Together Video Update – June 28, 2022

Each of WELS’ 12 districts met in convention this June, discussing local ministry topics and hearing from synod leaders on broader topics that affect the synod as a whole. Delegates of the North Atlantic and Southeastern Wisconsin Districts elected new presidents to replace Donald Tollefson, who is retiring, and David Kolander, who stepped down as district president. Michael Seifert is now leading the North Atlantic District, and Daniel Leyrer is president of the Southeastern Wisconsin District. Learn more about Pastors Seifert and Leyrer in this Together video update.

Read Forward in Christ‘s complete district convention coverage online.

 

 

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Two new district presidents elected

All 12 districts held their conventions during the last two weeks. The conventions reviewed the reports submitted by all areas of ministry and provided reaction and input to those reports and to future plans that have been made.

Districts also held elections for district officers and for other board and committee positions. Two of those elections resulted in new district presidents.

Rev. Don Tollefson, president of the North Atlantic District, retired as of the end of June. Rev. Michael Seifert, serving at Living Hope, Midlothian, Va., was elected as the new district president. Rev. David Kolander, president of the Southeastern Wisconsin District, chose not to run again. Rev. Daniel Leyrer, serving at St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wis., was elected as the new district president. Because of the size of the district in terms of congregations and called workers, Kolander has accepted a call to serve as the assistant to the new district president in addition to his current call as pastor at Christ the Lord, Brookfield, Wis.

Both new district presidents will serve on the Conference of Presidents.

We thank God for the faithful service of Revs. Tollefson and Kolander and pray for God’s continued blessings as they serve him in the future.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

Coverage of the district conventions will be included in the August issue of Forward in Christ magazine.

 

 

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WELS’ 2021 statistics are now available

The complete 2021 Statistical Report as well as the 2021 Statistical Summary are now available at welscongregationalservices.net/stats.

“Statistics are one of the tools believers use as they seek to steward God’s blessings wisely,” says Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services. Hein explains that each year, WELS congregations track certain statistics—membership totals, attendance figures, ministrations, offerings, types of gains and losses, etc. That information can help churches with their ministry planning. WELS compiles all that congregational information in its annual statistical report, which aids WELS’ leaders as they plan the synod’s collective ministry. The complete statistical report is hundreds of pages of information. WELS Congregational Services annually produces a briefer statistical summary report. This year’s summary is 19 pages long and contains information such as:

  • The reported total WELS membership at the end of 2021 was 340,511.
  • From 2020 to 2021, total WELS membership decreased by 1.1 percent (down 3,733 souls). That is the smallest loss WELS has experienced in the past six years.
  • Currently 20 percent of WELS members fall into the category of “youths”—those newborn through 8th grade.
  • Congregation Mission Offerings for 2021 increased by 4 percent from the previous year.

“The statistical summary gives us reasons to praise the Lord of the church,” says Hein. “It also identifies challenges that deserve prayer and planning.”

Hein concludes, “The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians, ‘You do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed’ (1:7). God has richly blessed our congregations and our synod with every type of resource we need to proclaim his gospel. May the Spirit give us the faith and the wisdom to steward those resources well.”

For more details, visit welscongregationalservices.net/stats.

 

 

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Together Video Update – June 14, 2022

WELS Missions held its annual Taste of Missions event June 11, 2022, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. Hear from attendees about why they appreciated this opportunity to get a “taste of missions.” Missed it? You can still watch recordings of all the day’s events online at tasteofmissions.com.

 

 

 

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CELC holds regional convention in Albania

The Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) is a worldwide fellowship of Lutheran church bodies committed to the teachings of the Lutheran church found in the Book of Concord of 1580. WELS and 12 other church bodies established the CELC in 1993. Since then the CELC has grown by God’s grace to include 34 church bodies today.

Every three years, representatives from all CELC churches gather for fellowship and theological study at an international convention. In addition to the full meeting, various regional meetings are held in alternate years. One such regional meeting of our sister church bodies in Europe took place recently in Durres, Albania. Thirty-two representatives and guests met May 20-22 under the theme “Triumph together in Christ.”

Professor Mark Paustian of Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., led participants in a study of Romans chapters 7-8 and Exodus chapters 3-4. Churches presented reports highlighting blessings and challenges from their fields and invited the conference to give thanks and pray for specific blessings. The conference concluded with a festival worship service and sermon based on Acts 1:1-8, “You will receive power!”

Participants found time for informal fellowship at the nearby beach, during a walking tour of downtown Durres, and on an excursion to Kruja, with its market, cafes, restored fortress, and historic museum.

Immediately after the conference, a dozen guests remained in Durres for a two-day workshop on 1 Thessalonians. Participants discussed the letter’s original impact for believers enduring persecution and considered contemporary blessings as we serve souls and await Christ’s return.

We give thanks to God for blessing the participants in this conference, and we pray that he will use it as a means to strengthen our fellowship and our commitment to the mission he has given us.

The next full CELC convention will be held during the summer of 2023 in Seoul, South Korea.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about the CELC.

 

 

 

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Together Video Update – May 24, 2022

On May 11, Rev. Nixon Vivar and Rev. Carl Leyrer were commissioned as new missionaries on the Latin America mission team. Hear from Vivar on what his role on the team will be and how WELS is reaching out in Latin America.

