I am writing from a motel room in Mason City, Iowa, on my way to the Minnesota North District convention, which is on my way to the South Dakota and Oklahoma conventions later in the week–district conventions four, five, and six of our Synod’s 35 during 2012. I like conventions, and I look forward to showing up for as many as I can. But I like good order even more, which is really what brings me to Mason City, headed for points beyond.
The purpose of these convention visits is to make certain that the process we have developed to register and certify our 10,000-or-so district convention delegates for their participation in the vote for President of the Synod next June is both workable and reliable. What was a relatively simple convention decision is a bit more complicated to accomplish. And, of course, we need to get it right the first time.
I thought I would use this blog to let you know what delegates can expect by way of this registration and certification process. There are three stages to the process, information-gathering, certification-granting, and voter-information-recording:
- Information-gathering: Bright yellow registration forms are being used to collect the specific information that will be required for the electronic voting process. Districts are being asked to mail these forms to delegates prior to the convention. Voting delegates are asked to fill out and bring the forms with them to their district conventions. Regestration personnel will check to make certain that the forms are completely filled out, and will verify that the person submitting the form is indeed the delegate properly authorized to attend the convention.
- Certification-granting: These forms will be given to the district secretary (or possibly the convention credentials chairman if so delegated) for a cross check with the list of eligible delegate slots provided by the Rosters and Statistics Department of the Synod. When satisfied that the delegate submitting the yellow form is a rightful delegate, the district secretary will initial the form, thereby providing the required certification.
- Voter-information-recording: At the close of the convention, the secretary of the district will mail the forms to the Synod’s Rosters and Statistics Department, and the names of the certified district convention delegates will be added to the Synod-wide list of certified voters for the presidential election in June, 2013. The information on this list will be updated continually using change-of-information and voter-substitution forms.
Thank you to you, whether a district convention voting delegate or just an interested person, for your cooperation and/or for any help you can provide to others in understanding and participating in this very important process. Perhaps I will see you at the registration table of your district convention.
With three district conventions down and 32 to go, delegate representation is a subject of considerable interest and conversation in the Synod. This blog provides an opportunity to address five frequently asked questions.
- Q: How has delegate representation changed from previous conventions? A: Actually, representation has not changed. Article V A of the Synod’s Constitution still determines delegate representation at district conventions: “At meetings of the districts of the Synod, every congregation or parish is entitled to two votes, one of which is to be cast by the pastor and the other by the lay delegate.”
- Q: Well, something has changed. Why must some congregations now share a lay delegate when they had not done so in the past? A: We are more now applying more consistently and uniformly the historical definition for a “parish” in our Synod: “Two or more congregations served by the same pastor.” With the assistance of our Rosters and Statistics Department, this definition is being painstakingly applied across the Synod to make certain that congregations are represented equally and fairly throughout our 35 districts.
- Q: If nothing has changed, why are some congregations that were previously regarding as “permanently vacant” now regarded as part of a “parish”? A: The decision by the 2010 Synod convention that delegates to district conventions would also be the voters in the election of the President of the Synod prompted greater care in determining those situations to which “parish” is to be applied. A phrase from Bylaw 2.11.1 is pivotal: “regularly performing the duties of…an ordained minister.” Accordingly, a pastor providing regular Word and Sacrament ministry is being regarded as the congregation’s pastor for delegate representation purposes. If he is providing such regular ministry to two or more congregations, he is serving a multi-congregation parish.
- Q: Are there any exceptions to this rule? A: Yes. If a congregation is in the process of actively calling a pastor, it is regarded as truly “vacant” even though it is receiving regular word and sacrament ministry from a pastor. The above (#3) applies only to what were once regarded as “permanent vacancies.”
- Q: What about congregations that have been served by “emeritus” pastors? A: Congregations (or parishes) receiving regular word and sacrament ministry from a rostered pastor of the Synod deserve two delegate votes at their district conventions: a pastoral vote and a lay vote. The roster status of “emeritus” pastors (advisory and therefore non-voting) is being changed to “active” status when possible to reflect the fact that they are providing regular Word and Sacrament ministry to a congregation of the Synod. Such roster status change does not adversely affect retirement status or benefits. It does provide the congregation with its rightful privilege of two votes (pastoral and lay) at district conventions and in the election of the President of the Synod.
There are, of course, many other questions that arise while working through this process with our 35 districts and their conventions. You may wish to respond to this blog with such questions.
