By James H. Heine
ST. LOUIS — At its board meeting here Jan. 17-18, the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg (ILSW), the partnership that owns the “Old Latin School” in Wittenberg, Germany, approved four items that move “several steps forward” the restoration of the historic 16th-century school and its conversion into a Lutheran welcome center, education facility, mission post and guesthouse for visiting scholars, church workers, laypeople and students.
The partnership — the LCMS, Concordia Publishing House (CPH) and Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (in German, Selbständige Evangelisch-Luterische Kirche, or SELK) — through its board:
- approved a business plan for the project that demonstrates the project can operate on a break-even basis;
- moved to request up to a $200,000 credit line for continued construction planning from the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF);
- voted to request detailed construction plans from the project’s architect; and
- endorsed a memorandum of agreement with the Colleg Wittenberg, a similar facility in Wittenberg, for housekeeping and reservation management for the Lutheran center, which is scheduled to open May 1, 2015.
The four items were approved unanimously by the board.
The ILSW board has seven members. Two members (see related story) are selected by the LCMS Board of Directors, one by the CPH Board of Directors, one by CPH and the LCMS acting jointly, and three by the Kirchenleitung, the church council of the SELK.
Also present during the meeting were ILSW Managing Director Rev. David Mahsman (also director, special assignments, Eurasia, LCMS Office of International Mission); Richard C. Robertson, LCEF president and CEO; the Rev. David Bueltmann, past president, LCMS Central Illinois District, and a member of the “Wittenberg Cabinet,” an advisory group to LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison; Jerald Wulf, LCMS chief financial officer; the Rev. Dr. J.A.O. (Jack) Preus, executive vice-president, Mission Advancement, Bethesda Lutheran Communities; and Mark Hofman, executive director, LCMS Mission Advancement.
Robertson and two additional LCEF staff were on hand to offer financial insight, while Hofman provided an overview of “Fundraising 101.” Preus presented a detailed report on the educational opportunities made possible by the Wittenberg project.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the results of the meeting,” said the Rev. Michael Kumm, chairman of the ILSW board, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Millstadt, Ill., and vice-chairman of the LCMS Board of Directors. “This is the first time this ILSW board has met face-to-face. We have been rather stagnant, and we needed to get things moving … toward the completion of the project.”
The entire board came “ready to work” and to work long hours, Kumm said.
“We made some major decisions during the meeting. We had very good, serious and detailed discussions of the issues and were able to come through with what I believe is great new momentum in accomplishing the goals of the ILSW.”
Those goals, as noted, include a significant education component, Mahsman explained, one that would include not only short-term opportunities such as elder hostels, continuing-education programs for church workers, and youth-group study opportunities, servant events and tours, but also semester-long study and research programs provided by “our LCMS seminaries and the Concordia University System.”
The programs are being developed by an ILSW education committee chaired by Preus, Mahsman explained.
“We have five subcommittees, each covering a different subject area — theological studies, including Reformation history; the arts; human services; general studies; and service, outreach and pilgrimage — each headed by someone with an earned doctorate who is responsible for seeing that the subject area is developed properly.”
It is essential that the programs offer exceptional value, Preus explained.
“We have to do it right,” Harrison said during the meeting.
The plans for the welcome center, which an architectural firm will now develop further so that construction bids can be requested, include a chapel, a welcome/reception area and a bookstore on the ground floor; two floors for dormitory rooms plus a kitchenette and “commons” area for guests, and accommodations for visiting faculty; and offices and an apartment on the top floor.
“I am most grateful for the partnership we have made with LCEF,” Kumm said. “They have been extremely helpful in guiding us through the business part of this venture. Also, Mark Hofman has been invaluable in guiding us in the right direction to raise the funds to pay for this project.”
“I’m very thankful to the Missouri Synod for organizing this meeting,” said SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, a member of the ILSW board. “… There is a great opportunity in Wittenberg we should use.”
Voigt said he was especially pleased with the educational opportunities the center could offer.
“We from Germany realize the possibilities at this historic place are great. … I think it’s necessary that we go forward,” he said. “When you live in a city, the sight-seeings are very normal for you, and often it is the case that you don’t realize what a treasure you have in your [own backyard]. That’s our situation.”
The Rev. Roger Zieger, SELK director of Lutheran Church Mission and also a member of the ILSW board, echoed Voigt’s assessment of the meeting.
“I was very encouraged because we’ve been working on this project for some years, but not as much as we wanted,” Zieger said. “After this meeting, I am positive that we will really get something done which we can show people, and we will be finished with the project in time [for 2017, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation].”
“The Wittenberg project is important, not just for the LCMS or the SELK, but for the church at-large,” Kumm noted. “I am confident that after this meeting, and the work accomplished here, the project will be completed and the Gospel of Christ given even more worldwide dissemination.
“This is truly a ‘Life Together’ project that demonstrates the fellowship or Koinonia we have with Lutheran church bodies around the world,” Kumm said.
For a related story about the Wittenberg project’s history and board members, click here.
Posted Feb. 8, 2013 / Updated Feb. 11, 2013