2021 synod convention preparations

The 66th biennial synod convention will be held at Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis., July 26-28. The theme of the convention is “Here We Stand,” echoing Martin Luther’s bold stand on the Word of God at the Diet of Worms in 1521.

The location of the convention was changed from Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Mich., to Luther Prep because of the uncertainties of gathering restrictions in Michigan.

Another change that was made due to those same uncertainties was to hold a “mini-convention.” Instead of the usual 400 delegates, only about 75 delegates will attend the convention in person. Those delegates will include floor committee chairmen and secretaries, along with two lay delegates from each floor committee. (Floor committees are each assigned an area of the synod’s work to discuss and to bring reports and resolutions to the convention for consideration.) The remaining delegates will participate electronically in elections and floor committee work in advance of the convention. The convention will also be livestreamed to enable all virtual delegates to observe.

Important items of business to be considered by the convention will be the approval of the Ministry Financial Plan (budget) for the next two years; the proposal to change the current pension plan for WELS workers to a defined contribution plan (similar to a 401(k) plan); and the elections for various synodical positions, including the First Vice President and synod secretary. The convention will also consider a number of “memorials,” which are requests for the synod to take specific actions.

The convention website, which will house all convention information and documents, including election information and memorials, is now live at wels.net/2021synodconvention.

All delegates have received, or will soon be receiving, convention information and registration instructions via U.S. mail.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder



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60 years of blessings and progress

The WELS Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) is marking 60 years of service to people in Malawi and Zambia. The first clinic began operating in Zambia in 1961; in 1970, CAMM started a clinic in Malawi as well. By meeting the physical needs of the people they serve, the door opens to share the good news of Jesus.

Over the past 60 years, God has given CAMM the opportunity to provide people with physical care in the name of Jesus approximately three million times. The CAMM clinics in Malawi and Zambia serve all the medical needs short of hospitalization for close to 50,000 people, including:

  • Routine child health and nutrition services
  • Delivery of babies in Zambia (mandated by the government)
  • Pre- and post-delivery care
  • Comprehensive HIV/AIDS health services
  • Outpatient medical services
  • Chronic disease monitoring
  • Making sure villages have safe water supplies and adequate sanitation
  • Teaching on topics such as general health and how to plant and care for nutrition gardens
  • Integrating COVID-19 management strategies to both provide care for and minimize possible infection transmission

Shelly Sievert, chair of the CAMM stateside committee, says, “As we approach our 60th anniversary in Zambia, we reflect on God’s continued grace to our clinic and our staff, which includes ten nationals in Zambia. Our Zambia clinic has been operating with little oversight from the stateside committee for close to 15 years and thrives!”

Now, the Malawi clinic will also shift to operate with a fully national staff. “Although 2020 was a tough year for the world, it gave us time and the opportunity to look at our clinic procedures in Malawi, which have been operational for over 50 years. We currently employ 11 nationals, 1 of whom is a registered nurse,” says Sievert. “After 50 years, our CAMM stateside committee, with guidance from the Administration Committee for Africa, and with prayerful consideration, has decided that the time is right. God has provided us the right staff, the right expatriates to train the staff, and the right support to do this.”

Sievert says, “We thank God for the opportunity he allows every day for our clinics to operate, for the staff to care for the patients, for the chances our staff is given to share their faith, and for his continued generosity.”

To learn more about the work of CAMM and find out how you can help, visit wels.net/camm.



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New virtual academy offers opportunities

The Association of Lutheran High Schools Online (ALHS Online) has a new name and an expanded mission.

For the past ten years, ALHS Online has been offering high-quality online courses to supplement the class offerings of WELS high schools and elementary schools. Beginning this next school year (2021–22), it now also will offer a fully online curriculum—starting with ninth grade and adding a grade level every year—that can lead to a high school diploma.

To highlight this expansion, the school has been renamed Amazing Grace Virtual Academy. “We have been truly blessed over the last ten years and have really seen God’s amazing grace in all that he has done to allow us to expand and be of service to WELS schools,” says Dr. James Grunwald, superintendent of the academy.

Grunwald says that over the last few years the organization has been receiving more inquiries about expanding its offerings from WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod families who don’t have the opportunity to send their children to one of WELS’ 26 Lutheran high schools. Several grants and gifts plus recent accreditation as an online learning service provider by the Middle States Association helped push this decision forward.

