Synod Convention update

You’re probably aware that the synod convention is scheduled to meet at Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis., on July 26-28. What you may not know is that the convention business has already begun.

Last January, because of the many unknowns caused by COVID-19, the Conference of Presidents changed the location and the format of the convention. The location was changed to Watertown from Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Mich. (since Michigan restrictions were tighter at the time and anticipated to be tighter in July). Instead of the normal 400 delegates attending in person, the Conference of Presidents decided that about 100 delegates would attend in person, and the remaining delegates would attend virtually. A plan is in place to enable remote delegates to vote on reports and resolutions that come before the convention.

This means that floor committees, which address all of the various areas of the synod’s work, would need to do their work virtually in advance of the convention. Many of those committees have already begun their work, and all committee work will be done by July 3. The committee resolutions will then be presented to the convention in July for discussion and action.

In addition to committee work, elections for various synodical positions will also be done electronically in advance of the convention. All delegates will participate in these elections, scheduled to begin on Monday, June 21, and conclude on Tuesday, July 13.

Even though the format is different, the Conference of Presidents has worked hard to make both the election process and the convention business process as normal as possible.

You are welcome to review convention information, including the Book of Reports and Memorials, the slate of candidates for elections, and delegate information, at wels.net/2021synodconvention.

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Encouraging and equipping congregations and members

WELS Congregational Services’ mission is to encourage and equip WELS congregations for faithful and fruitful ministry. It does this by identifying trends and needs in local ministry and offering free resources to assist congregational ministry. WELS’ global mission of spreading the saving gospel message to all nations begins with healthy congregations.

In addition to the long-term trends the broader Christian church has seen in North America, congregations are also facing the collateral from the past year of pandemic upheaval. Doors are opening again, neighbors are gathering again, and WELS Congregational Services has released a suite of resources to help congregations seize the opportunity for outreach and growth. “These are the kinds of resources that in the coming year, or years, are going to be able to feed a congregational hunger, if congregational ministries have stalled, to get ministry up to speed again,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of the WELS Commission on Discipleship.

God’s People Gather
Already before COVID-19, some churches were utilizing video and streaming technology for worship and Bible study. The pandemic forced many more congregations to make this pivot. In much of the country, in-person worship was prohibited for months. As lockdowns lift, congregational leaders are wrestling with two key questions:

  1. How can we encourage our members to return to in-person worship?
  2. How should we think about virtual worship post-pandemic?

The first is a timely, virus-related question. That second question is timeless, something churches may be asking until Jesus returns.

Dobberstein says, “How do we keep that balance between realizing that while electronic/virtual/digital ministries are definitely a blessing from God, they are not meant to replace God’s good intent for us to be gathered.”

He continues, “God’s People Gather was created to help congregations as they’re coming out of COVID. If congregations are going to make a splash, to celebrate the fact that we have the ability and we can re-gather like we once did, it’s flexible so that congregations can pick the right time to celebrate depending on where they’re at.”

God’s People Gather provides resources that help churches put together a congregation-specific plan that reaches out to the various types of members who have not yet returned. Access videos, elder encouragement, Bible study, worship plan, and event ideas at welscongregationalservices.net/gods-people-gather.

A God-Lived Life
A God-Lived Life is a whole-life challenge to God’s people to live the life to which he has called them. The hope is that being challenged in specific ways will urge members to put into practice a closer walk with God and a life of love toward others.

There’s a double meaning in “God-lived.” God lived for his people. His life is now theirs. And that produces in Christians a life lived for God. When the Word touches people, it changes them forever. It changes how they view everything God gives them. Jesus talked a lot about money, but it was never far apart from a greater conversation about life and things that have a pull on hearts and minds.

The goal of A God-Lived Life is to encourage greater growth in four key areas:

  • A life of being a disciple.
  • A life of service for others.
  • A life of hospitality for all.
  • A life lived shrewdly.

“It’s not just talking about money. As we come back post-COVID, it addresses how we demonstrate what God looks like in our lives, how he lives in our lives, and how that shows God to others. I think that’s going to be huge in the coming years,” says Dobberstein.

The program is designed to last four months with a variety of resources to bolster each monthly emphasis. View and download the resources at welscongregationalservices.net/a-god-lived-life.

