Archive for April 2011

Prague Lutherans Help Japan Disaster

By Albert B. Collver

From the May 2011 Reporter Insert

Pastor David Jurech, superintendant of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession (EVAC) in Prague, recently wrote to the LCMS regarding the earthquake and subsequent disasters in Japan. He wrote, “About Japan it is very difficult to find an explanation. Only God knows why that happened, and we should not speculate about it, but rather repent . . .” (Luke 13:1–5). He went on to explain that his church is small but expressed how his church would like to provide some assistance to the Japanese. He wondered if it might be possible for his church to partner with the LCMS in some way.

Pastor Jurech’s message reflects two significant biblical themes: repentance, and care for the body of Christ and for our neighbor in need. Repentance because we do not know the Lord’s reason for permitting suffering in a particular place, but we do know that because of our sin we deserve judgment and punishment. So as Jesus said, we repent for our sin and pray for our neighbor in need. As the body of Christ we care for other Christians who are hurting. As Martin Luther writes, “This is obvious: if anyone’s foot hurts him, yes, even the little toe, the eye at once looks at it, the fingers grasp it, the face puckers, the whole body bends over to it, and all are concerned with this small member; again, once it is cared for, all the other members are benefited” (AE 35:52).

As far removed as Prague and the Czech Republic are from Japan, the Lutheran Church there hurts like you do when you stub your toe over the suffering of others in Japan. Because the Lord has given us a life together with Him and shown us compassion, we desire to have compassion on others in need both near and far from us. As a body works together for the well-being of the person, the church throughout the world (here in the United States, Prague, and also with gifts from our partner churches in Hong Kong and Korea) can work together to assist our brothers and sisters in Christ in Japan.

The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Prague is not a partner church of the LCMS. In fact, the LCMS did not reach out to this church. Rather, this church found the LCMS as it sought out a church that believed the Holy Scriptures and confessed The Book of Concord. Lutheranism in the Czech Republic has a long and difficult history, beginning shortly after the Reformation. After Lutheranism was exterminated in Prague during the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), it re-emerged in the 18th century as German Lutherans came to Prague. Under communism, Lutheranism all but vanished in Prague, only to emerge again in 1993. Currently, LCMS pastor Ron Stehr conducts English services in Prague.

The EVAC is not the only church the LCMS has engaged in conversations in the Czech Republic. In the fall of 2010, the LCMS signed a working agreement with the Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession near the border of Poland to cooperate in externals and to work together where possible. The Silesian Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession continued to exist in hiding during the Thirty Years’ War and suffered much under communism. While the LCMS does not have fellowship with either church body in the Czech Republic, we continue in conversation, praying Jesus’ prayer that the church may be one, having a life together in Christ and with a common confession of faith.

Go to the Seminary!

Harrison: Time to head to the seminary.

Joe Schmo – Wannabe Pastor: Really?

Harrison: Yes, really.

Schmo: But I’m hearing that guys are going to the sem, yet there are many who are not receiving calls at the end of their four years of study?

Harrison: It is true that the past couple of years the number of graduates from our two seminaries has exceeded available calls. HOWEVER, all or nearly all of the students desiring to serve in a parish have been placed in the course of the months following graduation. I myself had to wait several months to be placed, so hey… be confident that the Lord will bless. He will!

Schmo: Are you SURE about that? What if I go through all the trouble of moving, perhaps selling my house, moving my wife and kids, and all that with no guarantee of a call at the end?

Harrison: The economy won’t remain in the tank forever. In fact, the number of calling congregations across the Missouri Synod increased significantly over the past year. The UNOFFICIAL word right now is that the number of men who will have to wait to be placed will be much fewer than last year. And I’m confident that with a little time, all will be placed.

Schmo: But what are the long term trends?

Harrison: There are a number of factors here, but a couple of things make me rather optimistic about the need. Right now and well into the next two decades, the class size of retiring pastors are quite large. The raw data show that we are going to need to replace some 300 retiring clergy per year for some time to come. There are factors affecting this need currently, such as retiring clergy continuing to serve on a part-time basis, or small congregations choosing to employ a retired man rather than pay a full salary. But the bottom line is that the need long term will be significant. There will also continue to be the need for church planters.

Schmo: O.K. But the economy still worries me.

