Good news on two fronts

The 2021 premium rates for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan will not change compared to the current 2020 rates. In other words, the 2020 rates for all WELS VEBA health and dental plan options will remain in effect for 2021. The WELS VEBA health plan has experienced better-than-expected claims costs and investment returns over the past 18 months, which has allowed the WELS VEBA Commission to keep 2021 rates the same as they were in 2020. No significant changes to cost-sharing amounts (deductibles) or covered services are expected for the 2021 plan year.

In contrast to rising costs of healthcare nationwide, WELS VEBA rates will have increased by only four percent over the three-year period from 2019-21. This does not include the approximately $4.2 million in savings passed on to participating sponsoring organizations during the previously announced August 2020 WELS VEBA premium holiday.

Mr. Joshua Peterman, director of Benefit Plans, says, “The Lord continues to bless WELS VEBA to provide the commission with the financial flexibility to hold the rates flat for 2021 while maintaining adequate plan reserves. The commission is pleased to provide this rate stability to help support WELS ministry efforts.”

In addition, the WELS VEBA Commission has approved a limited open enrollment that will run from Nov. 2, 2020, through Nov. 30, 2020, for coverage effective Jan. 1, 2021. Eligible workers serving at sponsoring organizations with at least one active worker enrolled in the WELS VEBA health plan will have the opportunity to enroll for new coverage or make changes to their existing WELS VEBA coverage. Open enrollment materials will be mailed to eligible workers in late October. View 2021 health rates.

Another piece of good news is that Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) for June totaled $1,795,803, an increase of 28.9 percent over June 2019. Year-to-date CMO is now $9,480,520, 2 percent above prior year-to-date receipts and 1.9 percent above year-to-date subscriptions. We are thankful that the Lord has enabled our congregations and members to continue their generous support for the work we do together as a synod even in these challenging times.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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WELS Christian Aid and Relief makes humanitarian aid grants

WELS Christian Aid and Relief announced it has granted $455,919 to humanitarian aid projects in WELS mission fields around the world for fiscal year 2020-21.

Projects are developed by WELS home and world missionaries to reflect Christ’s love to the people of their community and open doors to share the gospel. Major items include support for health clinics, borehole drilling to provide clean water, home-based care for the chronically ill and dying, food assistance, adult literacy classes, food and nutrition to orphans and refugees, and medical equipment.

While many projects are ongoing and renewed annually, Rev. Robert Hein, chairman of Christian Aid and Relief, says, “This year we approved more grants from our home missions, especially as they minister to people in cross-cultural situations, such as providing backpacks to needy children for school.”

“Many of the people we serve are lacking in essentials like clean water, food, basic health care, and other supplies. God meets their physical needs through our efforts and they also have the opportunity to learn about their Savior, who met our greatest need,” Hein explains, “All humanitarian aid projects start with our missionaries in the field. They develop projects to meet community needs and build relationships to share the gospel with the people they serve. All requests are reviewed by our mission leaders and then brought to our commission for funding.”

He continues, “Meeting community needs is a great way to put Christ’s love into action. As we address physical needs, our missionaries also have opportunities to share the good news about Jesus with the people of their community. We are always looking for ways to make a positive impact on our communities.”

WELS members can support the work of WELS Christian Aid and Relief through prayers and offerings. In addition to humanitarian aid grants, the organization also provides disaster relief and medical financial emergency grants to people in need.

View a complete list of humanitarian aid projects supported by WELS Christian Aid and Relief through your offerings.

 

 

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MLC releases return-to-school plans

Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., the WELS college of ministry, released its “Knights Return to Campus Plan” on July 17, after months of planning. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, MLC had to conclude its 2019–20 school via alternative/distance learning.

The plan calls for students to return to the school’s campus in New Ulm for the fall semester, with classes starting on Aug. 24. Most of the courses will be delivered in person, with less than 10 percent being a blend of online and in-person instruction. The campus will host only essential on-campus events and provide virtual alternatives for other events where possible. Only students, faculty, and staff will be able to participate in the on-campus events at this time.

In a letter of introduction to the plan, Rev. Richard Gurgel, MLC president, shares that the fall planning team spent “hours listening to government officials, health professionals, collegiate organizations, new and returning students and their families, our faculty and staff, and many others in our synod” before putting together the document.

“Our top priority is providing the highest level of safety and confidence in our campus learning environment, while adhering to the spiritual and educational standards WELS expects from its college of ministry,” he says.

Students and administration will participate in daily screenings, including a temperature check. Isolation and quarantine procedures are in place for those who have symptoms for COVID-19, test positive, or have been in close contact with someone exhibiting symptoms or testing positive.

Campus officials say the plan may change as circumstances change. “We offer this plan trusting in God’s gracious care for us in our Lord Jesus,” says Gurgel. “At the same time, we also recognize that such trust does not diminish the responsibility God himself entrusts to us to be wise stewards of our health for the sake of our whole campus family as well as for the entire community of New Ulm.”

The other ministerial education schools—Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.—are finalizing their return-to-school documents. As of right now all three schools are planning to have face-to-face, in-person instruction on their campuses for the start of the 2020–21 school year, with classes starting the week of Aug. 24. All four schools concluded the 2019–20 school year via alternative/distance learning due to COVID-19.

“The faculty and staff at Martin Luther College have done a remarkable job pulling together the many plans and decisions that have to be made to open safely this fall,” says Rev. Paul Prange, administrator of the Board for Ministerial Education. “We ask God’s blessings on the faithful work of everyone at MLC and the other ministerial education schools, and we keep them in our prayers.”

 

 

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New faces at WELS CMM

The WELS Center for Mission and Ministry (CMM), Waukesha, Wis., welcomes Mr. Paul Patterson and Mr. Kyle Egan. Patterson joined the CMM on July 1 as the associate director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools, replacing Mr. Tom Plitzuweit who took a call to serve at a school. Egan started as chief financial officer (CFO) on July 6, following the retirement of former WELS CFO, Mr. Todd Poppe.

Patterson will be responsible for overseeing the WELS School Accreditation (WELSSA) program. He came to the CMM from Wisconsin Lutheran School, Racine, Wis., where he served as principal for eight years. Prior to serving at Wisconsin Lutheran School, he served as a principal and teacher at Peace, Sun Prairie, Wis., and Christ, Zumbrota, Minn.

While he says he’s going to miss being around kids, he’s looking forward to the opportunity to serve in a new role. “One of the passions I have is developing professional learning communities and tapping into the strengths our educators already have and using those strengths to maximize the benefit to the school. I’m looking forward to working with schools that are interested in improvement and leveraging the resources of so many smart people in our synod to make those connections,” says Patterson.

Patterson and his wife, Lara, have four children, two in high school and two in college.

In his free time he likes to hunt and has been teaching snowboarding since 2008 as a nationally certified snowboard instructor.

Mr. Jim Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools, says, “Paul brings a vision for excellence in education and a passion for meeting the needs of both children and families being served through our schools.”

As CFO, Egan will be responsible for overseeing the synod’s finances. He is a member at Bethlehem, Germantown, Wis., with his wife Janet and three young children.

Egan has more than 15 years of finance experience, most recently as the assistant treasurer and director of investor relations for Quad/Graphics in Sussex, Wis. He is looking forward to using his professional expertise to further the ministry work of WELS.

