Encouraging financial results from 2020

We have great news to celebrate. Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) submitted by congregations to the synod in December totaled $3.45 million, which was an increase from the previous December of 1.5%, or $50,328. For the entire year of 2020, CMO totaled $21.7 million, an increase of 2.3% ($498,000) from the prior year and $633,000 higher than the 2% increase that was projected. The 2020 CMO totals were the highest in history, eclipsing the previous high in 2008.

This blessing is especially amazing because it took place in a year when congregational worship was severely disrupted and the economy significantly impacted by COVID-19. Our thanks to God for his gracious providence and to the faithful way, motivated by the gospel, in which congregations and their members did not let a crisis get in the way of their support for the mission and ministry of our synod.

The synod’s financial situation is in very good shape, thanks to the generous gifts of God’s people and to the reduction in expenditures that resulted from less travel and fewer meetings. We pray that we will see similar blessings in the new year. And we continue to sing with the psalmist, “Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness” (Psalm 115:1).

The CMO 2021 subscription reporting process is well underway. The deadline for submitting CMO 2021 commitments is Fri., Feb. 5, at noon (Central). Thank you, in advance, for encouraging your congregations to record their commitments (along with 2020 statistics) by that date!

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Mission congregations offer aid during the pandemic

WELS Christian Aid and Relief and WELS Home Missions have teamed up to offer more than $160,000 in pandemic relief matching grants to 24 mission congregations that are offering aid to those in their communities who are struggling. Grants were allocated in January.

“Our mission is to relieve suffering, to reach out to those who have been hit hard by something and help them through it, while we reflect the love of Jesus and gain opportunities to share the good news of Jesus as their Savior,” says Rev. Daniel Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “It’s easy to look at the pandemic as a problem—and it is—but it’s also a tremendous opportunity to do exactly what our mission is set to do.”

These home missions were creative with their ideas, offering plans to provide food and supplies to families in need and counseling and support groups for those struggling with their mental health. Many are partnering with other community organizations, working closely with local homeless shelters and schools in their area.

Hope in the Heights, Houston, Texas, a home mission that started in 2019, is supporting its local Chamber of Commerce’s Adopt-a-Teacher program, which provides teachers with needed supplies, personal gifts, support, and prayers during these trying times. “With all the stress that teachers have been under, we thought it would be a nice thing to help them out,” says Mr. Mark Hartman, a lay member at Hope. The congregation decided to support teachers from two of the schools in the congregation’s target area.

Besides helping the teachers, Hope asked each teacher to nominate two families who are struggling because of the pandemic so that Hope could provide groceries to those families.

Hope was so excited about the program that it decided to get started even before the grant money came through. “I just bought groceries for our 18th family since we started [last November],” says Hartman. “We’re glad this grant program came up—not only for the resources—but just to spur us on to come up with an idea to help our community.”

He continues, “When a program like this comes along, it gives you the opportunity to say, ‘I don’t have to worry about my budget, I can just go and bless these people in my community.’ ”

And people are appreciative of that help. One local elementary teacher e-mailed, saying, “I have had the pleasure of hearing the cheerful stories from my students that you purchased groceries for. I wish you could see the look on their faces! I wanted to thank you for your generosity and kindness. This is definitely what this world needs more of.” Another said, “I am truly humbled and blessed that a church and its congregation wanted to help teachers—and especially me.”

Learn more about Christian Aid and Relief at wels.net/relief. Learn more about Home Missions at wels.net/missions.

 

 

 

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God’s blessings on display

“Your gifts, God’s blessings: An annual report to our members” is now available online. The report includes photos of Christian brothers and sisters around the world, stories of faith, and updates on WELS’ ministry.

“Despite the challenges, disruptions, and distractions of the past year, God enabled our congregations to preach the saving gospel and find creative ways to worship,” notes WELS President Mark Schroeder.

Learn more about

  • Jordan Massiah, a student studying in the pastor track at Martin Luther College, who preached a sermon for chapel that was streamed online and shared via social media during spring 2020;
  • Sure Foundation, Brandon, S.D., a home mission congregation that partnered with an area gym to include Bible-based videos as part of the gym’s 21-Day Transformation program;
  • Haris, a student in WELS’ Pastoral Studies Institute, who reached out to the Muslims in his community with face masks and groceries to show them the love of Christ; and
  • The Christian Service Members’ Handbook, developed to help those in the military stay strong in their faith in places where a pastor or fellow believer might not be available.

These stories and more are presented in the 2021 edition of “Your gifts, God’s blessings.” As Rev. Kurt Lueneburg, director of WELS Ministry of Christian Giving, says, it “provides a meaningful review of the many ways that the Lord Jesus uses the offerings, prayers, and volunteer service of WELS members to share his good news with precious souls in North America and around the world. Such a review is beneficial in light of the significant Congregation Mission Offerings ($21.7 million) and special gifts that WELS received in 2020.”

Print versions of the report have been sent to every WELS congregation and individual donor. Additional print versions are available from Northwestern Publishing House for free. Visit nph.net or call 800-662-6022.

To view the report online, visit wels.net/annualreport. There you can also download a PowerPoint presentation of the report with notes that allow anyone to share the highlights of our synod’s work. Alternatively, churches can invite a WELS Christian giving counselor to give the presentation. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for more information.

 

 

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Building a congregation’s outreach culture

The Commission on Evangelism has developed a new program called Everyone Outreach to help focus congregations and their members on Jesus’ command to make disciples.

“If you look at WELS churches that are growing, the main ingredient is that they have an outreach culture,” says Rev. Eric Roecker, director of WELS Evangelism. “The idea of this program is to create that culture so that every member and every ministry are focused on reaching the lost. Then it becomes clear that outreach is not an afterthought or something the evangelism committee does. It is who we are and what we do.”

This personal witnessing mindset is important in post-Christian America. “People who aren’t interested in Christianity in any way aren’t going to be reached by corporate outreach for the most part,” says Roecker. “It’s going to take each of us showing love to our unchurched friends and neighbors and then looking for opportunities to lead them to the gospel.”

Roecker is quick to point out that Everyone Outreach is not going to train people how to do outreach. Instead it is designed to help a congregation discover its thought habits and develop new thinking and behaviors that build a culture of outreach.

The program begins with a two-day workshop at the congregation, where facilitators will use group exercises and reflection, grounded in God’s Word, to explore and adjust the congregation’s culture.

But it isn’t just a one-and-done experience for the congregation. Attendees will leave with an outreach partner and their own personal commitment statements for accountability and encouragement. The program also will provide ongoing support through e-mails, text messages, meeting starters, and sermon thoughts, which will reinforce the changes that were discussed in the workshop.

The commission has worked closely with Mr. Kurt Nitz, a lay member at Christ Our Savior, Rockford, Mich., and an expert on culture transformations, to put together the program. This spring, 40 pastors will be trained to facilitate the workshops, with the plan to start offering workshops to congregations this fall.

Learn more about Everyone Outreach at everyoneoutreach.com.

 

 

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Important synod convention news and update from Martin Luther College

Conference of Presidents makes changes to the synod convention

At its January meeting last week, the Conference of Presidents (COP) examined its options for holding the synod convention this summer, in light of disruptions caused by COVID-19.

The Conference of Presidents (COP) is responsible for planning the synod convention, which was scheduled to take place July 26-29, 2021, at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.

