The LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) met Sept. 15-19 in El Paso, Texas — first for its regular quarterly meeting and then for an expanded “Consultation on Immigration Issues.”
At the consultation, the CTCR heard presentations from individuals with a wide range of experience and expertise on immigration issues as it gathered information for drafting a document that will seek to provide theologically based guidance to the Church on immigration and ministry to immigrants.
A resolution calling for the CTCR “to provide guidance [regarding] immigration and ministry to immigrants” for the Synod’s 2007 National Convention was not considered due to lack of time, but was later placed on the commission’s agenda by the president of the Synod.
At the first session of the consultation, speakers representing the fields of law, law enforcement, national and local government, and social services gave presentations to the CTCR on the political and legal issues surrounding immigration.
At the second session, several involved in the church’s interaction with immigrants — including those in ministry to immigrant populations, district staff workers, pastors and theological educators — provided CTCR members with their experiences and insights on immigrants in terms of “witness, mercy, life together,” according to the consultation schedule.
At the third session, commission members, staff and selected consultants began to process input from the consultation in light of the CTCR’s assignment to provide a document on immigration and ministry to immigrants.
In addition to the presentations, the CTCR committee with primary responsibility for the draft went to the Mexican border and visited an immigration detention facility, to meet detainees and to observe part of the hearing process used for the children of migrants.
Other members of the commission visited historic religious sites in El Paso, including 17th century mission churches on the El Paso Mission Trail and Concordia Cemetery, which dates back to the 1850s. On Sunday morning, commission members and consultants worshipped at San Pablo Lutheran Church and visited Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care.
Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care, an LCMS Recognized Service Organization, provides relief and human care services while planting and nurturing missions on the United States/Mexico border — in partnership with 11 affiliated mission sites and congregations in 13 communities across El Paso and northern Mexico.
“We recognize the difficulty and sensitivity of the assignment we have been given to address issues related to immigration — especially the challenges involved in ministering to undocumented immigrants and helping people to think through this issue theologically, on the basis of God’s Word,” said CTCR Executive Director Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer. “But the presentations given by consultants representing a wide variety of experiences and perspectives were very helpful and enlightening.”
Lehenbauer said that commission members described the meeting as “thought-provoking” and “challenging.” He also asked that the commission be included in prayers, “as it seeks to address this very important and sensitive issue in a way that is pleasing to God and helpful to God’s people.”
Lehenbauer said the CTCR is “extremely grateful” to Thrivent Financial for Lutherans for providing the grant that made the consultation possible. “It is also grateful to Rev. Karl P. Heimer, chief executive officer of Ysleta Lutheran Mission and senior pastor of San Pablo Lutheran Church, for helping to coordinate this meeting, serving as local host and tour guide, and familiarizing us with the various vital ministries of Ysleta Lutheran Mission and San Pablo Lutheran Church.
“Rarely does a CTCR meeting include exposure to bilingual liturgical worship service with mariachi music, an enchilada potluck and the singing of Las Mananitas [the Mexican birthday song],” he added. “It was an unforgettable experience for all CTCR members.”
At its regular CTCR meeting before the consultation, the CTCR adopted a report titled “Theological Dialogue with Other Christian Church Bodies,” which was requested by Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison.
“This document attempts to explain the benefits, challenges and goals of such dialogue,” Lehenbauer said, “particularly discussions with church bodies, including non-Lutheran church bodies, which, in all likelihood, will not result in resolving all doctrinal differences or declaring altar and pulpit fellowship.
“Such dialogues, however,” he continued, quoting parts of the document, “may be an opportunity to show that our churches ‘share important concerns such as the importance of upholding scriptural authority and the traditional Christian understanding of human sexuality and marriage’ and may lead to the ‘possibility of statements of Christian truth that may be affirmed by Christians from different theological traditions.’ “
To read and download the report form the CTCR website click here.
At its next meeting, Nov. 10-12 in St. Louis, the CTCR will consider for adoption a report titled “Theology and Practice of Prayer: A Lutheran View.” A longstanding assignment on its agenda, that report seeks to provide guidance from Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions on the role of prayer in the Christian life and addresses a variety of questions, concerns and misconceptions about this key biblical teaching and practice.
Posted Oct. 13, 2011