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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WELS Campus Ministry celebrates 100 years

Life on a university campus can be challenging in many ways. For Christian students, the values and beliefs they have held for their entire lives not only can be in the minority, but those beliefs also can often be the object of ridicule and even attack. Add to that all of the other aspects of campus life that can be potentially harmful to their faith, and it’s easy to see that we want to do all we can to provide the support and spiritual resources that our young people will need when they head off to college.

Our synod has recognized that need for a long time. In 1920, the first WELS campus ministry program began at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. For 100 years, thousands of young adults have found spiritual comfort, community, and encouragement through WELS campus ministries that have been carried out throughout North America. WELS Campus Ministry, a ministry of WELS Home Missions, continues to support congregations that serve college students during a critical transition time in their lives. The WELS Campus Ministry Committee currently provides about 30 campus ministries with financial support and assists hundreds of other congregations in their campus ministry outreach.

Due to COVID-19, WELS Campus Ministry held its conference virtually this year. Last week, campus pastors and others involved in campus ministries tuned in for a live video conference. The archived conference can be viewed online. Presentations included looking at effective ways to recruit and engage college students using technology and highlighting the various resources available to use in promoting campus ministry in congregations.

One of those resources is a Campus Ministry 100 toolkit, which provides tools for any congregation to be involved in campus ministry by either starting a campus ministry program or supporting their church’s college students while they’re away.

WELS Campus Ministry is encouraging all congregations to hold a special Sunday in 2020–21, giving thanks to the Lord for the 100 years it’s been able to serve college students. Worship helps, a sermon, and promotional resources have been provided to host a campus ministry-themed Reformation service, mission festival, or Ascension service. Campus ministry speakers are also available to guest preach by request at wels.net/speaker-request.

Our WELS university and college students are a precious treasure. Keep encouraging them to hold on to the “one thing needful” and remember them in your prayers.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

For more information about WELS Campus Ministry, visit wels.net/cm100. If you are a college student or know a college student, don’t forget to sign up with WELS Campus Ministry to get in contact with the nearest local campus pastor and receive free copies of Meditations devotions and Forward in Christ magazine.

 

Campus Ministry

 

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New role for longtime missionary

Rev. Paul Nitz started in his new position as One Team counselor at the Center for Mission and Ministry this month.

Nitz had served for 27 years in Malawi, Africa, moving there with his wife, Susan, and their baby, Henry, following Nitz’s graduation from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, in 1993. During those years, he established churches, trained national pastors, and led the mission team as it explored new opportunities for outreach in Africa.

In his new position, Nitz will be working with “One Teams” in World Missions’ seven different regions—Native America, Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, East Asia, and Multi-Language Productions. These One Teams consist of stateside administrative committees that work with the missionary teams to conduct gospel ministry in each area.

“His number one priority is to work with the One Team leaders to provide them what they need to keep the ongoing ministry going,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions. According to Schlomer, this means helping the teams determine “how to use the resources at hand so they don’t drop any of the work they currently have going while being able to expand to meet the needs of new places.”

This position in the Missions Office was designed because of how quickly the number of world mission fields is expanding. WELS is currently maintaining contacts and relationships in 57 countries around the world—40 as mission partners and 17 as exploratory work. Just within the past seven years, WELS has grown in Africa from work in 4 countries to outreach possibilities in 13.

Schlomer says Nitz is uniquely prepared for this role. “He really has lived the goal of a mission, starting with raising up churches to training the pastors to lead those churches to stepping into a team that is looking to do the same for other mission fields. All of these things make him a trusted counselor and a trusted mentor for other people who are leading the teams in our world mission fields.”

Learn more about WELS World Missions work at wels.net/missions.

Read Nitz’s thoughts on his work in Africa in this article from the upcoming September issue of Forward in Christ.

 

 

 

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Relief work from storms in Iowa continues

Cleanup is continuing in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, from storms that blew through the Midwest on Monday, Aug. 10.

