My Report of 66th LCMS Convention

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.

Convention Musings

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The Cardinals vs. Phillies baseball games was a wonderful time.

I spent seven days participating in the triennial convention of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. I love the city of St. Louis and so it was a wonderful time to renew my friendship with that beautiful city. Christi and my boys, Henry and Lucas, also came down to St. Louis. I stayed downtown. They stayed out in Maryland Heights with Christi’s cousin. The Domsch family were welcoming hosts and their children and our children had a wonderful time together.

The Michigan District delegation stayed at the Drury Plaza at the Arch which was a wonderful choice. The hotel included a free breakfast, dinner, and happy hour. The bed was comfortable and the room was fairly quiet considering we were right on Washington Ave. The hotel is only a couple of blocks from Busch stadium and the Cardinals baseball team were in town so there was a lot of downtown excitement. I also had an excellent roommate who encouraged me to go running with him in the morning. Starting our days with a run around the St. Louis Arch was outstanding.

Three years ago a new president was elected to lead the LCMS. Before this convention began, President Harrison was reelected for a second term in a new election process. This year the delegates did not arrive with the pent-up anxiety about the vote for president because the vote happened electronically a couple of weeks before the convention. I know that others have commented that this convention had a more cordial environment and that this change in tone could be connected to the change in election process. There were some moments in the convention that made me shake my head in frustration, but there were also some joyous moments that encouraged me to remember the beauty of the church, the bride of Christ.

“At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing”

LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison distributed the Holy Communion during the convention’s opening worship service. My wife and I received the blood of Christ from President Harrison. He greeted me by name and invited me to, “Take drink, the blood of Christ, shed for you.”

One of those beautiful moments occurred during the Opening Divine Service on Saturday, July 20th. The time for distribution of communion was nearly finished. The next hymn we were supposed to sing was “At the Lamb’s High Feast We sing.” I think, because it appeared we were almost done with the distribution, the organist was not going to play this  hymn. After a couple of minutes, the congregation began to sing this beautiful hymn a cappella. After a couple of verses, the organist joined us. Receiving the body and blood of my Lord Jesus Christ and receiving the embrace of the body of Christ through the sounds of praise coming from the whole congregation was a wonderful way for the convention to begin.

Mercy

Delegates and representatives affected by disasters in the last triennium stood to be recognized during a presentation on LCMS Disaster Response.

I greatly enjoyed the moments during the convention when the consensus of our church body was so clearly found in our works of mercy. Three of the floor committees were named for the current mission emphases of the LCMS, “Witness,” “Mercy,” and “Life Together.” The “Mercy” floor committee work highlighted the wonderful work of mercy that Christ is doing through our church. For instance, the

Lutheran Church Charities' Comfort Dogs prepare for their time on the convention stage.

Lutheran Church Charities’ Comfort Dogs prepare for their time on the convention stage.

Lutheran Church Charities’ comfort dogs were brought forward and all those churches that had experienced disaster were invited to come forward. The convention was reminded in this moment that in our weaknesses the strength of God’s grace can shine through us magnificently.

Fellowship – Life Together

I appreciated the moments in the convention when we recognized our relationships with partner churches around the world. At this convention we declared altar and pulpit fellowship with churches in Liberia, Siberia, and Togo. After each of this resolutions declaring our unity were read and representatives from these churches were introduced, we all stood and sang the common doxology. Praise God! Through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments we are a part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

The convention recognized visiting international Lutheran church leaders Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Rev. Gennadij Khonin, Rev. Amos Bolay, Rev. Samuel S.Y. Navoh, Rev. James Kollie, Archbishop Christian Ekong and Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin. At left is LCMS President Matthew Harrison; at right is Rev. Dr. Al Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations.

Besides enjoying moments that recognized our life together with Christians around the world, I was also thankful for the renewal of so many friendships. For example, in the first two rows of section D I sat with 7 classmates from my time at Concordia Seminary.

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Taste at the Sem

At the Taste of the Sem event my family hung out with some of their distant cousins. We enjoyed the bounce house, live music from Erin Bode, great food, outstanding Schlafly beer, and delicious Ted Drewes custard (which my family enjoyed three other times as well).

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Baseball at the seminary.

My kids brought their baseball gear and a baseball game developed behind the Chapel of St. Timothy and Titus. Boys from the Fields, Gaertner, and Nafzger families had a great time.

Throughout my time at the convention I looked forward to the times when I could renew my connections with family and friends. For me, the convention was a time of life together.

Global Seminary Initiative

The Rev. Alexei Streltsov, rector of the theological seminary of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church, speaks to the delegates about the Global Seminary Initiative. Read more here: blogs.lcms.org/2013/delegates-affirm-global-seminary-initiative-encourage-unified-mission-work

This convention passed a resolution in support of the Global Seminary Initiative. This program recognizes the importance of training church leaders so that the mission of local churches can be led by well-equipped local pastors.

“The Global Seminary Initiative (GSI) helps to fill the need for trained pastors and leaders who are native to the region and cultures in which they serve. Professors from both seminaries of the LCMS are sent to help train and increase the capacity of partner church faculties, providing mutual consolation and encouragement to faculty and students in partner seminaries. Our seminary professors have taught in places like Siberia and South Africa, India, Argentina, Kenya, Lithuania, Chile and many other countries.” (http://www.lcms.org/GSI)

This program is an important part of the way the LCMS participates in spreading the gospel to all the nations. We seek to develop the theological strength of local church leaders so that the local church becomes the center of mission instead of the foreign missionary.