At its meeting, the COP discussed the feasibility of holding the convention as planned, since it is impossible to know whether the current restriction on the size of gatherings in Michigan will remain in place, whether travel difficulties will remain, and whether travelers from certain states will still be required to quarantine after travel. In addition, the COP recognized that a significant number of people may not be comfortable with traveling, gathering in crowds, or staying in a dormitory.

In view of these uncertainties, the COP considered three options:

  1. Have the convention as normal in Saginaw, hoping that the situation changes by July.
  2. Cancel the convention and entrust the Synodical Council to make necessary decisions.
  3. Hold a “mini convention” with a reduced number of in-person delegates and the remainder of the delegates attending virtually.

Recognizing that it is impossible to know what conditions will be like in July and at the same time wanting the business of the synod to be carried out as close to normal as possible, the COP chose the third option: to hold a mini convention. Here is how it will work:

The convention will take place in Watertown, Wis., at Luther Preparatory School, since Wisconsin has been less restrictive in its COVID-19 guidelines than Michigan.

All delegates still will be assigned to floor committees. Each floor committee will have a chairman, a secretary, and lay representative appointed by the synod praesidium. These committees will meet via Zoom in early July to discuss their assigned area of the Book of Reports and Memorials as well as to discuss broader issues such as the ministry financial plan, memorials, bylaw changes, and the pension issue. Synodical area of ministry advisors (representatives) will attend the appropriate floor committee virtual meeting and present any necessary information. The committees will formulate their reports and resolutions and submit them for editing and formatting prior to the convention.

Only the chairmen, secretaries, and one designated layman from each floor committee will attend the convention in person. This means only 50 to 60 delegates will meet in person instead of the normal 400. These in-person delegates will be authorized by their floor committees to vote on behalf of those who will not attend in person. The number of advisory delegates also will be limited. There will be no displays other than unmanned displays of synodical areas of ministry.

All elections will take place electronically prior to the convention, with voting open to all delegates.

The convention itself will be run as normal, with opening worship on Monday evening. The number of special presentations will be limited. With elections already completed and resolutions  prepared ahead, it’s likely the work of the convention will be completed in two days, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The convention will be livestreamed to enable all voting and advisory delegates to observe. Delegates will be able to communicate with their chairmen during the convention if they have questions or comments.

The districts will be asked to appoint the same delegates to the next synod convention in 2023 so that they don’t miss the opportunity to attend a synod convention in person. Delegates will have the option to attend or to decline. No congregation will be charged the convention fee for this year’s convention.

The Conference of Presidents and the convention planning committee will likely make additional decisions and adjustments as needed.

An important advancement for Martin Luther College’s campaign

The Martin Luther College (MLC) administration and governing board are excited to announce a significant advancement in the Equipping Christian Witnesses (ECW) campaign pillar designated to campus facilities. Thanks to the gift of two generous donors, the new athletic center is fully funded.

After extensive interviews, analysis, and research, MLC’s comprehensive campus site plan identified two priorities: residence space and indoor athletic space for sports teams, physical education training, and student life. For that reason, an athletic center and a residence hall were included in the facility improvement pillar of the ECW campaign.

MLC is thankful for the gifts received from many individuals, congregations, and schools throughout the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. MLC is also thankful for the support it has received from the New Ulm community. Those gifts provided a generous financial foundation for facilities, and now, God has moved the heart of two very generous donors to provide a transformational gift to the athletic center that will allow construction to commence.

The athletic center, named the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse, will be located at the MLC Athletic Field Complex west of the main campus, near the soccer and baseball fields. This 36,000-square-foot indoor turfed facility will feature large practice areas, baseball/softball batting cages, golf simulators, and locker rooms. In April, the MLC campus family will celebrate the groundbreaking of the fieldhouse, with student use anticipated by the beginning of 2022.

MLC President Rich Gurgel commented on this milestone of the Equipping Christian Witnesses campaign: “We are thankful to God for the generosity of so many people. The Betty Kohn Fieldhouse will serve our student body well. It is also a significant beginning to our long-range plans for making our campus even more attractive to prospective students. And we look forward to exploring how the fieldhouse can serve the recreation needs of the New Ulm community as well.”

 

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Mid-year graduation at Martin Luther College

Even though on-campus learning at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., has been interrupted for a time, we are happy to see that the work of the college to prepare young people for the public ministry continues. One visible reminder of that is the announcement that 22 students have completed their studies and have received their diplomas and graduated mid-year.

While most of those students will defer their assignment into the public ministry until next spring, several of them will be assigned to their field of labor when the Assignment Committee meets on Fri., Dec. 18.

Plans have been put in place to welcome students back to campus in January. In addition, President Richard Gurgel has announced that the governing board of Martin Luther College will be distributing an additional $200,000 in financial assistance to help students who return for the second semester.

Even in difficult times, God’s work—and his blessings—continue in our congregations and in our synod.

On behalf of all who work with you and for you in our synod’s mission, have a blessed Christmas!

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Update from Vietnam

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lord is always with his church. Christians in the Hmong Fellowship Church in Vietnam are continuing to reach out to lost souls. In 2020, the Holy Spirit brought more than 12,000 Hmong people throughout Vietnam to faith in Jesus. The Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 126,000 to 138,000 members.

Rev. Zang, one of the Hmong leaders, said, “Most of the pastors in the Hmong Fellowship Church have heard many scary things through television and radio about the impact of COVID-19, but they see it as less dangerous when compared to the lost souls who have no chance to hear the gospel before they die.”

Rev. Fong and his evangelism team reached out to many villages in his area. The Lord blessed their efforts, and they were able to establish nine new mission congregations.

The Lord also has provided a way for WELS to continue training the Hmong Fellowship Church leaders. In November, the Vietnam mission team responded to the request of the Hmong Fellowship Church and offered Zoom training to 57 students. WELS provided phones and internet connectivity when needed to allow these students to participate in online training classes. Rev. Joel Nitz taught the gospel of Mark, and Rev. Bounkeo Lor taught law and gospel. Instruction via Zoom is something new for the Hmong Fellowship Church, but the students were very excited. Some students even asked permission for their wives and parents to join the training as well.

While the Hmong Fellowship Church has been tremendously blessed, there are also some big challenges ahead. More than 1,360 leaders are waiting for someone to train them in the Word of God. They are also waiting to build more churches for new believers to worship their Lord. Lor explains that the Hmong Fellowship Church leaders are very skilled at doing evangelism in their communities. With proper training and materials, these men will continue to share God’s Word.

The theological education center building project in Vietnam is still active but has been delayed due to COVID-19. Once Lor is able to visit Vietnam, he will arrange a Zoom or face-to-face meeting, if possible, between WELS and Vietnamese representatives. The government also wants to make this project happen as quickly as possible.

Lor shares that brothers and sisters in Vietnam send their greetings and say, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!” to all WELS members. They appreciate your help and support, especially to train their leaders in the Word of God. They also ask for your continued support and prayers.

Read more from Pastor Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia ministry coordinator, in this Missions Blog from December 10.

 

 

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Year-end deadlines and outreach video

Deadlines for year-end gifts

Please note the following deadlines if you’d like your gift to be made in 2020 for tax purposes:

  • A gift by check is considered completed when the check is mailed and postmarked (USPS) by Dec. 31.
  • An online credit card gift must be successfully charged to your account by midnight on Dec. 31. This generally happens immediately when the gift is made.
  • An online electronic funds transfer (EFT) gift must be processed by WELS in 2020. The deadline for these gifts is 4:30 p.m. (Central) on Tues., Dec. 29.
  • A gift of stock or mutual funds must be received by Dec. 31. The date of transfer is the date of the gift. Note this may take a few days, so the earlier the better. Please inform WELS of what you are donating by calling 414-256-3251.

