By Kevin Armbrust
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — From as far away as Alaska, 350 LCMS college students and campus-ministry supporters met Jan. 4-6 on the campus of the University of Maryland for the 2017 National LCMS Campus Ministry Conference, with the theme/title of “Liberty.”
Liberty provided an opportunity for students to learn about topics important to their lives as Christians and citizens. The students were also blessed to be surrounded by others who share their faith and their struggles.
“It’s cool to see everyone who believes the same and is in the same situation as you,” noted James Copeland, who attends Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan.
“The desire of our LCMS college students and young adults to learn and grow never ceases to amaze me,” observed the Rev. Marcus Zill, director of LCMS Campus Ministry. “Our students came to our nation’s capital from as far away as Alaska, ready to tackle another topic that they face all the time on their campuses — namely, personal and corporal matters of religious liberty. They were ready and their campuses back home better be, too!”
Christian’s role in society
On Jan. 4, the plenary speakers addressed a plethora of issues facing Americans, focusing on the intersection of Church and society. The conference theme was especially poignant in light of the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, as well as the prominence of many controversial issues in the news.
“The speakers and worship were absolutely fantastic,” Zill said, “and it was a tremendous joy for the students to hear from their Synod president, both pre-shave and post-shave.”
The first plenary speaker, the Rev. Dr. Daniel Gard, president of Concordia University Chicago, River Forest, Ill., presented Luther’s doctrine of the Two Kingdoms from the point of view of the “image of God,” from Gen. 1:26. Gard highlighted that “All that matters is not what the world gives, but what our Lord Jesus Christ gives.”
Plenary speakers continued to emphasize the importance for believers to intersect with the social institutions and issues in our country.
“We actively interface with the kingdom of the left to establish a public context for the Christian Church to exist peacefully, so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ might be preached fully,” said the Rev. Christopher Thoma, a plenary speaker who is pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Hartland, Mich.
Casey Mattox, senior counsel and director of the Center for Academic Freedom with Alliance Defending Freedom, agreed that free speech matters “because the Gospel matters.”
Another speaker, Timothy Goeglein, vice-president for External Relations at Focus on the Family in Washington, D.C., observed that many have a pessimistic view of our future, but that he personally maintains optimism for the future. “I am most hopeful because Jesus Christ lives,” he said.
Mark and Mollie Hemingway shared their experiences as Lutheran journalists working in the secular media, and encouraged the college students to teach the people around them what Christians really believe. Mark Hemingway is senior writer for The Weekly Standard and Mollie Hemingway is senior editor for The Federalist.
In addition to the plenary addresses, breakout sessions were available throughout the day on Jan. 4. There, the students learned about more specific topics and had opportunities to ask questions in a more intimate setting.
Those breakout sessions included varied topics of interest to the college students. Some were focused on the theme of the conference and others explored specific aspects of life in Christ, including witness through photography, depression, the Crusades, the media, homosexuality, being a Christian in a secular university, leadership, witnessing, suffering, vocation and Bonhoeffer.
During his sectional presentation on Jesus’ bad day recorded in Matthew 14, the Rev. Marty Marks noted, “When you are having a bad day, it helps to serve others.” Marks brought to the conference his custom of presenting small toy ninjas. He gives ninjas to congratulate people for doing something cool and to encourage everyone to do good things in the future. Marks observed, “When we care for others, God gives us enough to accomplish what we need plus even more.”
Food, Fiene and facial hair
The Wednesday evening (Jan. 4) banquet speaker, the Rev. Hans Fiene, presented “Six things you have to stop doing or we’re all going to jail, hell or worse … .” Mixing humor with theology and sage advice, Fiene taught that congregations are strengthened when the family is strong.
Also that evening, the results of the 2016 LCMS convention’s “Mustache Resolution” were announced — specifically, whether Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison or Montana District President Rev. Terry Forke had “the best mustache” in the Synod — with the resolution detailing a one-vote-equals-one-dollar donation to benefit an LCMS college, university or seminary, and the loser forfeiting his mustache at the campus-ministry conference. (See a related story, “And the ‘Mustache Resolution’ winner is … .”)
A clean-shaven Harrison addressed the students Thursday morning. He recounted highlights and tales from Luther’s life to illustrate Luther’s resolve to stand for the Gospel in a society whose institutions opposed his message. Harrison, noting that “the Reformation was a university movement, by the way,” told the assembly that they, too, should “rage on.”
Harrison reminded those in attendance that Luther was told to be quiet, but he couldn’t stop proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. Though people on college campuses might ask conservative Christians to be quiet, Harrison encouraged everyone to not “forget that Luther first confessed the freedom we have from God.” Though the Reformation was 500 years ago, Harrison noted that Lutherans today “are heirs of the most important confession of faith in the history of the world.”
Conference participants had the opportunity to explore Washington Thursday afternoon (Jan. 5). Before dismissal and a brief order of prayer, the Rev. Eric Andrae, who served as the conference chaplain, announced the Divine Service Friday morning, and observed, “Remember that the most important thing that happens at any conference is to be gathered around Word and Sacrament, receiving God’s gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation.” This focus was emphasized throughout the conference through daily Compline and prayer offices held at the University of Maryland’s Memorial Chapel.
The Liberty conference closed the with the Divine Service followed by an Ethiopian lunch at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Hyattsville, Md., the site of the University of Maryland LCMS U chapter. LCMS U is the Synod’s initiative to connect and support Lutheran college and university students.
Since the last day of the conference was Jan. 6, the worship celebrated the Epiphany of our Lord. Students and campus ministry workers gave over $1,550 in a special offering to be split evenly to support Redeemer Lutheran Church in its unique immigrant and refugee outreach, and the Synod’s efforts toward opening the Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C.
Zill summarized “Liberty” during his sermon for that service. “When it comes down to it,” he said, “it is in, with and through Jesus that you are free. Free from sin. Free from death. Free to live. That is the best news there is.”
Charlea Schueler of the Wittenberg Lutheran Center, Normal, Ill., said of her time at the conference, “Learning and understanding the Lutheran view of religious liberty and how we can encourage others in our own lives to know and understand Christ and spread the word on campus was a wonderful experience.”
Zill announced that the next LCMS U conference will take place in 2019 and will be titled “Rage on.” The 2019 conference will focus on witnessing to the faith.
Dr. Kevin Armbrust (firstname.lastname@example.org) is manager of Editorial Services with LCMS Communications.
Posted January 18, 2017 / Updated January 25, 2017