For WELS Commission on Evangelism, the focus for its latest programs is on personal evangelism. Rev. Eric Roecker, director of the WELS Commission on Evangelism, explains why: : “The number of never-churched people in our country has gone up dramatically in the last 20 years. Because they’ve never been churched, they have zero interest in church; it’s not even on their radar. Because the way the church is portrayed in media a lot of times, it’s a negative. Fewer and fewer people in our culture are churched. Some have never been churched, which means that traditional methods of outreach like corporate outreach events and inviting people with postcards is becoming less effective. At the same time, studies are showing that people in our country don’t trust the church as much as they used to, but they do trust their Christian friends. So, while they probably won’t come to church because of a postcard or an advertisement, they might check it out if a friend brought them, not necessarily because they’re interested in the church, but because they trust their friend.”

Everyone Outreach
Everyone Outreach is designed to help congregations build a culture of outreach so that every ministry and every member is thinking about and participating in outreach. The Everyone Outreach workshops are designed to reveal the unconscious and invisible thought habits people hold and provide participants with unique insights to help begin the journey of transformation.

“Everyone Outreach is a culture-shaping program. If a congregation is not outreach minded, if it’s just not part of who they are, it would be great for them to use this program to shape the way they think so they think more about outreach,” says Roecker. “And then, after that, they can use some of the personal witness training Bible studies, like Let’s Go, so now that members are fired up to [reach out], they can become equipped to do it.”

All members of a congregation are encouraged to attend. Learn more or sign up your congregation to host a workshop at everyoneoutreach.com.

Let’s Go
While Everyone Outreach is designed to develop an outreach culture congregation-wide, Let’s Go is designed to encourage and equip Christians to become more comfortable and confident personal witnesses. The course is divided into seven lessons, each consisting of a video and an accompanying study guide and leader’s guide. The lessons are designed to be used by either large or small group Bible study gatherings as well as by individual Christians. Let’s Go dials in the conversation from “what can the congregation do for outreach,” to “how can I talk to my friends and neighbors about Jesus.” Get the resources at welscongregationalservices.net/lets-go.

The WELS Congregational Services website, welscongregationalservices.net, has a host of additional resources, including National Hymnal Week (Sept. 19-26, 2021) information; Marriage Moments videos; Marriage Maintenance Bible study; One By One personal witnessing Bible study; compassion ministry resources about ministry to military members, learning to be a recovery-friendly church, ministry to the deaf and hard of hearing, and training to identify and respond to child abuse; resources for different aspects of worship and worship planning; and much more.

 

 

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Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference meets

WELS is part of an organization called the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). Founded in 1993 with 13 members, its members today include more than 30 confessional Lutheran church bodies from around the world. Some of the members are church bodies and synods that originated as WELS or Evangelical Lutheran Synod missions; others are church bodies that were established independently. All members of the CELC are in fellowship with WELS and with one another and are united in doctrine.

The CELC meets every three years in different locations, with representatives from the member church bodies attending. Last year, the meeting was scheduled to be held in Seoul, South Korea, but it had to be canceled because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. As a substitute for that meeting, this year a virtual conference is being held. The meeting is being held throughout six days over a three-week period. The first sessions were held last week.

The CELC plays an important role. It provides an opportunity for our sister church bodies to become familiar with each other, to provide mutual encouragement, and to grow in our understanding and appreciation for the truth of the Scriptures. Since many of these church bodies are rather small, and since some of them are very young in terms of being independent church bodies, these meetings provide an important forum for discussion and spiritual growth. We may think that WELS, as the largest church body in the CELC, would provide encouragement to smaller churches—and it does—but the CELC is also an encouragement and blessing for WELS as we witness these churches’ strong faith and commitment to the Word in challenging situations we do not face.

Please keep the churches and your fellow believers of the CELC in your prayers as they faithfully carry out their mission.

The CELC plans to hold an in-person meeting in Seoul, South Korea, in 2023. Learn more about the church bodies that make up the CELC at celc.info.

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Teachers and staff ministers assigned at Martin Luther College

The synod Assignment Committee met last week to assign teacher and staff minister candidates from Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., to the places where they will serve. Assignments included first-time calls, calls made permanent, and re-assignments to those called to serve an additional year.

About 160 assignments were announced at the call service at MLC on Sat., May 15. Assignments will continue next week and in the weeks to follow for candidates who are limited to a specific location, such as those female candidates whose spouses will be assigned this week as vicars or pastors at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s graduation and call service.