Harrison: Fair enough. But there have been times in the Synod’s history when hundreds of men were without calls. We are nowhere near that challenge at the moment. Moreover, although the economy in certain states is particularly challenging, still, in many rural/farming communities there is a significant economic upswing occurring, driven by record high prices for corn and soybeans. The Lord will provide.

Schmo: But the housing market is a problem, no?

Harrison: Yes, true. There have been better times to sell and move. But hey, Ft. Wayne remains one of the lowest priced housing markets in the country, and it is definitely a buyers’ market in St. Louis – which is a huge and very diverse market. Many Ft. Wayne students live in low cost government subsidized housing, and the St. Louis sem has married student housing right on campus.

Schmo: But can’t I just do my seminary education via distance learning?

Harrison: It is true that the seminaries offer distance education for certain specific circumstances, where a man intends perhaps to be bi-vocational. Such programs offer flexibility needed for some local challenges. But there is no substitute for a thorough, residential education. While distance opportunities are appropriate for some, a distance education may also limit your ability to serve in the maximum number of circumstances in the future.

Schmo: So what’s the great benefit of a residential education?

Harrison: There is absolutely no substitute for total immersion in a community of hundreds of men and women (deaconess students) all totally committed to studying the sacred texts of holy scripture. There is no substitute for rigorous language study done in residence, study that will bless your ministry for decades to come. There is no substitute for the learning that occurs shoulder to shoulder with professors, students, graduate students, on burning topics of the day. We have the two finest Lutheran seminaries in the world. Both are in good shape financially. The St. Louis sem has undergone marvelous renovation of the physical plant thanks to the work of President Meyer and the staff. The Ft. Wayne seminary boasts a fabulous new library facility, which will open soon. The faculties boast many men who are leading scholars in their field of study, from historical theology to doctrinal theology, to exegesis and practical theology.

Schmo: But how do I know this step is for me?

Harrison: You can only find out by inquiring. If you have a good reputation in your home parish, if you love the bible and love people, if you have the nascent tools to be a leader, if you have a passion to know more about Christ, and share that knowledge with people who need to know Jesus, contact the seminaries and ask for an application. The process will assist you in assessing your potential. There are great folks at the sem with lots of experience in helping men and women, working with their current realities, while honoring their vocations as father or mother. And once you’ve been accepted, you can always postpone for a year or so, or go when the moment is right.

Schmo: Are there other people like me at the sem?

Harrison: Indeed there are. Many. And there are profs too who have gone through exactly what you are going through. And you will find a community made up of diverse individuals asking many different questions, hungry for knowledge of the scriptures and the Lutheran confessions. There will be people at the sem from all over the world and your eyes will be opened to a whole new world, the world of the church of Christ which spans the globe and the centuries.

Schmo: But I’m still nervous!

Harrison: You should be nervous! This is a huge step. And you are contemplating a vocation which is difficult but also hugely rewarding. There are risks, but there are also fantastic blessings. I can not find the words to express how much I’ve enjoyed my time serving in the parish. People let you into their lives at their worst moments, and at their most joyous moments. To bring the forgiveness and comfort in Christ, to share in new lives beginning in baptism, to teach young people to love Christ, to minister to the sick and dying, are honors which few Christians get to experience. And the opportunities to take Christ into the surrounding community are legion!

Schmo: That sounds like a pretty cool job!

Harrison: It is! There are few jobs where you are expected to study the scriptures and related texts, and then get the chance to directly apply what you’ve learned from God’s word during the week, and every Sunday morning in the context of real lives and people. Seminary teaches you how to study as well as all the basics you need to serve Christ in his people.

Schmo: I guess I’d better do some more praying about this.

Harrison: Indeed, dear friend. And be assured that I’m praying for you too. Jesus said task number one in mission is to “pray the Lord of the harvest send workers.” And I’m praying that directly with YOU in mind. H.C. Schwan, president of the Synod from 1878 to 1899 said that you’d better watch out if you “pray the Lord of the harvest send workers.” Why? Because you’ll soon find that the Lord sends YOU! As you pray, I’d suggest you read St. Paul’s Pastoral Epistles and let them saturate your thoughts and prayers (I & II Timothy and Titus).

There is no need, I’m convinced, that the Missouri Synod should decline. We have a worldwide moment before us. It will require fidelity to the Scriptures and Lutheran teaching, zeal for the gospel of Christ, openness to diverse cultures, mercy for those hurting, and love for the church. And, it will require a GREAT seminary trained ministerium.

Go to the sem!

