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Posts by Ray Hartwig
It is quite unique among Christian denominations, in use since 1992 when the LCMS convention adopted Res. 5-01B “To Adopt New Process for Conflict Resolution,” which the floor committe proposed “a. is thoroughly biblical; b. stresses the reconciliation of members within the family of God (encouraging a win-win rather than win-lose resolution of conflict); presents a positive witness to the secular community as to how Christians resolve their conflicts; provides for final resolution of disputes in a timely manner; is less costly in terms of money and time; discourages the secular approach of adversarilal litigation; and requires face-to-face meeting of the complainant and respondent in a spirit of Christian reconciliation.”
The dispute resolution process that was adopted was to be used for all disputes and required four pages of the convention Proceedings. Today there are five distinct processes (dispute resolution and expulsion) with applications also for other specific disputes (e.g., campus conflicts) covering 55 pages of the Synod’s Handbook and accompanied by nearly 200 pages of operating procedures manuals, every convention since 1992 making significant changes and additions to the bylaws governing dispute resolution.
While there continue to be mixed opinions regarding the Synod’s dispute resolution processes and some of its results, with calls to return to the former adjudication process submitted to every convention, the general response in the Synod continues to be positive for the reasons given in the 1992 convention action. Required involvement of trained reconcilers and face-to-face meetings between disputants often fosters reconciliation early on, before disputes reach the Synod level. Disputes that reach the Synod level are handled in an orderly manner in answer to St. Paul’s encouragement in 1 Corinthians 6 to “lay them before” the church.”
Because of regular changes to the bylaws and procedures governing the various kinds of conflict resolution, I (as Secretary of the Synod and administrator of the Synod’s dispute resolution process) will be hosting a series of meetings around the Synod to review current bylaws and procedures manuals with those most involved (reconcilers) and those providing good order (hearing facilitators). Also encouraged to attend are those who serve as administrators of the processes on the district level (district secretaries) and those who have significant roles in both the conflict resolution and expulsion processes (district presidents). The meetings will take place during September (eastern U.S.), October (central U.S.), and November (western U.S.).
I am happy to add that of the approximately 220 reconcilers, hearing facilitators, district secretaries, and district presidents invited to participate, nearly 200 have indicated that they will be able to attend one of the regional meetings, their attendance made possible by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans funding as well as a decision by the Council of Presidents that districts will assume travel costs. God bless our meetings together, that they will enable our Synod ever better to satisfy the intention of that 1992 resolution to provide for our Synod “a process for conflict resolution that is based upon thescriptural principles of reconciliation (Matt. 18 and 2 Cor.5).
Most of us live in subconscious denial of the shortness of life on this earth for much of our lives. Often the bathroom mirror is powerless, even when it is obvious life is passing by. Barring some unforeseen illness or accident, hardly expected, life for a long time seems to extend far into the future. Its shortness has a hard time registering on our minds.
But over time it begins to dawn on us that life on earth, in every case, always has its dusk, toward which our momentum seems only to increase as time passes by. What changes, of course, is perspective. And some events in life are important teachers that remind us not only of the brevity of our sojourn on this earth but also of the relative insignificance of much that we deem important during our earlier years. There are few better occasions to gain perspective than a church anniversary. I attended one a week ago Sunday as a former pastor.
It had been more than 25 years since I had visited the congregation and had seen some of the people (except in memories of long-past events) and they had seen me (except in the congregation’s collection of confirmation pictures). I expect we all gained some perspective that week-ago Sunday. Children whom I had been privileged to baptize introduced me to their children. Couples for whose weddings I officiated introduced me to their grandchildren. Patriarchs and matriarchs who were the pillars of the congregation now used walkers to stay erect. All provided a lesson in perspective.
It wasn’t necessarily a lesson that I hadn’t learned already before. It was just the latest lesson along the way. It is a lesson that we all can use and probably need to have repeated. Hopefully the young people present received it as one of their first lessons in perspective as well. There is a place for youthful optimism and exhuberance that moves this world along, but it has a comparatively unimportant place when the dusk of life approaches, when finally the only optimism that will really matter is voiced by trembling lips as they mouth “The Lord is my Shepherd…” and the only exhuberance that will be important will be anticipation of joining celestial choirs in thanking God for His grace.
The proximity of Earth Day (4/22) and Easter Sunday (4/20) on this year’s calendar is interesting.
Several years after it was invented, our family went out to see a local observance of Earth Day on a patch of South Dakota prairie outside our community. We found a group of ill-kempt people in primitive circumstances, determined to save the earth with their tin foil solar ovens and crude makeshift looms. It was quite the vivid picture of the paucity of human efforts to address what they believed to be a truly big issue.