Amazing Grace Virtual Academy will continue to provide courses for part-time students as well. During the 2020–21 school year, about 320 students took courses each semester. It also offers a four-year high school religion curriculum and foreign language and mathematics courses for seventh and eighth graders.

Learn more at amazinggraceva.org.



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Taste of Missions—an online Missions experience

Join the WELS Missions office for Taste of Missions, an online missions experience, from July 11-17, 2021. Get to know our synod’s home and world missionaries and get a closer look at their mission work through short video updates, activities and recipes for the entire family, daily devotions, and multiple live events where WELS members can come together online and interact with missionaries. Tune in LIVE at the following times throughout the event:

  • Sunday, July 11, 1 p.m. CT: Welcome and introduction from Home Missions administrator, Rev. Keith Free, and World Missions administrator, Rev. Larry Schlomer
  • Tuesday, July 13, 7 p.m. CT: World Missions Q&A panel
  • Thursday, July 15, 7 p.m. CT: Home Missions Q&A panel
  • Saturday, July 17, 6 p.m. CT: Closing worship service where, God willing, new missionaries will be commissioned

All WELS grade school teachers are invited to participate in the new Taste of Missions School Challenge before the school year ends. Each class can be entered to win a Taste of Missions party—complete with lunch from an ethnic restaurant in their area, t-shirts, and a Zoom call or in-person visit with a missionary of their choosing (and more!)—by completing provided activities found at tasteofmissions.com/schools by Friday, April 23.

Learn more and register for this free event at tasteofmissions.com. Each day’s recommended videos and live events will be promoted on the event website, in e-mails to registered attendees, and on the WELS Missions Facebook page. This annual online event will be paired with an in-person celebration at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., in future years to provide all WELS members an opportunity to connect with brothers and sisters in Christ from around the globe and be a part of the important gospel outreach occurring through our synod. Register today!



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LWMS announces plans for 2021 convention

The Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) announced via Facebook Live on March 7 that its 2021 convention, originally planned for June 24-27, 2021, in Sharonville, Ohio, will be virtual again this year.

“We’ve been doing a lot of praying and brainstorming, and we came up with a solution for this year,” said LWMS President Cynthia Natsis. “We have decided as a board that our 2021 convention . . . will have to be virtual again this year. We came to that decision because of many different circumstances, COVID-19 being the biggest one, of course.” She continues to say that, at the time of the announcement, Ohio had gathering restrictions limited to 300 people and it’s uncertain how that would change by June.

“We are excited to try our hand at another virtual convention. We have some exciting speakers,” says Natsis. From Home Missions, Rev. Allen Kirschbaum, Spirit of Life, Caledonia, Mich., and Rev. Ryan Kolander, Palabra de Vida, Detroit, Mich., will be presenting. Gary and Beth Evans from the Central Africa Medical Mission, which is marking 60 years of service this year, will be talking about their work in Africa. From World Missions, Rev. Stephen Wiesenauer will share about the gospel work in East Asia. Additional workshops are also planned.

All videos will be posted June 24-27, 2021, on the LWMS convention website, which can be found by visiting lwms.org. View the entire announcement at fb.com/LWMS.WELS.



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Synodical Council winter 2021 meeting

The Synodical Council (SC) held its winter meeting last week via video conference.

The SC reviewed the financial results of the last fiscal year as well as the end-of-calendar year results for Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO). Across the board, both in terms of the synod’s ministry financial plan and regarding the financial position of the synod’s departments, schools, and subsidiaries, the financial situation of the synod is much healthier than was expected. The SC acknowledged thanks for God’s blessings on our synod and its congregations.

In view of the healthy financial situation, the SC approved an expenditure of $400,000 to be used to fund some of the items on the “unfunded priority list.”  The SC Ministry Committee, with input from the President’s Advisory Council, will determine in April which ministries will receive this funding.

The SC gave its final approval to the ministry financial plan (budget) for the next biennium that will be recommended to the synod convention in July. The plan, adopted unanimously and with the support of the Conference of Presidents, calls for a 2 percent increase in expenditures in each of the next two years.

The SC also resolved to move ahead with its recommendation to change the synod pension plan from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan. A defined contribution plan would work more like a 401(k), giving called workers their own retirement accounts. The details of the plan were shared last year and will be shared again this spring before being considered by the synod in convention in July.