“I’ve had a pulling at my heart over the last several years that had me searching for an opportunity to use my abilities in a way that would help forward a mission or ministry, to do something that would align my faith closer to my professional background and the skill set that God has given me,” says Egan. “There has been so much good work done at WELS, and I want to make sure I carry that forward in a good way.”

When he’s not working, Egan likes to visit the zoo with his family and attend Packer games with his wife—in pre-pandemic times.

“We feel blessed Kyle has made the prayerful decision to join the leadership team at the WELS CMM and look forward to working with him,” says WELS President Mark Schroeder.

 

 

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WELS female called workers eligible for parsonage allowance

Ever since an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Private Letter Ruling in 1956, WELS pastors and male teachers have qualified for the parsonage allowance. This provision of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) allowed pastors and male teachers to exclude from taxable compensation the value of housing, utilities, and furnishings. In that same ruling in 1956, the IRS declared that WELS female teachers did not qualify for this tax benefit according to the IRC and the IRS interpretation of the rules at the time.

Since 1956, court rulings and interpretations have expanded the eligibility for the parsonage allowance to include female teachers in other church bodies. Recently, questions have been asked about WELS female called worker eligibility under today’s interpretations of the IRC. This led the Synodical Council to study the issue and to seek legal advice to determine whether this provision should be available to WELS female teachers and female staff ministers.

We are pleased to report that, after a thorough investigation, we have received a legal opinion that synod ministry certified female teachers and female staff ministers in our synod do qualify for the parsonage allowance. That opinion, from a nationally recognized expert in this area of tax law, was based on court rulings and interpretations of the current language in an IRS publication outlining the qualifications for the exemption.

It is important to note that a necessary requirement for a called worker to receive this tax benefit is that the worker be ordained, licensed, or commissioned by a church body. Based on the advice from our attorney, having synod ministry certification is the equivalent of being licensed by the synod. For an explanation of who is considered to be synod ministry certified, please refer to question #6 in the “Frequently Asked Questions” document that is available online (WELS Cloud login required).

This tax benefit has not become available because WELS has changed in its understanding or definition of the role of female called workers. Our description of female teachers and female staff ministers as called workers who serve in the public ministry hasn’t changed. What has changed is the way the courts have interpreted IRS rules regarding the required qualifications for this benefit. In other words, this is not a question of theology (our teaching has not changed) but of how tax law is interpreted and applied by the courts and the IRS.

On the basis of the legal advice received, and with input from the Conference of Presidents, the Synodical Council and the Conference of Presidents have determined that there is no reason why synod ministry certified female teachers and female staff ministers should not receive this benefit. Both the Synodical Council and the Conference of Presidents have determined that all calling bodies are to implement this provision for its synod ministry certified female teachers and female staff ministers no later than January 1, 2021. While calling bodies will need to make this change, it remains up to the individual called worker to decide whether or not to take advantage of this parsonage allowance benefit.

You can find helpful information that will answer questions about this change and provide guidance to congregations and called workers on the WELS Finance Cloud site (WELS Cloud login required). If you are unable to access the documents online, you can Contact Us to request PDFs.

Guidance for Called Workers who qualify as a Minister of the Gospel

Guidance for Calling Bodies regarding Minister of the Gospel tax status

New Legal Opinion on the Tax Status of Female Called Workers Who are Synod Ministry Certified: Frequently Asked Questions

Links to these resources have been sent electronically to called workers and will be sent soon via mail to congregations and other calling bodies.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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New WELS Investment Funds video highlights benefits to ministry

Since 1997, WELS Investment Funds has been faithfully providing investment portfolios to WELS and ELS ministries, helping them to achieve their ministry goals.

Currently, WELS Investment Funds manages more than $225 million for our synod and over 200 organizations, including congregations, area Lutheran high schools, and WELS-affiliated ministries.

“It’s another way we can support each other,” says Mr. Jim Holm, executive director of WELS Investment Funds. “By pooling our God-given resources, we can take advantage of lower cost, institutionally priced investment opportunities that are not available to smaller investment accounts.”

WELS Investment Funds has released the first video in a series to highlight the benefits to ministry when organizations partner with WELS Investment Funds.

“I recommend that ministries view the video and prayerfully consider WELS Investment Funds for their investment needs,” says Mr. Dennis Walters, chairman of the WELS Investment Funds board. “Our investment advisor and co-fiduciary, Vanguard, gives us access to the world’s premier index and active fund managers. Our goal is for all ministries to be aware of the services of WELS Investment Funds and be able to benefit from them.”

Mr. David Bartelt, vice president of the Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School Foundation in Jackson, Wis., knows those benefits firsthand. Since 2013, Kettle Moraine Lutheran (KML) has partnered with WELS Investment Funds, but that wasn’t always the case. Prior to 2013, the leadership at KML thought they should manage their investments themselves.

Looking back, Bartelt says, “We spent meeting upon meeting being money managers rather than ministry managers.” He wishes they would have entrusted their investments to WELS Investment Funds sooner. “What they have done for us is immeasurable. They help us focus more on ministry rather than managing money.”

If you would like to learn how WELS Investment Funds can help support your organization’s ministry goals, or for a free review of your current investment portfolio, contact Executive Director Jim Holm at jim.holm@wels.net or 414-256-3206.

 

 

 

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A welcome return

The past three months have been difficult and challenging for congregations throughout the synod. Government mandates required congregations to drastically scale back or even discontinue in-person worship services. Schools were closed, graduation celebrations were canceled, and public confirmations of young people were postponed. In spite of those challenges, our congregations found ways to continue to provide members with opportunities to worship digitally and to continue to hear the proclamation of God’s saving Word. And now, in recent weeks, the happy task of reopening carefully has begun. While congregations continue to adjust their schedules and their procedures as precautions, in most places we are back in God’s house for worship.

On the synod and district level, adjustments also needed to be made in response to COVID-19. District conventions were canceled (with voting for district officers done electronically). The WELS International Youth Rally and the convention of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society could not be held. Graduations at all synodical schools and assignments at Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary were held online. All synodical travel was discontinued.

At the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry (CMM), the first adjustment meant that all meetings were canceled or postponed. When the Wisconsin governor issued his “Safer at Home” mandate, the decision was made to have all but a handful of workers at the CMM work remotely from home.

Now that the restrictions have eased, we have begun steps to resume normal operations. On June 2, 50 percent of the workers returned to work at the CMM. On Wednesday, June 17, all on-site workers will be back in the building. After workers are back, we will begin to accommodate small meetings and individual meetings with synod staff by appointment. We have put in place necessary safeguards to ensure the health and safety of our workers and visitors. For now, however, we are not scheduling large meetings or group tours of the CMM.

We pray that later in the summer all normal activities at the CMM can take place. We are thankful for your patience and understanding as we work through these challenges. Most of all, we thank the Lord that he gave us ways to continue carrying out the work he has given us to do.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Christian Aid and Relief assists in Midland

Holy Scripture, Midland, Mich., part of WELS’ sister synod the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, has been impacted by floodwaters three times in the last 40 years, but the recent flooding that hit Midland was by far the most catastrophic.