The line of storms, called a derecho, had sustained winds of more than 100 miles per hour and damaged homes, downed trees, and left hundreds of thousands in Iowa without power. Good Shepherd, the WELS church in Cedar Rapids, sustained major roof damage and felled trees; most of its members also had extensive cleanup to do on their properties.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief and Good Shepherd quickly organized a work weekend and recruited volunteers to clean up the church property as well as the yards of members and their neighbors and friends. More than 50 people, including members of Good Shepherd and WELS members who traveled to the area, gathered last weekend to help.

“The devastation is immense; it’s hard to believe,” says Rev. Dan Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief, who also volunteered at the work weekend. “There are massive trees down everywhere—lying on houses, on cars, on sheds, on driveways.”

Volunteers went out in groups to clear trees and pick up debris. “I was working alongside of members of Good Shepherd who hadn’t touched their own yards yet,” says Sims. “They had trees down too, but they were out helping other people. It was heartwarming to see.”

He continues, “When you are servants of Jesus going out and helping those in need—it really makes an impression on people.”

WELS Christian Aid and Relief and Good Shepherd are organizing another work weekend Aug. 21–23 to continue cleaning up at the church and area homes. For more information or to volunteer, visit facebook.com/WELSChristianAidAndRelief/.

 

Derecho in Cedar Rapids, IA

 

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WELS Center for Mission and Ministry deals with COVID-19

Congregations throughout the synod have been making many adjustments to their worship and ministry ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Even though many of us expected things to have returned to normal by now, that is not the case. Government mandates and advisories continue to have a varying impact on WELS congregations and schools. But, true to their mission, they continue to proclaim the saving gospel, and God’s people continue to worship in spite of the obstacles.

Similar challenges have affected the work of the synod. In synodical and district activities, as well at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry (CMM), our synod’s headquarters in Waukesha, changes have had to be made.

Throughout the synod, all large gatherings, including district conventions, were cancelled this summer. In-person meetings were replaced with virtual online meetings whenever possible. The workers at the CMM were initially given the option of working at home if the nature of their work permitted it. When the lockdown was declared, all employees were required to work remotely. When the lockdown ended, employees returned to the office in two phases, first with 50 percent returning and then two weeks later with all back to in-person work.

Now things have changed again. Here in Wisconsin, the governor recently issued a statewide mask mandate. Workers at the CMM are complying with this mandate, wearing masks in all public areas. We continue the policy of no meetings or gatherings in the building; individual visitors are allowed in the CMM only by personal appointment.

The policies governing meetings and other activities at the CMM are under constant review, with the next re-evaluation scheduled for Aug. 12. At that time, we will be determining whether meetings scheduled for this fall at the CMM can take place. We pray for a time when things can return completely to normal—for our synod and for our entire country. In the meantime, we continue to place our trust in God’s protecting and gracious care.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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New school year brings difficult decisions

WELS schools around the country were faced with the difficult job this summer of determining what school is going to look like in the fall, after the 2019–20 school year ended with online classes because of shutdowns due to the pandemic.

With 436 WELS schools serving over 42,000 students in 33 states—some with minimal numbers of COVID-19 cases and some considered “hot spots”—plans will differ across the country. But one thing is sure: “Sept. 1, 2020, is going to look different than Sept. 1, 2019, in every single one of our schools,” says Mr. James Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools (CLS).

While each plan will look different—with schools talking about in-person vs. virtual learning (or a combination of the two), face coverings, size of classes, social distancing, extracurriculars, disinfecting stations, and additional cleaning—Rademan says that the mindset he has seen from WELS schools as they determine how to proceed is remarkably similar: “Each one of the schools is really concerned about the safety of their students and their staff while trying to balance what is going to be best overall for the development of the children.”

Most WELS schools—including Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School (KML), Jackson, Wis. and Arizona Lutheran Academy (ALA), Phoenix, Ariz.—are planning to start the year meeting face-to-face at school. “Christian education is way more than just teaching in the classrooms,” says Mr. Jamie Luehring, principal at Kettle Moraine. “It’s the interactions the teachers have with the students, the mentorships, the friendships, the support. You cannot do that as well virtually no matter how hard you try.”

