God’s people respond

WELS members have demonstrated their Christian love and concern for hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico with over $1.5 million in gifts to WELS Christian Aid and Relief. We thank God for this generous response to these disasters.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief has been working with local congregations to provide funding for repairs to churches, schools, and homes, as well as for efforts to help the people of the communities in which congregations are located. An assessment visit to Puerto Rico shortly after the hurricane identified immediate needs and paved the way for quick assistance for repairs and supplies.

Since so much of the infrastructure in Puerto Rico was still not repaired at that time, another assessment visit took place during the first week of January. The visiting team included Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of World Missions; Mr. Sean Young, director of Mission Operations; Rev. Tim Satorius, WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations contact for Puerto Rico; and me. We visited all three congregations of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico and met with leaders of our sister church.

The purpose of our visit was to determine what kind of assistance would be most helpful now that power has been restored to much of the island, building supplies are more available, and travel between cities is now possible. The leaders of the Puerto Rican church were encouraged by our visit, clearly recognized that the Lord will bring blessings even through the tragedy of the hurricane, and were eager to share their optimistic plans for the future. It was heartening to see their strong faith and to hear of their confidence in God’s continuing care for them and their small church body.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief will be considering recommendations from the visiting team for continuing relief efforts that will address both short- and long-term needs of our sister church.

Even though life is returning to normal in many of the areas affected by the storms, there is much work to be done. There may be additional opportunities for volunteers to help in the coming weeks and months. Your continuing prayers are encouraged.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

Your gifts, God’s blessings 2018

“Your gifts, God’s blessings: An annual report to our members” is now available online. The 2018 report highlights the blessings that God has showered on WELS through the gifts of its members.

Learn more about

  • Russell Scoggins, a seminary student from Texas who served in the Washington, D.C., area, during his vicar year;
  • Carl Boeder, a Martin Luther College student who began studying secondary instrumental music and elementary education but transitioned to pastor studies and is now busy studying three different languages;
  • Jackson, a new Lutheran living in Venezuela, who has opened his home for weekly worship;
  • Santo Tomas, one of WELS’ first Spanish-speaking congregations, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2017; and
  • Mike Indest, a member of Crown of Life, New Orleans, La., who recently completed Martin Luther College’s Chaplain Certification Program.

The report includes photos of Christian brothers and sisters around the world, stories of faith, updates on WELS’ ministry, and a summary of WELS’ financial picture.

To view the report online, visit wels.net/annualreport. Print versions of the report will be sent to every WELS congregation and individuals who donated to WELS in 2017. Additional print versions are available for free from Northwestern Publishing House. Visit nph.net or call 800-662-6022.

Want to learn even more about how God is blessing your gifts to him for his work through WELS? Schedule a Christian giving counselor to present a PowerPoint presentation to your congregation that summarizes the information in the annual report. Contact the Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for more information.

Learning to reach souls with the gospel

The 13th annual Evangelism Day brought more than 40 speakers from all over the country to Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., on Jan. 10.

Rev. Jeremy Mattek from Garden Homes, Milwaukee, Wis., led the opening worship service on the theme, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Then students attended a blend of required and elective workshops on a wide range of topics, including “Reaching Out to Millennials,” “Ministry to the Poor,” “Reaching Global Cities,” and “Evangelism and Technology.”

This year brought a new feature: evening sectionals open to the community. More than 30 guests joined students at these evening presentations.

“Evangelism Day is a day to marvel at Christ’s abundant goodness to us,” said MLC President Rev. Mark Zarling. “The Lord safely brings so many dedicated presenters to MLC. They inspire and inform our students and community members about the Great Commission foundation in all gospel labors in every congregation and classroom, in every city and neighborhood. Our students are blessed by such interactions as they see that first and foremost they are a corps of Christian witnesses to reach souls with the gospel of Christ.”

Evangelism Day is a joint effort of MLC, WELS Commission on Evangelism, and WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.

Learn more about Martin Luther College at mlc-wels.edu.

Save the date for the 2018 WELS Night at Miller Park

The date for the fifth annual WELS Night at Miller Park has been determined. Mark your calendars and plan to join thousands of WELS members for the Milwaukee Brewers’ game against the Colorado Rockies on Fri., Aug. 3, 2018. Game time is 7:10 p.m.

The Brewers are again offering WELS members up to 50 percent off the price of tickets. Seating will be along the third base line this year and in a block for WELS members. The pricing is Field Outfield Box sections 126 – 131 for $21/ticket, Loge Outfield Box sections 228 – 232 for $17/ticket, or Terrace Reserved sections 433 – 437 for $9/ticket.

The web link to purchase discounted tickets for WELS Night at Miller Park won’t be available until March. More details will be released in the March 6, 2018, issue of Together.

Cleaning up after the storms

By now, everyone knows about the impactful hurricane season last fall. Countless people in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean were affected. Some of these people were WELS members and their communities. That’s where WELS Christian Aid and Relief stepped in to offer assistance via immediate financial support and long-term clean-up and repairs. Christian Aid and Relief has been coordinating volunteer efforts, enabling WELS members to help their Christian brothers and sisters affected by the storms.

In Florida, volunteers used Christian Aid and Relief trailers filled with supplies as they assisted with clean-up efforts in several affected communities. Local congregation members and school children helped with the efforts as well as canvassed the neighborhoods. Financial grants were also distributed to help families refurbish and repair their homes.