On May 19 and 20, floodwaters from heavy rains and two failed dams swept through the area, resulting in waist-deep water throughout the church. The parsonage, home to Rev. Paul Schneider and his wife, Barbara, was also flooded. The flood impacted a multitude of families in the area around the church, including members of Holy Scripture and nearby Good Shepherd, the area WELS church. The damage to the entire affected area is estimated to be over $175 million.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief quickly assessed the situation in Midland and deployed aid. Assisted by the leadership team of Good Shepherd and 95 volunteers, the Christian Aid and Relief team worked to clean out and sanitize the homes of 15 families.

“God is still in control,” says Schneider, after surveying the extensive damage to Holy Scripture and its furnishings, including the loss of all the hymnals and most of the Bibles. “The church is not just a building. The holy Christian church is all believers. We are going to survive. We are going to continue to serve our Lord, with his help and strength.”

Multiple WELS congregations answered the call to assist their Midland brothers and sisters by donating replacement hymnals and Bibles. One congregation offered to donate funds that had been earmarked for its summer church programming, which was canceled due to COVID-19. WELS members throughout the Michigan District also gifted items like vehicles and appliances.

In the weeks ahead, Midland families will also need financial support so they can hire professionals to provide services to make their homes livable.

Elizabeth Zambo from WELS Christian Aid and Relief talks about the eternal blessings that have come out of this devastating situation: “During times like these, people may be more receptive as we share the gospel message and the hope that we have in our Savior, Jesus.”

Christian Aid and Relief chairman, Rev. Robert Hein, says, “When natural disasters strike, such as the broken dams in Midland, WELS Christian Aid and Relief is eager to offer financial help and volunteers to assist the recovery efforts of our local congregations. It’s a great way to put Christ’s love into action.”

To support WELS Christian Aid and Relief efforts in Midland, you can donate online (select “Flood Disaster Relief” in the designation field) or send donations to WELS Christian Aid and Relief, N16W23377 Stone Ridge Dr. Waukesha, WI 53188, and designate them for “Flood Disaster Relief.”

View Rev. Schneider’s May 24 sermon, in which he reflects on the effects of the flooding and shares hope in God’s promises and the eternal victory we have in Christ.

 

View additional photos

 
WELS CAR - Midland, MI 2020
 

 

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New full-time director for Christian Aid and Relief

This month Rev. Dan Sims began his work as the new full-time director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief.

“As much as I will miss parish ministry, I’m really excited about this new call,” says Sims, who served the last four and a half years as pastor at Immanuel, Manitowoc, Wis. “Christian Aid and Relief is doing a lot of great work, and I’m excited to increase the opportunities and extend the reach.”

The mission of Christian Aid and Relief is to reflect Christ’s love and compassion to souls suffering from disasters and hardships. The organization works with congregations and mission fields to offer humanitarian aid as well as boots-on-the-ground service to people who need help, all the while sharing the gospel message that inspires the work.

“Our Savior tells us to show compassion to those who have need—whether that need is a humanitarian need or from some disaster,” says Sims. “One of the great impacts of carrying out our Savior’s plan is that it gains us opportunities to talk to them about their greatest need and the one who fulfills that need—their Savior.”

The past several years, a five-man commission—with a chairman who also serves as a full-time pastor—oversaw the work. The Synodical Council decided last fall to call for a full-time director who will continue to work with the commission to develop policies, establish action plans, review humanitarian aid projects, and discuss grants for people facing extreme medical and financial challenges.

“Calling a pastor to serve as director emphasizes the spiritual aspect of our relief ministry,” says Rev. Robert Hein, chairman of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “He is well suited to preach at congregations, prepare materials, and make presentations to pastors and other leaders to promote the biblical basis for our ministry of compassion.”

Having a pastor serve full time in this position will allow more time to develop an intensive program—including a printed training manual and video materials—to prepare and train congregations and their leaders in disaster response before a disaster hits. Another goal is to establish and equip disaster relief coordinators in each district to assess and oversee local disaster response.

But Sims wants to do more than just respond to disasters; he wants to create a compassionate spirit in WELS congregations to help those who are suffering in their communities. He says that not only does that follow Christ’s command to “do good to all people” (Galatians 6:10), but also “if [the neighborhood residents] can see WELS congregations and people as caring and active in helping with physical needs, then we gain more opportunities to talk with them about their spiritual needs and their Savior.” Sims looks to partner more closely with WELS areas of ministry to provide training as well as examples of such ministry opportunities.

Sims, a 1997 graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., has served as the Western Wisconsin district secretary as well as secretary for the WELS Hymnal Project.

Discover more at wels.net/relief or by watching this month’s edition of WELS Connection.

 

 

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New chaplain moving to Europe

Rev. John Hartwig is moving to Germany to serve WELS military members and civilians living abroad as the European civilian chaplain, a ministry of WELS Military Services, part of WELS Commission on Special Ministries. Hartwig received the call following the retirement of Rev. Don Stuppy, who has been serving as the European civilian chaplain since 2017. The WELS European civilian chaplain is based in Spiesheim, Germany, serving people in a number of German cities but also traveling to serve those in Italy, England, and Switzerland.

Hartwig and his wife, Helen, plan to move to Spiesheim later this month. Hartwig has spent the last 25 years of his ministry serving as a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. Prior to his call at the seminary, he served as a missionary in Thailand from 1993 through 1995 and in Malawi, his first assignment when he graduated in 1983.

“It interested me to serve as a pastor again after being a seminary professor for 25 years, to worship with people and lead them in Bible study,” says Hartwig. “And the military aspect is something I’m very eager about. These are generally young people who are away from home, probably for the first time, and need to hear God’s Word and to be grounded in their faith.”

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the work of the European chaplain as travel has been restricted as well as visits to the bases. Hartwig says it’s starting to open up a little and hopefully he’ll be able to meet the people he serves when he gets there.

“I’m looking forward to serving people directly with Word and sacrament,” says Hartwig.

One of the newer initiatives from Military Services that Hartwig will undertake is working to identify lay leaders within the military who can help serve their brothers and sisters in arms and in Christ, whether at base or in the field. In addition, particularly in a post-coronavirus world, the Military Services Committee is exploring options for more online interaction, so that the chaplain can meaningfully interact with members more frequently.

If you, a family member, or a friend is living or working in Europe, Hartwig wants to be able to serve you. He, along with Military Services, request that you fill out the online referral form at wels.net/refer. Whether a military service member is based in Europe or in the United States, the referral form connects service people with either the chaplain in Europe or a military contact pastor in the U.S.

Learn more about WELS Military Services at wels.net/military.

 

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Moving beyond COVID-19

In April, due to the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, our synod reluctantly canceled the district conventions that had been scheduled to take place during the first weeks of June. As it turns out, that was the correct and necessary decision, since even in those states that are beginning to reopen, there are still restrictions on the size of gatherings. Those restrictions would have prevented most, if not all, of our conventions from being held.

One important item of business at a district convention is the election of district officers. Those elections are still being held through remote digital balloting. Once the district president and vice presidents are elected, they will follow the district bylaws in making appointments to other vacant offices in the district. In general, incumbents will be reappointed if they are willing and able to serve another term; in cases where there is no incumbent, the district officers will appoint replacements with the input of the district nominating committees.