Matt Harrison

Two Districts Moving 'Beyond Survival Mode'

From the May 2011 Reporter Insert

‘. . . we want to help move people into vision mode.’

By Kim Plummer Krull

A long with sharing a border, Minnesota North District President Rev. Donald Fondow and North Dakota President Rev. Dr. James Baneck share the conviction that God’s people are called to look outward, including reaching out in international mission fields. Instead of their districts attempting to shoulder mission work solo, both men believe in the power of partnerships. “It’s exciting that the Synod is looking to partner with districts in foreign missions,” Baneck says. “People in our congregations are interested in and seeking ways to be a part of international projects. It’s an opportunity for grassroots ownership.”

In this edited interview, Baneck (JB) and Fondow (DF) discuss a growing orphan care project in Kenya started by LCMS members in North Dakota and Minnesota and  partnerships that move congregations and districts beyond “survival mode” into  “vision mode.”

Q: When you traveled to Kenya in February, you got a firsthand look at Project 24 (www.lcms.org/project24), the orphan care program started by LCMS members in the North Dakota and Minnesota North districts in partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK) and LCMS World Relief and Human Care. What do you want fellow LCMS members to know about this partnership project?

JB Project 24 began with a group of men asking ELCK Bishop Walter Obare, “If we partnered with you, what would you want us to do?” The goal is to build 24 rescue [orphan care] centers to raise up a generation of Lutherans and a generation of leaders—not only for the ELCK but for the Kenyan culture as well. [Six centers are now operating, with four more under construction and plans for another 10 under way.] I’d love to see our district take on building and maintaining a Project 24 site, supporting what these men began. It’s a great opportunity for our district to get involved in an international project.

Q: You both mention that districts and congregations need to fight a tendency toward an “inward” focus. How can partnerships help our church reach out internationally?

JB We can do so much more together than we can do alone. In Kenya, for example, the Minnesota North and North Dakota districts have a common interest through Project 24. It’s an opportunity to look beyond ourselves and serve internationally as individual members, congregations and as districts. The LWML, Orphan Grain Train and other ministries also work in Kenya. Instead of working separately, we need to look for ways we can work together and get more done together.

DF After our two districts did joint theological conferences, we started looking for a project we could do together to connect our members and as an opportunity to make an international impact together. People from our districts already are involved in Project 24, so why not build on that involvement, expand it and make it a formal mission outreach of the district? We believe that if we present a strong mission opportunity before the people, the support will follow.

Q: How do you see the new emphasis on witness, mercy, life together helping your district accomplish ministry goals?

DF It’s definitely a great way for looking at the overall work that the Lord has privileged us to be a part of. That threefold focus touches on who we are as the church and who the Lord would have us to be. We are to be witnesses in showing God’s love and doing acts of mercy out in the world together, not in a vacuum.

JB In the past, we’ve done each of those emphases, yet some people may have been afraid of a “social Gospel.” But when we connect mercy with who we are in Christ, it’s the church doing Christ’s work on earth. When you look at what we’re doing in Kenya with Project 24, it’s mercy work, witnessing by proclaiming the Gospel and it’s certainly life together. We’re not just being Christians here in this country, but having life together with our partners in Kenya. At the same time, [Kenyan Lutherans] have a lot they can teach us about the Christian faith.

Q: Our Synod faces challenges, economic and otherwise. Yet you sound excited about future mission and ministry opportunities. Why?

JB I am excited. When you go to Kenya and see people worshipping in corrugated metal churches and they are so joyful and lively, how can you dwell on our own financial shortages? We are so blessed. We have so many resources. The more we tell the story and show how we can partner together to benefit our brothers and sisters in Christ, people are going to want to be a part of that story.

DF When you make a connection with workers you help send into the field or a project you help support, it is exciting. Yes, there’s been a recession. Yes, our district has more congregations in communities of 2,500 people or less than any other district. There’s a tendency to focus inward and go into survival mode, but we want to help move people into vision mode. The Lord has called us to make disciples of all nations. When we’re faithful to our calling, people grow in their faith and want to go with their faith.

Congratulations, Dr. Paul Maier!

This story in the Detroit Free Press heralds the retirement of the Rev. Dr. Paul Maier from Western Michigan University. Dr. Maier serves as 3rd Vice President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Paul is a delight to be around. He loves stories, apologetics, ancient history, texts, the New Testament, and much more. I’m thankful to know him.

Matt Harrison