 

 

 

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Assignment Day at Martin Luther College

Assignment Day at Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., is one of the highlights of the year. Last Saturday, May 14, 2022, in a special service, candidates for the teaching ministry learned where they will be serving. All 74 teacher candidates who could go anywhere—57 from the graduating class and 17 previous graduates—were assigned. In addition, 51 teacher candidates who were limited geographically received assignments. Total assignments this year were fewer than in the two previous years; 116 requests to the Assignment Committee for teachers could not be filled.

There are still 140 teaching vacancies in the synod. District presidents will be working with calling bodies and with MLC to address this significant need.

It should be noted that 48 men graduated from the pre-seminary program at MLC, a significant increase over previous years. This will be a real blessing at a time when pastoral vacancies have also increased.

Jesus encouraged us to pray for workers in his harvest field. God’s people have prayed, and God has answered those prayers with young people saying, “Here am I; send me!”

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Reaching communities with compassion

Through its new Community Care & Compassion Matching Grants Program, WELS Christian Aid and Relief is offering matching grants to congregations that want to reach out in their community through a compassion ministry. Grants are available up to $2,500.

Grants can support any compassion ministry in a community, such as a Christmas toy drive or a Thanksgiving meal at your church. It can also support those who need encouragement, like seniors, veterans, or victims of domestic violence. WELS Christian Aid and Relief Director Rev. Daniel Sims recommends that a good place to start is to determine the particular needs in your community. If there is a local charity working to serve those needs, find ways to assist them.

“When we act with compassion and love, it gains us opportunities to talk about our Savior,” says Sims. “I encourage congregations to find the people who are hurting in your community, formulate a plan to help them, and get in touch with us. Let us help you reach out to them in love.” To learn more and apply for a grant, visit wels.net/relief.

One example of a congregation taking advantage of this new grant program is Bethlehem, Richland Center, Wis. In 2020, this exploratory mission was looking for a ministry space to call home. God provided a perfect fit: a former elementary school that had just come on the market.

The building was more than just a former school. It was also home to a county-run program that provides hot meals each week to senior adults. “We didn’t just purchase a facility,” says Rev. Daniel Lewig, pastor at Bethlehem. “We got a ministry right along with it—and an open door to see where God leads.”

Supported by offerings and a pandemic relief grant from WELS Christian Aid and Relief, Bethlehem members upgraded the former classroom in which the meals are served to make it more welcoming and encourage conversation and connections.

The revitalized dining area also serves as Bethlehem’s fellowship hall, and seniors from the community are invited to all church activities. In addition, Lewig visits with guests each week and leads them in prayer. Bethlehem members help serve the meals or simply spend time getting to know their neighbors.

Once the seniors are in the building, it’s a natural progression to introduce them to the worship space in the gym. Through God’s blessing, several of the seniors have attended worship, and some have taken Bible information classes and become members.

Bethlehem plans to apply for a new Community Care & Compassion Matching Grant through WELS Christian Aid and Relief to offer even more fellowship opportunities for local seniors, like dinners and movie nights.

“It’s not the food that brings them together,” Lewig says. “It’s the connection. Our members help with that connection and connect it to a higher purpose. We created an environment where you’re not just eating a meal for a day but a meal for eternity.”

Sims discussed the Community Care & Compassion Matching Grants Program in last week’s Together video update.

 

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Military contact pastors meet for conference

WELS Military Services assists WELS congregations serving military members when they are stationed nearby. Civilian ministry to the military is a cornerstone of WELS Military Services’ work by equipping churches for local gospel and fellowship ministry to military personnel and their families.

Across the nation, 125 WELS churches near military installations and their pastors (called military contact pastors) are appointed to reach out to the men and women who serve in the United States Armed Forces.

April 26-28, 2022, the WELS Military Services Committee held its annual Military Contact Pastors Workshop at Risen Savior, Pooler, Ga., near Army Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield. Members of the Military Services Committee and a group of WELS military contact pastors met to discuss ministry to the military with Fort Stewart chaplains and military personnel. WELS members Lt. Col. Michael Hefti and his wife, Katie, shared the stresses of military life and the importance of their WELS pastors and church family in supporting them spiritually.

Fort Stewart held a meeting attended by more than a dozen of the post’s military chaplains. The chaplains explained their work and the retreat attendees spoke to them about the unique needs of WELS military personnel for religious accommodation. Fort Stewart representatives explained family resources available to military members. The official program ended with a demonstration of how a worship service in the field would be set up and a visit to a museum on the post.

The annual workshop is sponsored through a grant from the Lutheran Military Support Group, a national organization of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) veterans. The Lutheran Military Support Group also sponsors free professional Christian counseling for military members served by WELS Military Services and WELS and ELS veterans.

Rev. Jim Behringer, director of WELS Special Ministries, said, “Of all the military contact pastors workshops, this year’s meeting was superior. Fort Stewart’s chaplains went the extra mile to create mutual understanding. They were impressed by WELS’ desire to serve military personnel, and they made every effort to help us in that regard. Our attendees are always highly motivated by the speakers, but we had some outstanding presentations that I hope will improve our ability to serve military members with the gospel while helping them carry their burdens.”

Rev. Paul Horn, chairman of the WELS Military Services Committee, notes that the key to serving more WELS members in the military is through referrals from their loved ones made at wels.net/refer. “When we know who our WELS military members are and where they are stationed, we can better serve them with Word and sacraments,” says Horn. “When our congregations are aware that military families are in their church, the best thing they can do is to assimilate them into the mission and ministry of the congregation as quickly as possible. Military families move often. Making your church their church home will provide much needed encouragement and support.”

To learn more about WELS Military Services, visit wels.net/military.