All of the information normally provided to district conventions for discussion and consideration will still be available in the Report to the Twelve Districts. That report will not be printed in hard copy this year but is available online at wels.net/rttd2020.

Even though the district conventions are not being held, the work of the synod and its congregations continues. Many congregations made adjustments to enable worship to continue online; in most places, in-person worship (with some limitations) has begun to resume. Various boards and commissions on the district and synod level continue to carry out their work, meeting via videoconference or teleconference. WELS Christian Aid and Relief has continued to provide assistance to congregations and individuals affected by the virus or other events. The Conference of Presidents has continued to carry out its work of assigning graduates from Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, assisting congregations with the call process, and addressing matters of doctrine and practice.

The COVID-19 interruption of in-person worship services has had a varying impact on congregational finances. Anecdotally, some congregations have been challenged by reduced offerings, while others have actually seen offerings increase during the time where services were held online. The same holds true for Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) provided for the work of the synod. Some congregations have struggled to send what they had planned, while others have actually increased their CMO. This is a good time for congregations to review biblical stewardship principles and provide gospel encouragement to their members to continue faithfully in the grace of giving. The synod is doing what it can to provide some relief to congregations; last month the synod announced that there would be premium holidays for WELS VEBA and for the synod pension plan later in the year.

God’s grace has continued to be with us during this difficult time. The challenges we faced served to increase our love for worshiping together, our appreciation for the Lord’s Supper, and our recognition that the mission of the church continues no matter what the obstacle.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary candidates assigned

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis., held its combined Graduation and Call Day service on Thursday, May 21, 2020. The online service incorporated elements from the traditional graduation and assignment services, with the graduation portion first. The livestream began with a view of the traditional walk the seminarians take from the chapel, under the tower, and over to the auditorium.

WLS President Rev. Earle Treptow’s sermon, “Wait for the Lord!” reminded the graduates that waiting will always be part of their service as pastors. The message was based on the class passage, “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31). Treptow encouraged them “to wait for the Lord, because the Lord never tires of empowering his servants to do what they could never do on their own.”

Usually after the service professors directly speak words of blessing and encouragement to the students. Because that wasn’t possible this year, Treptow read messages from professors as he announced the graduates. Then, during the singing of the class hymn “Lord Take My Hand and Lead Me,” a slideshow of the graduates was played.

Rev. Jonathan Scharf, chairman of the seminary’s board, sent a video sharing a message of gratitude for the three seminary faculty members who are concluding their ministries at the seminary. Professor Rev. Richard Gurgel will be moving to New Ulm, Minn., to serve as president of Martin Luther College. Professor Rev. John Hartwig, who had been planning to retire, instead accepted a call to serve as a chaplain in Europe. He and his wife will be moving to Germany. Professor Rev. James Tiefel is retiring after serving WLS since 1985.

WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder then announced where students would be assigned. First, 28 members of the middler class (those in their second year) learned where they will be sent to serve as vicars (interns) for the 2020-2021 school year.

After that, 28 men were assigned to serve as pastors. Of those, 23 were seniors receiving their first call, three were from the class of 2018, and two were students from the Pastoral Studies Institute. In addition, four were reassigned to one-year calls.

Over 2,000 computers were logged onto Livestream, and there were over 2,000 views on Facebook. In the comments section, people checked in from all over the U.S. In addition, people checked in from Canada and India.

Assignment lists are available on the seminary’s website. Watch the archived footage at our Livestream page.

 

 

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MLC President Mark Zarling retiring

Rev. Mark Zarling, president of Martin Luther College (MLC) from 2007 to 2020, is retiring this summer.

During Zarling’s tenure, God has blessed the college in countless ways.

The campus saw the construction of beautiful new facilities funded by God’s people: Chapel of the Christ, the Early Childhood Learning Center, a baseball field, and a soccer pitch.

The academic catalog expanded to include majors in early childhood education and special education, many four-year secondary education majors, and minors in urban ministry and Chinese. The graduate program added two new degrees: Master of Science in Educational Administration and Master of Arts in Theological Studies. And continuing education offerings expanded tremendously, including New Teacher Induction, new certifications, and a full catalog of on-campus, online, and on-location professional development options.

Zarling’s keen sense of vision led the campus family through two strategic plans, two accreditations, a Master Site Plan, and a Master Staffing Plan. He put the spotlight on lowering student debt, broadening international services, expanding experiential learning, and recruiting new students not merely to fill current vacancies but to prepare for new ministries still in development. He also traveled extensively, serving as a warm and sincere ambassador all over the synod.

Through all these changes, he kept the campus focused on the mission statement: “To train a corps of Christian witnesses who are qualified to meet the ministry needs of WELS and who are competent to proclaim the Word of God faithfully and in accord with the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord.”

Faculty, staff, and synod leaders have called Zarling a man of faith, a pastor-administrator, a humble visionary, a Christlike leader, and MLC’s spiritual compass. He spoke God’s promises in the hallways, prayed with colleagues in their offices, and uplifted the college family with his “Letters from Home” chapel messages.

“President Zarling has left an impression on Martin Luther College,” said WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder. “He has worked tirelessly to ensure that our WELS College of Ministry faithfully carries out its purpose. He has personally guided and shaped hundreds, if not thousands, of students. And through his leadership he has instilled in our synod’s members a love for and a confidence in Martin Luther College.”

To MLC students past, present, and future, President Emeritus Zarling offers this encouragement: “The apostle tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Live daily with eyes on Jesus—and the only way to keep eyes on him is to stay with the Scriptures that reveal him. Make time daily to prayerfully read the Spirit’s inspired words that you may build up your faith. As Jude tells us, ‘But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life (20-21).’ ”

Mark and his wife, Colette, are moving to Manitowoc, Wis., this summer and are planning road trips to the East and West Coasts to see children and grandchildren.

 

 

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Taste and see Christ’s love around the globe

The WELS Missions office is partnering with the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) to host an online event called Taste and See from June 27–July 11. This first-of-its-kind event will combine the very best of Taste of Missions and the LWMS convention to provide all WELS members an opportunity to be an important part of gospel outreach occurring in the synod.

WELS Missions and LWMS have launched a new website, welstasteandsee.com, that will host all of the videos and activities for the two-week event. Visit the website today to register to participate and subscribe for e-mail updates regarding the online festivities. Anyone who registers will be entered to win a gift certificate for the 2021 LWMS convention in Cincinnati, Ohio (a $195 value). The certificate can also be gifted to someone if the winner is not able to attend.

Save the dates for the following livestreamed events, which provide opportunities for WELS members to come together and encourage one another. Join on the WELS Missions or LWMS Facebook pages or on the Taste and See website at the following times:

Saturday, June 27, 11 a.m. CDT: Opening worship service immediately followed by the LWMS flag presentation

Wednesday, July 1, 7 p.m. CDT: Home Missions Q&A panel

Wednesday, July 8, 7 p.m. CDT: World Missions Q&A panel

Saturday, July 11, 6 p.m. CDT: Closing worship service featuring the commissioning of three world missionaries and one home missionary, immediately followed by a Q&A panel with the newly commissioned missionaries

The LWMS Awareness Committee has put together ideas and resources that people can use to host a Taste and See watch parties at their congregations, LWMS circuit gatherings, or even in their homes.