Financial assistance was provided to families from Barbuda who were displaced from their homes. Some are staying at members’ homes from St. John’s, St. John, Antigua.

Hard-hit Puerto Rico, home of WELS’ sister church body the Evangelical Lutheran Confessional Church, was visited by WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder; WELS liaison for the field, Rev. Tim Satorius; and World Mission representatives in January. One church there was completely destroyed, and several members’ homes were damaged. Groceries were provided to families in need, and Christian Aid and Relief has been getting bids for repair projects. An immediate gift of $5,000 through Direct Relief was made to assist those in need as well as $5,000 to provide meals for people in the church and community.

Perhaps it was Texas’ Hurricane Harvey that had the biggest impact on WELS members. Several members’ homes were flooded, resulting in mold and rot issues. Christ Our Savior church and parsonage in Angleton, as well as Sienna Lutheran Academy in Missouri City, suffered considerable damage.

In the days following the hurricane, 40 WELS members from the greater Austin and Dallas/Fort Worth area traveled to the affected areas of Edna and Victoria to offer support and relief. Christian Aid and Relief provided two trailers filled with generators, chain saws, and other supplies and equipment to use for the clean-up of at least 50 homes.

In the weeks and months following the hurricane, after full assessments had been made, Christian Aid and Relief coordinated a steady stream of volunteers to help remove, repair, and replace damaged drywall, floors, trim and molding, and roofs of members’ homes.

Rev. Marc VonDeylen and his wife Monique, Lord of Life, Friendswood, live in a neighborhood that experienced heavy flooding during Hurricane Harvey. The night the storm hit Marc had to sleep at the church because the waters were rising so fast that he couldn’t make the short drive home. Meanwhile, at their house, Monique hosted unexpected visitors . . . neighbors she didn’t even know from down the street who couldn’t make it the few blocks to their driveway. While the VonDeylen’s home was spared from flooding, the area around them wasn’t.

The day after the storm, the VonDeylens called their members and found out that eight or nine homes were flooded. They started getting everyone together to help each other. “We started seeing a great outpouring of love from our members at that point,” said Marc. Congregation members went from house to house to remove damaged items. They even opened their homes to their fellow Christian brothers and sisters whose homes were being repaired.

While the support from one another brought their congregation closer together, Monique says, “People wanted to get back in their homes, so we were so glad when we found out that Christian Aid and Relief was going to come down here and help us out.”

Marc says, “God uses these things to give us opportunities to show our faith, practice our faith, and let others see the love of Christ.”

WELS members have given more than $1.5 million for hurricane relief. “We thank our WELS brothers and sisters for their prayers, their support, and their generous gifts,” says Rev. Robert Hein, chairman of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “What a privilege to serve as God’s instruments to bring his blessings to those in need!”

Visit wels.net/relief to learn more about WELS Christian Aid and Relief.

A Savior is born!

Families will gather. Congregations will join in worship. Children will sing songs of praise. As Christmas approaches, it’s my confident prayer that God grant you and your loved ones a blessed and joyful celebration of our Savior’s birth!


The last “Together” included a report about the latest meeting between WELS/ELS and the Church of the Lutheran Confession. That report stated:

“Also in November, representatives of WELS and the ELS met with counterparts from the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC). The CLC was formed in the 1950s when a number of congregations left the Wisconsin Synod because they believed that the synod was not acting quickly enough to break fellowship with the Missouri Synod.

A better and more accurate way to describe the reason why congregations and individuals left the synod would be to state that they were of the conviction that the Wisconsin Synod was not acting in accordance with the scriptural principles articulated in Romans 16:17.”

Luther movie to stream on Netflix

A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy, the Martin Luther film produced by Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc., for the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, will continue to share the history and truths of the Reformation to an even broader audience.

The PBS version of the film (Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World) will begin streaming on Netflix on Jan. 1, 2018.

“The Lord has richly blessed this film project,” says Mr. Lee Hitter, director of WELS Communication Services. “The Luther film has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, with more than 1,000 screenings at local theaters, a national audience in a PBS showing that doubled its normal viewership, Marcus Corporation agreeing to show the film to a general audience in every theater they own in eight states, and now a two-year run on Netflix.”

The filmmakers have worked with Netflix to localize the production by adding subtitles and foreign language dubbing to ensure maximum viewership. Netflix has more than 110 million subscribers in 190 countries.

DVDs of A Return to Grace are also still available for purchase at nph.net.

MLC invites public to Evangelism Day

Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., will be hosting its 13th annual Evangelism Day on Jan. 10, 2018. This year, for the first time, MLC has scheduled evening workshops that the public is invited to attend.

Rev. Mike Hintz, director of WELS Evangelism, says, “When this special program was planned in 2005, the emphasis was to raise evangelism awareness and provide encouragement and guidance for future called workers of our church to fulfill their calling as evangelists of Christ. Evangelism Day at MLC continues to serve this important purpose.”

Mrs. Michelle Gartner, event coordinator at MLC, adds, “Each year in January MLC students are inspired by dynamic presenters from around our synod on Evangelism Day. We hope that by adding Evangelism Day evening sessions we will give our area members the opportunity to take part in these presentations to inspire them to find ways to do outreach within their communities.”