The SC made the following appointments:

  • To the Board of Directors of the WELS Church Extension Fund: Mr. Seth Hanson, Mr. Tim Gensmer, and Mr. Ron Kerr were re-appointed for another term.
  • To the Board of Directors of the WELS Investment Fund: Mr. Joel Luehmann, Mr. John Wenker, and Mr. Seth Hanson were re-appointed for another term.
  • To the Retirement Program Commission: Mr. Lee Miller was re-appointed for another term; Rev. James Turriff was newly appointed.
  • To the VEBA Commission: Mr. James Gabriel was newly appointed.
  • To the Northwestern Publishing House Board of Directors: Mr. Joel Raasch, Mr. Matthew Groth, Rev. Steven Pagels were re-appointed for another term.

Communications Director Mr. Lee Hitter reported that during 2020 wels.net had more than two million visits to the website, with users in the U.S. and throughout the world making use of the digital content.

Technology Director Mr. Martin Spriggs reported that a third-party security firm was engaged to do a thorough assessment of hardware, software, security policies and procedures, as well as employee training. A preliminary report has been received and will be reviewed for appropriate recommendations to technology systems and practice. He also reported that hundreds of hours have been devoted to updating the CMM phone system to Microsoft Teams Telephony.

Director of the Ministry of Christian Giving Rev. Kurt Lueneburg reported that from 2010-2019 total congregational offerings have increased from $295 million to just over $345 million. Over that same period, the percent of congregations’ dollars given to CMO has decreased from 7.1% to 6.2%. He also reported that over the past 15 years $102 million has been given or committed to ministerial education and missions through the WELS endowments, managed by WELS Foundation. It is expected that distributions from these eight endowments will exceed $1 million in 2021 for the first time.


Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder



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Congregation Mission Offering subscriptions and statistics received

Every year at this time, WELS congregations submit their Congregation Mission Offering (CMO) subscriptions. These subscriptions represent the offerings that congregations prayerfully intend to provide for the work of the synod. The subscriptions have now been received for 2021.

We’re pleased to report that 98% of WELS congregations submitted CMO subscriptions for calendar year 2021. Those subscriptions total $21,620,000. This level of CMO subscriptions is down slightly (0.6%) from actual CMO receipts of $21.7 million in calendar year 2020, but it is 2.4% better than the originally approved plan of $21.1 million for calendar year 2021. We thank God for moving his people to provide this generous support for the mission, ministry, and administrative work of WELS.

Congregations have also finished submitting their annual statistics for the year 2020. More than 95% of the congregations provided statistics on membership, worship attendance, confirmations, baptisms, and funerals as well as information on school enrollments and offerings. Even though the goal is to have 100% of congregations submitting statistics, the percentage of WELS congregations submitting statistics compares very well with other church bodies. These statistics are being compiled and will be available in the coming weeks.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder



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Mission and Ministry held at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary

From Feb. 2-4, 2021, students at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., participated in Mission and Ministry, an annual three-day event organized by the students during which they learn about missions and ministry groups of WELS.

Under the theme “Share Christ’s Comfort,” this event highlighted the worldwide work of WELS—and how WELS is blessed that God gives us the message of comfort to share with those in churches, in communities, and throughout the world.

Each day featured a worship service, keynote address, and an update from WELS administration. In addition, to give these future pastors a cross-section of experiences they may face in ministry, 23 breakout sessions were offered on specific topics.

Daily breakout topics included updates from world mission fields, COVID adjustments in WELS world mission work, gospel outreach to immigrants in local communities, multi-site ministries, campus ministry, marriage enrichment, and family ministry.

Committee member Philip Schroeder, who was involved in planning the world mission day, shared, “I was able to be in contact with many of our world missionaries while planning. I have grown to appreciate the amazing work they are doing around the world. It encourages me to keep them in my prayers. I am so thankful to have people in our synod who are not afraid to go around the world. They bring the pure gospel to people who desperately need it.”

In the past, WELS organizations have also set up displays to share information about their work in God’s kingdom. To follow social distancing guidelines this year, WELS areas of ministry were instead invited to send information about synodical resources available to these future pastors.

“It helps me see all the resources and materials that are at my disposal to assist me in whatever situation the Lord plans to put me into,” says committee member Caleb Schaewe.

For photos of the event, visit the seminary’s Facebook page.



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With the Lord

Rev. John Moldstad, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), was suddenly and unexpectedly called to his heavenly home last Friday from an apparent heart attack.