This program also demonstrates the current character of LCMS church relations. We are spending less time in maintaining or developing relationships with mainline church bodies that are clearly liberal in their view of Scripture. Instead of waiting for these liberal churches to change, we seek to increase, throughout the world, the number of church bodies that are faithful to the Word of God. The Lutheran churches in Ethiopia and Madagascar are examples of churches that have had historic relationships with liberal Lutheran church bodies and now they are turning towards the LCMS for theological education support.

Worship and Prayer

LCMS convention delegates were invited to retrieve a “bibelot,” a small reminder of Baptism, from the font after the service.

Throughout the convention we shared in times of prayer through the daily prayer services. The services were well conducted and the music was always excellent. We also had a time to remember our baptism through the Service of Baptismal Remembrance and Litany of the Resurrection. The service was pushed from Tuesday to Wednesday because the convention business on Tuesday was not ceased to leave time for prayer. On Wednesday we made sure to find time for this service of remembrance.After the service was over, we were encouraged to take a stone from the baptismal font. Each stone was imprinted with a word describing the gift of the Spirit. I picked up stones that said, “Peace,” “Patience,” and “Kindness.”

Rules of Debate

Not everything at the convention went smoothly. There was a sense of pace to the convention that caused the debate on motions to be ceased before a full sense of dialogue had been allowed. The chair of the convention would say, “Seeing that there are 9 pros and 2 cons in the queue, I will ask the assembly if it is their will to cease debate.” At this point either a vote through our voting devices or voice vote would be taken. Calling the question requires a 2/3 majority and only a couple of times was this not achieved.

I understand that the sides on a debate can appear to be quickly understood and the direction of the vote apparent so therefore the need for further debate can seem unnecessary. Yes, there were times in the debate during the convention when the voices at the mic were repeating the same arguments as the previous speakers. But I disagree with the suggestion that debate was unnecessary once the momentum of the vote was clear. I think that for our life together we need to be ready and willing to hear the con side. I must admit that the question of when debate should be ceased is a difficult one to answer. There was a need for the convention to keep moving and not get bogged down on the minutia. There is also a need in our synod to set a tone of listening.

The role of parliamentary procedure in a convention is to ensure that the debate is fair. During the debate of 5-11B (a resolution presented to the assembly to create a three person committee that would pre-approve a potential faculty member before he could be presented to the seminary board of regents), the president of the LCMS asked 1st Vice-President Herb Mueller to chair the convention so he could speak on the issue. He spoke twice before all others in the queue had a chance to speak, which was a violation of the standing rules passed by the assembly on Sunday. His second speech from mic 13  asked the assembly to pass 5-11B because he had concern that otherwise the seminaries would drift away from their relationship to the synod. This speech was out-of-order and unfairly biased the vote of the assembly. Someone could have yelled, “Point of Order” and asked his speech to be ruled out-of-order. I think there was some confusion because this resolution was debated in two different sessions of the convention and so the order of speaking was easily forgotten. I also think it would be difficult for any one in the assembly to yell at the synod president that he is out-of-order. After the president gave his speech, another speaker said, “We should vote for this resolution because President Harrison asked us to pass it.”

The oversight role of this three member committee that will pre-approve potential faculty is characteristic of some other resolutions passed at this convention. There was a resolution that encouraged the circuit counselors (renamed visitors) to be more active in their role of visitation of circuit congregations. There was a resolution that directed the district presidents to visit every congregation, (they can make these visits through their designees) and during these visits they should specifically ask about the communion and worship practice of the congregation.

The oversight role of the synod president, district president, and circuit counselors did not structurally change at this convention (except for 5-11B). Instead of significant structure changes like what happened at the 2010 convention, this convention did more to remind congregations and pastors that they are called to walk together in the synod. I think this emphasis on oversight will make some nervous. Others will not be nervous because either they realize they are presently on the side of the majority or they realize that most of the oversight power is placed in the hands of the district presidents who are too busy to notice what they are doing.

Encourage and Study

The synod in assembly cannot require any action of congregations or pastors. So the words “encourage” and “commend” and “remind” were ever-present in the resolutions. There were also many resolutions that called for further study. A resolution that calls for further study is essentially punting the issue to the next convention. A study will be asked for when there is not clear consensus in our synod about how the Scripture speaks to the issue to be studied. So the question of what to do with all the pastors on candidate status instead of serving in parishes was punted. The question of Christian citizenship in a time of conflict between a hostile secular government and the church was punted (this one wasn’t actually directed to be studied, it was not brought back to the floor once it was clear that there would be debate on this issue). The role of licensed lay deacons in word and sacrament ministry was punted. The relationship between men and women in church and society was punted. The effectiveness of the specific ministry pastoral program was punted. There were a number of issues that were punted to the next convention and I am curious if any of these studies will produce specific recommendations or just leave us generically all happy.

I am thankful for the opportunity to have represented the Ann Arbor circuit at this convention. I trust God will be at work building His church regardless of what we did at this convention. I hope we did not do anything that gets in the way of the proclamation of the Word of God or the administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.