If you look at the list of assignments, you will notice quite a large number of candidates who have been assigned for one year. One-year assignments include those who have been assigned as dormitory supervisors, those who are assigned to a position where the grade levels or duties are somewhat outside of what was recommended for the candidate, and those who are assigned to a location where the needs of the calling body are uncertain for the following year. As you will see from this year’s assignments, many, if not most, of those assigned to one-year calls will be assigned permanently next year.

Even though many teaching vacancies remain, we are thankful that the Lord of the church has provided another group of well-trained and willing workers who will soon begin their ministry in God’s harvest field.

View the assignment list

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Book of Reports and Memorials available online

The 2021 Book of Reports and Memorials is now available online. This book summarizes the activities of each area of ministry over the last year and contains the proposed ministry financial plan for the next biennium. The information in the Book of Reports and Memorials will help guide the delegates of WELS’ 66th biennial convention, which is being conducted in an altered format this year.

The in-person convention is being held at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., July 26–28. Only the chairman, secretary, and two laymen from each floor committee will be present. Floor committees will conduct their business and adopt their reports and resolutions via virtual meetings in advance of the convention. Elections will also be held electronically in advance. Delegates who are not attending in person will be able to vote on convention resolutions remotely.

The entire convention will focus on the theme “Here we stand.” This theme reminds us of Martin Luther’s willingness to risk his life with his bold stand on the Word of God 500 years ago at the Diet of Worms. Our convention will focus on this theme to remind us that for the Christian church today to carry out its mission faithfully, the same bold stand on the Word of God is necessary.

Major items for consideration at this convention include:

  • the proposed ministry financial plan (budget) for 2021–23,
  • increasing opportunities that God is giving our synod to proclaim the gospel to a growing number of people around the world, and
  • a recommended change in the WELS Pension Plan.

More details on the proposed changes to the WELS Pension Plan are available at www.welsbpo.net.

Six memorials are also included in the Book of Reports and Memorials. A memorial is a formal request to the synod convention for specific action.

One printed copy of the Book of Reports and Memorials is being mailed to each delegate, congregation, and male called worker. These printed copies should arrive by the first week of June.

To view the online version of the Book of Reports and Memorials, visit wels.net/2021synodconvention.

You can also see details of the proposed change to the pension plan at https://welsbpo.net/proposed-changes-to-wels-retirement-program-2021/.

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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Observing MLC Day and statue dedication

Wednesday, May 5, is MLC Day, a time to support WELS’ College of Ministry and its students and graduates. To commemorate Martin Luther College’s 25th anniversary this year, MLC Day will celebrate all MLC graduates—from this year and from the past.

As part of the day’s activities, Fisher of Men, a new statue on MLC’s campus, will be dedicated live at 11:30 a.m. CT. The statue depicts Jesus at the Sea of Galilee calling Andrew and Simon Peter to become fishers of people (based on Mark 1:17). The MLC Alumni Association chose and funded this project to celebrate the school’s 25th anniversary. “MLC is a great place to have a statue like this because it’s where we’re training fishers for gospel ministry,” says Prof. Jon Schaefer, director of new teacher induction at MLC and former alumni association president. “We saw it as a way to inspire people while they are on campus as well as provide something that they can carry with them into ministry.”

The statue is positioned in the center of campus, with Jesus’ gaze directed to the cross at the top of the Chapel of the Christ. Its base is inscribed with Bible passages suggested by alumni that underscore Jesus’ directive to make disciples. “It’s a beautiful addition to highlight the gospel preparation we are doing at MLC to train a core of witnesses who are ready to meet the ministerial needs of the synod,” says Schaefer.

Throughout the day on its social media, MLC also will share messages, photos, and videos that WELS members sent to congratulate 2021 graduating class members and thank past graduates for their kingdom work. Messages still can be submitted online at mlcday.com.

WELS members also can offer prayers and monetary support for MLC’s ministry at mlcday.com. All gifts go toward the Congregational Partner Grant Matching Fund, which directly matches gifts up to $1,000 from churches for their students.

Learn more at mlcday.com. Watch the statue dedication live at livestream.com/mlc-streams.

 

 

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Celebrating WELS National Hymnal Week

In order to provide an opportunity to think about the blessings of worship as well as get a sneak peek at what the new hymnal has to offer, WELS is celebrating WELS National Hymnal Week, Sept. 19–26.

“It’s good for us to reflect on why we’re doing what we’re doing because we want worship to be all about Jesus, proclaiming what he has done for us and the life we have in him,” says Rev. Jon Zabell, chairman of the Commission on Worship and pastor at St. Paul, Green Bay, Wis.

