I write as I wait for the bus to the airport. Yesterday, we held round two of theological discussions between the Lutheran Church in Norway and the LCMS in Oslo, Norway. Round one was held on 15 April 2011 in Saint Louis.
The discussions went well and there is great unanimity in doctrine. Some further work needs to occur to determine the next course of action.
The previous day, Daniel Preus and flew to Götenborg to meet with Bishop Gustafsson, Rev. Dr. Bengt Birgersson, and Rev. Jakob Appell of the Mission Province of Sweden and Finland. The outcome of this brief meeting was that there should be further discussions between the Mission Province and the LCMS.
This trip to Scandinavia was very edifying and productive. We had opportunity to meet with other fine Confessional Lutherans such as Rev. Jan Bygstad of DELK (Norway) and Rev. Dr. Fredrick Sidenvall of Sweden. In fact Dr. Sidenvall hosted us at his home in Götenborg on the Swedish national holiday on June 6.
On my way to the airport I reflect on how the Lord has preserved his church through out the world utilizing the confession of his faithful people.
A quick return to the USA and then off to South Korea and Japan.
“Built on a rock the church doth stand… Even when steeples are falling…”
Rev. Albert B. Collver, PhD
Director of Church Relations-
Assistant to the President
Seems half a lifetime, but it was just about 270 days ago that I was installed as President of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Even as I write this there is a nervousness in my stomach, a feeling of disbelief still, at everything that has taken place. At once, facing a thousand problems, but more importantly, twice as many opportunities, it is the nervousness of a burden incomprehensible. Yet, the burden is lightened by thousands.
Even today – it happens daily, repeatedly, via Face Book, email, letters, phone calls, in person – not but moments ago, another saint approached me to say, “I pray for you nearly every day.” One Lutheran saint among the thousands upon thousands who pray regularly for the Lutheran church, the LCMS, his/her pastor, and even for me. I wish I had some better way to explain what I have believed deeply – and actually experienced, that is the sense that I am being bourn along by the Lord Himself at the intercession of his saints. This sense – I don’t believe it violates in any way the truth of the Smalcald Articles which state that God will not deal with us aside from his word – ebbs quickly, throwing the whole matter much more to one of faith and not sense, much less sight.
Barb Below, one wonderful person among the handful of the President’s staff, told me recently she’d kept a spreadsheet of all the tasks she’s followed through to completion since beginning this journey in the President’s office. Her current task count is over 300. Hers is a significant, but small piece of the whole puzzle. The restructuring now famously mandated by the last convention vastly increased the responsibilities of the President’s office. The office has since been doing all the tasks historically belonging to the President in the LCMS constitution and bylaws, and providing management for the entire program ministry of the LCMS (all this is new), while simultaneously arranging the LCMS headquarters within the broader contours of the newly passed structure. All this has been done while we have had to significantly reduce the number of employees of the Synod’s headquarters. We have gone from roughly 250 employees to 200 on the program side (this does not include Concordia Plans, LCEF, or CPH – all Synod-owned but distinct corporations).
We have had to make decisions, which have been unpopular or painful to individuals interested in a particular area of ministry, which has had to suffer reductions. The areas reduced most drastically are those, which have been funded by dollars undesignated – a source of funding that has been shrinking steadily for decades. In the end, there simply were no good choices.
Early in the process of restructuring we invited a key group of employees of the International Center to carefully consider and craft the working structure within the convention guidelines. Those dozen or so folks from various vocations and disciplines performed fabulously. With great care we worked through the budget process for the upcoming fiscal year (beginning July 1). With tremendous joy and thanks I rejoiced as the Board of Directors completed its consideration of the budget and then passed it (unanimously if memory serves). Now as we ready the launch into the new fiscal year, each employee is being prepared to move into his/her task next month.
It will take us some time to live into this new, streamlined, reduced structure. The new structure does offer significant opportunities for us to be nimble and efficient. It was designed so that the President’s office manage the national mission of the church cohesively and cooperatively. There are specific, very significant ways for the Council of Presidents and the Synod in Convention to have input on and determine emphases for the mission of the Synod.
Thus far I’ve often felt like I’m in a batting cage, baseball bat in hand. A pitching machine is throwing a hundred balls a minute. I’m swinging, hitting the occasional ball, pausing for a split second to admire the hit, only to be “beaned” by the next several pitches.