Visit the Taste and See website to get a flavor of what kinds of missions presentations, devotions, cooking tutorials, and other activities you can expect to see June 27–July 11. WELS Missions and LWMS are excited to join with you and other brothers and sisters around the world as we together say, “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

 

 

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A long-awaited return

It appears that the time we have been waiting for—when we can again gather in church for Word and sacrament—has arrived or will arrive shortly. Some states have already begun to relax or even remove restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 virus. In most places further relaxing of restrictions seems to be coming in the days and weeks ahead.

That means your congregation has probably already been making plans to resume public worship at some time in the coming weeks. (Some congregations resumed limited public worship last Sunday.) At least on a temporary basis, those plans will likely take into consideration common-sense measures to reduce the possibility of spreading the virus. Plans may also call for voluntarily following guidelines provided by federal, state, and local health agencies. As we make these decisions, it will be important for congregations to be aware of what restrictions apply to them so they may evangelically apply biblical principles in keeping with the Fourth Commandment, as we also seek to honor the Third Commandment.

We will also want to act evangelically and respectfully because we realize our members and neighboring congregations may have many different approaches, opinions, or comfort levels. As we try to walk through the various governmental and medical concerns, guidelines, and recommendations, we also want to have a balanced spiritual concern toward our members, realizing some will want to gather in worship as soon as possible and others will still feel hesitant for a while. There also will be divided human opinions on the wisdom of beginning to open up or not to open up at all at this time. We want to encourage everyone to be patient with everybody else and to makes those decisions in Christian love and with much prayer.

I pray the Lord has kept you safe and healthy under his protection during these weeks. I also pray the Lord has blessed your congregation’s ministry during this time, since the Word always continues to accomplish God’s purpose. And I further pray for the members of your congregations, especially if they are suffering from illness or from any of the other attendant difficulties such as job loss, financial difficulty, or family turmoil. May the grace of our risen Lord Jesus give them—and all of us—his saving peace.

God bless you as you make evangelical, balanced, and thoughtful decisions about when—and how—to arrange for in-person worship. Together, God-willing, we will be back in God’s house saying, “It is good, Lord, to be here!”

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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WELS Pension Plan contribution holiday in October 2020

The WELS Retirement Program Commission is pleased to announce a one-quarter contribution holiday for the WELS Pension Plan (the “Plan”). No Plan contributions will be due for the October-December 2020 quarter. Active workers will continue to earn Plan benefits for eligible service performed during the October-December 2020 quarter, and Plan benefits will continue to be paid to retired workers and surviving spouses.

In addition, the July 2020 quarterly Plan invoices will be generated and mailed in early June to support ministries in their efforts to make timely retirement contribution payments under the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).

Mr. Joshua Peterman, director of WELS Benefit Plans, says, “During this uncertain time, we are pleased to provide relief to WELS ministries that will total approximately $5 million in savings. In scheduling the contribution holiday for October 2020, the goal is to provide relief as soon as possible while allowing ministries to realize the full benefits of any loans received under the PPP. In addition, we are thankful to the Lord for blessing us with the financial flexibility to pass on these savings while maintaining the Plan’s long-term viability.”

The Pension contribution holiday announcements follows the announcement of a VEBA premium holiday for August 2020. WELS Benefits Plans understands the burden some WELS churches, schools, and organizations may be facing and is grateful for the opportunity to provide relief. WELS ministries will receive additional reminders of the contribution holiday in the coming months.

If you have questions, contact the Benefit Plans Office at bpo@wels.net; 414-256-3299.

 

 

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Serving those who serve their country

One of the many groups served by WELS Commission on Special Ministries is military service members and their families. One way the commission does this is through military contact pastors—pastors who serve WELS members and other Christians stationed at nearby military bases in addition to serving a congregation.

Rev. Paul Schulz, pastor at Risen Savior, Chula Vista, Calif., is one of approximately 120 military contact pastors who serve U.S. military members with the reassuring gospel message. He is the contact pastor for five different Marine and Naval bases in the area.

Schulz has been at Chula Vista for five and a half years. “I knew the congregation was made up of a lot of military members, and I always had a high respect for people who serve our country in that way,” says Schulz. “It was a real appeal to me to be able to serve military families.”

Schulz says one of the first challenges he faced was getting on base. “We want to let the chaplains on base know who we are and that if they come across any WELS members they can send them our way so we can serve them,” he says. “It’s really, really hard to get on base. It’s a challenge unless you have the right contact person.”

Now Schulz leads a service every Sunday at the Marine Corp Recruit Depot in nearby San Diego; anywhere from 25 to 65 recruits attend, many of whom aren’t WELS members. They’re young, and it’s usually their first time away from home. For the first time, they’re taking ownership of their faith. “It’s been one of the most incredible experiences and blessings in my ministry to be able to bring the Word to those recruits,” says Schulz. “The spiritual needs are the same for all of us, whether it was the farmers and ranchers I served in South Dakota, the engineers in Peoria, Ill., or the military members here. We’re all sinners who need to be reminded of our Savior and take comfort in his promises.”

Military families, however, are faced with their own set of unique and challenging circumstances. “Each family may be going through this for the first time, and they desperately need the comfort and assurance of God’s Word,” Schulz says. “They’re torn apart in so many different ways. It’s a blessing to assure them, especially those who will be deployed, that the Lord is with them in all things and in all ways.”

Schulz stresses that for him to be able to share God’s comforting Word with WELS members stationed in his area, he needs to know about them. WELS Military Services has an online referral form, wels.net/refer, that service members or their families can fill out. WELS contact pastors use the information to contact military members stationed across the country.

A new video is available from WELS Military Services titled “Staying Close to God’s Word While in the Military” for WELS high school juniors and seniors who are planning on going into the military after graduation and for others who want to support their spiritual welfare such as their parents and pastors.

Find additional resources for military contact pastors at welscongregationalservices.net.

 

 

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Assignments and graduations at our ministerial education schools

The recent disruptions caused by the COVID-19 virus have had a great impact on our synodical schools. In-person classes had to be canceled at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis.; Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich. In addition, decisions have now been made to hold virtual events for the reading of assignments at MLC and WLS and for graduation ceremonies at all four schools. The Assignment Committee will be meeting via video conference to make the assignments in the days before the assignments are announced.

At MLC, 171 teacher and staff ministry candidates are available for assignment. At WLS, 26 pastoral candidates and 28 vicar candidates will be assigned.

Even though graduations and assignments will take place in an entirely different format this year, the reasons to celebrate remain the same. God continues to provide workers for his harvest field, and we continue to thank him for these blessings and for the faithful work done by our faculties and students.

You can participate in these happy events by joining the online events at the schools, accessible via the schools’ websites:

Martin Luther College
Graduation: Saturday, May 16, 10:00 a.m. (Central)
Announcement of assignments: Saturday, May 16, 11:15 a.m. (Central)

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary
Graduation and announcement of assignments (pastors and vicars): Thursday, May 21, 10:00 a.m. (Central)

Luther Preparatory School
Saturday, May 23, 10:00 a.m. (Central)

Michigan Lutheran Seminary
Saturday, May 23, 9:30 a.m. (Central) (10:30 a.m. [Eastern])

If you know of a graduate from one of these schools in your congregation or extended family, let them know how much you appreciate them and that the entire synod is keeping them in our prayers.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Celebrating MLC seniors

Tomorrow, May 6, is MLC Day. Each year MLC Day brings together all who support the WELS College of Ministry around the world. Martin Luther College (MLC) supporters send messages to the college, pray for its ministry, share its ministry with others, and give gifts to assist in carrying out its mission. MLC students then share their stories and thanks with supporters.