Special note for qualified charitable distributions from an IRA:

If you are planning to maximize the qualified charitable distribution (even though the CARES Act suspended required minimum distributions for 2020), the funds must come out of your IRA generally by Dec. 31. (If a donor writes a check to WELS from an IRA account, WELS must be able to cash the check by Tues., Dec. 29.) We encourage you to consult your financial and tax professionals before requesting a qualified charitable distribution this year.

C20 social media video available

A short video is available with the C20 resources to help you invite your community to worship this Christmas. The video, less than a minute in length, was produced with social media in mind. Share it on your congregation’s website or social media.

Download video

Job opportunities

The WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, Waukesha, Wis., is seeking a database specialist. Learn more

Names Wanted

Nursing faculty member—Wisconsin Lutheran College, Milwaukee, Wis., is seeking candidates for a faculty position in its School of Nursing. Teaching responsibilities include a wide range of nursing courses, but candidates must also have practical nursing experience within various specialty areas. A master’s degree in nursing is required; candidates with a Ph.D. or DNP are preferred. Candidates must be an active member of WELS, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, or another confessional Lutheran denomination in fellowship with WELS. Website, wlc.edu/human-resources.

WELS Center for Mission and Ministry holiday hours

WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, Waukesha, Wis., will be closed to celebrate the Christmas and New Year holidays on Dec. 24, 25, 31, and Jan. 1.

 

 

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Good news regarding WELS health insurance and pension

Here is some welcome news for congregations that might be facing some financial struggles during this difficult time.

Last August the WELS VEBA Commission offered a one-month premium holiday for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan. No premiums were charged to calling bodies for WELS VEBA for that month.

The WELS VEBA Commission has also announced that there will be no increase in the 2021 premium rates for WELS VEBA. The commission is pleased to provide this rate stability to help support WELS ministry efforts. WELS VEBA health plan rates for 2021 are available on the Benefit Plans website.

In addition to steady health care rates, the WELS Benefits Plans Office has implemented a Pension Plan contribution holiday during the October 2020 quarter. No contributions were charged to calling bodies for pension benefits this quarter. This is a savings of $1,132 per full-time called worker and a total of about $5 million in savings across all of WELS.

Finally, there will be no increase in the 2021 contribution rates for the WELS Pension Plan. Maintaining the 2020 contribution rates will adequately fund projected Plan benefits and expenses in 2021.

Both the WELS VEBA Commission and the WELS Retirement Program Commission are pleased to take these steps to help support WELS ministry efforts. The savings resulting from the premium holidays and the “no increase” rates should result in significant savings for calling bodies.

For calling bodies experiencing financial hardship, these decisions will be a welcome blessing. Many congregations, however, have been blessed with a healthy financial situation. If that’s the case with your congregation, you might want to consider using these savings in other ways. Some suggestions are:

  • A one-time additional gift to the synod’s general operating fund or to a specific area of ministry
  • A special gift to a designated foreign mission
  • A gift to the Equipping Christian Witnesses campaign at Martin Luther College
  • Providing tuition assistance to a student preparing for the ministry
  • Establishing a fund to purchase the new WELS hymnal in the fall of 2021
  • Providing help to families in need in your community or giving a special gift to WELS Christian Aid and Relief

We are thankful that God continues to bless our synod and our congregations with the resources necessary to carry out the mission he has given us.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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WELS Home Missions team expanding

Over the past several months, the WELS Missions team has expanded, welcoming three mission counselors to support the work of our home missionaries, mission congregations, and campus ministries across North America.

Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions, says, “Home Missions is excited that these three men recently accepted counselor calls. Each pastor—Neil Birkholz, Dan Lindner, and Wayne Uhlhorn—provides years of ministry experience in his respective field. We pray the Lord will use their unique gifts to enhance and expand the ministries they support.”

In June 2020, Rev. Neil Birkholz accepted the call to serve as the WELS Asian ministry consultant for WELS Joint Missions, after serving as a missionary in East Asia for six years. Birkholz’s new role is based out of Reformation, San Diego, Calif., where he serves as an associate pastor in addition to his position in WELS Missions.

In this newly created role, Birkholz assists North American congregations in designing and implementing outreach programs to reach their Asian community members, in addition to working with individuals to improve their personal Asian intercultural witnessing skills. Another key part of his work is equipping international high school and university students to share the gospel when they return to their home countries.

Birkholz also supports the mutual work between world mission efforts in Asia and home mission efforts to Asian people in North America. He says, “When I visit WELS churches, there exists a desire to answer the call of the Great Commission by making disciples of all nations. With God’s blessing, our churches and schools will be places where people from all backgrounds are welcomed to know their Savior. We pray that through these efforts God would use our Asian brothers and sisters in the faith to take the gospel to places and peoples in Asia that we cannot reach at this time.”

Rev. Dan Lindner recently accepted the call to serve as campus ministry mission counselor, starting in his new role Nov. 1. He previously served as a parish pastor at St. John’s, Minneapolis, Minn.; campus ministry pastor at True North (the WELS campus ministry at the University of Minnesota); and as vice chairman of the WELS Campus Ministry Committee.

In this brand-new role, Lindner will work to strengthen and support existing campus ministries, encourage high school students (both domestic and international) to connect with a campus ministry, work with congregations to start and maintain active campus ministry programs, and equip domestic and international students to share their faith with family and friends wherever they call home.

“The Campus Ministry Committee wants the young adults from our synod who attend college to continue to walk faithfully with their Savior,” notes Lindner. “We also want all people to know about their Savior. College and university campuses are vast mission fields.” Lindner is grateful for the privilege of helping called workers and congregations with campus ministries as an encourager and equipper with tools, resources, and a listening ear. “My hope is that the Lord blesses the partnership in the gospel that we have across our church body as we work together to serve our WELS students and those they encounter on their campuses.”

Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn (pictured at top of page) accepted the call to serve as a home mission counselor in late October 2020 and will begin his new position Jan. 1, 2021. Uhlhorn is currently a parish pastor at Beautiful Saviour, Carlsbad, Calif., and previously served as the Board for Home Missions chairman. He will be one of four home mission counselors who assist home mission congregations throughout North America.

In his role, Uhlhorn will work with four district mission boards to find, evaluate, and develop new home mission locations. In addition, once new home mission congregations are established, Uhlhorn will provide onsite assistance to the congregations and counseling and training to the new missionaries who are called to serve them. This support is crucial in guiding mission congregations on the way to becoming self-supporting congregations.

“I’m no church expert or mission guru, but I have served WELS congregations from coast to coast, and I have been on the ‘other side’—the mission board side of things,” says Uhlhorn. “And so whatever a pastor or a congregation or a district mission board needs, I am willing to do that to help them find souls who do not know Christ as their Savior and give them every opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with those people.”

Free concludes, “Opportunities continue to abound to share the gospel. Looking to capitalize on ripe fields in North America, the WELS Missions team is thankful that the Lord has provided these three men to serve in counselor roles. May their respective ministries be blessed so more souls hear about our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Learn more about WELS Home Missions at wels.net/missions.

 

 

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Endowment news, online concerts, and seasonal devotions

WELS Endowment Fund finishes in 90th percentile of Commonfund Study

WELS Foundation is pleased to report that in the recently released Council on Foundations—Commonfund Study of Investment of Endowments for Private and Community Foundations®, the WELS Endowment Fund’s 2019 net investment return of 22.39% placed in the 90th percentile of the 265 foundations that participated in the study.

