Update on the Ministry Recruitment Task Force

The Ministry Recruitment Task Force (MRTF) was formed as a result of a resolution passed by the 2023 synod convention, due to the significant shortage of pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. Its assignment is to look at all factors that impact the recruitment of called workers and to bring recommendations to the 2025 convention for an ongoing synodwide effort to recruit and train more called workers. Rev. Paul Prange, administrator of Ministerial Education, chairs the group.

The MRTF began its work by building on the good work done by the Teacher Shortage Task Force in identifying the reasons for the current teacher shortage. The MRTF then identified the reasons for the current pastor shortage.

The MRTF worked on estimating the expected supply of pastors and teachers in the near future and more than a decade from now. It did that with the knowledge that the future of the church and her needs is in the hands of our living Lord and that our predictions have proven inaccurate in the past. Nevertheless, the MRTF believes that it is a matter of good stewardship to make plans based on our best predictions.

The task force received about 30 suggestions for addressing the shortage. The suggestions related to the high school supply of candidates were easy to consider, since the prep schools and area Lutheran high schools are constantly working on supplying candidates to Martin Luther College (MLC) and MLC has already begun to improve its recruitment of public high school students.

Alternative pathways for nontraditional seminary students were also easy to consider, since Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary and its Pastoral Studies Institute have worked out courses and delivery models for nearly every life situation.

It is more complicated to consider all the suggestions for the college level. MLC has recently added a number of programs for early childhood workers at all stages of professional and ministerial certification, and those programs are just being promoted for the first time. MLC is also developing a Competency Based Education program, which provides an alternative pathway to the teaching ministry for WELS second-career adults who are unable to move to New Ulm for a traditional on-campus program.

In addition, U.S. colleges are changing rapidly because of changing demographics and funding sources. How will those changes affect the ability of MLC to meet the public ministry needs of WELS? The MRTF is discussing those issues.

The task force plans to issue the first draft of its report in April. It will include preliminary recommendations that can be discussed synodwide prior to the presentation of the final report at the 2025 synod convention.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Meeting the spiritual needs of WELS members in the military

In early February, WELS Military Services National Civilian Chaplain Rev. Paul Horn completed a trip to the southeastern United States to visit military bases and WELS congregations to learn more about life in the military and present information about WELS Military Services and how it serves WELS members in the military. As the national civilian chaplain, Horn’s role is to serve as the liaison to the military as well as orient, train, and mentor WELS military contact pastors around the country.

Horn’s first stop was Abiding Grace, Mobile, Ala., which is close to a Coast Guard pilot training center. Abiding Grace is home to many veterans and actively serving military members. Abiding Grace’s pastor, Rev. Tom Spiegelberg, serves as a military contact pastor to WELS members on base.

After a stop at Zion, Gainesville, Fla., to present at a circuit meeting that included two military contact pastors, Horn made his way to Savannah, Ga., where he toured the US Army Ranger training facilities. While in Georgia, Horn was able to shadow WELS member LTC Michael Hefti, battalion commander at Fort Stewart, for a day, opening his eyes to the stressors a military family faces.

Horn’s final stop was Hope, Irmo, S.C. While at Hope, Horn met with an Air Force veteran for Distinctive Religious Group Leader (DRGL) training, a program that allows lay members or civilian clergy the opportunity to represent their faith group and serve their people through Word and sacrament. With this training, this veteran will be able to lead Lutheran worship and Bible studies for the Army recruits at Fort Jackson, S.C.

“One of the ways the military allows WELS to provide Word and sacrament to members on bases is to train WELS pastors and laypeople to be religious lay leaders,” says Horn. “While they don’t always have full access to WELS military members—it depends on the installation, the chaplain, or commanding officer—it is a foot in the door in meeting the spiritual needs of WELS members in the military.”

Because WELS does not endorse chaplains, technically WELS is not a Distinctive Religious Group as recognized by the Department of Defense, but when WELS members enlist or commission as officers, they can indicate their religious preference. If WELS is the designated religious preference and religious accommodation is requested, it’s possible to access WELS worship.

Horn emphasizes that it is also important for military members to sign up with WELS Military Services at  wels.net/refer. Once a service member signs up, they’ll be put in contact with the nearest WELS church and pastor.

Religious accommodation in action

Our Savior in San Antonio, Texas, is an example of a congregation that makes use of the religious accommodations on base. The congregation is near the Air Force base that conducts all the Air Force basic training. Rev. Micah Koelpin, pastor of Our Savior’s west campus, and Mr. David Kasischke, Our Savior’s staff minister, share the duties of once-per-month WELS worship services on base.

