7/13/2016 9:20:02 PM
Pastor Chris Vossler
Synod Convention: Wednesday
Greetings from Milwaukee! This Convention has flown by the last couple of days—not least because both the chair and the floor committees have been hammering their way through resolutions at a breakneck pace! We have accomplished a lot of important things here, but a huge number of those “important things” today fall under one of two categories: “We need to fix something in Bylaw X because it is [insert reason here],” or “Well, Legal told us to do it, so we’re doing it.” And that’s before we had to elect people to national boards and college/university Boards of Regents! Those aren’t the most exciting resolutions to pass or elections to hold, but these kinds of nitty-gritty Constitution-and-Bylaw updates are necessary. And the people we elect to these offices will have important responsibilities for the coming triennium.
That’s not to say that everything today was like that; in fact I think that one of my personal highlights of the Convention happened today. Our convention essayist today was the Rev. Dr. Bernahu Ofgaa, President of the Ethiopia Evangelical Church –Mekane Yesus. And WOW! Being in Seminary when I was, I actually received a lot of “insider information” about our discussions and relations with the EECMY, starting from 2013 when they officially severed their historic ties with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Church of Sweden over the latter’s advocacy of same-sex attraction. Simultaneously, the EECMY expressed a desire for closer ties with our own LCMS because they—and all the Lutheran churches of Africa—view us as the ones who hold fast to the Lutheran Confessions. WOW! Today, as part of his essay “Built on the Rock—Rejoice!” Dr. Ofgaa explained more of the history of the EECMY, and its rapid expansion in the face of severe government persecution. This church suffered so much—pastors arrested and imprisoned, laypeople arrested, church properties confiscated, and even the martyrdom of its leader, Rev. Gudina Tumsa, in 1979—and in spite of (or perhaps “because of” or “through”) this persecution the church grew enormously, even among those who were persecuting them. God’s work in preserving and expanding this church, and in performing signs and miracles to affirm their faith, is certainly a cause for joy! There is so much that we can learn from them, particularly the way in which they have been able to mobilize their laity for evangelism. Though they come to us—and are so grateful for it—for theological education through visiting professors and the Global Seminary Initiative, we as a church body need to recognize these opportunities for us to learn from our partners and allies. We are not currently in fellowship with the EECMY, but we should pray that if it is God’s will, He will grant unity of doctrine and practice between us in His time.
Moving to the day’s business, we finished up the work of the Committee on Ecclesiastical Supervision and Dispute Resolution. First we adopted a compromise resolution on the issue of appealing a District President’s decision, which was agreed to by the entire Council of Presidents and Praesidium. This compromise gives the Secretary of Synod the responsibility of drafting a new Bylaw for this process, but instructs the Council of Presidents to collaborate in drafting the new procedure. Once the Bylaw has been written, with will only go into effect when adopted by 2/3 of the Synod Board of Directors. I think this is the best compromise that we could hope for from this convention. Something needed to be done after the Commission on Constitutional Matters found the current procedure (a Review Panel) to be unconstitutional, and I don’t think anything other than this would have been accepted.
I really appreciated Rev. Linneman (President of the Northwest District) standing up to speak to the matter which directly led to this issue. In essence he explained that while he had acted to exercise ecclesiastical supervision over the pastor in question, he did so with the desire to “win the brother” (which should be the ultimate goal in these circumstances). The exact circumstances of his supervision are unknown to all except the District staff and Board of Directors, as well as himself and the pastor in question. Nevertheless, he did offer an apology for the confusion and consternation which resulted from the manner in which he exercised supervision in this case. I hope that these words will start to heal the divisions within our Synod. We should not be divided; we should be united in our “walk together.”
Three of the remaining resolutions from this committee, as well as all the resolutions from the committees on Finance, Parochial Schools, Stewardship, and the Seminaries were hammered through as quickly as possible because we were rather short on time. At some point, I think the vast majority of the Convention delegates decided that they just wanted to cut to the chase and get some work done, so most of these resolutions passed quickly, with the final three committees’ work (15 resolutions in all) getting hammered through in under an hour. I guess when we actually want to, we can get a lot done!
This afternoon we elected members for all the Concordias’ Boards of Regents, the Fort Wayne Seminary’s Board of Regents, and the Board for International Mission, all of which went surprisingly smoothly. There was one comment about the prevalent use of election lists (lists advising delegates of how to vote), but I don’t know if I would agree with it. On the one hand, I prefer to do my own research by reading the biographical materials and deciding for myself—if I had looked at any of the lists, I would only have done so to automatically reject whomever they recommended (list makers: take note in case I’m ever sent back!). On the other hand, few if any of the delegates actually know the candidates for whom we are voting, and given the sheer volume of elections (today we had 49 positions to fill) I can see the benefit of having a list of suggestions, as long as the delegates view it only as a guide, rather than a hard-and-fast rule.
We finished up (or mostly-finished-up) 5 committees in the afternoon: Routes to Ministry, Mercy, Ecclesiastical Supervision, Structure and Administration, and Preaching and Church Worker Continuing Education. A lot of these we breezed through quickly (Structure and Administration bundled about half their resolutions together, and most of the rest were relatively-minor changes and updates and corrections). One of theirs did not pass, which would have given all congregations in a multi-point parish a lay vote at District Conventions. The motion received a majority of votes, but because it was a Constitutional change it needed a 2/3 majority. However, it fell about 4 votes shy.
Before closing, we should talk some more about the resolutions from the Stewardship and Finance committees, both of which strongly encourage congregations to support the Synod’s programs and missionaries and other work. Even though so many of our congregations are struggling financially, I do think that we can find ways to support our missionaries. In fact, I think it would be absolutely incredible if our circuit (with another circuit, perhaps) could fully-support one of our missionaries. In talking to an OIM representative, a GEO (short-term) missionary requires around $30,000/year in support, and a career (long-term) missionary requires substantially more, up to $100,000 or more/year. If each of our congregations (between individual donors, door offerings, LWML and LLL support, and budgeted items) could offer $5,000/year, 2 circuits (20 congregations) could potentially support a single missionary. This is something that deserves greater thought, but we should certainly give it some consideration.
Please pray for the final day of the Convention, that we would finish the race strongly. And also pray for all those who will be returning home tomorrow.
Let us pray: Lord of the Church, You call Your people into a life of struggle, not necessarily a life of leisure. We thank You for Your gracious provision to the Ethiopia Evangelical Church – Mekane Yesus, that through persecution they have grown closer to You and stronger in their confession of Your name. Grant like boldness to the LCMS, that we would hold fast to our confession of Your name and remain faithful to our calling to be Your people and show Your love to those who need to experience it. Grant diligence to the Convention tomorrow, and safety to those who will travel. We pray all things in Your Son’s Name. Amen.