The better the investment returns for the WELS Endowment Fund, the more the fund earns. And the more it earns, the bigger the distribution checks will be to our ministries that have an endowment fund through WELS Foundation—and those distributions help fund gospel work. In fiscal year 2020, WELS Foundation distributed over $2.9 million to WELS ministries through the WELS Endowment Fund. We praise God for his blessings!

To set up an endowment fund or to learn more about how an endowment fund can support your ministry for years to come, visit wels.net/foundation.

 

Christmas concerts at WLS and LPS

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., will be presenting “Christmas at the Seminary,” a choral concert, on Sun., Dec. 13. The concert will be livestreamed at 3 p.m. at livestream.com/WLSLive.

Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., will be livestreaming its Christmas concert on Sun., Dec. 13 at 3 p.m. at livestream.com/lps/concerts2021.

 

Women’s Ministry December devotions

The new December devotion series from WELS Women’s Ministry is designed to help you stay refreshed in the Word and focused on Christ. Written by your sisters in Christ, these daily devotions will bring you biblical encouragement and insights. Sign up to receive these devotions in your e-mail, and feel free to forward and share them with others everywhere. Built on Scripture, these devotions will give different perspectives of Christmas from many different women in the account of Christ’s birth. Stop for just a moment to receive the peace and strength that only God’s Word can bring.

 

Advent devotions from Martin Luther College

The Jesse Tree is Martin Luther College’s newest Advent devotion book. Similar to an Advent calendar, the booklet contains 25 devotions accompanied by 25 ornaments you can hang on your Christmas tree or on a “Jesse tree” of your own making.

The ornaments have been designed by WELS artist Peter Schaewe, and they are available in full color and in black-line images ready to be colored by you or your children.

This new booklet retells the Old Testament stories leading to the birth of our Savior, Jesus, who was a descendant of King David and David’s father, Jesse: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”

Download PDF or read online

 

 

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Synodical Council reviews blessings, makes plans

The Synodical Council (SC) held its November meeting via video conference on Fri., Nov. 6. The SC welcomed six new members: Mr. Pete Aisbet (Southeastern Wisconsin lay representative); Rev. Mark Gabb (chairman of the Board for Home Missions), Mr. Jake Lemke (Western Wisconsin lay representative), Mr. Tom Plitzuweit (teacher-at-large), Mr. Chip Woods (Nebraska lay representative), and Mr. Kyle Egan (WELS chief financial officer).

The president’s report included the following:

  • A reminder of the many continuing blessings of God even in a very challenging and difficult time. God permitted us to find creative ways to continue worship and to educate our children.
  • God enabled his people to continue their faithful support of their congregations and the synod with their thank offerings.
  • Enrollment at our synodical schools was only minimally affected by the pandemic.
  • Home Missions was able to open or restart five mission congregations.
  • World Missions continued to adjust proactively to new realities and to address new opportunities.

The Synodical Council adopted the draft proposal for the synod’s Ministry Financial Plan for the coming biennium. The plan calls for a 2% increase in spending and called worker compensation in each of the next two years. The plan will be reviewed again in February, and once it is given final approval it will be forwarded to the synod convention next July.

The SC had planned to implement changes to the synod’s pension plan in 2020 if district conventions in 2020 indicated strong support. Since the district conventions were not able to be held, the SC is now planning to bring its recommendation to the 2021 synod convention. The SC will still have the opportunity to make changes to its recommendation in February if necessary, but for now the original recommendation shared with the synod in 2020 remains in place.

Congregation Mission Offerings for the fiscal year that ended June 30 totaled $21.4 million, which was $467,000 higher than planned and $353,000 more than the prior year. Those increased offerings and the $750,000 in lower-than-planned expenditures combined to enable WELS to end the year in a better-than-expected financial position. The financial position of the four synodical schools, WELS Church Extension Fund, WELS Foundation, WELS Investment Funds, and Northwestern Publishing House also improved significantly. The financial blessings continue as Congregation Mission Offerings for the year have increased 2% over the prior year.

Rev. Dan Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief, reported that his goal is to ensure the policies and procedures of WELS Christian Aid and Relief are clearly articulated. He also reported that plans have begun to train WELS members and congregations how to work together to provide help in times of disasters. He is also developing devotional materials to be used by those affected by disasters.

The Synodical Council will meet next in February 2021.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Worship resource previews new hymns

To help WELS members get a taste of some of the new hymns that will be included in Christian Worship: Hymnal, the WELS Hymnal Project has released Christian Worship: Hymn Preview.

This digital resource showcases 54 of the more than 200 new hymns that will be included in the new hymnal scheduled to be released by Advent 2021. With each hymn is a brief comment on its origin, spiritual meaning, usage in the wider Christian church, or other interesting detail. The booklet also includes several examples of additional accompaniments that will be available for musicians in the accompaniment edition.

“It’s more than just a little appetizer—it’s a full course,” says Rev. Aaron Christie, chairman of the Hymnody Committee. “If you spend time with it, you will have an excellent sampling of the various types of hymns and concepts that are there for you in the new hymnal.”

Due to copyright restrictions, Christian Worship: Hymn Preview is only available as a downloadable, viewable (but not printable) PDF at christianworship.com. The WELS Hymnal Project has also added several other hymn resources online, including a comprehensive list of the 683 hymns planned for inclusion in the new hymnal and a list of cut and retuned hymns from the 1993 hymnal and 2008 supplement. Several articles explain more details behind the creation of a new hymnal. Read more about these new additions.

Christie prays that the preview will be a tool to help leaders make a decision about the new hymnal but also that “it gives a wide swath of members a new appreciation for the treasures we have in hymnody.”

He continues, “Spend time experiencing it. See what wonderful things are there. Work with it. Read it. Listen to it. Pray its texts.”

Learn more about Christian Worship: Hymnal at christianworship.com.

 

 

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Planning has started for the 2021 synod convention

Planning has begun for the 66th biennial convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which will be held at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich., July 26-29, 2021. More than 400 delegates and 50 advisory members will be meeting under the theme “Here We Stand,” reflecting the 500th anniversary of the historic and bold confession made by Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521.

A convention allows us to look back on the history of God’s blessings to his church, and that’s always a good thing to do. But the convention will also look ahead to the opportunities God is giving us to carry out our mission. The convention theme will remind us that in order to carry out our mission faithfully, we need to continue to stand boldly on the unchanging Word of God. Only then will we be able to focus on the opportunities God is giving us now and the challenges we face in an increasingly hostile society. This theme also reminds us of the responsibility we have to pass our rich heritage of faith on to our children and grandchildren so that God’s church will continue to be built by the power of his gospel.

During the convention called workers and lay members will hear presentations, discuss issues, and make decisions related to the synod’s work, including setting a ministry plan (budget) for the next biennium. Two offices to be filled by election are the synod first vice president and the synod recording secretary, both to be nominated by delegates at the 2021 synod convention. Delegates will also elect others to serve on various boards and commissions. Voting members of WELS are encouraged to nominate qualified individuals to serve on these boards and commissions. A list of positions and descriptions is available online. Nominations must be received by Nov. 30, 2020.