Kasischke shares what worship on base is like:

“The worship services we conduct are currently held on JBSA-Lackland here in San Antonio, in the Gateway Chapel’s conference room. We are billed as ‘Evangelical Lutheran (Wisconsin Synod),’ and we meet on the third Sunday of every month at 3:30 p.m. I use an order of service from our hymnal to ensure the worshipers, Air Force basic trainees, get the evangelical Lutheran experience. Usually, the ratio of non-WELS versus WELS is high . . . there are many more non-WELS people who attend. Some are curious about what an ‘evangelical Lutheran’ service looks like, and some are attending because they are ’wingmen’—the escort that is required because basic trainees do not go anywhere unaccompanied. Attendance is always unpredictable. My largest group was 19; then there have been times where it has only been a small handful. I always have the Lord’s Supper ready for any WELS member who attends. We practice close communion, but I explain why we do it this way and invite people to stay and participate in the other parts of the short communion service that I lead afterward. These services bring in people from all walks of faith life—unbelievers, doubters, curiosity-seekers, people who identify as ‘Christian’ but really know very little about their faith as well as Lutherans of other synods and members of other Christian denominations. I always take time to walk through the worship service and explain what each part is and why we do it when we do it in the worship service. I also leave time for questions after the service, about the worship itself or faith in general. I have found the questions are thoughtful and heartfelt.”

Opportunities to worship together and receive the sacrament are vitally important, says Kasischke. “What I have gathered from my conversations with these young people is that despite how well prepared you are, there is an adjustment to being away from home, loved ones, and the entire support network you are used to.”

 

 

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Together Video Update – February 13, 2024

Rev. Joseph Lindloff and his family moved to Marquette, Mich., in September 2023 after he accepted the call to plant a new home mission in the Upper Peninsula community. He’s been working to plant the seeds of the gospel there for nearly six months. In today’s Together video, he shares an update on the blessings of the ministry—and reveals the name for the new church. This new mission is just one of the new mission starts that are part of the WELS 100 in 10 initiative, which aims to start 100 new home missions in 10 years.

 

 

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Another year of record Congregation Mission Offerings

By God’s grace, Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) received in December were $3.39 million. This was $30,000 more than the previous December. For calendar year 2023, CMO totaled $23.39 million, which is $60,000 (0.3 percent) more than 2022 and $436,000 (1.9 percent) more than projected receipts. This marks the fourth consecutive year of record Congregation Mission Offerings and the second year in which CMO surpassed $23 million.

It should be noted that God’s people in our synod have also responded to special needs and projects above and beyond CMO. WELS congregations and members received information on the “100 missions in 10 years” effort that began in 2023. We have already received $3.01 million in gifts and commitments from WELS congregations and individuals.

Clearly, this generosity reflects the Savior’s promises: “God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work . . . so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:8,11).

Most congregations have submitted their CMO subscriptions for 2024. We pray that the upward trend continues, even in these difficult economic times.

God is already answering that prayer. CMO for January 2024 of $1.53 million (compared to $1.31 million last year) was the highest CMO level for the month of January on record.

Thank you, and with you we pray for God’s continuing blessings on our synod.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Missionaries called to explore new world mission fields

The Board for World Missions, working alongside the various World Missions One Teams, has identified new world mission fields and is taking steps to deploy missionaries into three new areas. “Spreading God’s Word in any and every place is our high calling,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator. “We ask the Lord of the harvest to use us to bring many into his kingdom through our work.”

Missionaries asked to relocate to Australia

Two missionaries from the Asia One Team, currently based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, have been asked to consider relocating to begin outreach based in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. Schlomer shares, “People in Australia have asked us for help. WELS members who have moved to Australia, brothers and sisters who have had to move from Hong Kong, and long-time partners in churches in the Brisbane area, have reached out. It is a joy to be able to meet these needs with WELS missionaries.” Both missionaries would remain on the Asia One Team as they continue their work with contacts throughout Asia.

Calls issued for Muslim outreach in Senegal

Two calls have been issued to explore new outreach in the West African country of Senegal. The goal would be for new missionaries to spend up to six months living with a Muslim family from the Wolof tribe, immersing themselves in the culture and language of the people they are trying to reach with the gospel. Once they have a better understanding of the culture and Muslim influence, they would develop more specific plans for outreach. The Board for World Missions is committed to supporting this new mission field for a minimum of two years in order to give the missionaries ample time to work within the culture. Learn more about this opportunity at wels.net/mission-work-approved-in-senegal.