A lot has been done. We have a long way to go in the matter of properly reporting finances, so we can celebrate all the wonderful giving of folks and districts in the restricted/designated area. I’m delighted with the “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” emphasis which will give us plenty to grow into as we move forward as a Synod. I’m humbled that our Lutheran Witness staff pulled together the issue on finance and made it clearer than ever before. I’m thrilled with the call of Col. Greg Williamson as our new Chief Mission Officer. What an incredible individual, coming from outside the usual track for serving in the national office. I’m thrilled by the calm election of Dr. Larry Rast as the new President of Concordia Theological Seminary. I’m thrilled that right in the middle of all the challenge, we’ve been able to get a number of terrific folks onto the mission field. I’m delighted the St. Louis Sem has come through its financial challenge in a magnificent way. I’m looking forward to significantly increasing the number of international students studying at our seminaries. I’m looking forward to the “Koioinia Project” getting fully underway in the months ahead. I’m grateful for frank discussion between the sems and district presidents about the strengths and weaknesses of the S.M.P. program. I’m delighted with the choice of Greg Seltz as Lutheran Hour Speaker. I’m very happy the partnership with LWR to battle Malaria is gaining steam. I’m very pleased we are marching toward a great dialogue with the Council of Presidents and mission leaders to take place in September, providing input for the Office of National Mission. I’m very grateful for our new LCMS Vice President for Finance, Gerry Wulf. I’m grateful for the zeal Dr. Al Collver is showing in working with partner church’s all over the world as new opportunities open before us. I’m delighted with Rev. Ted Krey, Area Director for Central and South America, and his zeal for mission. I’m thrilled with Mr. Darin Storckson, newly called Director of the Southeast Asia Region. I’m thrilled with the new leadership chosen for the Hong Kong International School (Kevin Dunning) one of the leading international schools in the world. I’m thankful for David Birner’s kindness and fidelity and John File’s steady hand, in a time of huge shift in how the LCMS does its work. I’m humbled by the dedication and ability of my assistant, Rev. Jon Vieker and our office staff. I’m thrilled that congregation after congregation is reaching out in mercy and mission. I’m humbled by the brotherly discussion by the district presidents, and the encouragement I receive from those brothers who deal with so very many challenging issues in the church’s life, day by day. I’m deeply thankful for the CTCR staff for producing a very fine document guiding us in the area of “cooperation in externals.” I’m deeply thankful for the support and fidelity of our vice presidents, all men of wonderful faith, confession and life. I’m eager as we advance dialogue on vital issues with conservative Anglicans and others. I’m thankful for positive contact we’ve had with the leadership of the Wisconsin Synod and the ELS. I’m humbled at all the new graduates sent to parishes, and by the great growing army of marvelous women serving as deaconesses who love the church, its confession of faith, and people in need. I’m nervous but excited about doors and opportunities opening and widening in Africa, South America, Central America, Eastern Europe, India, Asia and beyond. I am thankful to the very depth of my heart for the fidelity of Concordia Publishing House, and the veritable mountain of wonderful Lutheran literature being produced. Thank you Paul McCain! Thank you Bruce Kintz!
I’m deeply humbled to have a loving and patient spouse and family, who like the family of every church worker, put up with a lot, but do so with a smile and faith in Christ.
What do I hope for at this moment? My hope is for time, for patience, for prayer, for love, for kindness. My hope is for a time of peace, as God wills. My hope is for a church, which is and remains faithful to the inerrant word of God, and unreservedly to the Lutheran Confessions. My hope is for pastors and people who love the Word of God and read it vigorously. My hope is that wherever I fail, wherever we fail, whatever we have done or do to make our life together bitter, that God grant us repentance, and faith. My hope and dream is for a church which loves its pastors, pastors care for their people, pastors who visit their members’ homes as possible, pastors who head into their communities to “seek and save the lost.” My hope is for preaching which is lively and pulsing with damning law and the joyous, forgiving and faith-creating gospel of free forgiveness in Jesus’ cross. My desire is preaching which is both textual (biblical) and grabs the hearer by the neck, heart and toes, throws him/her to hell, then carries them to heaven. My hope is for laypeople equipped to share Christ in their vocations. My hope and prayer is for laypeople who are delighted to invite friends and family to church. My hope is for a lively mission of mercy where zeal is as great for orthodoxy as for mercy and vice versa. My hope is for continuing joy and success in reaching different ethnic communities, and through them, reaching the nations of the world. My hope is for a growing appreciation for the Synod’s national and international mission, for improvement in that mission, for advancement in what is good, and the support and participation of our pastors, congregations, districts, and people. My hope is for a continued healthy and healthier Concordia University System, schools free to meet the challenges they face, but resolved to maintain and even increase fidelity to the Lutheran confession of the faith. Our schools have missions and capacity well worth celebrating, a cause to rejoice in hope. My hope is for a growing number of grade schools reaching into their communities. My hope is for a renewal in teaching the faith to the youth, and a profound love of the simple Small Catechism.
My humble hope is for greater agreement among us on communion practice and especially issues of worship and other things, which cause angst and impede our common joy, mission and life together. God have mercy upon us as we attempt to come to a meeting of the minds under the living and mighty and active word of God.
“I’m praying for you….” I hear that every day. Though my prayers often falter and are weak, very often I respond, “I’m praying for you too.” And I am. I know none of these things I’ve mentioned are finally a result of human effort. It’s all God’s gift. Any hopes that come to pass – and the Lord shall bless as he see’s fit – shall be His doing. “What shall I pray for?” so many ask me. The list above is long as you can see. But I would ask that you pray for repentance, for me and for all of us…. And for strong, undaunted faith in Jesus, to stand into the future with courage and joy. God grant us repentance, and vigorous Lutheranism.