The primary source of the convention’s business is the Book of Reports and Memorials (BORAM), which contains various departmental reports as well as formal petitions to the synod convention called “memorials.” A memorial is a proposal to be considered by the delegates. Memorials can be submitted by individuals, congregations, district, conferences, and circuits. The deadline for submitting memorials to be printed in BORAM is Jan. 15, 2021. Memorials submitted after Jan. 15 will not be printed but will be posted at the discretion of the synod presidium on the convention website if they are received by June 1, 2021. More information about submitting memorials can be found online.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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Colorado church receives relief from fires

“At our final outdoor worship services at Carbon Valley Lutheran we could see the smoke coming across the sky, and by the end of worship we had ash and burnt pine needles on our cars,” describes Rev. Tim Spiegelberg, pastor at Carbon Valley Lutheran Church, Firestone, Colo., and also vacancy pastor at Peace, Boulder.

While Colorado is no stranger to wildfires, 2020 brought some of the biggest and longest lasting in the state’s history. As the fires closed in, four families from Peace, Boulder, were told to evacuate.

Two of the families needed a place to go, and without hesitation, the council at Peace opened the doors of the church, allowing the members to stay on the church property as needed. Carbon Valley assisted as well, providing gift cards for necessities. Unsure of how widespread, long, or damaging these fires would be for the community, Spiegelberg turned to Christian Aid and Relief, seeking assistance before the crisis got bigger. Christian Aid and Relief answered the call and provided additional funds to help families if needed.

Spiegelberg explains, “It was incredibly easy working with Pastor Dan Sims [director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief]. I was actually surprised at how easy it was and how receptive he was. It was as simple as a phone call describing the situation and [Sims] gave me the assurance that Christian Aid and Relief was there for us.”

“I think the story here is moving swiftly with compassion before things get out of hand,” says Spiegelberg. “It turned out that those families were okay. They were able to go back. God sent snow and stopped the progression of the fire. But we were in place and ready to go. Immediately and without hesitation, the leadership said to use the church.”

After a record fire season, not just in Colorado but on the West coast as well, Sims said he will be meeting with a group of pastors from the fire-hit regions to brainstorm the best ways for Christian Aid and Relief to assist with these disasters in the future.

To learn more about Christian Aid and Relief, visit wels.net/relief.

 

 

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Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Forum gathers

Two dozen leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) and WELS met Oct.19-20 at the Country Inn and Suites, Mankato, Minn. The forum was to take place on the Bethany Lutheran College campus but was moved due to COVID-19.

“We would have enjoyed the opportunity to gather on the Bethany campus, but due to our COVID-19 protocol requiring social distancing in classrooms, and given that the Bethany student body was already using all of our larger campus spaces, we just didn’t have the facility space on campus to host the forum this time,” says Dr. Gene Pfeifer, president of Bethany Lutheran College. “Nonetheless, we’re pleased our two synods could still gather in Mankato to discuss ways we can work together to advance confessional Lutheranism among our church bodies.”

The meeting provided the sister synods an opportunity to share information about what each synod is doing during the pandemic and allowed discussion of several theological topics.

“As ELS and WELS leaders hear what is taking place in the two synods, it is a time to reflect and to rejoice in the blessings the Lord provides,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions. “It is a time to discuss ministry. Above all, it is a time to pray for our ELS brothers and sisters in Christ as well as for our church body that we remain faithful to the teachings of Scripture as we point more people to Jesus Christ as the world’s Savior from sin.”

During the forum, ELS/WELS leaders updated one another on mutual issues in the synods and then participated in divisional meetings by representatives in the following areas: administration, higher education, doctrine/seminary, stewardship, communications, missions (home and world), and schools.

Following reports from each synod president, three theological essays were presented and discussed during the plenary session, including “Expectations and Challenges Communicating the Gospel Electronically” by ELS Communications Director Rev. Paul Fries. “The past year has shown the importance of communicating the gospel in new ways to our members and to our world,” says Fries. “Technology provides many ways for us reach out with God’s Word—the message of saving grace through faith in Jesus. As we explore new ways of reaching the world with the gospel, we continue to treasure the fellowship that we share.”

The next Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Forum is scheduled for Oct. 17-18, 2022, at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, Waukesha, Wis.

 

 

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Conference of Presidents’ October meeting

The Conference of Presidents (COP) met at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, Waukesha, Wis., during the second week of October. This was the first face-to-face meeting of the COP since January. Other meetings, including the assignment of graduates from Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, have been held via Zoom video conference.

In addition to extensive discussion of topics relating to doctrine, congregations, and called workers, the COP took the following actions:

  • Extended a divine call to Rev. Tom Westra to serve as a congregational counselor. This is a new position approved last year by the Synodical Council.
  • Extended a divine call to Rev. Paul Lindhorst to serve as a Christian giving counselor.
  • Received an encouraging financial update from Chief Financial Officer Mr. Kyle Egan. Egan’s report showed the synod ended the last fiscal year in good financial shape due to better-than-expected offerings and significantly lower expenditures. The report also included the good news that Congregation Mission Offerings for the year continue to be higher than planned. Egan also gave an overview of the proposed Ministry Financial Plan (budget) that will be considered by the Synodical Council in November.
  • Chose “Here We Stand” as the theme of the 2021 synod convention. On the 500th anniversary of Luther’s bold confession at the Diet of Worms, this theme reminds us of the importance of continuing to stand on the truth of Scripture.
  • Encouraged Martin Luther College to discontinue the requirement for at least one in-person course in the synod teacher certification program.
  • Reviewed a new video that reminds congregations of the importance of Congregation Mission Offerings. The district presidents will be strongly encouraging all congregations to make this video available to their leaders and members.
  • Adopted recommendations for bylaw changes that would reduce the wait time needed for issuing calls for professors at synodical schools.

The next meeting of the Conference of Presidents is scheduled for January 2021.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Home missions faithfully moving forward

Two young WELS mission congregations launched their first public worship services in September.

“Even in the face of the difficulties of COVID-19, our home missionaries and members are faithfully sharing God’s Word in weekly worship following appropriate health guidelines,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions. “Extra efforts are worth it so that we have more opportunities to tell people about Jesus Christ.”

On Sept. 13, Hope, Houston, Texas, held its opening service in a local dance studio. WELS Board for Home Missions authorized funding for this new mission in a growing urban neighborhood in Houston in May 2019. Rev. Andrew Nemmers was assigned to serve the congregation, which is made up of a dedicated group of core members that have been meeting monthly for Bible study since 2015.

Nemmers notes, “Even though this was not how we anticipated starting worship—several core group families unable to join in person, everyone wearing masks, and social distancing—our first service was definitely successful! After months of not being able to gather in person, it was incredibly uplifting to be able to gather together around the Word again. We are excited to see what God has in store for us as we continue worshiping together and reaching out to our community.”

Members of Sure Foundation, Brandon, S.D., opened their ministry center on Sept. 18 and then held their grand opening worship service at a local hotel on Sept. 20.

“After a year of meeting, working, connecting, and planning, there was a great deal of excitement from the core group of Sure Foundation as well as some prospects from the Brandon community,” says Rev. Craig Wilke, Sure Foundation’s home missionary. “We are incredibly excited to continue to reach out to the community of Brandon and to proclaim the comforting message of our Sure Foundation, Jesus.”

Two other home mission congregations celebrated milestones on Sept. 27. Christ the Rock, Hutto, Texas, and St. Paul, Adams-Friendship, Wis., both dedicated their new worship facilities. WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc., helped provide funding for both locations.