For more information about the Lutheran Military Support Group, visit lutheranmilitary.org.

 

 

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Together Video Update – May 10, 2022

WELS Christian Aid and Relief is launching a matching grants program to partner with WELS congregations as they carry out compassion ministry in their communities. Learn more about the Community Care & Compassion Grants Program from Rev. Dan Sims, director of Christian Aid and Relief. Find more information and learn how to get started at wels.net/relief.

 

 

 

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Aid continues to Ukraine

We are in constant contact with the bishop (president) of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC). He reports that thus far no members of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church have lost their lives or been injured. Some of their homes have been damaged or destroyed. None of the ULC churches have been destroyed in the conflict, although three parsonages have been damaged.

The bishop (whose congregation is in the capital city of Kyiv) has been staying outside of Kyiv for safety reasons. Last Sunday he was able to return to Kyiv temporarily to lead worship and to deliver much needed supplies of food and medicine. Yesterday he provided this report: “People were very happy to see each other again especially after recent missile attacks, although we did not have as many people at the worship service as on Easter. Shut-ins also rejoiced to be visited and communed and are grateful for the food aid received. Thank you very much! Many thanks to all brothers and sisters in WELS, to the U.S., and praise to the Lord!”

Generous WELS donors have provided significant funds to enable the ULC to purchase supplies of clothing, food, and medicine. Those supplies are provided to refugees from different places around the country and for the people of the communities in which ULC congregations are located. Our synod has forwarded funds to the ULC upon its request. It’s important to note that these requests are coming to us in amounts that enable the ULC to purchase what is needed and what it can distribute. To date, $66,000 has been requested and sent directly to the ULC. We are ready to send more as soon as the ULC requests it. Another $100,000 has been sent to a reputable agency (Direct Relief) that is assisting Ukrainian refugees in Poland and other countries. We are also making plans to provide funds to our sister church in Bulgaria, which is caring for Ukrainian refugees arriving there.

The synod is also ready to provide help to Ukrainian refugees who are able to come to the United States. Ukrainians who come to the U.S. as refugees need to work with the U.S. State Department, and we are looking for ways to assist in that process.

We are also looking forward to the day when the war is over and resettlement and rebuilding can begin. Because of the generosity of WELS members, we believe that some of the funds already given will be able to be used for those efforts.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Pastors attend Celebration of Ministry retreats

Another successful year of Celebration of Ministry retreats is complete. From April 25–29, Grow in Grace, the institute for continuing education at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., hosted more than 400 people for the ninth annual retreat. Four retreats were held at the Drury Plaza Hotel on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas, for pastors who are celebrating 3, 10, 25, and 35 years since graduating from the seminary. After a two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic, it was a blessing to be able to again offer encouragement and support for pastors and their wives in this way.

These retreats build relationships with ministry peers and offer encouragement through worship, Bible studies, workshops, and presentations. Bible study topics covered Ezekiel, the pastoral epistles, Psalms, and Colossians. Separate and joint workshops were offered for pastors and their wives and covered topics such as time management, caring for others and yourself, focusing on your own gifts, and financial challenges and opportunities.

Though these workshops and Bible studies are a key part of the retreats, fellowship with classmates, worship services, and a beautiful location also play a part in the experience.

When Grow in Grace initially began the Celebration of Ministry retreats, only pastors celebrating 10 years since graduation and their wives attended. In more recent years, the event has included pastors celebrating three years; 25 years; and, in 2018, 35 years since graduation.

The 2023 retreat plans are already underway, with the retreats set to take place in San Antonio from April 12–14. To the graduating classes of 1988, 1998, 2013, and 2020, make sure to check your mailboxes this month for your save the date to your Celebration of Ministry retreat.

 

 

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10 reasons to attend Taste of Missions

Join your brothers and sisters in Christ from around the world for Taste of Missions on Saturday, June 11, 2022, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., starting at 11 a.m. CT.

Here are 10 great reasons you should register today at tasteofmissions.com/register:

  1. Attend in-person OR virtually! Don’t live close enough to enjoy the festivities in person? Virtual attendees will be able to watch all events via livestream and view other bonus content online.
  2. Help send off new missionaries into their fields of service. Two missionaries will be commissioned during the opening worship service at 11 a.m. CT: Rev. Keegan Dowling and Rev. Benjamin Foxen, both heading to Lusaka, Zambia. Additional missionaries will most likely be added to that list as calls are accepted and graduates are assigned to home and world mission fields in the next month.
  3. Learn what it’s like to prepare for a mission call by asking questions during the Q&A with newly commissioned missionaries.
  4. Sample tasty ethnic food using the three tasting tickets that come with registration. Three different food trucks will be onsite: Meat on the Street (Filipino), Marco Pollo (Tex-Mex, Chinese, and Malaysian/Indian chicken dishes), and Falafel Guys (Middle Eastern). Additional food can also be purchased. Online attendees can try their hand at making one of the new ethnic recipes shared by missionaries and their families at tasteofmissions.com/recipes.
  5. Ask what it’s like for a family to serve in a mission field during the Missionary Family Q&A. Michael and Rachel Hartman (London, England), Craig and Christina Wilke (Brandon, S.D.), and Paul and Aneela Jordan (South Asian outreach) will serve as panelists.
  6. Get to know home and world missionaries through mission field updates shared on stage or fellowship throughout the day. Even more “Moments with Missionaries” video updates will be shared at tasteofmissions.com.
  7. Hear the latest updates from World and Home Missions from Chairman Paul Janke (World Missions) and Chairman Mark Gabb (Home Missions), including a sneak peak of the 100 missions in 10 years initiative that will launch in 2023!
  8. Check out mission field display booths, view Missions artifacts, and collect recipe cards from around the world as you learn about the 141 home mission congregations and 62 countries where WELS Missions is conducting/exploring outreach.
  9. Bring the kids to learn about mission work and enjoy activities like a passport challenge, missions-themed coloring pages and activities, a bounce house, face painting, and more.
  10. Enter for your chance to win a missions-themed raffle basket or purchase pre-assembled recipe booklets and Taste of Missions t-shirts to show your support of WELS mission work.