So, as St. Peter writes:
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. …9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. …16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Matthew C. Harrison
After a day and a half with the new Boards for National and International Mission, I jumped on a plane in St. Louis, bound for Toronto – via Detroit. Sitting in the “Guest” section at the convention. President Robert Bugbee is a superb chair – wonderfully kind. Right now Bugbee is at the podium with President Semmler who is a theological presenter.
The pictures of devastation in Joplin, Missouri, tell the story better than words. And for those of us who have personally witnessed the aftermath of a mega tornado, they bring back vivid memories.
Years ago I had the opportunity to witness the devastation suffered by the little South Dakota community of Spencer after one of these tornados had torn through the town, leaving almost nothing but rubble. It was eerily quiet as I walked into what had been a small but active rural community. On the far end of town, National Guard heavy equipment was gathering together a depository of destroyed cars and trucks. Relief efforts were underway.
The most remarkable thing for me was my own confusion, as I tried to figure out where I was in the small town. Although I had been there numerous times before, I couldn’t tell where anything had been. The once-familiar pattern of streets had become a gridwork to separate piles of rubble left by the storm. Even the town’s water tower was no longer standing. I realized then how important landmarks are, and the landmarks were gone.
Only when I came upon the site of our LCMS church, its sign still half standing, and only when I looked out on the surroundings from the floor of the church swept clean except for a few randomly strewn hymnals–only then could I finally make some sense out of the community. Now as I looked out on the landscape of shredded trees and splintered wood and basement holes I could see where things had been. It was the church that helped me to get my bearings.
It was a teaching moment, a poignant reminder of the role of the church in our lives, especially in times of tumult, ”even,” as our hymn proclaims, ”when steeples are falling” (“Built On the Rock,” st. 1). There were four churches in Spencer. There were no steeples left standing. But still left standing was the role and presence of the church to help those left confused and suffering and mourning to begin to find their way.
Our LCMS pastor serving the congregation at Spencer understood this very well. He pastored the entire community after the storm. Later in the week at the town’s athletic field, he provided a worship service of thanksgiving for the entire community. His message was clear: The steeples may be down, but the church and its message of unfailing hope and life are present. This will be our landmark during the confusion and struggles of the weeks and months to come, to help us maintain our bearings, even though most things familiar will be gone.
We have learned again these past weeks that we never know when our lives will change dramatically, even to the point of losing all things earthly. We may be left to wander in confusion among the wreckage of once well-ordered lives, unable to recognize much of anything. But there will always be a landmark to help us get our bearings. We will still have the church, its even-when-silenced bells still ”chiming and calling,” its Gospel assuring us of God’s love despite all.
For five people in Spencer and 125 people in Joplin, the storm was their time to leave all behind, a time that will come for all of us in due time, in one manner or another. What a blessing to know that even then, as we pass from this turbulent world into ”rest everlasting,” we will not wander or wonder. We will have the words of Christ articulated in the hymn to provide all the direction we will need: “I know my own and my own know Me; You, not the world, my face shall see. My peace I leave with you.” To which we will gladly say, “Amen.”
When you see the skyline of Riga, Latvia, two of the tallest steeples belong to Lutheran Churches. The Dom Church (the cathedral for the archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, Janis Vanags) and of St. Peter’s are both impressive in Old Riga. But the church we attended Sunday for our trip was the Jesus Lutheran Church, a congregation in Riga dating to the 18th century. It was my privilege to bring greetings on behalf of President Harrison and the LCMS to the 300+ gathered worshipers (The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod are in pulpit and altar fellowship), a great honor to be sure. We share the same confession, the same Gospel, the same sacraments, the same Christ.
However, the most amazing moment for us came in the liturgy at the beginning of the Agnus Dei. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a surge of people coming down the center aisle. In that congregation, the custom is that all those desiring the Lord’s Supper come forward and stand in the space between the kneelers before the altar and the front pew, each one waiting for his/her turn at the altar. But the surge down the aisle was from all the grey haired men and women who were eager to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood. There were many young people there, but the elderly went first. So they came, some with walkers or crutches, some in wheel chairs, some stooped over with canes, but they all came forward eagerly.
I thought of what they had seen during the difficult days of the Soviet Union when Latvia was (unwillingly) made a part of the Soviet empire. Our translator, Sandra Gintere, told of her father-in-law, a Lutheran pastor arrested literally as he came down from the pulpit and sent to Siberia because he had been evangelizing and teaching young people the catechism. The price they had paid to follow Christ was enormous. So there they were, surging down the aisle, eager to receive the One who had purchased them with His precious blood, eager to be refreshed and strengthened at the Lord’s Table with the medicine of immortality, Christ’s Body and Blood. They knew the “one thing needful” (Luke 10:42) and did not want anyone to take it away. Thank God for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Latvia, for our common faith and our life together in Jesus.
In His Service
+ Herb Mueller