By James Heine
ST. LOUIS — At its meeting April 26-May 1, the LCMS Council of Presidents (COP), acting as the Synod’s Board of Assignments, assigned first calls to 113 candidates certified for the pastoral ministry. The COP also approved 138 vicarage placements and assigned 57 commissioned ministers to their initial calls.
As part of its spring meeting, the COP attended placement services at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., and, as in past years, met with the faculties of both seminaries.
The COP also received its regular report from Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, as well as an update on the forthcoming circuit forums from Synod Secretary Rev. Dr. Raymond L. Hartwig.
Report of the President
In his report to the COP, Harrison noted that “the Synod remains calm and busy about its task of sharing Christ as it carries out its manifold ministries.” He also noted that, in response to 2013 convention Resolution 7-01A, he had carried out district visits to the SELC, Michigan and Northwest Districts and that First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr. had visited five additional districts.
“Between us, we will be visiting all districts over the next year, in each case accompanied by the respective region’s Synod vice-president,” Harrison explained, adding, “We are delighted with the response we have received in the districts.”
In reflecting on the administrative responsibilities assigned to the Office of the President under the Synod’s new structure and by way of convention resolutions, Harrison noted that the workload was “enormous.”
Harrison also noted that “the first district convention for the 2015 cycle is but eight months away.”
As part of the Report of the President, LCMS Director of Church Relations/Assistant to the President Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver offered an update on the work of the Office of International Mission (OIM) as well as the recent changes in the way the OIM’s St. Louis staff is organized.
As of Jan. 15, Collver said, the Rev. Dr. Edward Grimenstein became associate executive director of the OIM, and Collver himself assumed the position of director of Regional Operations.
Collver also noted that the OIM is currently comprised of a staff of 327, including 140 missionaries, 168 military chaplains and 19 International Center staff. Since June 2013, the OIM has increased the number of missionaries by more than 40 percent, Collver said, and is “well-positioned to meet or exceed” the directive of 2013 convention Res. 1-11 to double the number of missionaries.
“These are exciting times for OIM,” Collver said.
Regarding the restructuring of the OIM, Collver explained that the changes were made “to better accommodate the needs of the international field.”
The OIM team, he said, is now divided into two areas — Mission Recruitment and Missionary Services.
“This was a strategic move to better address personnel requirements from the field and to also care for the needs of missionaries while serving on the field,” Collver said.
In his presentation, LCMS Secretary Hartwig reminded the COP that it’s time for congregations to begin preparations for the Synod’s 2015 district conventions and its 2016 national convention.
It all begins “close to home” with preparations for a circuit forum, to be scheduled by a congregation’s circuit visitor, Hartwig said.
To begin its role in the process, a congregation should designate who, besides its pastor, will represent the congregation at its circuit forum. Also, Hartwig explained, congregations will soon need to elect delegates to their respective district conventions. This is important, he added, because these delegates are tasked also with voting for the next president of Synod prior to the 2016 national convention.
Beginning in June, his office will begin mailing to congregations a series of postcards designed to help them identify their role in circuit forums, including how congregations can help determine and shape the Synod’s mission and ministry priorities for the 2016-19 triennium, Hartwig said.
Meetings with seminary faculties
The COP met with the faculty of Concordia Seminary April 27 and with the faculty of Concordia Theological Seminary May 1. Both meetings focused in part on issues surrounding continuing education and how together the COP and the seminaries can fulfill the requirements of 2013 convention Res. 5-08B, “To Establish a Standard for Continuing Education of Pastors.”
At Concordia Seminary, the Rev. Tony Cook, assistant professor of Practical Theology and associate dean of Curriculum and Instruction, and the Rev. Dr. Joel Okamoto, associate professor of Systematic Theology and chair of the Systematic Theology department, presented overviews of the seminary’s continuing-education programs and its current curriculum-review process.
The aim of the curriculum-review process is to produce a curriculum that forms students who are “mature in their faith, confess Christ faithfully, shepherd God’s flock and witness the Gospel,” Okamoto told the COP.
At Concordia Theological Seminary, the Rev. Dr. Gifford Grobien, assistant professor of Systematic theology and director of the seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program, provided an update on that program, while seminary President Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Rast Jr. offered the COP an overview of the seminary’s education program.
Also at Concordia Theological Seminary, topics for future COP-faculty meetings were discussed.
Prior to its meeting with the faculty of Concordia Seminary April 27, the COP, in response to the renewed emphasis on the Office of Visitation in the Synod, took up the topic of congregational visits.
Moderated by Ohio District President Rev. Terry L. Cripe and Northwest District President Rev. Paul A. Linnemann, the COP discussed ways, or best practices, by which such visits could “be permeated by the Word of God” and “breathe encouragement” so that, in the words of LCMS Bylaws, “God’s people can grow in their faith, hope and love” (Bylaw 4.4.4 [e]).
Unfortunately, “in many places, just walking in the door is perceived as the Law,” Linnemann observed.
Rather, Linnemann observed at the end of the discussion, a visit should, among its objectives, offer encouragement and hope, help the pastor and the congregation see the district and the Synod as a servant structure, and help foster a culture of wellness, fellowship and discipleship in the congregation.
Other actions and presentations
As part of a regular review process of its policy guidelines, the COP:
- approved updates to its guidelines for dealing with and helping rostered members facing credit and financial difficulties, including bankruptcy. The COP adopted updated guidelines for both ministers of religion—ordained and ministers of religion—commissioned. The guidelines will be made available to rostered members through their district presidents.
- accepted the recommendation of the Interim Ministry Committee — a committee of the COP that supports intentional interim ministry in the LCMS — to update the COP’s description of, and guidelines for, intentional interim ministry.
- adopted a revised procedure for having notices of district roster changes published promptly in The Lutheran Witness.
Also making presentations to the COP:
- The Rev. Dr. Jeff Oschwald, associate professor of exegetical theology at Concordia Seminary, offered a Bible study (Acts 15) on the church in conflict.
- The Rev. Dr. Gehard H. Bode Jr., assistant professor of historical theology and archivist at Concordia Seminary, led a confessional study on the Formula of Concord.
- The Rev. David Bueltmann, past president of the LCMS Central Illinois District, presented a brief update on The Wittenberg Project.
- The Rev. Dr. Mark Schreiber, retiring director of the Synod’s Ministry to the Armed Forces, encouraged the COP to continue its support of Operation Barnabas. “We are ending 10 years of war with 6,000 dead and 40,000 wounded, with 20 percent to 30 percent of our returning veterans dealing with PTSD” (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), he said. Operation Barnabas is a key way to reach these veterans, he added.
Near the end of the meeting, Eastern District President and COP Secretary Rev. Dr. Chris Wicher reported that 262 LCMS congregations were calling sole pastors, 48 senior pastors, and 50 associate or assistant pastors. His report included all LCMS districts except one, Wicher said, and the numbers took into account this year’s assignment of first calls to the Synod’s new pastoral candidates.
The COP next meets Sept. 20-23 in St. Louis.
James Heine is a St. Louis journalist and the retired director of News and Information for LCMS Communications.
Posted May 7, 2014 / Updated May 8, 2014 / May 29, 2014