Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of C. F. W. Walther, Synod founder and president. But even as we thank God for the many hats Walther wore—from Synod founder to Synod president, from seminary professor to seminary president—we also thank Him for one of Walther’s default legacies: the Walther League.
Ask a youth in the church today about the Walther League, and they’ll likely give you a blank stare. But ask an adult about the same, and they’ll recount a handful of stories from their youth that have their basis in a Walther League activity.
The league has a notable place in the Synod’s history. It began in the late nineteenth century and developed alongside America’s history, flourishing as the LCMS adopted English into its vocabulary. It continued to grow through the World Wars, even establishing a headquarters in Chicago.
Its members were busy. Over 5,000 groups were eventually established. Youth met to discuss Scripture and the catechism, went on hayrides and roller skated, and also assisted in their communities and neighborhoods as they learned firsthand how to show Christ’s mercy to those around them. And when all the studying and the merriment was over, a few young Lutheran men even met their future brides at Walther League events! The league’s benefits were clearly many and varied.
The league eventually disbanded in 1977 as a result of painful but formative doctrinal discussions, but other youth organizations have risen to challenge the youth of the Church in their understanding of what it means to be a Lutheran in this time and in this place.
So although the league itself no longer exists, one important aspect of it remains: the need for the Church’s young people to be stretched and molded in their understanding of the faith.
C. F. W. Walther compelled men to be faithful pastors, pastors that would deliver Christ’s Gospel to a young generation eager to hear it. We, too, can be faithful to Walther’s legacy, to the encouragement of young men in pastoral formation at one of our two seminaries.
But we can also be faithful to the Christian faith by encouraging our children, teenagers, and college students to be about the holy things of God, to encourage them in a love for Scripture, hymnody, and the catechism, and to be boldly, unabashedly, and joyfully Lutheran.
What are your memories of Walther League?