention June 3-6 in Hamilton, Ontario.
In business relating to the 2010 Synod convention, the COP adopted the plan of a committee convened by Synod Secretary Dr. Raymond Hartwig to determine the five geographic regions of the Synod for the purpose of electing in 2013 five Synod vice-presidents, five lay members of the LCMS Board of Directors and the members of the Synod’s two mission boards as outlined in Resolutions 8-14A (vice-presidents), 8-16A (Board of Directors) and 8-08A (mission boards).
The plan fulfills the requirement that the boundaries of the five regions be determined at least 24 months in advance of each Synod convention and that all Canadian congregations of the Synod be included in a single region.
The five regions and the LCMS districts comprising them are as follows:
East/Southeast Region (in yellow on map) — Ohio, Florida-Georgia, Southeastern, New Jersey, Eastern and Atlantic Districts, as well as the 16 Canadian congregations in the SELC and English Districts.
Central (blue) — Kansas, Central Illinois, Southern Illinois, Missouri, Mid-South, Indiana and Oklahoma Districts.
Great Lakes (purple) — Iowa East, Northern Illinois, North Wisconsin, South Wisconsin and Michigan Districts.
Great Plains (green) — North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota North, Minnesota South, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa West Districts.
West/Southwest (red) — Northwest, California/Nevada/Hawaii, Pacific Southwest, Texas and Rocky Mountain Districts.
For this configuration of the regions, congregations of the non-geographic English and SELC Districts — other than the 16 in Canada — are included in the geographic LCMS districts in which they reside.
The committee’s plan also was approved by the Synod’s Board of Directors at its Feb. 17-18 meeting.
The committee creating the plan was composed of three members each from the BOD and the COP, in addition to the Synod secretary.
With approval from both Synod bodies, the plan now becomes effective.
Per the Synod Bylaws, the configuration of the regions will be revisited after the 2013 convention.
Appointments and reports
In other business, the council ratified the appointment by Harrison of five voting members to the LCMS Commission on Handbook and heard reports from Deaconess Ruth McDonnell, assistant director of the Master of Arts program at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Dr. Leopoldo A. Sanchez, director of the Center for Hispanic Studies and holder of the Werner R.H. and Elizabeth Ringger Krause Endowed Chair for Hispanic Ministries at Concordia Seminary. Synod First Vice-President Rev. Herbert C. Mueller also updated the council on the work of the “Koinonia Project.”
Per Bylaw 220.127.116.11, the COP ratified the appointment of the following to the LCMS Commission on Handbook: Dr. Albert M. Marcis, Parma, Ohio; Dr. Walter L. Rosin, Shawano, Wis.; Dr. Richard T. Nuffer, Fort Wayne, Ind.; Rev. Marvin Temme, Torrington, Wyo.; and Gordon D. Tresch, Kenmore, N.Y.
The terms of the five members are six years, renewable once. The secretary of the Synod, its chief administrative officer and a voting member of the LCMS Commission on Constitutional matters serve as advisory members of the Commission on Handbook.
In her presentation “Ending with Hope,” McDonnell, who served previously as a mission facilitator for the Missouri District, focused on her work with congregations in the process of closing. She suggested ways in which districts might help such congregations contemplate — and come to terms with — an end to their ministries.
McDonnell said that in many ways congregations contemplating the end of their ministries “need hospice care,” not unlike people confronting the end of their earthly life. For many, disbanding the congregation they have been members of since their baptisms is a wrenching decision, and the resulting stages of grief parallel those of people dealing with the death of a loved one.
While most of her work was with urban congregations, what she learned can apply to other circumstances, too, McDonnell said. Among her recommendations: Consider a “hospice committee,” a group the congregation can turn to, not only for practical help, but also for emotional and spiritual support — and not only for the congregation, but for the pastor as well. At the district or circuit level, that might mean a person individuals could call, someone who would listen, help them when needed, and not dismiss their concerns.
In connection with her Missouri District work, she also spoke about her own journey from “savior” to “servant.” McDonnell said she went from “browbeating a bunch of good Christians and good pastors for not doing enough to prevent the decline” to understanding that “what they needed was mercy care.”
Just as important, McDonnell said, we want to encourage conversations about congregational health and viability. Often, the situation has declined to the point where the sole remaining option is disbanding the congregation.
“We want to catch the decline early enough to avoid closure,” she said.
Highlighting the ‘Global South’
It is not news that the Hispanic (Latino) presence in North America is growing, Dr. Leopoldo Sanchez said in his opening remarks to the COP. Yet it would be incorrect to categorize the culture as monolithic, he noted. Rather, it comprises a vibrant spectrum of cultures, reflecting the experiences and coming together of groups and nationalities as varied as Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, indigenous peoples of Central and South America, Argentineans, Brazilians and Chileans. Broadly speaking, Sanchez explained, the term “mestizaje” describes this coming together of the cultures that make up Latin American and the Caribbean.
What we are experiencing, Sanchez told the COP, is the advent of the “Global South” on the world stage. Sanchez defines the Global South not only as Mexico and Central and South America, but as “that part of the world south of North America and Europe … including countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia, where Christianity is growing by leaps and bounds.” In their ethnic and cultural histories, many Latin Americans can have roots in all these continents, Sanchez added.
In the Americas, unlike Anglo cultures, which increasingly appear secular and even hostile to the church, Latin cultures generally maintain some respect for the church, Sanchez said. People may be nominally connected to the church (historically the Catholic Church), but nevertheless they are asking important questions about God, faith and spiritual life.
“In many ways, the post-church paradigm does not fit,” Sanchez told the COP. “Even children of Latin American immigrants to the U.S. are joining some church — either Catholic or Evangelical/Pentecostal.”
His own experience is perhaps typical, Sanchez said. In Panama, while his family was nominally Catholic, no one had ever called him a “sinner” until he encountered a Pentecostal street preacher. After seeing Sanchez spend time with Pentecostal Bible groups, his father, who “thought it was weird to walk around with a Bible” made sure Sanchez retained some connection with the Catholic Church.
In Williamsburg, Iowa, Sanchez was finally introduced to the Lutheran church. There, Sanchez said, “people were not afraid to talk about the Bible … but they were also not afraid to have a liturgy, albs, candles and a hymnal — an indication that the church has a salutary tradition.”
Sanchez said that throughout the Global South, Pentecostalism is making great gains because, in part, its form of the Christian faith resonates with the “spiritual” component of Global South life, in particular with the belief in God’s immediate work in everyday affairs. Yet, in some respects, it also runs counter to that same life. Especially in Latin America, and among Latinos in North America, the message can become virulently anti-Catholic. In that respect, Sanchez noted, our own Lutheran doctrine, traditions and forms of worship can offer, along with a solid biblical foundation, another thread for outreach to Hispanic communities.
In ministering to Hispanic communities in this country, Sanchez offered the following:
- Remember that you’re dealing with poor or developing communities and churches. These are not stable, wealthy communities, but rather communities and people living on the margins. Mission goals have to be realistic, e.g., is self-sustainability in five years a realistic goal? Not likely.
- Be aware of the cultural differences: Anglo culture is driven a lot by goals. Global South culture is more process (and relationship) oriented. Time is seen qualitatively rather than as a checklist for gettin