Convention opening service unites delegates from every corner of Synod

LCMS President/President-elect Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison preaches at the opening Divine Service of the Synod’s 66th Regular Convention at the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. (LCMS/Frank Kohn)

By Katie Schuermann

MILWAUKEE — “With the Lord begin your task,” the Rev. William Weedon, director of worship and chaplain of the International Center of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), suggests, quoting Hymn 869 from Lutheran Service Book (LSB).

“Why?” he asks. “Jesus will direct it.”

The 66th Regular Convention of the LCMS began its task with the Lord at the Wisconsin Center Convention Complex here Saturday evening as some 3,000 worshipers — voting and advisory delegates, pastors, musicians, officials, church workers, laypeople, staff and guests — gathered around Christ’s gifts of Word and Sacrament.

“We know that if left to ourselves,” Weedon continues, “we will make a hash of everything. But if we begin with listening to the Word of God, attending to the preaching of His Gospel, asking His mercy upon our gathering, and rejoicing together in the gift of His forgiveness in His body and blood, we’ll be well on the way toward the end of that hymn: ‘Jesus, in Your name begun Be the day’s endeavor; Grant that it may well be done To Your praise forever.’ ”

Delegates from every corner of the Synod congregated for the service.

“In a small way,” the Rev. Dr. Jon Vieker, executive assistant to the LCMS president and overseer of convention worship planning, explains, “it is a kind of snapshot of that grand eternal banquet we will one day enjoy together with all who have confessed Christ’s holy name, from every tribe and nation and language and people. What a great way to live together in Christ — today and forever!”

Peace Lutheran Church of Sussex, Wis., was the host congregation for the opening service.

“Christ and His Word are foundational for all we do and decide together in convention,” says the Rev. Peter Bender, that congregation’s pastor. “As presiding minister for the opening service, I ensure that the Lord’s body and blood are faithfully administered and distributed to the LCMS faithful according to Christ’s institution.”

Planning sessions for the opening service began last August.

“Because there is so much work that goes into all of this,” Vieker says, “we have enlisted two sets of musicians — one for the opening service and another for the daily services.”

The Rev. Stephen Rosebrock, cantor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church and Christian Day School in Milwaukee, served as conductor for the opening service, and Cantor Phillip Magness of Immanuel Lutheran church in Broken Arrow, Okla., is serving as the convention’s lead musician for the many daily prayer services following later in its sessions.

“Worship is a vital part of our life together at the convention,” Magness says. “Though the Word accomplishes its purposes wherever just two or three are gathered, I think there is a special inspiration in coming together in such a large crowd. It will serve to encourage many of us who live and serve in difficult or lonely contexts that we are blessed to walk together as a Synod which is alive in Christ and filled with many people.”

Dr. James Freese, professor of music at Concordia University Wisconsin at Mequon, Wis., and cantor of Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, served as organist for the opening service. Magness played piano.

Rosebrock recruited musicians from local churches in the Milwaukee area to sing in the choir and play during the service. Professional instrumentalists were also engaged to provide music.

“We are quite excited that we were able to commission a festival brass setting of Divine Service, Setting Four, from Lutheran Service Book,” Vieker says. “The opening service for our convention serves as the premiere of this very fine musical setting by James Biery, which will be published by Concordia Publishing House in the near future and made available to congregations throughout Synod.”

Rosebrock, Freese and the choir and instrumentalists provided 30 minutes of perservice music of varying textures and forms, including an organ fugue, a cappella choral music and a rousing instrumental ensemble piece.

At the beginning of the service, roughly 90 ordained ministers, including district presidents, the Praesidium and local pastors, processed while the choir chanted LSB 499 Veni Creator Spiritus interspersed with the congregation singing LSB  497 “Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord.” The Rev. Allen Braun of Mount Hulda Lutheran Church in Cole Camp, Mo., served as crucifer.

The Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president/president-elect of the LCMS, preached on the convention theme, “Upon This Rock,” based on Matthew 16:13-20.

“Christ is the rock,” he preached. “If we lose the rock, what do we have left?”

Harrison hearkened back to the start of the Reformation when Martin Luther stood before the emperor and princes, refusing to recant that Word of Christ to which his conscience was bound. Harrison reminded delegates, pastors and laypeople alike that they, too, might be called on to stand firm before rulers today amidst great persecution, “but the government has no right to coerce the conscience.”

“The future of the Missouri Synod doesn’t depend on you or me,” Harrison said. “It depends on Christ, the rock. … All of us are called to pray and speak the Word of God as the royal priesthood. And it’s precisely this speaking — this message of Christ — that is the rock.”

The Rev. Thomas Schlund of Trinity Lutheran Church in Algona, Iowa, was interpreter for the deaf, and the LCMS Council of Presidents and presidents and bishops of LCMS partner churches assisted with the distribution of Holy Communion.

Communion vessels used during the service were crafted by artist Kate Tonguis and also will be used at the 2016 LCMS Youth Gathering in New Orleans July 16-20. LCMS Youth Ministry will be donating the vessels to various missions afterward.

“Few things manifest our unity of faith in Christ better than when we hear, sing, pray and confess together as brothers and sisters in Christ the name of the Lord Jesus,” Bender offers. “He is the Rock of our salvation and ‘Upon This Rock’ we stand against the very gates of hell and the power of darkness. As Luther wrote in His great hymn, ‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’: ‘With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected; But for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabaoth Lord, And there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.’ ”

The 66th Regular Convention of the LCMS is meeting July 9-14 at the Wisconsin Center Convention complex under the theme “Upon This Rock.” Among the 1,500 convention participants are some 1,100 clergy and lay voting delegates.

Katie Schuermann is a freelance writer, author, musician and a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sherman, Ill.

Posted July 9, 2016 / Updated July 10, 2016, with updated figures for convention participants and voting delegates.

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One Response to Convention opening service unites delegates from every corner of Synod

  1. Herb Peter July 11, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

    Katie — Good job!!

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