Most of us are aware by now of most of the major changes that were adopted by the 2010 convention in Houston. Among the most major are the new manner of electing circuit counselors, the pre-convention election of the President of the Synod, the election of five regional vice-presidents and some board members, and the restructuring of the operations of the Synod.
That Other Convention Change
One additional major change, however, intended to permeate the entire life of the Synod, can easily escape attention. It was prompted by the structure task force’s interest in having congregations and visitation circuits play a greater role in the life and direction of the Synod. Agreeing with this interest, the 2010 convention created a new process for “grass roots” input into “mission and ministry emphases” that will direct the course of the Synod’s mission and ministry activity.
The end result of the convention decision is not some highly noticeable governance change that will immediately attract attention. Instead it is a relatively quiet seven-step process that begins with the Synod’s 6,200 congregations and in due time affects the entire life of the Synod during the following triennium.
How It Will Work
It may be helpful to outline the process:
- Each triennium, suggestions for mission and ministry emphases are discussed by congregations in preparation for their pre-district-convention circuit forums, this at the same meeting that they also select representatives to their forums and nominate pastors for their circuit’s circuit counselor position.
- The suggestions from congregations are discussed by their circuit forums, and one or more are submitted by overture to their 2012 district conventions.
- District conventions receive and discuss overtures from circuit forums and vote to send two or three mission and ministry emphasis proposals to the Synod convention.
- The Synod convention receives and processes overtures from district conventions and votes to adopt the Synod’s mission and ministry emphases for the next three years.
- The President of the Synod, in consultation with the Council of Presidents, identifies from these mission and ministry emphases specific goals for the national office to support ministry on the congregational level.
- The President, officers, Board of Directos, and mission boards and offices receive triennial focus from mission and ministry emphases and goals.
- District presidents encourage congregations and schools to embrace mission and ministry emphases adopted by the convention for the triennium.
The Time is Now
For congregations to participate in this process, now is their time to discuss the mission and ministry areas that they believe should be emphasized during the three years following the 2013 convention. There will be no opportunity outside of the process outlined above. Now also is the time for circuit counselors to include this discussion on their circuit forum agendas so that suggestions can be forwarded to district conventions. Circuit counselors, check your agendas.
District conventions are required by bylaw to include consideration and a decision regarding mission and ministry emphases on their agendas. Quote: “The district convention shall, through delegate vote, forward to the national convention a list of two or three triennial mission and ministry emphases for consideration by the national convention” (Bylaw 4.2.1 [d]). District presidents, check your agendas.
The Synod convention and Synod leadership are also required by bylaw to take this process and its end product seriously—evidence of the serious intention of the 2010 convention to provide for greater involvement from the grass roots in providing direction of the mission and ministry of the Synod. Synod leaders, check your agendas.
There is, after all, that other convention change to think about, right about now.
Perhaps you have heard of “Garbage City” in Cairo, Egypt. It is a community of Coptic Christians, the “Zabbaleen,” who for generations have been the trash collectors of Cairo. Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, recently wrote of Garbage City in his pre-Christmas article, “Christmas Amidst the Rubbish.”
“Each day,” he wrote, “the fathers and their sons go out into the city and collect the garbage in beat-up pickup trucks or donkey-drawn carts. They bring it back to their community, where the women meticulously sort through all of it.” They recycle as much as 80 percent of the garbage, selling what they can, while allowing poor families to look for food to eat.
If you have seen one of the recent television documentaries on the Zabbaleen of Garbage City, you will know that their town truly is, as Lowry describes, “a town built atop an active landfill….It’s as if, as someone has mused, Cairo had been picked up by one end and shook so that all the rubbish fell on the homes of the Zabbaleen. They live among their livelihood, the waste that no one else wants and that few would dare touch.”
“Few Would Dare Touch”
Lowry’s article became my own personal backdrop for celebrating Christmas this year, one that can serve at any time as we now count the days since Christmas. It adds a dimension to Christmas that we may not always remember, given the romanticizing of nearly everything about Christmas, from stable to shepherds to starry night.
It may even be a helpful exercise (and we would probably shudder) to think of spending some time in rodents-ridden, flies-swarming Garbage City. While likely overwhelming, it would at least be a very small measure of how it was for our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, accustomed to the accoutrements of heaven, to agree to carry out the plan developed in eternity to immerse Himself into our sins-ridden, devils-swarming world for 33 years. This was wasteland that no other than a loving God would even have wanted, much less touched so intimately. And His Son would pay for this stay in our garbage city with a death we cannot even imagine.