Registration is $15 per person, with children 13 and under attending for free. Or attend virtually for free! Learn more at tasteofmissions.com.

 

 

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New leadership at Northwestern Publishing House

On May 2, Mr. Jeremy Angle began serving as the president of Northwestern Publishing House (NPH). As president, Angle will focus on supporting the mission of NPH—delivering biblically sound, Christ-centered resources within WELS and beyond. Angle will oversee all the functional areas of this ministry such as product development, production, distribution, customer service, human resources, accounting, technology, and sales.

“NPH is without a doubt a mission,” says Angle, “but also a business. I see my job as combining the two and being a steward to NPH—the mission, the business, and all its team members.”

His predecessor, Mr. Bill Ziche, retired at the end of 2021 after eight years in that role. Ziche helped NPH pivot from operating out of a physical storefront to a digital one. At its February meeting, WELS’ Synodical Council noted that Ziche displayed “outstanding leadership in strategically repositioning NPH to support the gospel ministry for years to come.”

Angle is focused on continuing that support for gospel ministry. “I look forward to building on the traditions and legacy of NPH while adapting to best deliver the resources and teachings,” he explains. “Having worked in the secular business world my entire career, I find myself asking the questions, ‘What can NPH do and build on to support the leaders of today and tomorrow in both the church and secular world? How do we more closely link the two?’ ”

Helping Angle navigate which resources NPH should produce going forward is Rev. Chris Cordes, who began his work as NPH’s editorial vice president in February after Rev. Curtis Jahn retired after serving NPH for 29 years. Cordes and Angle will work closely on developing future projects.

“I am really looking forward to working with the team at NPH and its board of directors, learning and getting to know them and their growth desires,” says Angle, “as well as working with the synod, our congregations, and our schools on how we can best serve all and help grow. I am also excited about looking beyond and how we can best serve the world keeping to God’s true Word and teachings.”

Visit Northwestern Publishing House online at nph.net.

 

 

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Report to the Twelve Districts available online

The 2022 Report to the Twelve Districts is now available online. Report to the Twelve Districts contains current information from WELS areas of ministry and committees that help guide district convention delegates. Each WELS congregation will receive one printed copy at the end of May. Copies will also be available at district conventions.

All of WELS’ 12 districts hold a convention in even-numbered years. (The synod convention takes place in odd-numbered years.) Each male called worker, in addition to a lay delegate representing each congregation, attends his district’s convention as a voting delegate. District conventions are held to carry out the business of a district, such as electing district officials, as well as to hear updates on synodical ministries and to react to synodical initiatives. Delegates also enjoy worship and fellowship during their conventions.

“District conventions offer delegates the opportunity to learn, to ask questions, to debate issues, to offer advice and guidance to those called to serve them,” says WELS President Mark Schroeder. “In the end, delegates have the opportunity to see God at work, uniting WELS members in a stronger faith and in a greater commitment to carrying out his work together.”

View Report to the Twelve Districts online.

View the flipbook version online.

 

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Together Video Update – April 26, 2022

Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., offers both undergraduate and graduate degree programs to equip teachers to instruct those with special needs. Kelli Green, professor of special education at Martin Luther College, explains the demand for special education teachers in WELS schools and why Martin Luther College is committed to supplying WELS schools with teachers who are qualified to meet the needs of students with diverse abilities.

 

 

 

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Conference of Presidents holds spring 2022 meeting

The Conference of Presidents held its spring meeting on April 4-6. Here are some of the issues that were discussed and decisions that were made at the meeting.

  • There are 162 vacancies in pastoral positions, with 141 of those being vacancies in congregations. The graduating class at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary will number only in the mid-20s, which means that the shortage of pastors will continue. Next year’s class numbers in the 40s, which should provide some relief a year from now. Teacher vacancies number in the 300s. After the assignment of teachers at Martin Luther College (MLC) in May, nearly 200 teacher vacancies will remain. The district presidents will be working with congregations to find ways to fill those vacancies before school starts in the fall.
  • After Mr. Bill Ziche retired from his position as president of Northwestern Publishing House, Mr. Jeremy Angle was hired by the board to serve as his replacement. Mr. Angle will begin his duties as president in early May.
  • The COP expressed its thanks to God and to WELS members for the generous support that has been given for humanitarian work in Ukraine.
  • Mark Gabb, chairman of the Board for Home Missions (BHM), and Rev. Keith Free, BHM administrator, provided the COP with an overview of the 100 missions in 10 years initiative.
  • The COP called Rev. Philip Spaude to serve in a part-time retirement call as a Christian giving counselor. The COP also issued full-time calls to Rev. Lon Kuether, Rev. Craig Wasser, and Rev. Steven Schmeling as Christian giving counselors.
  • The COP was given a presentation by Dr. Victor Vieth, a nationally recognized expert on child abuse (and WELS member). Vieth gave a strong encouragement to the COP to assist WELS congregations to adopt policies that will serve to help congregations to identify potential victims of child abuse. District presidents will be making resources available to congregations to help them be more informed about the issues and to take steps toward prevention and providing needed spiritual care.
  • Rev. Phil Hirsch, president of the Nebraska District, was elected to as one of the three COP representatives on the Synodical Council, replacing North Atlantic District President Rev. Don Tollefson, who is retiring in June.
  • As requested by the Synodical Council, the COP directed the Commission on Lutheran Schools to begin developing a new K-12 religion curriculum.
  • The COP endorsed a proposal by MLC to offer a Competency-Based Education program to encourage people not trained at MLC to consider training for the teaching ministry in WELS.
  • An Early Childhood Ministry Task Force has been formed to evaluate the needs of teachers and calling bodies and to recommend strategic curricular approaches to meet those needs.
  • The COP asked Rev. Paul Prange, administrator of the Board for Ministerial Education, to take responsibility for planning and carrying out the Grow in Grace retreats for pastors who have served for 10, 25, and 35 years. This had previously been the responsibility of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.
  • The COP plans to distribute a final draft of its document “God’s Beautiful and Balanced Design for Male and Female” for discussion in late summer or early fall.