Evening sessions begin at 4 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. with breaks for dinner and a chapel service. Four different workshops will be offered in multiple time slots throughout the evening.

Rev. Mike Geiger, Cross and Crown, Georgetown, Tex., will present “Defending Your Faith: Being prepared to give a reason for the hope we have.” Mr. Jim Rademan, director of the WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools, will speak on “Advancing Strategies for Connecting More People with the Ministry of the Word.” Also from Lutheran Schools, National Coordinator of Early Childhood Ministries Mrs. Cindi Holman will present “Outreach through Early Childhood.” And, Rev. Jon Enter, Divine Savior, West Palm Beach, Fla., will lead a presentation about “Transformed: Equipping Youth Leaders,” a program to help congregations implement youth ministries.

For a detailed schedule and to register, visit mlc-wels.edu.

New movie focuses on outreach

Filming starts in January for the final movie in a series of four outreach movies that are a collaboration between WELS Commission on Evangelism, Northwestern Publishing House, WELS Multi-Language Publications, and Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc.

Rev. Mike Hintz, director of WELS Evangelism, says that while the first three movies—Road to Emmaus, Come Follow Me, and My Son, My Savior—focused on the life and ministry of Jesus, the final movie will follow the apostle Paul and his work in Philippi. “Our goal for this movie is to show in a dramatic way how the gospel is spread into the world following the command of Jesus and to show how it impacted people’s lives,” says Hintz.

The title, To the Ends of the Earth, is taken directly from Jesus’ command to his disciples at his Ascension: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The goal is to complete the movie by the end of summer 2018 in time for congregations to use the film and accompanying materials in the fall for a special mission emphasis Sunday.

Hintz says the movie would not be possible except for funding help from Church Mutual Insurance Company Foundation; WELS Foundation’s Shared Blessings donor advised fund; Multi-Language Publications; and gifts from groups, congregations, and individuals.

“In the end, the movie is to help us see that this continues to be a wonderful privilege for us to continue this work of sharing the Word so that many more can come to faith,” say Hintz.

The other outreach movies—Road to Emmaus, Come Follow Me, and My Son, My Savior—have had more than a million viewers through TV, DVDs, and online media and have been translated into a dozen different languages. All three movies are still available from Northwestern Publishing House, nph.net. Right now there also is a limited time offer of free shipping on quantity orders of My Son, My Savior. Learn more at MySonMySavior.com

Intersynodical meetings continue

On Nov. 28-30, representatives from the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) met in Jacksonville, Fla., for the sixth annual meeting for informal discussions. The main topics covered were the Doctrine of the Call and a comparative review of the recently published catechisms by WELS and the LCMS. The last version of the catechism for the ELS (2001) also was used in discussing the new editions of the explanations to the Small Catechism. In this 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation we especially treasure the work of Dr. Martin Luther in composing his Small and Large Catechisms of 1529.

The three synod presidents provided updates on the respective work of their church bodies. Challenges and blessings also were noted in respect to pastoral training, the filling of congregational vacancies, and the relationships with international churches. The LCMS is part of the ILC (International Lutheran Conference), while the ELS and WELS are members of the CELC (Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference).

None of the participants at these informal meetings anticipate a restoration of church fellowship between ELS/WELS and the LCMS in the near future. Yet, the sessions themselves were once again helpful as areas of agreement, as well as specific differences, were addressed in a cordial but candid manner. The representatives of the three synods have decided to gather once again in the fall of 2018.

Also in November, representatives of WELS and the ELS met with counterparts from the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC). The CLC was formed in the 1950s when a number of congregations left the Wisconsin Synod because they believed that the synod was not acting quickly enough to break fellowship with the Missouri Synod. The meeting was a continuation of formal doctrinal discussions intended to determine if fellowship between the synods can be restored.

In 2015 the group had composed a document entitled “A Joint Statement on the Termination of Fellowship.” Agreement on this joint statement is seen as a necessary first step in the doctrinal discussions. The ELS convention approved the statement in 2016; the WELS convention approved it last summer. The CLC convention discussed it and recommended further study by its pastoral conferences. The CLC will consider the statement again at its next convention.

Even if the Joint Statement is adopted by all three synods, other issues remain to be more fully discussed and resolved before fellowship can be reestablished. We pray for God’s blessings on these efforts to establish fellowship based on a full agreement in doctrine.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

New director of discipleship joins Congregational Services

“Encouraging and equipping congregations for faithful and fruitful gospel ministry.”

That’s how Rev. Donn Dobberstein describes his new position as the director of discipleship for WELS’ Congregational Services. In this new role, Dobberstein will serve the WELS Commissions on Adult Discipleship and Youth and Family Ministry. These commissions coordinate WELS Women’s Ministry, the Interactive Faith online Bible study series, marriage enrichment programs, the biennial international youth rally, the Kids Connection video series, and other ministry resources.

Dobberstein is not a stranger to Congregational Services, having served as the chairman of the Commission on Evangelism for the past 10 years. He also says, “Twenty-two years in parish mission settings have given me ministry experiences showing the importance of and the connection between ‘making disciples’ and ‘continuing to disciple.’ Evangelism and nurture are not at odds with each other but are complementary.”