This year, MLC Day will highlight family connections even more, especially focusing on MLC seniors.

“With students continuing to study off campus due to COVID-19 restrictions, our seniors are missing out on many end-of-year activities celebrations,” says Mr. Bill Pekrul, MLC director of public relations. “We decided to focus MLC Day on them this year and have photos and videos aimed at their reflections and encouraging others to send messages of congratulations and encouragement to these future called workers.”

Pekrul offers the following suggestions on how everyone can participate:

  • Current students can share prayers, blessings, encouragement, and thanks to a graduating senior.
  • MLC seniors can offer a message of thanks to those who encouraged and supported them throughout their time at college as well as offer advice to incoming students.
  • WELS families, schools, and congregations can record short videos or submit photos with notes of encouragement and prayers for a graduating senior. MLC is providing signs and message prompts to help the creative process.
  • WELS members can offer prayers and monetary support for MLC’s ministry. All gifts will go toward the Congregational Partner Grant Matching Fund, which directly supports students. A generous donor has agreed to match every dollar donated up to $50,000.

Visit mlcday.com to learn more. There you can also access resources and message prompts so you can show your support for MLC and its students on May 6.

 

 

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New mission online event scheduled

WELS Home and World Missions and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) are partnering to offer Taste and See, a first-of-its kind free online mission event from June 27–July 11.

This new opportunity to learn about and support WELS home and world mission fields came about after two in-person summer events—LWMS’ national convention and WELS Missions’ Taste of Missions—were canceled due to COVID-19 uncertainties.

“Yes, it does make us sad, but we have to be responsible. We didn’t feel it wise to put our members at risk,” says Mrs. Cynthia Natsis, LWMS president. The LWMS convention, originally scheduled to take place in Athens, Ga., this year, usually draws almost one thousand attendees. She continues, “I pray that this new online event will fill that void of not being able to go and meet with your sisters in Christ.”

Taste and See will begin and end with livestreamed worship services hosted at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. Opening worship is scheduled for 11 a.m. (Central), June 27, and will be followed by the LWMS flag presentation, a mainstay at its conventions. Closing worship at 6 p.m. (Central), July 11, will feature the commissioning of new missionaries.

In between, free consume-at-your-own-pace content will be offered online, including

  • daily mission-themed video devotions;
  • recorded missions presentations that had been planned for the live events, including updates from WELS home and world mission administrators;
  • short video updates from home and world missionaries;
  • a live question-and-answer panels;
  • cooking tutorials and recipes from missionary families; and
  • family-friendly activities such as missions-themed scavenger hunts; coloring pages; and create-a-card opportunities.

Event organizers are encouraging people to participate in challenges and activities on Facebook and the event website. Participants also can submit mission questions for the live panels.

“While we are certainly saddened that the physical events have been canceled, we know that God’s plan is unfolding just as he’s planned,” says Mr. Sean Young, director of Missions Operations. “We are looking forward to an even larger audience than we could have hoped for out of a live event!”

Learn more at wels.net/event/taste-and-see.

 

 

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Together at the Empty Tomb

It has not been easy. Being deprived of the blessing of gathering with fellow Christians in church for worship has been a serious burden for us to carry. We hunger for the face-to-face fellowship with other Christians, and we long for the day when we can be together for worship again.

In the meantime, congregations in many places around our synod have found ways to continue the proclamation of the saving message of Jesus to their members. I commend pastors and congregational leaders for their faithful efforts to serve people with the Word.

In spite of our inability to be with each other in person, all members of the synod are joined together in a wonderful fellowship of faith. To help bring us together in spirit and to testify to that bond of faith we share, a special synodwide virtual worship service was held on Easter Sunday evening. The service, with the theme “Together at the Empty Tomb,” was streamed from the chapel of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis.

Thank you to Seminary President Rev. Earle Treptow, who delivered the sermon brimming with Easter comfort; to the Trinitas worship ensemble from Trinity, Waukesha, Wis., who provided the instrumental and vocal music; to Rev. Bryan Gerlach, director of WELS Commission on Worship, for arranging the order of service; and to Rev. Jon Hein, coordinator for WELS Congregational Services, for coordinating this effort and for hosting the live Q&A that took place after the service.

More than 20,000 people tuned in for the synodwide virtual Easter service. If you missed it—or if you loved it and want to see it again—you can watch the archived service online.

Also, due to popular demand, a video is available of the service’s Hymn of the Day, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives,” featuring WELS members from around the country singing at home. View the hymn.

The good news of a risen Savior continues to be preached and proclaimed no matter what the circumstances. It’s likely an Easter celebration that we will never forget.

Serving you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Martin Luther College announces commencement plans

In consultation with the 2020 graduating class, faculty/staff, and local health authorities, Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., has decided that its graduation and Call Day services will be held remotely, with graduating seniors viewing from their homes.

The 2020 commencement worship service will be broadcast via MLC’s Livestream page at 10 a.m. CT, May 16. The reading of the assignments will immediately follow the commencement service. Both events will be pre-recorded at the Chapel of the Christ on MLC’s campus. Assignment lists will be posted on MLC’s and on WELS’ websites immediately following the events.

To help the graduates celebrate, MLC is sending a “graduation box” to every senior and encouraging students to send pictures of themselves in their caps and gowns and videos of their watch parties. Stay tuned to MLC’s social media to see photos and videos.

In late March, MLC already had announced that alternative/distance learning would extend to the end of the 2019–20 school year, a decision made taking into account directives from the state of Minnesota. Distance learning started March 23.

“We thank everyone for their patience and their understanding in these crazy, crazy times as God has set them before us,” says Dr. Jeff Wiechman, MLC’s vice president for academics. “But we forge ahead knowing that he’s in total control and knowing that he has our best interests at heart. His will is being done for us and for our ministry in his kingdom.”

To help celebrate the graduates, MLC has decided to focus its annual MLC Day on its seniors, offering current students, families, friends, and MLC supporters an opportunity to give a shout-out to these future called workers. This online social media event, which also provides ways to support WELS’ College of Ministry with gifts and prayers, takes place May 6. Go to mlcday.com to learn more and to access resources and message prompts.

Commencement plans for Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis., will be finalized in early May. With the Wisconsin governor’s “Safer at Home” orders extended until May 26, WLS already has decided to hold classes online until the end of the school year.

 

 

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WELS Family Devotions

New family devotions from WELS Discipleship

WELS Commission on Discipleship has started offering devotions developed for the entire family to use. The devotions will coincide with the previous Sunday’s Bible readings. Each devotion is complete with a set of questions for different age groups, a prayer, and hymn verses that can be sung or spoken. Downloadable printable versions are available as well.

You can subscribe to have the devotions e-mailed to you at wels.net/subscribe, find them on the WELS Facebook page fb.com/welslutherans, or visit wels.net/family-devotions.