The Conference of Presidents will next meet as the Assignment Committee at Martin Luther College and at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in May.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Support for Ukraine continues

Members of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC), WELS’ sister church body in Ukraine, along with all the people of Ukraine, have been under attack for nearly two months. Many people have fled their homes seeking safety. ULC members have remained unharmed, though they too are facing the hardships of this war. Despite the danger and hardships, the ULC is finding ways to help its fellow countrymen.

WELS members have demonstrated generous hearts to help fellow Christians in Ukraine. WELS World Missions has been able to send funds so that the ULC can buy food and other supplies not only for its members but also to help the many people fleeing their homes. In addition, WELS Christian Aid and Relief has made three donations to Direct Relief, with another gift planned this week. Direct Relief is an organization equipped to provide immediate medical supplies to places experiencing crises; CAR has worked with this organization in the past.

“ULC members are using the funds in their communities mainly to buy supplies (medical, food, clothing, blankets, etc.). They can get supplies from certain areas and bring them into other areas,” says Rev. Dan Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “They’re providing these supplies not just to our Lutheran brothers and sisters, but to anybody who has need. While they’re doing it, they’re having all kinds of opportunities to talk to people about their Savior. They said it’s really been quite a thing to see how people have been open to that right now.”

There have been questions and interest in helping Ukrainian refugees who come to the United States. CAR has created a WELS Ukraine Refugee Volunteer Assistance form for WELS members who may be interested in hosting a Ukrainian refugee.

Sims says the form is being made available to be ready if there is opportunity to host refugees. Sims iterates, however, that CAR is not a refugee placement organization but can help volunteers connect to the proper authorities to work through the complicated process.

While the hearts of WELS members are ready and eager to help, Sims gives three reasons why these opportunities are likely to be very limited. “One is that the U.S. is only accepting 100,000 refugees, which is a tiny amount. Two, most Ukrainians who have become refugees and fled to other countries don’t want to get too far away, because they’re hoping they will be able to return soon to their homes. The third thing is that Ukrainians who want to come to the U.S. as  refugees likely already have contacts or family members in the U.S.,” he says. But, he says, CAR wants WELS to be ready if the opportunity arises.

“We’ve been blown away by the gifts God’s people have sent; they’ve been so generous” says Sims, “We anticipate the need for assistance is going to be high for years to come.”

Read more about the ULC and learn how to support this work.

 

Pictures of Ukraine, past and present

 

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New chapter for Russian church

On Tues., March 1, Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife, Jennifer, left their home in Russia, a country in which they have lived and served for the past 25 years. They discovered they needed to leave four days earlier, the day after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Before they left, Wolfgramm was able to meet with church leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church Concord, WELS’ sister church body in Russia, as well as preach at several of the congregations. It was a time to offer encouragement and hope, assurances that Jesus’ church would prevail. It was also a time to provide last-minute instructions to church leaders about the practicalities of managing the church’s business affairs.

“God has been planning this out and preparing us,” says Wolfgramm. “The timing came as a surprise to us but not to him. We were planning to get there, just not so quickly.”

The Wolfgramms were planning to leave Russia in 2024. “We were in Russia for 25 winters. God blessed the church over those times,” says Wolfgramm. “But my work is changing. Even before this [evacuation] happened, I wasn’t exclusively a missionary to Russia. I was also working with other churches in Europe.” This means that he partners in ministry with a dozen sister churches in Europe, helping with training seminary students, leading workshops, mentoring, and preaching. “My work is to fellowship with churches—talk together, work together, pray for each other,” he says. The church in Russia will continue to be one of the churches he partners with, just not as a resident missionary.

For the short term, the Wolfgramms are living in Durres, Albania, helping train a seminary student there. They still keep in touch with the three pastors and one seminary student who are leading the 270-member Russian church body. “The first time I was able to talk to all the pastors, I shared my concern for them,” says Wolfgramm. “Pastor Alexei said, ‘We’re in good hands. We’re in God’s hands, and that’s the best place to be.’ They definitely see that this is God at work to speed up the timetable to give them opportunities to share Jesus’ peace in a world that desperately needs it.”