That decision to start with in-person classes was not made in a vacuum. For both schools, it meant sending out a survey to parents and meeting with teachers during the summer to get opinions on the best options moving forward. “We believe parents need to be in the driver’s seat,” says Luehring. “We want to work with them to come up with the best solutions for their kids.”

But the collaboration went even further. Mr. Kurt Rosenbaum, principal at ALA, said that when their school’s task force began meeting in June, they looked closely at recommendations for reopening sent out by the Arizona Department of Education. He is in constant contact with the local health department to keep up with the latest health regulations. Representatives from all 26 WELS area Lutheran high schools and the two synod prep schools also met virtually multiple times this summer to offer ideas, support, encouragement, and prayers for one another as they determined the best plans for their schools.

For both ALA and KML, the majority of the parents supported in-person classes, “but we knew that there would be some families who would want to start slowly,” says Rosenbaum. To support those students and families, both schools are offering online classes as well. “We’re trying to be all things for all people,” says Luehring. “We understand everyone is in a different situation and we don’t want to lose those kids for the sake of the gospel.” Online classes will also offer an option for international students who may not be able to get back to campuses for the start of the school year.

“There are so many people with differing opinions; there needs to be a loving response to one another,” says Luehring. “As a loving Christian family, we are going to try to work through this together.”

In the end, “flexibility” may be the key word. “Most schools are developing two or three plans and are recognizing the need to be able to pivot based on the circumstances,” says Rademan. The Commission on Lutheran Schools is offering support, encouragement, and direction to WELS schools, while not prescribing any one direction. “We are encouraging them to follow CDC and local health department guidelines and to work with the resources in their community and the schools that are in close proximity to them,” says Rademan.

Some schools in “hot spot” locations—such as southern California—may have no choice but to start virtually. “You can plan and plan and plan, but you don’t know what will happen three days before school starts,” says Rademan. “It’s a time to use the gifts the Lord has given us and trust in the Lord. The path is going to be the path he’s seeking for us to take at this time.”

Available resources from CLS can be found at cls.welsrc.net/

 

CLS partners with Christian Family Solutions

With anxiety and other mental health issues on the rise during the pandemic, the Commission on Lutheran Schools is working closely with Christian Family Solutions to offer resources, support, and counseling to teachers and students. Webinars and other materials will look to help teachers deal with their own anxiety as well as the anxiety they will see in students and parents. Christian Family Solutions also works with many WELS schools to offer tele-health counseling for students struggling with mental health needs.

 

 

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57th annual LWMS convention goes virtual

Since 1964, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) has faithfully hosted annual conventions, gathering to joyfully praise God and support WELS mission work. The year 2020 was to be no exception. Plans were well underway for the 57th annual convention in Athens, Ga., in June. The theme, “2020 Vision for Missions,” was chosen, and hours of planning were already complete.

Then the coronavirus pandemic swept the globe, and for the first time in 57 years, LWMS made the difficult but necessary decision to cancel its in-person convention.

“The decision to cancel was agonizing,” recalls LWMS president Mrs. Cynthia Natsis. “But by the end of April, it became obvious that travel and staying in hotels would be dangerous to our members.”

Despite its deep disappointment, the LWMS team adapted to the situation. If people couldn’t come to the convention, LWMS would bring the convention to them—by way of technology.

Through a partnership with WELS Missions, the LWMS convention was combined with WELS Taste of Missions—another in-person event that was cancelled due to the pandemic. “Taste and See,” the combined virtual event, was born. LWMS and WELS Missions staff brainstormed how to offer key elements of both events in an engaging and interactive online format.

On June 27, the Taste and See virtual event launched. For two weeks, thousands of WELS members worldwide tuned in to view the opening and closing worship services, “Moments with Missionaries” videos, recipe tutorials from around the globe, the commissioning of new missionaries, and the inspiring LWMS flag presentation. Viewers even hosted “watch parties” for the opening and closing services.