We know, of course, that this world suffers from something far more serious than carbon emissions. God’s creation suffers right along with humankind since the fall into sin, which resulted in the first “earth day” recorded in Genesis 3. It wasn’t pretty: “Cursed is the ground for thy sake….In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (vv. 17, 19). Paul adds, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22). Of course, the earth is still the Lord’s (Ps. 24:1) and we are its stewards, and we are to be concerned about proper care and treatment of God’s creation. But well-intentioned human efforts to save it will always be too little.
And the same is even more true where mankind’s far more serious problem is concerned, i.e., the Eden emissions that pollute our every day on this earth. Because of our sinfulness, the earth day announced to Adam in Genesis 3 awaits us all: “…till thou return unto the ground, for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (v. 19). Meager human efforts to make amends are easily brushed aside by death’s power.
“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57). Thanks to His incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection and the power of His Spirit working faith in our lives, when our own earth day comes (and it will come soon), what safety and comfort we will find in knowing “…that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come…shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (vv. 21, 38-39). What’s more, this earth also will “be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
The resurrection of Christ puts everything, including Earth Day, into proper perspective.
On a recent trip I noticed the roadway sign “CONTINENTAL DIVIDE,” the point where the flow of North American rivers changes direction from eastward to westward. I happened to think that our Synod right now is crossing its own “contiventional divide,” the time when the flow of our Synod-wide activity changes directions from backward to the 2013 convention to forward to the 2016 convention.
Yesterday (March 1) marked the final official action remaining from our Synod’s 2013 convention, i.e., the deadline for congregational ballots to determine whether the constitutional amendment changing the word “counselor” (as in “circuit counselor”) to “visitor” (as in “circuit visitor”) throughout our Handbook was supported and ratified by two-thirds of the congregations that returned ballots. All that remains now is to prepare the report and announce the results, a first order of business this coming week.
But already during the past two weeks the Board of Directors and the Council of Presidents, turning their attention forward, have met to determine the designation of regions for the 2016 convention elections (a determination to be made at least 24 months prior to conventions). The board and council agreed that the same regional boundaries designated for 2013 convention elections will also be the regional boundaries for the 2016 convention.
And so we begin our sometimes-whitewater journey toward the convention of the summer of 2016. Already meetings are taking place to determine how better or best to navigate the flow of pre-convention requirements provided in our Synod’s Bylaws. My intention is again to alert the congregations of the Synod via a series of appropriately timed postcards of the next turns of events that will require their participation.
We have managed this flow of events once before, and we have learned a few things that should be helpful in making our way even more smoothly through certain frothy areas. But the entire process is still quite new and begins with expectations that will beg our attention almost immediately, as districts prepare for their own conventions in 2015. Let’s enjoy the ride.
Eighteen years ago while serving as district president, I became aware of some unrest in one of our well-established congregations caused by a small group of people whose interests didn’t fit in. Most of the congregation wanted to continue to do things more conventionally, which I certainly supported. This small group wanted to try new things, most of them very acceptable to our LCMS way of thinking and doing.
I remember meeting with this group in one of their living rooms one evening. They were truly a black sheep group, having fallen out of favor not only with their congregation but with surrounding LCMS congregations and pastors. I provided a little counsel about some things that interested them that were out of step with the Synod. Having obtained their cooperation, I also recognized among them a real energy and interest in serving their Lord. Rather than discourage or oppose them, I advocated their peaceful release from their former congregation, supported their efforts to form an LCMS congregation, and provided initial pastoral service on Sundays when I was available to do so.
The rest of their story to date is 18 years of hard and faithful labor, abundantly blessed by God. They began by purchasing an old building with many rooms to serve as their Father’s House. Using their own considerable talents and resources, they remodeled it to provide worship space and modest beginnings for an early childhood ministry. They called a pastor who also recognized their interest and energy in serving their Lord and provided faithful and compatible spiritual leadership. Their small number and ministry to the community began to grow. After several years they sold their first building to purchase a more suitable one. They and their ministry continued to prosper over the years.
This past Sunday I preached for the dedication of their most recent building, purchased with the help of the district church extension fund. The text I used was Isaiah 54:2. It was a wonderful day of reminiscing and marveling and giving thanks by congregation and pastor, district personnel, the fifth vice-president of the Synod, and members and pastors of surrounding congregations.
It was a glorious dedication by a now-much-larger congregation of their 120,000 sq. ft. building that they have been able to convert into a church-like exterior, a beautiful sanctuary, and an amazing Early Childhood Center serving more than 200 children. And there is plenty of room to spare…for a future interest, a parochial school.
An amazing story, in which I was privileged to play a small part. I only mention it, as someone with a more conservative bent, because I marvel how I was led to recognize the need to do the right thing, to step outside the box and “not hold back” (Isaiah 54:2).