For more information on WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

 

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WELS Benefit Plans announces limited open enrollment

The WELS VEBA Commission is announcing a limited open enrollment for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan for the 2021 plan year. The limited open enrollment is available to eligible workers at sponsoring organizations with at least one active worker enrolled in medical benefits under the WELS VEBA health plan. Enrollment for health and dental plans will open on Nov. 2, 2020, and run through Nov. 30, 2020.

The WELS VEBA Commission has also announced the 2021 premium rates for WELS VEBA medical benefits will not change from the 2020 rates. The commission is pleased to provide this rate stability to help support WELS ministry efforts.

“WELS VEBA is purposefully designed for workers serving at WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod ministries. As a plan sponsored by a religious organization, WELS VEBA is uniquely consistent with both God’s Word and the law,” says Mr. Joshua Peterman, director of WELS Benefit Plans.

Information regarding the 2021 limited open enrollment and WELS VEBA benefits is available in the 2021 WELS VEBA Benefits Guide. WELS VEBA health plan rates for 2021 are available on the Benefit Plans website.

In addition to steady health care rates, the WELS Benefits Plans Office has implemented a Pension Plan contribution holiday underway during the October 2020 quarter. No contributions were charged to calling bodies for pension benefits this quarter. Peterman says this is a savings of $1,132 per full-time called worker and a total of about $5 million in savings across all of WELS. In a difficult year for many WELS schools and churches, WELS Benefit Plans is able to offer this small relief to ministry work.

 

 

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New series highlights God’s guidance in life

A new series in Forward in Christ magazine (FIC) is highlighting how God works in the lives of everyday Christians.

“My Christian life” focuses on real-life blessings and challenges of WELS members and how God helps Christians through whatever circumstances they find themselves in.

Articles this year have highlighted adoption, mental illness, cancer, and tragic accidents as well as looked at how Christians share their faith through various vocations.

“Every Christian is on a journey through life, trusting Jesus to guide, strengthen, and comfort them,” says Rev. John Braun, FIC’s executive editor. “We want to share the stories of Christians who faced challenges along the way to encourage us all. Jesus does not abandon us even in life’s difficult days. We hope this series reminds us all of the Lord’s promises to be with us and sustain us.”

“My Christian life” is just one of the new features introduced by Forward in Christ in its redesign launched in January 2020. A Q&A column with accompanying Bible study, an expanded “Confessions of faith” feature, and a monthly photo montage highlighting pictures from our readers join other stories of faith and articles designed to address important issues facing Christians today as well as provide in-depth looks at important biblical truths. As WELS’ official magazine, FIC also shares news from its congregations, schools, ministry affiliates, and synodical areas of ministry.

This year, FIC launched a new website and a free weekly e-newsletter that includes articles, photos, and special sneak-peeks. Readers also can engage with the magazine through its social media sites on Facebook and Instagram.

Read this month’s “My Christian life” article on a WELS nurse.

For subscription information, visit Northwestern Publishing House’s website or call 1-800-662-6093.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Martin Luther College celebrates 25th anniversary

Twenty-five years ago when Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., was about to open its doors for the first time, there were so many questions. What will this new college be like? How will it be organized? What will the curriculum be? Will it be able to continue to produce the number of candidates for ministry needed by the synod? How well will the students in the pastor track and teacher track get along with each other? Will there be too many marriages by undergraduate students? Will the members of the synod embrace this new school?

Now, after 25 years, these questions have been answered. And, we thank God that they have been answered in a way that demonstrates God’s rich blessings on this school and on our synod. Today, 25 years later, Martin Luther College (MLC) has been embraced and supported by the people of our synod as OUR WELS college of ministry. Enrollment at MLC continues to be strong, with our WELS young people attending in good and consistent numbers to prepare for a lifetime of service in the church. The pastor track continues to produce young men who are well prepared for continuing at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.; the teacher and staff ministry programs produce graduates who are well qualified to serve in our synod. Having future pastors, teachers, and staff ministers studying and working together on one campus builds relationships that will last a lifetime.

MLC used homecoming weekend as a time to mark its 25th anniversary. A special worship service was held on October 4, with Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary President Earle Treptow delivering the sermon. The service included special music and choirs. A special concert took place on Sunday afternoon. MLC will be planning other anniversary events later in the school year.

This anniversary is a time to say “thank you.” First of all, we thank God for blessing this school and enabling it to carry out its purpose faithfully. We thank the faculty and staff of MLC for 25 years of faithful and dedicated service. We thank the students of MLC, now and in years past, for coming to MLC and saying, “Here am I, send me!” And we thank the members of our synod who have embraced and supported this school with their prayers and offerings.

We pray with confidence that God will continue to bless this school as it continues to prepare our future called workers to be ambassadors for our Savior.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Home Missions funds three new missions

WELS Board for Home Missions met at the end of September and authorized funding for three new missions as well as two restarts. An additional congregation will receive support from Home Missions but no funding.

“Moved by the love of our Savior, Home Missions wanted to move forward because we know the Lord hasn’t directed us to just share the gospel when life is humming along but to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in difficult times as well,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Board for Home Missions. “Regardless of the circumstances in this world, God’s people know what their Lord has directed them to do—tell more people about the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. We ask the Lord to bless us to do just that.”

The new missions being funded include:

  • Amarillo, Texas: Located 130 miles from the nearest WELS church, a group of 15 WELS members form the core group reaching out in Amarillo, Texas. The WELS pastor from Lubbock, Texas, comes to Amarillo twice a month to serve the members with God’s Word and his sacraments.
  • North Liberty, Iowa: North Liberty, Iowa, is a multi-site ministry with Good Shepherd in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A dedicated core group of 20 members began worshiping in July 2017 at the North Liberty Community Center. Home Missions funding will allow Good Shepherd to call a second pastor to help its outreach efforts.
  • West San Antonio, Texas: Ten families from Our Savior, San Antonio, Texas, make up the committed core group at this new mission, which began worshiping together in March 2020. They held three in-person services at an elementary school with an average of 40 people in attendance before the pandemic hit.

“My heart goes out to our young mission churches because they lost some momentum in reaching out to people who had shown interest in learning more about their Savior,” says Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn, chairman of WELS Board for Home Missions. “But our missionaries are resourceful and persistent and found ways to stay connected to them and reach out in creative ways with the gospel.”

The three restarts that Home Missions is now supporting include Dix Hills, N.Y.; Santa Clarita, Calif.; and Burlington, Iowa (unsubsidized).

For more information, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

 

 

 

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New videos encourage married couples to “take a moment”

“Marriage is foundational to so many things in our society, including our congregations,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship. “If we want solid congregations, healthy marriages are so important. Yet biblical marriage is under intense attack in our current culture.”

Rev. Tom Kock, a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and an advisory member of the WELS Commission on Discipleship, agrees. “Every marriage has its moments,” notes Kock. “Moments of boredom or even some not-so-good moments. So every marriage needs moments of encouragement and refreshment. That’s the thought behind Marriage Moments.”

Marriage Moments is a new series of videos in which one marriage thought is briefly explored and then one question or “for further thought” exercise is added—all in two minutes or less. Kock hosts the videos and uses Scripture to anchor each lesson. One new video is released each week, so couples can focus on that one aspect of their marriage for the week.

Karrie and Dave Balza, members at Divine Savior, West Palm Beach, Fla., have watched several of the videos together. “In our hectic, over-scheduled lives, it’s nice to have a bite-sized piece of God’s Word to place on your heart,” says Karrie. “We think the questions are the best part because they are a great way to dig deeper and really connect with your spouse.”