Dobberstein served as pastor at Our Savior’s, Port Orange, Fla., for the past 17 years. He and his wife, Beth, moved from Port Orange to the Milwaukee, Wis., area in November as he began his work at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in Waukesha, Wis. The couple have four children, two of whom still live at home.

Dobberstein clearly feels a sense of urgency for this ministry. He notes, “After years of the position being ‘dormant,’ clarifying a sense of direction and vision will be a priority. Evaluating and prioritizing resources needed for WELS congregations will help us set goals for the next five years. My intention is to listen and learn, support and serve my fellow coworkers and God’s people. I believe God has given us a unique moment in his kingdom that can be seized that, God-willing, can lead to ministry activity.”

Celebrating 20 years of Hispanic outreach in Phoenix

On Nov. 25, Santo Tomas, Phoenix, Ariz., celebrated its 20th anniversary. This Spanish-speaking mission congregation averages four baptisms per month and has confirmed more than 18 adults and 13 youth this year. Each month, the congregation welcomes an average of 23 first-time visitors.

“Friendship evangelism is a key part of our growth as family ties and trust form an important bond,” says Rev. Tom Zimdars, one of Santo Tomas’s two pastors. “Most of our members enter the congregation via special celebrations like baptisms, weddings, and quinceañeras.”

Zimdars notes that as visitors encounter the gospel, “they receive the joy and peace of knowing that their sins are forgiven through faith in Christ, and this message continues to work in their lives as they grow in their faith and share their faith with their family and friends.”

Santo Tomas was formed in 1997 by St. Thomas, an English-speaking congregation that saw the growing Latino community and need for a Spanish-speaking ministry. Santo Tomas now has 169 communicants and 360 baptized members. In addition to Zimdars, the congregation has a second pastor, Rev. Frank Cossio, who was born in Cuba. WELS Home Missions and WELS Church Extension Fund help support this cross-cultural mission.

“We want to thank the Lord as he has richly blessed Santo Tomas during the past 20 years to reach countless souls with the precious gospel message of free and full salvation through faith in Jesus Christ,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions.

More than 220 people attended Santo Tomas’s anniversary celebration, which included a special bilingual worship service, a fellowship meal, and traditional Mexican music sung and performed by the congregation’s members.

Read more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions.

Synodical Council meeting summary

The Synodical Council (SC) held its fall meeting Nov. 10-11 at the Center for Mission and Ministry, Waukesha, Wis. Highlights from that meeting include the following:

  • Jon Hein, coordinator for Congregational Services, attended his first meeting as an advisory member of the SC. He presented a summary of the demographic challenges facing our synod and outlined plans being made to help congregations address those challenges. Congregations will be provided with resources as they address ministry to millennials, work to reduce the number of backdoor losses, and emphasize every-member evangelism in order to increase the number of adult confirmations. Hein also outlined plans to provide guidelines to congregations considering mergers as a means to improve their ministries.
  • The SC reviewed the synod’s financial results from the fiscal year that ended on June 30. Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) were slightly better than planned. Several areas of ministry underspent their budgets due to vacancies and cost-cutting efforts. All four synodical schools ended the year in a stronger than expected position due to gifts and investment results greater than planned. The Financial Stabilization Fund ended the year at its highest level ever. If CMO performance by the end of year remains strong and if CMO subscriptions in January are as planned, there is the possibility that at its February meeting the SC may be able to approve some of the projects in the “Unfunded Priority List.” We thank God for all of these blessings.
  • The SC thanked Martin Luther College for developing a policy outlining how its unrestricted net assets will be utilized.
  • The SC approved the appointment of a special committee to review the options available to the synod in providing retirement benefits to its called workers.
  • Director of Communications Mr. Lee Hitter reported that there were nearly 1,000 screenings of the film A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy hosted by WELS and ELS congregations. The film is available from NPH. The PBS version of the film (Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World) will be available on Netflix beginning in January.
  • The SC made minor changes to the “Unfunded Priorities List.” One or more items on this list could be funded in February. The first five on the list are:
    • Publication Coordinating Commission ($50,000 for publishing theological works)
    • MLC tuition reduction or financial assistance ($150,000)
    • Additional home mission start ($200,000)
    • Ministry of Christian Giving counselor one year earlier than planned ($100,000)
    • Training support for national mission workers in Ethiopia and Sudan ($50,000)
  • World Missions reported that it will begin a new program called “Mission Journeys,” providing opportunities for lay volunteers to participate in short-term mission work.

These are only some of the matters discussed and decided by the SC. The blessings of God on our synod continue to be poured out in ways that are more than we could ask or imagine. As we join together as families and congregations for the upcoming holiday, we add our specific thanks to God that he continues to bless us with the truth of his gospel and with the opportunities to share that message around the world.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Grants encourage pastor-layperson partnership

Grow in Grace, the institute for pastoral growth at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., has awarded $500 grants to two congregations to encourage pastors and lay leaders to grow together in carrying out the gospel ministry entrusted to them.

Since 2014, a retired pastor and his wife have provided funding and the direction for these grants.

More than 20 congregations offered proposals this year; the grants were given to Lamb of God, Columbus, Ohio, and Peace, Aiken, S.C.