WELS will continue to support the Russian church as it is able to under current sanctions. “Back in the 1990s when the Iron Curtain fell, we were able to rush in with missionaries and plant a church,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator. “The current reality is that another curtain has been set up that divides us from the Russian people. Our prayers go out for the church members there that their connection to their Savior through the means of grace stays strong as God leads us to a new stage of fellowship.”

 

 

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A donor advised fund: one-stop giving

WELS member and attorney Mr. David Nommensen and his wife, Bonnie, knew that setting up a donor advised fund was an ideal and tax-wise way to support ministry at their home congregation, First Lutheran in Elkhorn, Wis.

David likes the fact that their donor advised fund provides predictable, ongoing support to ministry at First, helping fund programs that spread the gospel both inside and outside the church and school. He also likes the tax benefits of the donor advised fund. “It was just part of good stewardship,” says David. “Bonnie and I could look at the taxes that we had saved and do a little soul-searching and perhaps give a little more.”

Donor advised funds are very popular since a donor can give a gift now and recommend the ministries that benefit later. The gift can be divided among the ministries the donor cares about, and a single receipt will be provided for income tax purposes.

In addition to ongoing support for their church and school, the Nommensens know that their family donor advised fund is a wonderful way to involve their kids and grandkids in the joy of giving since they can be included in the decision-making process for the grant recommendations. It’s another way to pass along Christian values to the next generation of believers.

“Our prayer is that the donor advised fund is around a lot longer than Bonnie and I are,” says David. “And it’s a nice opportunity for us to have these conversations with our children about the needs of our favorite church organization. I’m really hoping that someday my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be donating to this fund and having those same conversations.”

Learn more about donor advised funds by contacting your local WELS Christian giving counselor at 800-827-5482 or mcg@wels.net.

This article is reprinted from the April 2022 Grace of Giving newsletter. Read additional articles from Grace of Giving on the ministry newsletters page.

 

 

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Together Video Update – April 12, 2022

Meditate on Jesus’ final words from the cross this Lent in this video that includes all seven verses of the hymn “The Seven Words,” performed by WELS musicians and illustrated by WELS artist Corissa Nelson. Learn more about this new hymn at forwardinchrist.net/words-from-the-cross-hymn.

 

 

 

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Good outcome for a court case in Finland

Religious freedom and the ability to proclaim the teachings of Scripture without fear of government persecution is something we in the United States have taken for granted. But there are increasing examples from around the world where even seemingly free and democratic countries are attempting to restrict the abilities of Christians to express their faith and their teachings openly.

In Finland, a member of Parliament and former Minister of the Interior, Paivi Rasanen, was charged with “hate speech” for sharing her faith-based views dealing with marriage and sexual ethics in her writings and in media interviews. A Lutheran bishop, Juhana Pohjola, was also charged because he published some of Rasanen’s writings.

When charges were brought, confessional Lutheran churches from around the world signed a letter to the prosecutors in Finland that strongly urged the court to uphold the principle of freedom of religion and free speech and to dismiss the charges against Rasanen and Pohjola. The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod and our sister churches in Europe signed the letter, along with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its partner churches.

Last week, the Finnish court upheld the right to free speech by dismissing all charges against Paivi Rasanen and Bishop Pohjola.

We are happy that the courts of Finland made this decision. But this entire episode is a reminder that the freedom we enjoy to proclaim the truths of Scripture can never be taken for granted. We pray that God would preserve this freedom for us here in America and give us the courage to “speak about the things that we have seen and heard.”

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Board for Home Missions approves five new missions

On March 31–April 1, the WELS Board for Home Missions met and approved 12 new mission requests—five new home mission starts, five enhancements at existing congregations, and two unsubsidized missions.

New home missions are being supported in:

  • Windsor, Colo., where WELS congregations in Ft. Collins, Loveland, and Greeley are supporting this mission start in a rapidly growing area in northern Colorado. Currently 20 WELS families are located in the target area, which has no Lutheran churches.
  • Wichita, Kan., where the area population is expected to grow by ten percent over the next ten years on the east side of the city. This will be a second site ministry for Messiah, Wichita.
  • Canton, Ga., a fast-growing suburb of metro Atlanta identified by members and leadership from Beautiful Savior, Marietta, Ga., as a prime location to plant a new mission church.
  • Conroe, Texas, the northernmost suburb of Houston, which is the fifth-fastest-growing city in the United States. Abiding Word, Houston, Texas, is helping this new mission get off the ground.
  • Lodi, Wis., which is a second-site ministry for Zion, Leeds, Wis. Zion has already leased a ministry center in Lodi and the 17-person ministry team hopes to launch worship services this year. This mission is financially supported by Zion, but it will receive support from Home Missions through the district mission board, mission counselors, and special grants.

The Board for Home Missions is also financially supporting ministry enhancements for St. John, St. Paul, Minn.; Cross of Glory, Baton Rouge, La.; Divine Savior, Delray Beach, Fla.; Abiding Savior, Killeen, Texas; and Our Savior, Burlington, Iowa. It is providing unsubsidized support to Mount Calvary, Redding/Anderson, Calif.; and Living Faith, Midlothian, Texas. More details about these ministries can be found at wels.net/newstarts.

Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions, commends district mission board members and mission counselors for the hard work that went into the 28 new ministry requests that the Board for Home Missions received for consideration during last week’s meetings. As Free notes, “Not all the requests could be funded, but $610,000 of new ministry was. Thank you, Lord, for those who support gospel outreach through WELS’ home mission churches.”

