Attending WELS Convention
The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) held their 63rd biannual convention at the Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, MI, from 27-30 July 2015. The Convention theme was “One in Christ.” The Wisconsin Synod invited LCMS observers to attend. The WELS convention is reminisce of how the Missouri Synod used to conduct their conventions. For instance, nominations for the president happened from the convention floor and elections were conducted with paper ballots. The convention by all accounts has been peaceful with the delegates enjoying visiting with one another.
Opening worship was held at St. Paul’s in Saginaw. The service was completely packed with standing room only in the narthex of the church and in the basement of the church. President Mark Schroeder served as the presiding minister, while Prof. Paul Koelpin of Martin Luther College served as the preacher. The sermon text was based off of the Easter propers in particular 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. Pastor Paul Koelpin is an excellent preacher. A particular poignant line from his sermon was, “The greatest irony of Jesus’ life is the more Jesus loved, the more Jesus forgave, the more he was hated.” Pastor Koelpin not only divided Law and Gospel in his sermon but he captured the theology of the cross, and the victory of Christ’s resurrection.
The convention proper began the next day with the “Presentation of the Flags” by the Lutheran Woman’s Missionary Society. The WELS LWMS is similar to the LCMS’ LWML group. The “Presentation of the Flags” highlights the states and the countries where the Wisconsin Synod is active in Mission. As each flag is presented, the women relay the story of how the flag relates to mission work. It is a very nice ceremony and a good way to remind delegates of the mission work of their church.
The Wisconsin Synod has been active in worldwide mission work for over 100 years. Back in the days of the Synodical Conference, the LCMS and WELS did cooperative and joint mission work. The Wisconsin Synod has engaged in missionary work in places where the LCMS currently does not have a mission outpost such as Pakistan, Nepal, and Ukraine.
During the convention, I had the opportunity to meet Bishop V’yacheslav Horpynchuk from the Ukraine. Over the years I have had the opportunity to correspond with Bishop Horpynchuk about developments in Lutheranism in the Ukraine and regarding the struggles of the Lutheran church in Ukraine. Many in the Missouri Synod know of Bishop Horpynchuk due to the decade long “Russia Project” at Concordia Theological Seminary. It was a pleasure to see Bishop Horpynchuk face to face, with the hope of visiting in the Ukraine in the future.
Other good news from the Wisconsin Synod convention was the reelection of President Mark Schroeder. President Schroeder has severed as the WELS President for the past 8 years. He has been instrumental in beginning the informal decisions between the LCMS-WELS-ELS over the past four years.
President Schroeder and the WELS CICR (the equivalent of the LCMS’ CTCR) presented to the convention the informal discussions between the Missouri Synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and the Wisconsin Synod.
During the report about the information conversations between the former synodical conference members, the photo from the third meeting was displayed with the comment, “Our conversations are informal and so is the dress.” The Wisconsin Synod expressed how much it appreciated contact with the Missouri Synod.
Of course, every convention has business and reports. A significant report was on the financial condition of the Wisconsin Synod, which over all is good. The report noted how the “Ministry Financial Plan” formerly was “resource” driven but now is “ministry” driven. Given the size of the Wisconsin Synod, approximately 400,000 members, the church gives about $10 million for international mission and about $9 million for domestic mission each year. This is a tremendous stewardship commitment. The WELS also faces challenges similar to the Missouri Synod such as declining demographics and flat offering plate giving. WELS and Missouri face the same social pressures and potential restrictions in religious freedoms as well. All of these items were discussed at the convention.
Another highlight of the convention was the Convention Essay, “One in Christ” based on the book of Ephesians by Rev. James Huebner. Pastor Huebner has been a part of the group having informal discussions with the MIssouri Synod. He has a vibrant intercity ministry in Milwaukee and is an excellent preacher and speaker. The WELS press described his essay as follows:
The essay focused on the book of Ephesians. “In my work as a parish pastor, I have taught Ephesians often enough, and that book is really about being one in Christ,” says Huebner. “As diverse as that congregation in Ephesus was, we are also diverse. And yet the apostle wrote that you are one—thanks to Jesus—with your God and in faith and in purpose.”
Huebner says he decided to design the essay to be more like a sermon than a formal scholarly essay. For that reason he memorized his hour-long presentation. “From my heart to yours, this is what God has to say for you to think about,” he says.
It truly was an inspirational and excellent essay.
The WELS convention “One in Christ” was a pleasure to attend. The Wisconsin Synod folks showed great hospitality to the Missouri Synod observers. The convention also featured “branded” water bottles for the delegates. May the Lord bless WELS.
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