Lamb of God is holding a facilitated retreat for council members and other key members of the congregation. Its proposal reads, “The main focus will be to strongly define our goals and mission for the ministry we have before us; to refocus our efforts to where our strengths and abilities are most productive and our workers feel most useful; and to increase the open honest communication that will be necessary to be willing workers in the harvest.”

Peace is starting a leadership program for its congregation. The proposal states, “We have three levels of discipleship here. Peace 101 is our membership course. Peace Academy is regular and ongoing doctrinal study. And Peace Lutheran Institute is our inaugural program to raise up the next group of leaders to work, minister, and lead in our church. This year we are piloting the program to see what works best and grow it into a sustainable ministry that year in and year out is producing leaders at Peace.”

Past recipients even have looked beyond their own congregation. Zion, Akaska, S.D., received a grant in 2014 to hold a councilmen’s retreat for its entire circuit.

Prof. Richard Gurgel, director of Grow in Grace, says these grants connect well with the institute’s purpose to help pastors grow in their faith and in their callings as pastors, husbands, and fathers. “No doubt, vital to that growth is that the pastor doesn’t have the sense that he’s at this alone,” he says. “It’s encouraging congregations to share the joys and the challenges of ministry and not simply to look to the pastor to take care of everything.”

Gurgel says Grow in Grace is also hard at work preparing for the next Celebration of Ministry retreats, being held April 18-20, 2018, in San Antonio, Texas. Pastors and wives celebrating their 3-, 10-, 25-, and—new this year—35-year anniversary in the ministry will gather to reflect on these key ministry milestones, to be encouraged in their faith, and to prepare for the years ahead.

Learn more about Grow in Grace at wls.wels.net/grow-in-grace.

Tuition grants for American Sign Language class

Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., is offering “American Sign Language and Introduction to Deaf Culture” (ASL 8001), an online, three-credit course, from Jan. 3 to May 4, 2018. The course provides the basic foundation of American Sign Language through an overview of deaf culture and an introduction to the signing of finger spelling and basic vocabulary with beginner-level conversations. The instructor is Matthew Buchholz, a member of the WELS Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Here is what previous students have said:

“I never expected to receive so much from this experience. . . . I have a deeper understanding of the culture, needs, and resources available to the deaf and hard of hearing community and a whole bunch of signs in my arsenal.” – Trisha

“I already have oodles and oodles of ideas on how I can revamp some of my lesson plans for next year to include sign language.”  – Sandy

“Thank you also for making this course available and affordable. Beginning to learn ASL has been a wonderful challenge, but for me, learning about deaf culture in this course has been invaluable. I hope that this course is made available in the future so that more people can have a greater understanding of the deaf and hard of hearing.” – Cori

A limited number of $450 grants toward tuition are available upon request and will be paid upon the completion of the course. The deadline to register is Dec. 13. Learn more at mlc-wels.edu/continuing-education/registration. A poster to promote the class can be downloaded from the Special Ministries Resource Center at csm.welsrc.net/mission-for-the-deaf-and-hard-of-hearing.


Reformation worship focuses on God’s grace

A year ago, in anticipation of the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, initial plans were made for a large celebration in Milwaukee that would include conferences for all WELS called workers and a large festival worship service for called workers and WELS members in the 15,000- seat Bradley Center. After determining the huge cost of such an event, the decision was made not to hold the event as hoped but to encourage districts and regions to plan for local celebrations that would be less costly and enable more people to participate.

That decision was blessed by God. During the last two weekends, more than 20 districts and regions held special Reformation 500 worship services. The events were very well attended and provided many more people the opportunity to join in this celebration than would have been possible with one centralized event. In each case, worshipers had the opportunity to thank and praise God for the blessings of the Lutheran Reformation. Worshipers were reminded that “grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone” is not just a slogan or motto, but the heart and center of what connects us to “Christ alone.”

Below is a slideshow of some of the special worship services and events held in our synod—both in the United States and around the world. To view more photos or contribute your own, check out the WELS Facebook page at fb.com/welslutherans. Watch for more photos and information about Reformation 500 celebrations in the January 2018 edition of Forward in Christ magazine.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder


Reformation 500 celebrations

MLP continues to work in South Asia

The bag weighed almost as much he did.

But that didn’t stop a pastor from South Asia from hoisting the almost 100-pound bag of Multi-Language Publication booklets onto his back and walking for hours back to his hometown. What’s even more amazing is that in the past his church had been destroyed and he had been beaten and imprisoned for worshiping his Savior and sharing his faith with others.

“It’s really a privilege and a great honor to help [people like this],” says Rev. Nathan Seiltz, director of WELS Multi-Language Publications (MLP). “Printed publications are a wonderful tool for them to reach out and do some discipleship among the people there.”

Seiltz conducted his first field visit of the area in September. While there, he was able to help conduct a leadership workshop in which 75 men and women learned more about the prison epistles Philippians and Colossians, discussed the Lutheran Reformation, and went home with self-study booklets explaining Lutheran doctrine to distribute in their communities.

This field in South Asia wouldn’t exist if not for these MLP publications. “Multi-Language Publications is the parent of these fields. It was a seed-sowing ministry and they planted so many seeds the church grew,” says WELS’ field coordinator for South Asia. “It’s a tremendous tool for our church in outreach and in discipleship training.” The church body in this area currently has 42 congregations and 14 seminary students.