“The foundation of the Christian family begins at home. What an opportunity in coming weeks for parents to commit to starting and sustaining a good and godly habit,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Commission on Discipleship.

These family devotions will be offered three times a week. Dobberstein says this should more likely set up families for success. “We didn’t want to set up families to feel like they are failing if they miss a devotion. The goal is to create a doable program to help families who may have no devotional life or who struggle to keep it going. With this model, families can use them as they have time throughout the week.”

He says the devotions have been developed to assist parents and children in the spiritual life at home, encourage people to follow God’s instructions for home devotional life, teach families how and when to have home devotions, and encourage congregations in their support of their member families.

“Just a few short weeks ago, family calendars were blissfully filled with future events, meetings, games, and activities,” says Dobberstein. “These devotions can help parents spend spiritual time with their children during this time of upheaval and uncertainty.”

 

 

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WELS VEBA premium holiday in August 2020

The WELS VEBA Commission is offering a one-month premium holiday for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan (“WELS VEBA”). No premiums will be due for WELS VEBA medical benefits for the month of August 2020. Premiums for voluntary benefits, such as dental, life, and optional long-term disability, will still be due and payable for the month of August 2020, as will any premiums due for WELS VEBA coverage prior to August 2020.

Mr. Joshua Peterman, director of Benefit Plans, says, “During this uncertain time, the commission is pleased to provide relief to our participating organizations that will total approximately $4.2 million in savings. In scheduling the premium holiday for August 2020, the commission’s goal is to provide relief as soon as possible while allowing ministries to realize the full benefits of any loans received under the federal Paycheck Protection Program. We are thankful to the Lord for blessing WELS VEBA with the financial flexibility to pass on these savings while maintaining its long-term viability.”

All sponsoring organizations that participate in WELS VEBA will receive communications in the coming months with more details and important items to note.

If you have questions, contact the Benefit Plans Office at bpo@wels.net; 414-256-3299.

 

 

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WELS Church Extension Fund offering limited-time special rates

To benefit WELS home missions and mission-minded congregations, WELS Church Extension Fund (WELS CEF) is offering special higher interest rates to new and existing investors for a limited time.

With $30 million in construction loans to churches currently in progress, WELS CEF is excited to offer these new interest rates to support those churches with their building projects and mission goals. With the ongoing need for funds, WELS CEF seeks to raise approximately $10 million in new money investments.

The interest rate bonus is available for both existing maturing and new investment certificates with two-year and longer maturities at the $25,000 mark. Doubling an existing investment to $25,000 and greater or simply making a new investment of $25,000 will provide the interest rate bonus. The opportunity to invest under these bonus terms ends as soon as WELS CEF reaches its new investment goal.

WELS CEF makes loans below or at market rates for new WELS mission churches that are building for the first time or established congregations with a new mission-focused initiative. WELS CEF funds these loans through WELS congregations’ and members’ investments in WELS CEF products.

Mr. Scott Page, executive director of WELS CEF, says, “WELS Church Extension Fund would like to thank all of our investors and provide an incentive to help us do more. These investments help WELS mission and self-supporting congregations build and expand their ministries. We are pleased to assist you in being good stewards of your gifts while also providing funding to help spread the gospel throughout the United States.”

Because of the uncertainty due to COVID-19, WELS CEF will be suspending new loan originations through July 31, 2020. The CEF Loan Committee will be monitoring this monthly, and the CEF Board of Directors reserves the right to extend or shorten the suspension of lending activities. This suspension in lending activity applies to new loan applications only and does not impact existing loans, loan commitments, or construction loans in process.

View rates online at wels.net/cef. New IRA investors should contact WELS CEF at 866-511-7793 for investment materials. Investors can also manage their accounts and investments online.

 

 

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Decision on district conventions

After thorough discussion and with great reluctance, the Conference of Presidents (COP) has concluded that the district conventions, scheduled for early June, will be canceled due to the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 virus. Even though it might seem somewhat early to cancel the conventions, a decision needed to be reached now to enable districts to cancel their contracts with convention facilities with no penalty.

The COP did consider whether the conventions could be postponed until later in the summer or early fall. However, several districts would not be able to hold district conventions at a later date due to unavailability of meeting facilities and accommodations for delegates. The COP also discussed whether virtual conventions could be held, but several districts concluded that a virtual convention would not be practical. The COP agreed that if some districts could not hold conventions, none should.

On the positive side, a benefit of canceling district conventions will be a significant cost savings. This is in keeping with synodwide efforts already undertaken to reduce expenses in the coming year.

Even though we cannot hold “regular” district conventions as the bylaws state, we will continue to walk together in our common confession of faith and shared mission. It is our commitment to the truths of Scripture and our commitment to carry out God’s work that will guide us in times such as these—times that constitutions and bylaws could not have foreseen. Even without specific guidance from bylaws, we are committed to moving forward in a united way, striving to do all things in good order.

With no district conventions, normal elections will not be able to be held. Instead, we will plan to have elections for the district officers conducted electronically. The details of how this will be done are still to be worked out, but we have been assured that called worker delegates and congregational delegates will be able to participate.

Once the district officers are elected, we will follow the bylaw that gives responsibility to the district presidents, with input from the other district officers, to appoint people to serve in offices in which elections would have been held at the conventions. The district presidents will appoint those currently serving to continue in their positions until the next district conventions if they are willing to serve and if they have not reached the time limit for serving. For vacant offices in which there is no incumbent, the district presidents will make appointments using the information that the district nominating committees have assembled.

The decision regarding the proposed changes to the synod’s retirement program will likely be deferred to the 2021 synod convention. The planned discussion of the document “Male and Female in God’s World” also will not happen at the district conventions this summer; rather, discussions and study will continue in pastor and teacher conferences.

A digital version of the Report to the Twelve Districts as well as other important materials will be made available to each congregation and to district convention delegates.

We pray for the day when lives return to something like normal.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Together at the empty tomb this Easter

WELS families are certainly missing the opportunity to gather for Easter this year—waking up for a joy-filled early service, singing loudly with the organ trumpeting “He’s Risen!,” sharing a big breakfast with fellow believers. This year it will look . . . different.

But even at home, you can still hear about and celebrate the greatest victory in the history of the world—Jesus’ victory over death and sin! First, tune into your local congregation’s morning service if it offers a livestream or broadcast. If it doesn’t, here’s a list of WELS churches that post services online.

Then, at 6 p.m. (central time) you can tune into the FIRST EVER livestreamed, synodwide Easter worship celebration. Even though we are not together physically, fellow believers from around the world can gather “Together at the Empty Tomb.”

WELS President Mark Schroeder and WELS First Vice President James Huebner will preside, and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary President Earle Treptow will preach. Immediately following the service, Schroeder, Treptow, and Rev. Jon Hein from WELS Congregational Services will be available for a live Question and Answer session.

Though virtual, this has the potential to be the most-attended WELS worship service ever. Join your Christian brothers and sister and get “Together at the Empty Tomb.”

Share this link—livestream.com/wlslive/togetherattheemptytomb—with everyone you can for an opportunity to worship synodwide and across the world. Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

A Palm Sunday message by Schroeder was viewed at least 10,000 times on Facebook and Vimeo. You can still watch the archived live event.