Natsis is simply in awe of how God blessed the event. “Due to the new format, we were able to reach so many more people than if we had held it in person,” she says.

Mr. Sean Young, director of WELS Missions operations, was also thrilled with the number of Taste and See website visitors, totaling over 9,300. He says, “I thought we’d get a few thousand views. But from the opening service to the final day, God again demonstrated that we can’t pray audaciously enough! He continues to be glorified in the work his church on earth is able to do.”

Even during a pandemic, God advances his kingdom. Through Taste and See, God moved the hearts of his people to contribute the largest service offering to date for an LWMS convention: $72,925.

“I am blown away at the generosity of my fellow believers and their love for spreading the good news about Jesus,” says Natsis. She and the LWMS board extend their gratitude to all who participated to support WELS mission work: “Thank you for making this time of uncertainty about the virus a time of rejoicing instead. God is good!”

Visit welstasteandsee.com to view more than 80 videos and additional resources from the event. The website also includes a handy checklist of available videos, which will remain online for at least a year.

 

 

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Supporting WELS mission work through endowments

Thanks to the generosity of God’s people, WELS Foundation has been blessed to distribute $3.1 million from more than 350 endowments through its endowment program this year. Areas that benefited from the distributions include WELS missions, ministerial education schools, congregations, and other WELS-affiliated ministries.

One of those WELS-affiliated ministries that was blessed through endowment distributions was the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS).

Back in 2015, Mrs. Karen Fischer, who was then the president of LWMS, approached Mr. Jim Holm, the executive director of WELS Foundation, about setting up an endowment through which LWMS could support WELS mission work.

Holm recalls, “Karen knew that the ladies who support LWMS have such a passion for missions, and an endowment would give them another way to continue to provide for the Lord’s work after they were called home to heaven. WELS Foundation was thrilled to establish this partnership with LWMS to benefit the spread of the gospel both locally and worldwide.”

Fischer was also grateful for the partnership. “WELS Foundation staff walked our entire LWMS board through the process with grace and ease. It was such a blessing,” she recalls. “This new endowment fund allowed LWMS members to give a gift at any time, knowing it would generate an annual distribution in perpetuity . . . leaving a mission support legacy even after they receive their heavenly crown.”

Since 2015, WELS Foundation has distributed over $26,000 to LWMS through two endowment funds. The annual distributions support WELS mission opportunities as selected by the LWMS board of directors. The monies are distributed above and beyond the annual mission collections of members and increase the impact of LWMS giving.

The endowment distributions also allow LWMS to address any immediate needs of WELS missions. For example, a July 2020 endowment fund distribution of $7,976 was donated to support WELS Campus Ministry, in conjunction with its 100th anniversary.

Rev. Larry Schlomer, Board for World Missions administrator, says, “There is so much opportunity in the LWMS endowments that are managed by WELS Foundation. Each year the distributions from these funds go to support Home and World Missions projects. Gospel work in Mexico, Africa, Asia, and the United States have all benefited.”

Mrs. Becky Jungwirth, LWMS treasurer, appreciates the peace of mind that comes from knowing that WELS Foundation shares in LWMS’ mission. She adds, “Working with WELS Foundation is an easy process because they provide all administration and investment management (through WELS Investment Funds) for our endowments. Partnering with WELS Foundation has been a real blessing for LWMS.”

To learn more about adding to an existing endowment or setting up an endowment for a ministry close to your heart, contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor at wels.net/giving-counselors. To learn more about WELS Foundation, visit wels.net/foundation.

 

 

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Good news on two fronts

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

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

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

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

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

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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WELS Christian Aid and Relief makes humanitarian aid grants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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MLC releases return-to-school plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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New faces at WELS CMM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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WELS female called workers eligible for parsonage allowance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guidance for Calling Bodies regarding Minister of the Gospel tax status

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

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

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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New WELS Investment Funds video highlights benefits to ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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A welcome return

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

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

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

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

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

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Christian Aid and Relief assists in Midland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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WELS CAR - Midland, MI 2020
 

 

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New full-time director for Christian Aid and Relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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