Many of the components of National Hymnal Week will mirror what participants could experience at the WELS worship conference, an event that had to be canceled this year due to the pandemic. Yet, since congregations and members will be able to participate locally—even virtually—more people will be able to be involved. “Worship is something God’s people will be doing into eternity, so for us to spend time on that is worthwhile,” says Zabell.

WELS Commission on Worship will provide resources for National Hymnal Week events:

  • A worship service for Sunday, Sept. 19. This service will be based on the new lectionary readings of the day and include hymns and music from Christian Worship: Hymnal. Recorded music tracks will allow congregations who don’t have many musicians to participate. “We’ll provide congregations with what they need for their own local setting so they can involve their people in the best way they can,” says Zabell.
  • A hymn sing. Meant to be used during Bible class, the hymn sing gives members an opportunity to get acquainted with more new hymns from the upcoming hymnal. Video and audio recordings of various choirs will lead members through hymns from different seasons of the church year.
  • Presentations. Throughout WELS National Hymnal Week, WELS members can watch video presentations on new hymnal resources as well as on broader worship topics. Members can meet in small groups to view and discuss the presentations or watch them at home for their own edification.
  • Concert. A pre-recorded online concert featuring a children’s choir, chamber choir, college choir, and liturgical ensemble will be streamed Sunday afternoon, Sept. 26 (exact time to be determined). These WELS musicians will present arrangements of new hymns as well as cherished favorites.

Resources will be available at christianworship.com in upcoming months. More information and a planning timeline are available now as well as an opportunity to sign up for updates.

Northwestern Publishing House, in partnership with WELS Commission on Worship, is sending two copies of Christian Worship: Hymnal and one copy of Christian Worship: Psalter to every congregation. It is planned that these free display copies should arrive in September in time for National Hymnal Week so members can page through these new resources in conjunction with the activities.

Congregations and individuals can pre-order Christian Worship: Hymnal and Christian Worship: Psalter at nph.net.

 

 

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Conference of Presidents meets

The Conference of Presidents (COP) met for its spring meeting April 7-9. It was the first face-to-face meeting of the COP since last September.

The COP spent a good deal of time discussing the 136 pastoral vacancies and approximately 140 teacher/staff minister vacancies. The number of vacancies has grown since last year at this time. For the benefit of both congregations and workers, the COP limits the number of calls a called worker can receive in one year and also requires a time period between calls. With so many congregations requesting call lists, and with the limited number of workers eligible to receive a call, the district presidents have faced growing challenges in providing call lists to congregations. Much of the COP discussion regarding this issue centered around steps that can be taken to alleviate this problem and the importance of continued recruitment and training of called workers.

The COP discussed the Equality Act, a bill before Congress that could potentially place serious restrictions on our ability to preach and teach the Word of God faithfully. A letter was e-mailed to all called workers and to lay members on the synod’s e-mail list alerting them to this potential threat and encouraging WELS members to exercise their rights as Christian citizens to contact their representatives. The COP will be monitoring this law and responding to government action when necessary.

With the assignment of graduates at Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary approaching, the COP began discussing plans and procedures for assignment meetings. Assignments of teachers and staff ministers will be announced at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., on May 15; assignment of pastors and vicars will take place the following week at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.

The COP continues to work on a restatement of the synod’s doctrinal statement on the biblical roles of man and woman. A draft of this statement was distributed in 2020 and has undergone continuing work to bring it into a final form. There is no timetable for the completion of this work, since the COP desires to “do it right” rather than “do it quickly.”

The COP plans to develop a pastoral brief addressing Christian freedom and pastoral practices.

The COP extended divine calls to the following: Rev. John Hering was called to serve as a congregational counselor as part of the effort of the Commission on Congregational Counseling to help congregations evaluate and improve their ministries; Rev. Robert Krueger and Rev. Jonathan Kehren were called to serve as Ministry of Christian Giving counselors.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Seven home missions to receive funding

At its meeting last week, the Board for Home Missions approved funding for seven locations, including funding for four new home mission starts and three existing mission congregations.