New Native American outreach in Four Corners region

The Board for World Missions has approved a new missionary position to coordinate outreach to the Native American tribes in the Four Corners area of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. This new missionary would be tasked with developing a new model for Native American outreach, working closely with native Apache members who want to reach out to friends and family members from other tribes with the pure gospel message. He will work closely with Missionary John Holtz, who leads the discipleship arm of the Native Christians Network and is training Apache WELS members for service and outreach through the Apache Christian Training School (ACTS) program. This missionary also will coordinate with Christ the Rock, Farmington, N.M., to develop existing outreach to Native Americans in the area and work to expand digital outreach efforts.

“These new fields will allow us to bring the gospel to places where the announcement of pure grace is scarce or even nonexistent,” says Schlomer. “May God use these missionaries to bring joy in sadness and hope where darkness has hidden God’s face.”

Learn more about additional world mission fields that are being explored at wels.net/newworldmissionfields.

 

 

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New Home Missions administrator

WELS Missions welcomes Mark Gabb as the new administrator for WELS Home Missions. Gabb began serving in this role in January following a vacancy in the position since spring 2022, when previous administrator Keith Free accepted a call to parish ministry.

Gabb was formally installed as the Home Missions administrator Wed., Jan. 31, at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry weekly chapel service.

Gabb is not new to the work of WELS Home Missions. He has served as a member of the Board for Home Missions for ten years and as chairman for three, taking on additional leadership responsibilities during the vacancy.

Gabb says Home Missions has been part of his life for as long as he can remember. His father was a pastor and planted a mission church in Texas; Gabb’s first parish assignment was to a mission congregation in Ohio; his brother—also a pastor—was assigned to plant a church in New York. When Gabb moved to Florida, he was appointed to serve on the district mission board of the South Atlantic District in 2006. “I was eager to do what I could to encourage missionaries and existing missions and help plant new churches in our district. It never occurred to me that Home Missions would become a major part of my life and ministry,” says Gabb.

Gabb is taking on this role during an important time: A new initiative, “100 Missions in 10 Years,” officially was launched at the 2023 synod convention. “Together we can do what most individual congregations can’t do alone, and that is plant new churches throughout North America,” he says. “We bring a wealth of expertise from our district mission board members and mission counselors, and we have a partnership with WELS Church Extension Fund that provides grants and loans to our new missions. All this helps us to carry out the outreach aspect of Christ’s Great Commission.”

 

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Celebration in Uganda

Last summer, our synod declared fellowship with the Obadiah Lutheran Synod (OLS), a small confessional Lutheran church body in the African nation of Uganda. On Jan. 13, the OLS held a synodwide worship service celebrating its fellowship with WELS. Members of the OLS traveled from towns and villages through southeastern Uganda to attend—some for more than six hours. More than 800 people attended the special worship celebration. Missionary Howard Mohlke and I were blessed to attend as the representatives of WELS.

The morning began with heavy rains. Because the celebration was to be held outdoors and the dirt roads leading to the location were impassable, the service was delayed for several hours until the rain stopped. But the weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of those who came to worship. The service began with songs by the youth choir and with the robust singing of many hymns by the worshipers. The service also included the ordination of a new OLS pastor, an address by OLS President Makisimu Musa, and words of encouragement from many of the OLS pastors in attendance. The celebration also included words of greeting from the WELS representatives as well as encouraging words of congratulations by local and national Ugandan government officials.

Just as the delegates at our WELS convention last summer were overjoyed to establish fellowship with the OLS and thanked God for the blessing, so the people of the OLS shared in that joy and thanks.

The OLS is planting new congregations in towns and villages throughout Uganda, and it is being blessed with a growth in membership. Along with that growth comes challenges, especially when it comes to the need for all-wheel drive vehicles that can negotiate the bumpy and muddy roads to enable contact with remote congregations. And while the synod builds its own churches with locally made mud-fired brick, it is in need of funds to provide roofs for those buildings.

WELS members have been generous in their support for these projects, and the OLS is very grateful for what has been received. But additional funds are needed to complete the necessary projects. If you would like to support the OLS in the gospel ministry it is faithfully carrying out, you can send your gift to WELS World Missions, designated for the OLS in Uganda, or donate online.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

Learn more about the work in Uganda.

 

 

 

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A review of God’s blessings in 2023

“Your gifts, God’s blessings: An annual report to our members” is now available. The 24-page report includes photos of Christian brothers and sisters around the world, stories of faith, and updates on WELS’ ministry.

“God blesses us every day in so many ways that it’s easy to take those blessings for granted,” says WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder. “That’s true for us as individuals, and it’s also true for us as a synod. This annual report is intended to review some of the ways that God has blessed our work together during the past year.”

Some of those blessings include:

  • David, who is studying with the Pastoral Studies Institute and leads an online Bible study from his home, which has led to many East Asians around the world being baptized;
  • Colleen, who didn’t grow up in the church but whose life changed after she attended Intown, Atlanta, Ga., with her college roommate;and
  • the 61 teenagers who attended the WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership and participated in conversations with other WELS members about leadership, ministry, and outreach.