Seiltz and the field coordinator also visited several local congregations and met with our national contact to discuss future plans. One idea is to develop a radio station that would include programming to teach people about Jesus. MLP also will continue to provide printed materials like these self-study booklets and The Promise, a 16-page brochure that presents the basic biblical message from the fall into sin to life in heaven. “These are the tools that people are using to share their faith with other people,” says Seiltz. “That was really encouraging to hear.”

Seiltz visited South Asia after catastrophic flooding hit the region in August and September. While he didn’t visit any of the areas affected by the flooding, he says the leadership workshop was moved and delayed a day because the flooding delayed many of the workshop attendees who had to travel. WELS Christian Aid and Relief has granted almost $20,500 to provide flood relief in South Asia. Funds will be used to purchase and deliver supplies like mattresses, blankets, and mosquito netting to people in the affected areas. Our contact says providing this help gives the opportunity to show Christ’s love in action to the different communities.

Learn more about Multi-Language Publications, which has printed more than 2.9 million items in 47 languages, at wels.net/mlp. Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions.



Blessings from Choral Festival are lifelong

“Joyful. Exciting. Amazing. A taste of heaven.” These are just some of the words used to describe the WELS National Choral Festival, which celebrates its 50th anniversary Nov. 10-12. More than 475 students from 22 area Lutheran high schools and preparatory schools will gather to sing their praises to the Lord in La Crosse, Wis.—the place where it all began.

Dave Adickes, a teacher at Luther High School, Onalaska, Wis., invited eight WELS prep and high schools to sing in the first festival in 1967. Nearly 100 students gathered to “celebrate God’s gift of music” and get a “sneak peek of heaven” as well as gain exposure to a wide variety of directors and techniques, according to Adickes. From the beginning, Friday night’s concert was a secular concert performed by the individual choirs. Saturday was a day of rehearsal and fun, culminating with Sunday’s mass sacred concert. The location of Choral Festival changed as various WELS high schools hosted the event.

As Choral Festival celebrates its 50th anniversary, Luther High School will again serve as host, this time under the direction of Dave Adickes’ son, Paul, a former Choral Festival attendee, director, and clinician.

This year’s festival will include music from the past five decades, an almost 300-voice alumni choir, a 52-piece orchestra, and commissioned works by WELS teachers Sarah Siegler and Dale Witte—including the final piece, an arrangement of “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage,” which also serves as this year’s theme. The image of the Mississippi River Bridge—an iconic feature in La Crosse—adorns the poster, symbolizing how “Choral Festival 2017 will bridge the music of the past, present, and future with the timeless heritage and hope that we have in the living and enduring Word of God,” says Paul.

Paul continues, “Choral Festival has endured for so many reasons beyond its musical value. . . . The friendships that are created, the bonds of faith that are reinforced, and the words of faith proclaimed in song resonate in the hearts of our students long after the concerts. Choral Festival gives them an experience that is a lifelong blessing.”

Choral Festival events will be streamed live. The pops concert is at 7 p.m., Nov. 10. The sacred concert is at 2 p.m., Nov. 12. Go to welsfinearts.org for more information. Check out more interviews with past and present Choral Festival directors and participants in a Forward in Christ extra.



Chaplain Certification Program courses offered

From police officers to those who are incarcerated, the Chaplain Certification Program is about helping people in special circumstances with special ministry needs. Training is open to all WELS members, both lay members and called workers, with a heart for meeting the spiritual needs of people in circumstances that require particular spiritual care. Specific areas of ministry include those in prison, hospitals, nursing homes, the military and their families, and public servants such as police officers and firemen and women.

The Commission on Special Ministries  has established a program for chaplain certification because many healthcare facilities, jails, prisons, and military bases are tightening their requirements for ministry in their facilities, especially if the pastor or layperson wants to reach out to non-members.

Chaplain Certification Program courses can be taken online through Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. There are four required courses – Communicating Forgiveness, A Scriptural Approach to Addiction Counseling, Your Chaplaincy and Ethical Issues, and Chaplaincy Seminary—and four electives with emphases on prison ministry, ministry to the military, and ministry to the aging.

If you’re interested in becoming a chaplain, go to wels.net/chaplains. To enroll in training, visit mlc-wels.edu/continuing-education/wels-chaplain-certificate. The next online class, “The Spiritual Side of PTSD,” taught by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS national civilian chaplain to the military, will begin in January 2018; registration for the class is open until Dec. 22. A limited amount of financial aid is available from the Lutheran Military Support Group for WELS military contact pastors to take chaplain certification courses.