Although the videos were originally designed by the Commission on Discipleship for individual couples to use at home, Dobberstein encourages congregations to also consider how they could use these videos in their ministry, including as a tool for pre-marriage or marriage counseling or in small group Bible studies.

For more information or to subscribe, visit welscongregationalservices.net/marriage-moments.

 

 

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Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary holds 2020 fall symposium

This year students and faculty of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., attended the seminary’s annual fall symposium from Sept. 21 to 22. About 175 pastors and vicars from across the U.S. and Canada joined via livestream to hear three papers presented on Martin Luther’s 1520 Treatises.

To commemorate the 500th anniversary of four important treatises from Martin Luther, essayists reviewed them, shedding light on what was happening in the world at the time and explaining why the truths emphasized are still essential for Christians today.

Rev. Jason Oakland, Martin Luther, Neenah, Wis., began the symposium with his paper, “Luther’s Call to Action: A Consideration of To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation.” He shared, “Luther felt compelled to write to the nobility because the church was simply not interested in reforming itself. In addition, he felt the nobility had every right to step in and work for change because they too were royal priests and, due to their vocation as leaders in the Empire, might be able to assist in bringing about much-needed change.”

Rev. Benjamin Schaefer, Mt. Calvary, Redding, Calif., wrote the second paper, “Breaking Free: Martin Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church in Context.” He discussed how “Luther attacks the very heart of Roman power over Christendom, namely, the sacramental system. His thesis is that the faithful were trapped under the pope’s tyranny, and God’s gifts had been replaced by the traditions and laws of men. Rome was more concerned with power and prestige than they were with setting souls free. The Christian’s life from cradle to grave was locked in this system of control and coercion. Luther wrote this tour de force to combat the abuses prevalent at every level of the church’s work and worship—nothing was spared from Luther’s scathing rebuke.”

For the final presentation, Rev. James C. Danell spoke on two of Luther’s essays in his paper “The Freedom of a Christian and Treatise on Good Works.” Danell, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., noted, “It’s in his treatise The Freedom of a Christian that Luther presents the biblical, reformation doctrine of justification by grace through faith. His treatise On Good Works speaks to the sanctified life of the believer that springs fundamentally from his justification through faith in Jesus.”

The essays themselves are now available at wisluthsem.org.

Watch the presentations:

Luther’s Call to Action: A Consideration of To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation

Breaking Free: Martin Luther’s Babylonian Captivity of the Church in Context

The Freedom of a Christian and Treatise on Good Works

 

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The importance of your Congregation Mission Offering

Fall is the time of year when most congregations begin to discuss and plan their budgets for the coming year. Ministry plans are developed, and then those plans are prayerfully adopted in keeping with the anticipated financial resources.

The ministry of a congregation is not limited to what is done locally. Some congregations are members of federations that support Lutheran high schools; others cooperate with neighboring congregations to carry out important joint ministries nearby. And, since our congregations are members of a synod, they also recognize that they join with all the other congregations of the synod to carry out ministry together that individual congregations could not easily do alone.

Fall is also the time when synod administrators are developing the synod’s ministry financial plan (budget) for the next two years. Like the budget in your congregation, the ministry financial plan is much more than a list of line items with dollar amounts attached. More accurately, it is a description of the synod’s plan for ministry, along with the resources needed to carry it out. The plan is based on careful estimates of the financial resources that, God willing, will be available from all sources. Those sources include gifts from individuals, grants from foundations, bequests, and income from investments. But the most important source of financial support comes from congregations like yours through what we call Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO). Congregations throughout the synod inform synod planners what they intend to send as their gift to support our work together.

Your congregation’s mission offering is used to operate our system of ministerial education, where young people are trained to serve as pastors, teachers, and staff ministers in congregations like yours. Your gifts to the synod train national pastors in our rapidly growing sister synods in Malawi, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. Your support enables us to share the gospel with hundreds of thousands of people in Latin America through modern communication tools and helps to operate orphanages in India where hundreds of children learn to know their Savior. Your gifts of love and faith provide needed assistance to sister church bodies like the Ukrainian Lutheran Church as they face huge challenges. Your offerings enable WELS to establish and support home missions in places like Houston, Texas, and to enable campus ministries to serve young people at many different universities. Your generous gifts support the work of WELS Congregational Services, which provides resources and advice to congregations as they carry out their local ministries. And, yes, you provide the financial means for the less exciting but necessary administration and structure that support all the ministry we do. These are only a few of the many ways in which your mission offerings are used.

As your congregation decides what its Congregation Mission Offering will be, don’t just think of the dollars. Think of the faces of the people around the world whose lives and eternities will be changed by the power of the saving gospel. Be a voice that advocates for generous support of this work. Talk to your congregational leaders and with your fellow members. And pray that God will continue to bless the work we do together in his name.

Watch a special video highlighting the many blessings God has granted to WELS ministries.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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ALHS Online starts 10th year of online education

This fall, ALHS Online (Association of Lutheran High Schools Online) entered its 10th year of offering online classes.

ALHS Online started as a collaborative effort of the WELS Association of Lutheran High Schools to offer high quality online courses to expand the course offerings of WELS high schools. Enrollment and class offerings have increased every year, from an average of 30 students per semester and 5 courses in the 2011-12 school year to more than 300 students and 28 courses per semester in the 2020-21 school year.

These courses provide supplemental educational opportunities for students, especially from WELS’ smaller high schools. Ms. Micayla Bork, a sophomore at Wisconsin Lutheran College, took several courses through ALHS Online that were not offered at her high school, Apostles Lutheran High School, San Jose, Calif. “What I appreciated most about these courses are the important life skills they taught me,” she says. “Not only did I learn the material, but I learned how to be successful in an online class. Overall, they really prepared me for college.”

Minnesota Valley Lutheran High School (MVL), New Ulm, Minn., is the largest yearly user of the program, with between 40 and 50 students a semester taking online courses. “The teachers from ALHS Online really go above and beyond to try to meet the needs of the kids,” says Dr. Tim Plath, MVL principal and also one of the founding members of ALHS Online. Besides paying for the classes for its students, MVL provides time during the school day for online learning. Plath says students take a variety of the courses offered, with AP Psychology and AP U.S. History being especially popular.

Since its inception, ALHS Online also has added math and foreign language courses for seventh and eighth grade students (students from 32 Lutheran elementary schools are taking courses this year) and a four-year high school religion curriculum.

ALHS Online was recently accredited by the Middle States Association as a learning service provider. Dr. James Grunwald, superintendent of ALHS Online, says that besides being a good peer review for the organization, accreditation “gives the parents of the students who we work with the assurance that we have high quality teachers and educational programs.”

Learn more at alhso.org.

 

 

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Hymns for Life: preserving a priceless spiritual treasure

For many Christians, hymns are woven into the fabric of our faith lives. “Jesus Loves Me” may be the first song we learn as a toddler; “Amazing Grace” may be the last song that passes our lips before Jesus carries us home. Hymns have the power to convict and comfort, to instruct and inspire. And for many, a beloved hymn may be a memory that lingers when others are stolen by age or disease.

In 2012, the WELS Commission on Worship discussed the importance of preserving our rich hymn heritage—ensuring that the next generation of believers doesn’t lose this priceless spiritual treasure. In response, the Hymns for Life Committee was established to craft a three-year hymnology curriculum for WELS teachers to use in their primary, middle, and upper grade classrooms. Content from the curriculum can also be incorporated into Sunday school programs.