President Moldstad was my classmate and friend, and he has been the president of our sister synod throughout my time as WELS synod president. John was one of the most self-effacing and humble men I have ever known. He loved to tell jokes, often making himself the object of his humor. More important, President Moldstad was a strong defender and promoter of confessional Lutheranism and the teachings of the Scriptures. All who knew him would agree that he was a man with a pastor’s heart.

Our entire synod extends condolences to his wife, Joslyn; to the Moldstad family; and to our brothers and sisters in the ELS. But even in a time of painful loss, we join with them in praising our gracious God for taking another faithful believer to his Savior’s side, where he now knows the perfect joy and peace that Christ won for us and all believers.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder


Rev. John Moldstad obituary

Rev. John Arthur Moldstad Jr., 66, of Madison Lake, Minn., was called to his heavenly home unexpectedly on Fri., Jan. 29, 2021. He died with the sure hope of eternal life through his Savior Jesus Christ, who promised, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even if he dies” (John 11:25).

He was born April 6, 1954, in Bagley, Minn., to Rev. John, Sr. and Gudrun (Madson) Moldstad. He was baptized the same day by his father in the hospital and was confirmed at Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Mankato, Minn.

He studied at Bethany Lutheran High School in Mankato for one year before transferring to Martin Luther Academy in New Ulm, Minn., where he met his future wife, Joslyn Marie Wiechmann. John went on to study at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato; Northwestern College in Watertown, Wis.; and Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary in Mankato. He later completed a Master of Sacred Theology at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis.

John married his high school sweetheart, Joslyn, on July 30, 1977. Their union was blessed with 7 children and 14 grandchildren. He and Joslyn recently moved to their new home on Lake Washington, where they planned to retire. They enjoyed many wonderful memories with their children and grandchildren at the lake.

John was a third generation pastor, serving first as vicar at Bethany Lutheran Church in Princeton, Minn., and then as pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, S.D.; Our Savior Lutheran Church in Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; and Faith Lutheran Church in Oregon, Wis. In 1994 he was called to serve as New Testament professor at Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary. In 2002 he was called to serve as the president of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, a role in which he served until his death. It was his fervent desire that all come to know their Savior Jesus Christ that through Him they may have forgiveness of sin and eternal life.

John was preceded in death by his mother, Gudrun, and three infant siblings. He is survived by his wife, Joslyn; his father, John Sr. (June); his brother, Rev. Donald (Gina); his sister, Lois Fick (Paul); his children, Rachel Renee, John Andrew (Amanda), Rev. Matthew James (Joni), Michael John (Annie), Andrea Elizabeth Hopkins (Kyle), Joshua Ryan (Rachel), and Brittany Rachelle Cordes (Tony); and 14 grandchildren, with 2 more on the way.

John was an active member of Peace Lutheran Church in North Mankato, where a funeral service will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Sat., Feb. 6, 2021. The committal will immediately follow at Norseland Lutheran Cemetery in St. Peter, Minn. Visitations will be held at Peace Lutheran Church on Fri., Feb. 5, from 4 to 7 p.m. and on Sat., Feb. 6, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. The service will be livestreamed and can be viewed at www.peacemankato.com



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Potential new world mission fields identified

More than 7,000 people groups in the world live without access to the good news of Jesus Christ. With these unreached people groups and the Great Commission in mind, a group of three world missionaries were tasked with researching where WELS might have the opportunity to plant new world mission fields. “Sixty years ago, WELS World Missions sent missionaries to find prospects, plant churches, and raise up leaders,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, WELS World Missions administrator. “Today, most of our current missionaries are involved in mentoring and training leaders who will carry on the gospel ministry in many countries. We are searching for opportunities to go back to square one: where the only reason for heading to a new country is that they do not have Jesus.”

Three new unreached people groups were identified as potential mission field opportunities:

Ethnic Thai in Thailand

While WELS has had a presence in Buddhist Thailand before, the Thai people have been largely unreached by previous efforts. Even most other missionary groups have focused on non-Thai, Hill Tribe people. The Thai are very proud of their language, history, culture, and religion, and leaving Buddhism for another religion is considered an abandonment of what it means to be Thai. WELS has a small foothold with the Thai people, something other mission groups cannot claim after decades of work. WELS is in a unique position to build on a foundation already laid in Thailand to reach this new group.