New home mission plants include:

  • Waco, Texas: The Heart of Texas mission core group has been meeting regularly since March 2020. They are active in the community and participate in family-friendly activities around town while representing their new church plant. This mission is being supported by Trinity in nearby Temple, Texas.
  • Durham, N.C.: Gethsemane, the WELS congregation in Raleigh, N.C., is launching a second site in nearby Durham. The three universities in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill are creating jobs and drawing a diverse group of young professionals and families to the area. The gospel is especially needed in this area, as studies show that 75 percent of people in the area do not know their Savior.
  • Parrish, Fla.: Risen Savior in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., a previous home mission church that recently became self-supporting, as well as Ascension, Sarasota, Fla., are starting and supporting this new mission plant. Parrish is located in a growing area; 20,000 to 30,000 homes are expected to be built there in the next 10 years. This new mission will be reaching out with the gospel to a community that is 85 percent unchurched.
  • Dickinson, N.D.: A committed core group has been meeting regularly for livestreamed worship and monthly gatherings since 2012, served by pastors from WELS churches in Mandan and Bismarck, N.D. Those two congregations, as well as Salem, Circle, Mont., will be supporting this new mission start named Amazing Grace. Dickinson, the hub of the area, has seen recent economic growth alongside the oil industry, which is drawing new young families to the community.

Home Missions is also providing financial support to three existing ministries:

  • Willoughby, Ohio: King of Kings in the suburbs of Cleveland is one of only two WELS churches in northeast Ohio, where 2.8 million people reside. It will be calling a new pastor to reach out to young professionals and families who have moved from downtown Cleveland to the suburbs.
  • Hutto, Texas: Located north of Austin, Christ the Rock has been an unsubsidized mission since 2016. It recently started worshiping in a new facility and is aggressively serving its community. Financial support will assist with ministry expenses.
  • Summerlin, Nev.: Summerlin Lutheran Church owns a large facility in a growing master-planned community on the west side of Las Vegas. Three years of Home Missions financial support will allow the congregation to call a pastor and partner in outreach with nearby home mission congregation Shepherd of the Hills, whose pastor has been serving as Summerlin’s vacancy pastor.

“What a blessing district mission boards and mission counselors are. Their service allows Home Missions to plant missions so missionaries can proclaim the gospel,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of the Board for Home Missions. “As these new missions are planted, we pray more souls will hear how Jesus Christ is their Savior from sin, their Lord in life, and has secured their future home in heaven.”

Home Missions also approved unsubsidized mission status for Redeemer, Fallbrook, Calif., and St. John’s Hillside, Milwaukee, Wis. Home Missions provides assistance to unsubsidized mission congregations through its district missions boards, mission counselors, synodical support staff, and special project funds, but does not provide direct financial support.

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

 

 

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MLC breaks ground for new athletic facility

Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., broke ground on a new athletic facility, the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse, in April.

MLC administration, coaches, and students participated in the event, one which Rev. Richard Gurgel, MLC president, calls a milestone. “For many months God was moving the hearts of our brothers and sisters around the synod —with their gifts and their prayers and their encouragement to others—to build a foundation, a financial one and a spiritual one, for this day,” he says.

Hundreds of gifts, including one transformational donation, allowed construction to begin.

The 36,000-square-foot indoor turfed facility, which features large practice areas, baseball/softball batting cages, golf simulators, and locker rooms, will support a year-round physical education curriculum, enable spring sports to practice regularly, allow for additional intramural offerings, and create community connections. Plans are for students to be able to use the new athletic center by the beginning of 2022.

Jordyn Heckendorf, a first-year physical education major at MLC, took part in the groundbreaking event. “The new Betty Kohn Fieldhouse is a dream come true!” she says. “As an athlete and child of God, I am always looking for ways to let my light shine through the skills God has blessed me with, and this fieldhouse gives me the opportunity to do just that. To all the people who generously donated to make this possible, I want you to know that we will not take this for granted.”

The building is part of the facility improvement pillar of the “Equipping Christian Witnesses” campaign, which has the goal to help train a corps of Christian witnesses to meet WELS ministry needs in the future. Learn more about the campaign at mlc-wels.edu/mlc-campaign.

WELS members can continue to support, encourage, and thank MLC graduates—from this year and from the past—by participating in MLC Day on May 5. Send messages, photos, and videos to congratulate 2021 graduating class members and thank MLC graduates from the past 25 years for their kingdom work. WELS members also can offer prayers and monetary support for MLC’s ministry. All gifts go toward the Congregational Partner Grant Matching Fund, which directly matches gifts up to $1,000 from churches for their students. Learn more at mlcday.com.

 

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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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