By David Strand
Looking back on this year’s 35 district conventions, of which he attended 25, LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison told the Synod’s Board of Directors (BOD) he senses “a very good spirit” in the church.
“People are calm,” he said. “There is very substantive debate, but it is polite and honest discussion of the issues facing districts, and this is a great blessing.”
Harrison made these remarks as part of his president’s report at the BOD’s quarterly meeting in St. Louis Aug. 24–25.
New positions filled
Touching on other highlights of a “busy summer,” Harrison noted the installations of the Rev. Daniel F. McMiller and the Rev. Robert M. Zagore, the new executive directors of the Office of International Mission (OIM) and Office of National Mission (ONM), respectively.
Harrison cited First Vice-President Rev. Dr. Herbert C. Mueller Jr.’s work in getting the Licensed Lay Deacon program fully implemented, saying the deacons “far and away are happy to be colloquized as Specific Ministry Pastors.”
Extending congratulations to the Rev. David P.E. Maier, president of the LCMS Michigan District, on becoming the new chairman of the Council of Presidents, Harrison added that nine new district presidents will be coming aboard in September.
“This is a great crop of new guys,” he said. “I am quite pleased.”
He prayed for God’s blessing on the filling of presidential vacancies at Concordia University, Irvine, Calif., and Concordia University, Portland, Ore., and then took the Board on a quick tour of international matters in India (a court decision in favor of the Synod’s church partner), South Africa (political difficulties), Geneva (conversations with the Lutheran World Federation), and Brussels (an upcoming meeting of the International Lutheran Council).
National mission plans, successes and challenges
The Board was introduced to Zagore, who reviewed the plan he had followed during his first 90 days as head of the ONM — including exploring the operations and goals of ONM ministries and learning about his unit’s stakeholders.
He praised his directors — “highly skilled, theologically solid, hardworking, resilient” — and listed recent “outstanding accomplishments” in Urban & Inner-City Mission, Witness & Outreach Ministry, Youth Ministry, Worship and Disaster Response.
“Some 6,000 people in the Synod have been trained so far by Every One His Witness,” he said, with the fourth and much-anticipated module of the program, “Witnessing to Dechurched Adult Children,” soon to appear.
Meanwhile, “Thy Strong Word,” the Worldwide KFUO Bible-study show hosted by Director of Worship Rev. William C. Weedon, has enjoyed 100,000 downloads.
Zagore’s upbeat presentation nonetheless addressed challenges, such as “systemic weaknesses in our budget that lead to staffing shortfalls and a lack of responsiveness to emerging needs.”
Zagore said he looked forward to collaborating with others in creating “a human-resource network to develop a reach we currently don’t have. We want to make our work better known.”
To that end, he invited the members of the BOD to “add your voices” to the conversation “and be advocates for the ONM.”
Not a ‘cold-storage unit’
A second guest presenter, the Rev. Dr. Daniel N. Harmelink, executive director of Concordia Historical Institute (CHI), opened with a PowerPoint slide containing the crossed-out words “The Synod’s department of cryogenics” — humorously making the point that CHI is not a “cold-storage unit” where the Synod’s archival documents and artifacts go into permanent “deep freeze,” never to be seen again.
To the contrary, he said, the institute is vibrant in its “treasuring and trumpeting the redeeming work of Christ in the life of the church.”
The institute enables people, he said, both inside and outside the LCMS, to “relearn and rediscover the history of the Synod” by its “actively retrieving, organizing and displaying the church’s history, which is our compass.”
Harmelink noted that although more and more research these days is done digitally, “it is a much more enriching experience for those who wish to learn from history [to] sit down and dig into the actual boxes of archived documents than to receive translations and summaries of these primary-source documents via email.”
He reported that, during his four-and-a-half-year tenure, CHI has doubled its assets, is now debt free, and offers opportunities for people to include the institute in their estate planning, “where their funds will be responsibly managed.”
Frank Simek, the Synod’s chief administrative officer, updated the Board on recent realignments in LCMS Information Technology (IT) and Building Services.
Following three in-depth reviews dating back to July 2017 — studies evaluating the policies, procedures, hardware, software and organizational structure of IT — the Synod is moving into a collaborative relationship with Concordia Plan Services (CPS) and a third party to handle its IT needs.
“Our increased synergy with CPS,” Simek said, “will help us leverage vendors and the technology landscape to improve performance and reduce costs” by hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
In another collaborative effort — this one involving the Synod, CPS and the LCMS Foundation — the three “landlords” of the LCMS International Center, working with an outside facilities-management company, will save tens of thousands annually through the increased purchasing power and other advantages made possible by the outside firm.
Such enhanced business integration “will allow us to focus more on our core competencies,” said Simek. “By that I mean mission work.”
“We are seeing indications of what we can do, and the money we can save, through greater collaboration with our corporate partners,” said BOD Chairman Rev. Dr. Michael L. Kumm. The BOD “started this campaign three years ago to bring the corporate entities closer together. That is happening, and we are seeing real savings for the Synod. I can’t tell you how pleased I am.”
Encouraging fiscal report
The fiscal report came in the person of Ross Stroh, executive director of LCMS Accounting.
Preparations for the year-end audit are underway, he said, FY18 having ended June 30.
While the preliminary year-end net expense (loss) was $161,000 — this figure reflecting only unrestricted assets — the Synod’s temporarily and permanently restricted funds, respectively, grew by $8.15 million and $1.45 million.
“We are in a healthy cash position,” said Stroh, and disaster-response money is “going out the door” to cover continuing, mainly hurricane-related, relief efforts.
In other business, the BOD:
- Appointed the Rev. Josemon T. Hoem, senior pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Murphysboro, Ill., to fill an at-large vacancy on the Board for the remainder of the 2016–22 term.
- Received committee reports, including from the Audit and Governance committees, which are working in concert to sharpen the guidelines on the kind of information the Board needs from the Synod’s seminaries and universities to consider requests for capital campaigns and master-plan changes.
- Resolved to instruct the Synod’s chief financial officer to present the Board with an annual proposed operating budget that reduces the accumulated deficit in the unrestricted net-assets account balance by up to $2 million per year until the debt is eliminated. The current figure stands at $13.3 million, down $300,000 over the past year.
- Agreed to submit an overture for consideration by the 2019 Synod Convention to protect the privacy of delegates by not publishing their mailing addresses in the Convention Workbook.
- Approved a building purchase at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minn., and a lot purchase at Concordia University Texas, Austin, Texas.
- Gave pre-approval to the OIM’s intention to appoint new members to the board of directors of the LCMS foreign mission corporation in the Dominican Republic.
The BOD’s autumn meeting will occur Nov. 15–16 in San Diego prior to the Lutheran Church Extension Fund’s Fall Leadership Conference, to be held there later that week.
Posted Oct. 4, 2018