Here is a quick report of what happened at the 66th The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in Milwaukee.
The convention took place July 9-14, 2016. I attended this convention because I was elected last summer to be the Ann Arbor pastoral delegate. Every circuit of congregations sends one lay delegate and one pastoral delegate. There were about 1,125 voting delegates sitting in the often frigid conditions of the Wisconsin Center in Milwaukee. The theme for the convention was “Upon this Rock: Repent, Confess, Rejoice.”
The primary business of the convention is the “opportunity for worship, nurture, inspiration, fellowship and the communication of vital information” (Bylaw 3.1.1). The worship services were filled with the most spectacular music from the organ, brass, and soloists. The theme focused on the rock solid confession of faith that Jesus Christ is our savior. As much as the world may change around us, we can remain confident that Jesus is our hope and salvation. The most important business at the convention for me was the opportunity for relationship renewal and building. The communication of vital information was found in printed reports, speeches from the stage, and some attractive videos that were shown to introduce new programs.
The second item of business is elections. The president was elected before the convention by electronic vote. So delegates arrived at the convention knowing that Rev. Matthew C. Harrison was reelected for his third term as president. We spent several hours at the convention electing people to various offices. There were not many surprises in the elections. Before the convention an anonymous group mailed to the voting delegates the “United List.” This produced and distributed list influenced the outcome of the elections. I think only a handful of the nearly 100 elections went against the list. I did not utilize the list and so therefore I found my votes in the elections were often on the wrong side of victory.
The third item of business at the convention is for the assembly to consider reports, overtures, and resolutions for action. Overtures were submitted to the convention by congregations, circuits, districts, and officers and committees of the synod. Floor committees met over Memorial Day weekend to craft these overtures into resolutions. The convention assembly debated and voted on the resolutions. Some of the controversial resolutions presented to the assembly concerned the dispute resolution process, the role of lay deacons functioning in support of the office of the public ministry, and the governance of the universities.
President Harrison had a majority of delegates supporting his positions in these controversial areas. He had a consistent 60% voting block, but he demonstrated at this convention a commitment to the unity of the church. He did not utilize his support among the voting delegates to pass anything by slim margins of majority. He sought consensus. For instance, the modifications to the dispute resolution he proposed had very little support from the district presidents. His proposal would have increased the power of the president to overrule decisions by the district presidents. When the opposition to this change became publicly evident, the resolution was revised so that both sides could find agreement. Providing a route towards ordination for those deacons that have been doing the duties of the pastor was approved by over 70% of the assembly. This route towards ordination was approved without considerable discussion because the leadership of the synod has spent a great deal of time over the last few years nurturing this idea.
Our synod voted with considerable unity on issues that appear to divide the rest of our country. We affirmed that marriage is between one man and one woman. We affirmed that God created the heavens and the earth. We affirmed that Lutheran universities, seminaries, and schools should be Lutheran. We affirmed that we should regularly read the Bible (yep we voted on that tough topic).
I can report that Jesus is at work in this world bringing His saving message of redemption, and graciously God is using our own church body to be a part of delivering this saving message. God also uses, throughout the world, tremendously brave people in our partner churches to share this good news.
You can learn a great deal about what happened at the convention by visiting LCMS.org/convention. If you are looking for a less varnished reporting of the events of the convention, then you could visit the online forum of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. The ALPB sent Rev. Dr. Paul Sauer to report the events of the convention. HIs comments and the musings of others that watched the convention can be found at alpb.org/forum.
When I came home, I received wonderful hugs from my kids and wife. It was good to see our church body at work, but I think it is even more powerful for me to witness the daily ways God is using the people of our congregation. Thank you for sharing the Word of God with your friends, family members, neighbors, and co-workers. When I witness Jesus being shared with the children of our community during Vacation Bible School, I rejoice God is at work.