Conference of Presidents holds its fall meeting

The Conference of Presidents (COP) met Oct. 10-13 at the Center for Mission and Ministry, Waukesha, Wis., for its regular fall meeting. Included in the discussions and decisions:

  • The COP noted with thanks to God that Congregation Mission Offerings are up 1.6% over last year ($231,000). As congregations begin planning for next year, a video communication from each district president will encourage and guide congregations in that process.
  • Last year the COP determined that pastors teaching at Lutheran high schools and prep schools fall under the same calling guidelines that restrict the calling of teachers (Nov. 1 through the first week of June, with two calls possible during that time). The COP clarified this policy by determining that pastors serving in primarily administrative roles (presidents/principals, deans, etc.) at the schools can be called at any time.
  • The COP extended divine calls to Rev. Jerry Ewings to serve as a Christian giving counselor and to Rev. Mark Gabb to serve as the director of the Commission on Evangelism.
  • The COP appointed Rev. Doug Tomhave to serve as the chairman of the Commission on Evangelism.
  • Earlier this year the COP established a standing committee to work with WELS parasynodical organizations. This committee is in the process of determining its specific role and establishing the procedures it will follow. The purpose of the committee is to foster good communication and cooperation between the synod and WELS parasynodical organizations. The committee reported that it had begun its work and will continue to develop its goals and policies.
  • The COP concurred with the request of Northwestern Publishing House to conduct a review of the Evangelical Heritage Version (EHV) as soon as the complete translation is available. This review will be similar to reviews of the New International Version, the English Standard Version, and the Christian Standard Bible, which have already been done.
  • The COP continues to monitor closely the pastoral vacancy rate and how the calling process can best serve the needs of congregations and workers in a time of a shortage of pastors.
  • The COP discussed the workload of district presidents who serve in the large districts. The COP asked the synod president to investigate various options to provide needed assistance.
  • The COP discussed how the certification process for teachers can be improved and, if possible, streamlined. The COP asked Martin Luther College to review certification requirements for all teachers and to bring its proposals to the January meeting of the COP.
  • The COP will ask the Synodical Council to establish an ad hoc committee to study future options for the WELS Pension Plan. No change in the plan is anticipated in the near future, but the COP agreed that such a study would be beneficial for future decisions.
  • The COP is encouraging all congregations to designate one Sunday in November as a Mission and Ministry Sunday to encourage greater awareness of, and support for, the work we do together as a synod. In the future, congregations will be encouraged to plan a Mission and Ministry Sunday for October.
  • The COP asked for the appointment of a special committee to discuss possible alternative models for congregational constitutions and bylaws.
  • The COP approved a request from Martin Luther College (MLC) for permission to conduct an appeal for MLC’s Congregational Partner Grant Program (CPGP). The CPGP gives congregations the opportunity to provide direct financial support for students at MLC preparing for the public ministry of WELS.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder




New set of “theses” highlights the basic teachings of Lutheranism

As part of its triennial convention in Grimma, Germany, this past summer, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC) approved a new set of Ninety-five theses to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

While Luther’s theses focused on the abuse of indulgences in the church at the time, Ninety-Five Theses for the 21st Century has a different theme. “It’s really the basic teachings of the Lutheran faith organized according to the Small Catechism,” says Rev. Thomas Nass, professor at Martin Luther College and one of the men leading the development of the theses. “I think it’s what every Lutheran layperson should know.”

Fifteen pastors from sister churches around the world put together the document. “It’s something that the churches of our fellowship have done together to show how they’re united in the Lutheran faith,” says Nass.

Mr. Greg Vandermause, production studio manager at Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minn., produced a video of leaders from our sister church bodies reading these contemporary statements of faith at the CELC convention in Grimma. Hymns written by Martin Luther are interspersed between the readings. The video can be viewed online.

“We pray that you are encouraged in the faith that has been passed down and that you find joy in seeing how that faith is shared by many around the world,” says Nass.

Purchase a print copy of the booklet at nph.net. Watch the October WELS Connection to learn more about the CELC convention in Germany. Learn more about the CELC at celc.info.




New form makes connecting college students with churches easier

WELS Campus Ministry is introducing a new student management system. It is now live for pastors and college students.

With this new system, pastors and churches can now manage student lists online. This includes viewing, sorting, editing, adding, and deleting student profiles as well as managing a student’s free subscription to Forward in Christ and Meditations. Pastors can access the form via their My WELS Cloud account.

For college students, the form is available at wels.net/campus-ministry. The new form will enable students to easily manage their campus ministry profiles, including updating addresses, expected graduation date, subscription preferences, and more. Students will need an e-mail address to register and will be given a pin number for their personal log-in. By registering, students will also be able to stay in contact with their campus pastor.

Currently, about 460 WELS pastors serve one or more campuses, and nearly 6,000 students are signed up with WELS Campus Ministry.

WELS Campus Ministry Chairman Rev. Charlie Vannieuwenhoven says, “The only way for our pastors to know the WELS students who are attending the university they serve is if their name is submitted with WELS Campus Ministry. This information allows the pastor not only to know which WELS students are attending the university he serves, but it gives him the information he needs to make contact with the student to invite them to worship or any other activities and to share with the student what’s happening with the campus ministry.”

Learn more at wels.net/campus-ministry.




OWLS are “filled with the gospel”

The Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) met in Pewaukee, Wis., Oct. 10-12, under the theme “Filled with the gospel.” About 175 members from around the United States attended.

The convention was hosted by the Dodge-Washington OWLS. This was the first convention directed by new convention chairman Mr. Werner Lemke.

For a decade, the OWLS have used their offerings to support the WELS European Civilian chaplaincy, which serves military personnel and WELS civilians in Europe. This year, the OWLS presented Military Services with a check for $50,000 for work in Europe. The convention offering and proceeds from a silent auction were directed for next year’s gift to the work of the chaplain in Europe as well.

For four years, the OWLS have provided scholarships to Martin Luther College students. This year, Lailah Thabatah, Heidi Moldenhauer, Tristan Pankow, and Hannah Rundgren received scholarships.