Christmas was a rugged affair, its true nature touched upon by the line in the Christmas carol, “Why lies He in such mean estate, Where ox and ass are feeding?” It was the most extreme of extreme measures, “God invading our planet” (as a pastor wrote to me before Christmas) to subject himself to a world disgustingly foreign to His nature, that we might have new life.
New Life in Garbage City
The most remarkable thing about the Zabbaleen of Cairo is their boldly Christian community. Historically they have been oppressed and repressed, and life hasn’t gotten any easier of late. They worship in a cave, they suffer from government interference, and they recently were set upon by deadly Muslim gangs. They may face, as Lowry states, “the same slow-motion, largely ignored extirpation as their Christian brethren in Iraq.”
But their new life in Christ continues. One garbage collector spoke of the Zabbaleens’ life together in a recent video: “We are one community, and we all know and love each other.” Theirs is the dignity of a community of simple Christian people against a trash-strewn backdrop—and a way for us to think of our new life as a result of God’s amazing grace in Christ, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (Phil. 2:6–7).
Life “from Below”
To quote Rich Lowry one more time, with reference to the time that German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer spent in Harlem in 1930, it was here, Lowry writes, “among a shunned but vibrant Christian community” that Bonhoeffer began to see things “from below.” It is an important vantage point for Christians. Lowry notes, “There is no other vantage point from Garbage City.”
We will do well to view Christmas similarly, “from below,” but also from above. A resident of Cairo’s Garbage City (for whose residents we should regularly pray) described well his Christian life (and ours) in response to a question from the Voice of America about the future of Garbage City: “We are the garbage collectors, but we live on a mountain of faith.”
Ray Hartwig (12/26/2011)
For St. Louis Cardinals fans, it would have been a lot more pleasant if they had known two months ago what happened two weeks ago, when the Cardinals won Game 7 of the World Series. The dark days of August wouldn’t have seemed so dark. The disappointing losses of September wouldn’t have been so disappointing. And Game 6 of the World Series would not have been the nail-biter that it was.
Not knowing the outcome is the way it usually is in this world. We live day-to-day, hour-to-hour, breath-to-breath, except for one huge exception. That exception we celebrate each November 1st.
That exception to the rule of uncertainty in this life is the outcome of our Christian lives. Even though the home team makes plenty of errors, suffers countless injuries, and faces seemingly hopeless situations, the outcome is already known—this despite the fact that the other team can seem undefeatable, with a manager who is absolute ruthless, as Luther describes him:
The old evil foe now means deadly woe,
Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight,
On earth is not his equal.
The reality of their plight will strike home for many Christians on their deathbeds, when Martin Luther’s great funeral hymn will describe the valley of the shadow of death through which they must pass:
In the midst of earthly life, Snares of death surround us.
Who shall help us in the strife, Lest the foe confound us?
In the midst of death’s dark vale, Powers of hell o’ertake us.
Who will help when they assail, Who secure will make us?
In the midst of utter woe, When our sins oppress us,
Who will help when they assail, Where for grace to bless us?
Thankfully, the hymn is able to provide the answer to its own questions: “Thou only, Lord, Thou only!” Into this great contest God sent His Substitute, His Word, the embodiment of His grace. He provides the sacrifice, so successfully so that He comes all the way around to score. Again, Luther:
The Word they still shall let remain, nor any thanks have for it.
He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.
And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife—
Let these all be gone, they yet have nothing won.
The kingdom ours remaineth!
Christ our Substitute has picked up His whole team and carries them to victory and to the celebration to follow. The first lesson for the celebration of All Saints Day, from Revelation 7, speaks of the victors: “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” And what a celebration will be theirs:
Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat…and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
For the St. Louis Cardinals fans who were in the stands, it was quite the celebration that followed Game 7 of the World Series. To actually have been there to stand, to cheer, to experience the fireworks and confetti-showered speeches must have been awesome. An Internet offer in the days that followed provided opportunity for fans to locate themselves in the stands via an aerial view of Busch Stadium, an opportunity always to be able to say “I was there.”
The Revelation 7 picture of the great celebration of all saints provides that same opportunity to all God’s people as true world champions, already to see themselves present, already to be able to say “I am in that crowd.” All we can say is what we will all say when it is our time to celebrate the victory: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
+ Dr. Raymond L. Hartwig
Secretary of Synod