 

 

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April 2020 Home Missions update

Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Board for Home Missions, wrote this update following the spring meeting of the Board for Home Missions.

For those who enjoy sports, the pandemic put a screeching halt to sporting events. For many athletes, the countless hours they put into preparing and competing with the hope of winning it all have now vanished.

In a sense this is what has happened in WELS Home Missions. The Board for Home Missions meets each spring. Because of the financial question marks due to the pandemic, it does not look like the Board for Home Missions will be able to authorize new funds so new missions can start in the next months, even though there was a tremendous amount of work done by so many on the Home Missions team.

What does a “tremendous amount of work” mean? To get to the point that the Board for Home Missions can authorize funds to be spent on new missions means that district mission boards completed a lot of work to develop locations to be considered for a new mission. District mission boards work with area congregations or core groups of members to gauge the potential of being the nucleus for a new mission. The demographics for the potential target area of the new missions are studied. Costs for land and rental locations for worship are investigated. Ministry plans are developed. Core groups meet in Bible studies to have God’s Word fortify and encourage them in this important venture.

As the core group develops and the district mission boards follow the guidelines in submitting a request to the Board for Home Missions, the prayer is that their request will be approved so a new mission can start. Hundreds of hours go into this process and many more are spent by the Executive Committee of the Board for Home Missions as it reviews the requests.

March 25 and 26 the Executive Committee met via videoconferencing to review the 13 new ministry requests. Realizing there is uncertainty about when or if any of these new requests might be funded, the Executive Committee pressed on. After many hours, three new mission requests received approval to start, pending funding. Those locations are:

  • West San Antonio, Texas—Supported by Our Savior, San Antonio, 10 families are forming the core group for this new mission. This group started worship on March 1 (pictured). The first three Sundays an average of 40 people attended worship. Then worship services were suspended due to coronavirus precautions.
  • North Liberty, Iowa—Good Shepherd, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has been working to develop a mission in this growing community for years. Nestled between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, North Liberty is seeing rapid growth. Over the past three years, members of Good Shepherd have been active in various ministry events, including worship at the Community Center in North Liberty.
  • Amarillo, Texas—Located 130 miles from the nearest WELS church, a group of 15 WELS members form the core group. The WELS pastor from Lubbock, Texas, comes to Amarillo twice a month to serve the members with Word and sacrament. The prayer is that a full-time pastor will have many opportunities to share the gospel of Jesus Christ so that this small group may blossom into a growing church.

During its March meeting, the Executive Committee also approved subsidy requests for 51 missions. The prayer is that as the Lord blesses these missions with growth, their requests for financial support grow less so that the funds they no longer need can be put toward the funds needed to start the next mission.

In addition, the Executive Committee, working with two Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary professors, prioritized 17 vicar-in-mission opportunities.

Although it is surely important to support seminary students during their vicar year and it is important to continue supporting existing missions, the highlight of the spring Board for Home Missions meeting is the authorization of new missions. This year that isn’t happening, even though all the work has been done. Was this futile labor?

As people of God, we know the answer. In 1 Corinthians 15 the apostle Paul writes about Jesus’ resurrection for 57 verses. It is a beautiful chapter and shares many wondrous resurrection truths. In the 58th and final verse, Paul writes, “Therefore my dear brothers, stand firm, let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, for you know your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” While humanly speaking we don’t know what the results will be from the labors of district mission boards and the Executive Committee of the Board for Home Missions regarding new mission starts, we do know that everyone was working in service to the Lord and that labor is not in vain. That is what our God says. That is what we believe.

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

 

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New website helps introduce upcoming hymnal

To help introduce WELS members to the hymnal and additional resources coming out in late 2021, the WELS Hymnal Project and Northwestern Publishing House have developed a new website, christianworship.com. Named after the title of the new hymnal, the Christian Worship site highlights features of the upcoming worship book as well as the suite of resources that will accompany it.

According to Rev. Adam Mueller, director of the WELS Hymnal Introduction Program, the website follows the outline of Christian Worship Preview, a booklet received by all congregations in February. This booklet shares more information about the contents of the new hymnal, including sections on Scripture, the service, Psalms, hymns, technology, and artwork.

The site also delves into the roles of a WELS member in a congregation—whether worshiper, planner, leader, and musician—and emphasizes what the new Christian Worship family of products offers to each person.

An exciting tool for worship planning is also featured on the website. Christian Worship: Service Builder provides worship planners a quick, easy way to plan a service and produce the worship folders. Online video previews offer an opportunity to see the service builder in action.

To assist congregations as they plan for the upcoming release, christianworship.com includes budgeting tools for the new suite of products, a list of tentative pricing for the hymnal and its accompanying resources, and some tips for funding. “Now is the time for congregations to start thinking about the new hymnal and its value for the church as they are creating their budgets for the next few years,” says Mueller.

Explore more at christianworship.com. There you can also sign up for updates on the release of the hymnal.

Learn more about the new Christian Worship in the February edition of WELS Connection.

 

 

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Synodwide Holy Week messages

Brothers and sisters in Christ,

Many congregations throughout the synod have been, or soon will be, forced to find alternative ways to gather around God’s Word. My wife and I have already spent two Sundays worshiping at home via the online worship provided by my congregation. I’m gratified that so many congregations have moved so quickly to continue to serve their members with the comfort and guidance of the Scriptures.

This Sunday evening, Palm Sunday, I will be delivering a brief message to the members of our synod in an online video broadcast. The message will be broadcast live at 6:00 p.m. (central). I invite you to access that message live online. I look forward to speaking with you. If you are not able to view the video when it is broadcast live, it will be archived online.

A week later, we will be celebrating our Savior’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. Our Easter Sunday worship will be different than any we have ever experienced. Most likely you will gather “virtually” with members of your congregation (or that of another congregation) to gaze at the empty tomb and praise God for what he has done for us.

Not to replace your Easter morning worship, but to supplement it, we will be offering an opportunity for our entire synod to gather online for a special Easter Sunday evening service to be broadcast from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary at 6 p.m. (central). We will gather as one family of believers, from across the country and around the world, not only to celebrate our Savior’s Easter victory but also to express our unity of faith and mission as members of the Wisconsin Synod. The theme of the service will be, “Together at the Empty Tomb.” Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary President Earle Treptow will deliver the Easter message. A small choir, along with a few instruments, will enhance the worship with music and songs of praise. I’m thankful to Pastor Jon Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, for planning and coordinating this event. I look forward to being with you for this special Easter celebration. You can watch it live online. Stay online after the service for a live Q&A session hosted by President Treptow and Rev. Hein, where viewers can ask questions.

Elsewhere in this issue of Together, you will find information and resources that we have gathered to help congregations begin to make use of the CARES Act. This information, as well as the information provided on the synod website, will be continuously updated whenever anything new develops.

One other important item: President Mark Zarling of Martin Luther College has been diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus and has been hospitalized in Mankato, Minn. Please join me in approaching the throne of grace, fervently asking God to keep President Zarling and all those afflicted by this worldwide pandemic in his loving care and to grant them a full recovery. Our times, as well as President Zarling’s, are in God’s hands—no better place to be.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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