WELS currently has 141 home mission congregations in the United States, Canada, and the English-speaking West Indies. To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

 

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Show your youth rally excitement

Get ready for the WELS International Youth Rally by sharing your excitement with anyone who sees you! For the first time ever, WELS International Youth Rally apparel and items are available to purchase online prior to the event. Items include a hoodie, long-sleeved tee, rally hat, socks—including WELS-logo socks—and more!

Check it out

Haven’t registered yet? There’s still time to get a group together and register. The youth rally will be taking place June 28–July 1, 2022, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The rally is open to all WELS teens heading into their freshman year of high school through seniors graduating this spring. Youth from around North America will gather for group worship, small workshops, and recreation and fellowship.

Learn more and register

 

 

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Together Video Update – March 22, 2022

The WELS International Youth Rally is taking place June 28-July 1 in Knoxville, Tenn. Learn more in this Together video update featuring Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship. Visit wels.net/youthrally for all the details and to learn how to register.

 

 

 

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Pray for Ukraine

Lord God, in this world of darkness and evil, the light of your saving gospel continues to shine. Through that good news you have brought people around the world from the darkness of sin and death into your marvelous light. But evil exists and Satan’s work in this fallen world continues. As many in Ukraine are experiencing unimaginable hardships and suffering, we ask that you would be with them. Protect them; provide for them; and, above all, strengthen their faith and trust in you and your promises. We commend them to your gracious care, knowing that you have promised to be with them always. Even though they are now walking through the shadow of death, enable them to fear no evil. We ask you, in your love and wisdom, to restore peace and safety to those now enduring the horrors of war and bloodshed and to continue to let your gospel message be the comfort and hope that so many desperately need. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

The situation for our brothers and sisters in the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) remains dire. We thank God that none of the pastors or members have lost their lives, but at least some members report that their homes have been destroyed. Some of the pastors and members have relocated to places that are relatively safe and removed from the heavy fighting, but others remain in areas where military activity is taking place every day. We continue to pray for their safety.

Last weekend, several ULC congregations—even some in areas controlled by foreign forces—were able to hold worship services either in person or virtually. God’s Word continues to be proclaimed even in the middle of a terrible war.

Rev. V’yacheslav Horpynchuk, the bishop of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, has been in regular contact via Zoom with Rev. Roger Neumann, the WELS liaison to the ULC. I am also able to communicate with the bishop. Pastor Neumann has been providing daily updates on the situation as reported by Bishop Horpynchuk.

WELS members have already been very generous with gifts intended to support relief and humanitarian efforts both for members of the ULC and for the refugees and local citizens in need of help. We thank all those who have given gifts for Ukraine relief. Those gifts are being channeled through WELS World Missions, which remains in contact with the ULC and is still able to transfer funds. To date, $125,000 has been sent by World Missions. You can give a gift by going to wels.net/give-ukraine.

Currently, collecting physical relief items (blankets, water, canned goods, diapers, etc.) to send to Ukraine is not the best option for assisting those impacted by this war. The expense and logistical complexity of getting such items to those who need them make such an effort impractical. WELS is assisting with humanitarian aid for refugees in Poland through an agency called Direct Relief. To date, WELS Christian Aid and Relief has sent $50,000 to Direct Relief. This highly rated disaster relief organization specializes in providing medical assistance and supplies where they are needed most. It has both the inventory and infrastructure to bring medical aid to an area quickly. We have worked with this organization for many years and trust its work. Other sister churches in Europe are also looking for ways to provide assistance.

Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife, Jennifer, who were living in Novosibirsk, Russia, have safely exited the country. They are currently staying in Durres, Albania, where Luke is providing continuing education to leaders of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Albania, WELS’ sister church. From there they maintain regular contact with the three national pastors in Russia, encourage the Russian Lutheran Church’s leadership and 270 members, and continue online seminary training. The Wolfgramms will be returning to the United States this summer for regularly scheduled meetings and family time. Depending on how events unfold, they will most likely relocate to another location in Europe to partner with sister church bodies in their theological education and outreach efforts.

This entire tragic drama is another stark reminder of the wickedness and depravity that infects the human soul. And yet, even in these darkest of days, we remain confident that the Lord of lords is still ruling with his grace and power. We pray for an end to the war. We pray that God would preserve the lives of his believers in Ukraine, as well as the lives of all the citizens of Ukraine. With confidence in his promises, we commend them all to his gracious care and protection.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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New locations for cross-cultural outreach

One of the primary focuses of WELS Joint Missions is supporting people group ministries, where immigrants who have joined our fellowship in the United States and Canada are able to take the gospel back to friends and family in their country of origin. WELS currently supports 14 Hispanic ministries, 5 Hmong ministries, 4 African ministries, and single Korean, Chinese, Muslim, Vietnamese, and Hindu ministries throughout North America. Six additional mission churches are considered multicultural ministries, which means that more than two different cultures are being served. Many of these people group ministries have opened doors to new world mission work around the globe.

At a recent meeting, the Joint Mission Council approved financial support for two additional locations. Rev. Paul Prange, chairman of the Joint Mission Council, shares, “We are just grateful for the opportunities we have to support these fine people who are often working under difficult circumstances. Their optimism about the importance of the gospel is inspiring, and their willingness to work with us is humbling.”

New Sudanese Mission—Phoenix, Ariz.