With the convention in Pewaukee this year, attendees were given the opportunity to tour the WELS visitors’ center at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry (CMM), along with a tour of the CMM to learn more about WELS ministry. They were also treated to several presentations about Lutheran traditions and WELS ministry.

Rev. Jim Behringer, director of the WELS Commission on Special Ministries, says, “All the presenters were excellent. Rev. Aaron Christie’s presentation on Luther’s principles that led to the Lutheran fine arts tradition today was full of interesting examples. The OWLS were moved to hear a presentation by former European Civilian Chaplain Josh Martin and his wife, who received OWLS support during their nine years overseas. Seminary Professor Brad Wordell amazed the audience with the opportunities the Lord is giving us to train pastors around the world through the Pastoral Studies Institute, and Rev. Tony Schultz had the OWLS chuckling with recognition as he talked about opportunities to talk about Jesus.”

This year, the convention elected a new OWLS president, Pastor Em. Norman Schell from Omaha, Neb. Schell has been involved with the convention for years helping with the technology needs.

Next year’s convention will be at the Osthoff Resort in Elkhart, Wis., under the theme “Finish Your Race.” All WELS members are invited, even those who aren’t part of an OWLS chapter.

Learn more about the OWLS and all the ministries under the WELS Commission on Special Ministries at wels.net/special-ministries.




WELS teachers meet around the country

Annual District Teachers’ Conferences are an opportunity for WELS early childhood teachers and directors, Lutheran elementary school teachers, and high school teachers to enjoy learning opportunities, networking, and fellowship. Three conferences have already taken place. Conferences will continue this week in the Pacific Northwest, South Atlantic, and Minnesota Districts, Oct. 18-20.

The Michigan District Teachers’ Conference was held Oct. 4-6 at Trinity in Bay City, Mich. Psalm 46 was the focus of both the opening worship and the Bible study for all attendees. Prof. Paul Koelpin from Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., addressed the conference with a presentation on “The Blessings and Challenges of Teaching ‘Lutheran’ in the 21st Century.” Rev. Brian Keller presented a paper on the Evangelical Heritage Version Bible, the translation being worked on through the Wartburg Project. Conference attendees had an opportunity to attend a number of sectionals on topics that included early childhood ministry, technology, leadership, science, and others.

The South Central District met at Calvary Lutheran School in Dallas, Tex. Oct. 5-6. Several of the South Central District schools had students who were victims of Hurricane Harvey. With that in mind, Anita Smith, from Christian Family Solutions, presented a workshop called “Supporting Students Dealing with Trauma.”

The Nebraska and Dakota-Montana District Teachers’ Conference met at St. Paul’s, Rapid City, S.D., Oct. 8-10. They met under the theme “A Reformation of the Heart.” Devotions for the conference focused attendees on grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, and Christ alone. The religious keynote presented by Rev. Nathaniel Biebert was entitled, “Your Baby Boy and His Names: Martin Luther on Isaiah 9:6.” The educational keynote was presented by Todd Whitaker and was based on one of his books “What Great Teachers Do Differently.” Sectional topics ranged from special education, accreditation, Google classroom, music, supervision of instruction, disruptive behaviors, burnout prevention, language arts, New Teacher Induction, and conflict resolution.

The Commission on Lutheran Schools associate director, Mr. Tom Plitzuweit, says, “District teacher conferences serve as a great avenue for teachers to continue learning and developing professionally and spiritually. At conferences, teachers connect with other teachers. They learn from each other’s experiences and share ideas. What is special about our WELS conferences is that they give us more opportunities to learn with and learn from our brothers and sisters in Christ, many of whom share similar ministry experiences. It is a blessing to lift each other up and grow spiritually and professionally. Not only does attending conferences benefit us as teachers, but it is also a tremendous blessing to our schools and to all the precious souls we have the privilege of serving.”




WELS members respond

When people are hurting, Christians respond. Paul thanked the Macedonian Christians for the generous outpouring of support they provided for needy brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. They saw a need, and their love for their Savior and fellow Christians moved them to act.

The same could be said about the members of our synod in the way you have reacted to the hurricanes that struck Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. In addition to your prayers, you offered generous financial support to help those in need. As of now, WELS members have given nearly $700,000 for hurricane relief.

WELS Christian Aid and Relief has made grants to WELS congregations in Texas and Florida to address immediate needs for their members and for others in the community and has sent aid to Puerto Rico. Efforts are now underway to plan a more long-term effort to provide assistance. When plans are in place and can be administered effectively, WELS Christian Aid and Relief is ready to forward the funding that WELS members have provided.

We have been attempting to contact our sister church in Puerto Rico, but communications have been very difficult. We have heard there was extensive damage to at least one of the churches on the island, and we assume that the homes of many members were damaged or destroyed. As soon as we can assess the need and put plans in place, more assistance will be sent.

Even as WELS members have responded to these natural disasters, they have also continued their faithful support of the ongoing ministry of our synod. Through September, Congregation Mission Offerings are up 1.6 percent or $231,000 over the prior year and 0.8 percent ahead of subscriptions. Thanks be to God for these blessings that have been motivated by his saving gospel.

Serving with you in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

View photos of President Schroeder visiting relief work in Florida