“The Hymns for Life curriculum is designed to impress the biblical truths expressed in hymns on the hearts and minds of young believers,” says Mr. Jeremy Bakken, publishing editor of the project. The title of the curriculum sums it up simply: hymns learned in childhood will stay with children for an entire lifetime. Bakken continues, “Our prayer is that students will appreciate these hymns and recall their spiritual truths in every stage of life.”

The curriculum helps students learn from and appreciate all components of a hymn: from its scriptural truths to the poetry of its language to the joy and beauty of its music.

Mr. Kevin Bode, teacher and music director at Emmanuel Lutheran School, Tempe, Ariz., is the curriculum development chair of the Hymns for Life Committee. As a teacher, he understands the need to connect young believers with hymns: “This curriculum is so important because hymns are a powerful blessing God has given us. They keep us close to him amidst all the chaos and evil around us.”

In fact, Bode has put the curriculum into practice in his own classroom. Each week, he introduces students to the content of a hymn, which is then sung each day. Once students are comfortable with the melody, Bode adds musical variations or physical movements to bring out the joy of the music: “They are simple to do, keep the hymn fresh, and students find them fun to do,” he adds.

According to Bode, two powerful elements come together in the Hymns for Life curriculum: music and biblical teachings. “Music moves the soul and has a way of touching our emotions, and we want to give students the chance to experience this. And we know the power of biblical truths and the words of Jesus. Hymn lyrics remind students what God has already done for them, is doing right now, and will continue to do for them until they are safe in his arms.”

To learn more or purchase Year A of the Hymns for Life curriculum, visit online.nph.net/hymnsforlife or call 800-662-6022. Year B will be released in the summer of 2021, and Year C will be released in the summer of 2022. All three years of the curriculum have been developed to coincide seamlessly with the new Christian Worship, which will be released in 2021.

 

 

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Ministerial Education schools open for fall

Many schools, colleges, and universities across the country have not yet reopened for in-person classes due to continuing concerns about COVID-19; in many cases, no date has been set when that will happen.

We are thankful that each of our four ministerial education schools began the fall semester with in-person instruction. Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.; Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.; welcomed students back to campus last week and held their opening services. At each campus, measures have been taken to ensure that the campus environment will be as safe as possible for both students and faculty. Plans are also in place as to how to respond if anyone on campus contracts the virus.

We are also thankful that, despite the uncertainties caused by the virus, enrollments at three of the schools have held steady, with only some small declines. At the beginning of the semester, Martin Luther College enrollment is 713 (731 last year); Luther Preparatory’s enrollment is 401 (402 last year); Michigan Lutheran Seminary’s enrollment is 184 (196 last year). Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s enrollment has increased by 12 students over last year to 134.

At the opening services on each campus, new faculty members were installed in their new positions. You can find the names of the new faculty members on the website of each school.

Just as the gospel ministry and mission that God has given us has not stopped during these difficult times, so the training of future pastors and teachers continues by God’s grace. We pray that God would bless all four schools with healthy and productive school years.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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WELS Prison Ministry reaches out during pandemic

The pandemic that hit the world this year has put many ministries in the position of making quick decisions about how to reach people in a socially distanced world. WELS Prison Ministry was no exception when, suddenly, jail ministry visits were indefinitely suspended. No longer could Prison Ministry volunteers go into jails and prisons to share God’s grace with people who desperately needed to hear the good news, especially in a time of fear and uncertainty.

The Prison Ministry Committee got together to develop a plan to try to reach as many inmates as they could with God’s Word. In mid-July, the Prison Ministry Committee authorized a significant outreach effort to offer its Bible correspondence self-study booklets to more than 2,000 correctional facilities due to the interruption in personal visits.

The mailing list consisted of facilities with which Prison Ministry has had interaction in the past. Over 75 percent of the facilities that have received mailings in the past have not received booklets in over two years. The breakdown is as follows:

  • County Jail/Detention Center–955
  • State Correctional Facility–1044
  • Federal Correctional Facility–111
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement Facility–22
  • Youth/Juvenile Offender Facility–46

Prison Ministry mailed a sample booklet and a brochure to the chaplains, activity directors, or program coordinators describing the booklets and inviting them to order free copies for the inmates at their institution. They sent the booklet “A Broken-hearted Father” based on Jesus’ story of the prodigal son as a great example of God’s overwhelming love for his lost children.

The mailing is generating many new book orders. In the first four weeks the response has been over 36,000 booklets ordered by chaplains or others. In a typical year Prison Ministry has about 30,000 booklets printed. On average, the booklets cost about $1 each to print, plus shipping. Prison Ministry sends the Bible study booklets to inmates and facilities at no charge.

The Bible study booklets are the backbone of Prison Ministry’s ministry-by-mail program, which is facilitated by volunteers out of an office in New Ulm, Minn., as well as around the country. Each booklet has a Bible lesson and a test that inmates fill out and return to Prison Ministry. Then, a volunteer will correct the test, provide a message of encouragement, and send the next Bible study to the participant.

Reflecting on Romans 8:28 and how COVID-19 prompted unplanned initiatives for the ministry, Prison Ministry Administrator Mr. Dave Hochmuth, says, “People quote Romans 8:28 so much, ‘God is working for good,’ but God doesn’t promise that ‘the good’ is going to be our good. The good he’s doing might be for somebody else—and you might not see it. Our patient, even cheerful, endurance of painful trials may give us an opportunity to give a reason for the hope that we have. God can use that testimony to lead others to place their trust in Jesus.”

Learn more about Prison Ministry’s outreach work and how to support it at wels.net/prison-ministry.

 

 

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Second WELS Investment Funds video highlights ministry partnership

WELS Investment Funds is featuring its ministry partner Kettle Moraine Lutheran (KML), a WELS area Lutheran high school in Jackson, Wis., in its newest video.

Established in 1973, KML has been blessed by God with steady growth and increasing enrollment. In order to support that growth and provide more opportunities for ministry, the KML Foundation knew sound management of its investments was critical, because investments can provide a solid financial foundation to accomplish ministry goals.

So in 2013, the KML Foundation began entrusting its investments to WELS Investment Funds. “It was one of the best decisions we ever made,” says Mr. David Bartelt, vice president of the KML Foundation. “They have kept our funds secure and made us good stewards of God’s blessings.”

Bartelt and the KML Foundation value how WELS Investment Funds aligns so closely with KML’s ministry. Plus turning over the investment management to WELS Investment Funds allows the team at KML to focus on ministry, not on managing money.

Mr. Jim Holm, executive director of WELS Investment Funds, appreciates the opportunity to serve KML: “KML is one of several area Lutheran high schools that benefit from our cost-effective, professionally managed investment portfolios. 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.”

Holm continues, “As more WELS ministries, like the KML Foundation, invest in WELS Investment Funds, these cost benefits increase. It’s another way WELS ministries can support each other.”

Currently, WELS Investment Funds manages more than $240 million for WELS and over 200 WELS-affiliated organizations, including congregations, area Lutheran high schools like KML, and other ministries.

Bartelt appreciates how the partnership with WELS Investment Funds helps KML achieve its ministry goals. He concludes, “I am so happy that we have made that relationship with WELS Investment Funds. Going forward I would encourage anybody to do the same. They are a great partner for us.”

To see how WELS Investment Funds partners with the KML Foundation, view the second in a series of new WELS Investment Funds videos.

To learn how WELS Investment Funds can also be your strong partner in ministry, or for a free review of your organization’s current investment portfolio, contact Executive Director Jim Holm at jim.holm@wels.net or 414-256-3206.

 

 

 

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