In 2020, Rev. Simon Duoth graduated from the Pastoral Studies Institute and was assigned to conduct Sudanese outreach full time in the Pacific Northwest District. When unforeseen family circumstances forced the Duoth family to move to Phoenix, Ariz., conversations began between the Pacific Northwest and the Arizona-California district mission boards about the opportunity to plant a new Sudanese ministry in the area. Research shows that 4,000 Sudanese people live in the city. It was then discovered that a WELS church, Emmaus, was only four blocks away from a Sudanese cultural center. Emmaus’ church leadership is willing and excited to offer its church as a worship center as Duoth begins outreach.

God is also continuing to provide for Sudanese outreach in the Pacific Northwest. A member and longtime evangelist in the current Sudanese congregation located at Divine Peace in Renton, Wash., is stepping up to serve as leader of the church. He will begin training in the Pastoral Studies Institute as he leads Sudanese ministry in the area.

Mission Enhancement—Las Vegas, Nev.

The Korean Fellowship Lutheran Church, served by Korean Pastor Rev. Taesang Kim, is self-supporting and shares a campus with Water of Life, Las Vegas, Nev. Recently, Rev. Youngha Kim and his wife, Margaret, retired to the Las Vegas area. Youngha Kim was trained at Bethany Lutheran Seminary (Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s seminary) and has previously served in Korean ministry in the U.S. and in South Korea. Funding will allow the Korean Fellowship Lutheran Church to call Youngha Kim to reconnect with the elderly and retirees after the pandemic, freeing up Taesang Kim’s time to engage with Korean teenagers and young professionals.

Learn more about WELS Joint Missions at wels.net/jointmissions.

 

 

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2022 WELS International Youth Rally registration underway

Registration has opened for the 2022 WELS International Youth Rally, June 28–July 1, University of Tennessee—Knoxville. Usually held every other year, this will be the first rally since 2018, as the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19.

The rally is open to all WELS teens heading into their freshman year of high school through seniors graduating this spring. Youth from around North America will gather for group worship, small workshops, and recreation and fellowship.

The first ever WELS youth rally was in 1974; in nearly 50 years there has never been a four-year gap between events. “This is the longest we’ve ever gone without a rally,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship.

Dobberstein says this rally is going to be really important for two reasons. First, it’s bringing together teens to help them realize the church of God is so much larger than individual WELS congregationswhere the average weekly worship attendance is at 70. Second, it’s an opportunity for the youth leaders to connect and share ideas.

Jennifer Wockenfuss will be attending as a youth leader for a group of 17 teens from Messiah in Nampa, Idaho. She says, “We are in the heart of Mormon country so most of our kids are constantly surrounded by kids of other religions and have never been around many other kids that believe the same thing. I am excited for them to grow as a youth group and grow in their faith as they worship and fellowship with so many other Lutherans their age.”

The theme for the 2022 rally is “Here and Now,” inspired by Esther 4:14. Dobberstein says, “Esther probably isn’t the first name you think of as a biblical hero; her story isn’t as well known. But when you read it, it’s powerful. It’s a story of how God can choose someone out of obscurity and use them for his purpose. God doesn’t have a use for our youth only in the future or down the road. Like a young Esther, you don’t know what God’s timing is for you, but he does have a plan for you. I believe God has a plan for you here and now.”

Two keynotes will be presented to the attending teens based on the theme. Rev. Aaron Robinson, English professor and cultural diversity coordinator at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., will present “Why Not Us? Royal People,” focusing on how Christians should be asking “Why not us?” instead of “Why us?”. Rev. Jon Bare, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., and director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, will present “Why Not Now? We Serve at a Momentous Time with Momentous Purpose,” which will examine how God places his people right where he needs them right when he needs them to serve.

Additional workshops address the challenges young Christians face in today’s world, with topics such as “Superhero Training: Bystander Intervention Strategies,” “Where’s God When . . . Responding to Faith Challenges,” and “Creating Mental Health Resilience: Strategies for Thriving in a Stressful World.” Dobberstein says some of the workshops will be recorded so they can be used as resources for youth ministry in the future.

So far, in the first week of registration, hundreds of people have already registered for the rally. Rally organizers are anticipating about 2,000 attendees. Registration runs March 8–May 31. The cost is $375 if groups register by April 30 and $395 from May 1-31.

Learn more about the workshops, recreational excursions, and the rally—and register—at wels.net/youthrally.

 

 

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Grants available to help more people hear the Word

WELS Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MDHH), part of the Commission on Special Ministries, is offering $500 grants toward the installation of a hearing loop to WELS/Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregations that apply for it. MDHH is also able to point congregations toward additional research, contacts, and other resources around hearing loops.

MDHH reports that hearing the spoken word in a church setting continues to be a struggle for people dealing with hearing loss. They may miss a phrase that would have been the exact thing their heart needed that day. Or they may choose to stop coming to church because they are frustrated or discouraged by the amount of effort required to catch the full message.

Modern technology has solutions to alleviate this problem. One of these is to install hearing loops in churches. A hearing loop works with people’s hearing aids to provide a clearer sound directly into their ears. MDHH is encouraging congregations to consider a looping project by offering a grant to help fund it. If a congregation is planning or has already begun any kind of building or renovation project, this is an especially great time to consider installing a loop.

If your congregation is interested in installing a loop in your sanctuary, contact mdhh@wels.net for more information.

Learn more about the Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

 

 

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Together Video Update – March 8, 2022

Rev. Mike Hartman recently began serving as a missionary in London. Learn more about his ministry there and all the opportunities that are available for sharing the gospel in this multi-cultural area.


Want to learn more about Missionary Mike Hartman and his family’s experiences in the mission field? Watch this “Together” extra featuring Hartman’s wife, Rachel.

 

 

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