Wolof people in Senegal

The country of Senegal in Western Africa has a population of almost 17 million people. The Wolof tribe makes up about 40 to 45 percent of the total population and is less than 0.01 percent Christian. Despite the fact that Senegal is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, the constitution staunchly defends freedom of religion and is a relatively peaceful and stable place. It would be the goal to send in two resident missionaries to begin sharing the gospel and gathering a congregation.

Tequila Villages of Mexico

Three WELS missionaries and a handful of other confessional Lutherans have visited villages in this region. No religious group other than Roman Catholics were found working there. Churches in the area are houses of Mary, not houses of God. It appears this may be one of those places where little to no gospel ministry is occurring at this time. While WELS has partnered with a national church in Mexico before, this area is largely unreached by confessional Lutheranism.

World Missions is also exploring outreach opportunities in London. More than 50 WELS-connected families have been identified for a potential new congregation in the capital of Great Britain. With the Lord’s blessing, it is the prayer that such a congregation could provide a springboard for further work on the continent.

Plans are currently being made for more thorough follow-up research as well as multiple exploratory trips to each location. Schlomer says, “We pray that these explorations will allow us to send missionaries who will learn a language and culture from scratch, plant churches, and start the long journey of raising up leaders who will be able to pastor them in the future. While much more time is needed to investigate, plan, and prepare for potential mission work in these areas, please pray for these efforts as we look to share the gospel message in more places!”

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



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New opportunities to offer pandemic relief

WELS Christian Aid and Relief has set aside $200,000 to help WELS congregations offer pandemic relief to their communities. Congregations can receive up to $2,500 in matching grant money to provide aid to those who are struggling in their neighborhoods.

“Like no other time in most of our lives, people are hurting—both in our churches and in our communities. And we can help them,” says Rev. Daniel Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “God has blessed us with an abundance of daily bread and with the good news of the Bread of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ. This is a tremendous opportunity to bring relief to those struggling during this challenging time.”

WELS Christian Aid and Relief already has distributed pandemic relief funding this year when it teamed up with WELS Home Missions to offer more than $160,000 in matching grant money to 24 mission congregations.

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

“We’re glad this grant program came up—not only for the resources—but just to spur us on to come up with an idea to help our community,” says Mr. Mark Hartman, lay member at Hope in the Heights, a home mission in Houston, Texas, that received one of the grants.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief will offer these new matching grants to congregations until June 1 or when designated funds run out.

“What an opportunity to shine the light of Christ’s love into our communities,” says Sims. “May God bless our efforts in his saving name.”

Learn more about WELS Christian Aid and Relief and these grant opportunities at wels.net/relief.



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Encouraging financial results from 2020

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

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

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

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

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder



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Mission congregations offer aid during the pandemic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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God’s blessings on display

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

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

Learn more about

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

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

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

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



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Building a congregation’s outreach culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Everyone Outreach at everyoneoutreach.com.



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Important synod convention news and update from Martin Luther College

Conference of Presidents makes changes to the synod convention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An important advancement for Martin Luther College’s campaign

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

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

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

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

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


Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder



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Mid-year graduation at Martin Luther College

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

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

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

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

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

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder



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Update from Vietnam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Year-end deadlines and outreach video

Deadlines for year-end gifts

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

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

Special note for qualified charitable distributions from an IRA:

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

C20 social media video available

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

Download video

Job opportunities

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

Names Wanted

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

WELS Center for Mission and Ministry holiday hours

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



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Good news regarding WELS health insurance and pension

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder



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WELS Home Missions team expanding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Endowment news, online concerts, and seasonal devotions

WELS Endowment Fund finishes in 90th percentile of Commonfund Study

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

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

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


Christmas concerts at WLS and LPS

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

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


Women’s Ministry December devotions

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


Advent devotions from Martin Luther College

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

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

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

Download PDF or read online



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Synodical Council reviews blessings, makes plans

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

The president’s report included the following:

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

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

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

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

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

The Synodical Council will meet next in February 2021.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder



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Worship resource previews new hymns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Planning has started for the 2021 synod convention

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

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

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

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

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder




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Colorado church receives relief from fires

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Forum gathers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Conference of Presidents’ October meeting

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

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

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

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

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder



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Home missions faithfully moving forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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WELS Benefit Plans announces limited open enrollment

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

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

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

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

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



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