These stories and more are presented in the 2024 edition of “Your gifts, God’s blessings.” Print versions of the report are being sent to every WELS congregation and individual donor. Additional print versions are available from Northwestern Publishing House for free. Visit nph.net/wels 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.

Looking for a simpler communication piece that provides an overview of WELS and its ministries? Consider the new two-sided flyer that was designed to be shared with visitors and prospects. It’s perfect for tract racks, narthex displays, and community fair booths. This flyer is available from Northwestern Publishing House at nph.net/wels or by calling 800-662-6022.

 

 

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Together Video Update – January 16, 2024

Forward in Christ magazine is launching its first live, online Bible study. Learn more about the study from Rev. Greg Lyon, the study’s author and leader. The first study is available to read online. Visit forwardinchrist.net/online-study for more details and to register.

 

 

 

 

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Leaders from three Lutheran synods meet

Twenty-one representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS), the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) met on Dec. 4–5, 2023, in Florida to continue our annual informal discussions. This meeting was the 11th in-person meeting. Like the others, it was an opportunity to compare notes on the challenges that our synods face and to talk about doctrinal points on which we agree and disagree—without any indication that we will come back into fellowship soon.

This year we had fruitful discussion about the cultural challenges that we face in the United States and Canada. All three synods have statements or are planning statements on issues like critical theory and gender identity. These are matters where all three synods speak in similar ways as they uphold scriptural principles.

There also was continued discussion about the doctrine of the ministry. Our three synods have practices in regard to the ministry that are very similar, but there have been differences in how we talk about the doctrine. We are trying to understand each other and to evaluate the nature of these differences.

Plans are being made to meet again in December 2024 and to distribute a fuller report about our meetings in 2025. There was some discussion about the possibility of holding free conferences to share more fully what we have learned in these meetings. God willing, the leadership of the three synods will remain the same for a few years. Pres. Glenn Obenberger of the ELS was reelected to a four-year term in 2022, Pres. Matthew Harrison of the LCMS was reelected to a three-year term in 2023, and I was reelected to a four-year term in 2023.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Forward in Christ magazine offers new series in 2024

Forward in Christ (FIC), the synod’s official magazine, is starting 2024 off with an updated look, new series, and extra opportunities to dig into God’s Word.

“Our new look can be seen most clearly in the updated cover, which highlights a full-sized photo of Joan Prince, a member at St. Philip, Milwaukee, who is featured in the January issue” says Rev. James Pope, FIC’s executive editor. “Our goal is to include members of our WELS family on the cover whenever possible.”

The January issue also debuts a new yearlong series entitled “Free in Christ.” Articles will show how different congregations and individuals approach faith activities such as prayer, confirmation, and outreach—all in Christian freedom. The first article highlights different ways that two congregations are helping members delve into Scripture through congregational Bible studies.

“These articles are by no means intended to pit one particular activity or practice against another or to suggest that one approach is right and the other is wrong. Far from it,” says Pope. “The articles are intended to illustrate some of the freedoms New Testament followers of the Lord have.”

He continues, “It is my hope and prayer that these stories of Christian freedom will stimulate thinking, promote sharing of ideas, and expand the ways we glorify our Lord and serve our neighbor.”

Another series starting this month is a six-month Bible study by Rev. Greg Lyon entitled “What if it’s true . . .” This study will explore six scriptural truths and how they impact our lives in tangible ways. As an added bonus, Lyon will lead a live online Bible study each month from January to June on the topic covered in the magazine, offering participants opportunities for discussion and questions. The first study on mankind being created in God’s image is at 7 p.m. Central Time, Jan. 23. Find out more and register at forwardinchrist.net/online-study.

“We’re excited to start another year and pray that each issue provides content that is beneficial for you and that you can share with others,” says Pope.

Order Forward in Christ at nph.net/forwardinchrist or by calling 800-662-6093, ext. 5613.

 

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Changes in the WELS Commission on Worship

Rev. Bryan Gerlach, director of the WELS Commission on Worship, has announced his intention to retire. He will retire partially mid-2024 but continue serving until the planning for next summer’s National Conference on Worship, Music, and the Arts is completed. He will fully retire after the conference takes place July 30–Aug. 2. In his partial retirement, he also will continue to focus on two Worship publications—Preach the Word and Worship the Lord—and provide ongoing assistance to individuals and congregations on worship issues. While he serves in a part-time capacity, his title will be the associate director of the Commission on Worship.

The Conference of Presidents has asked Rev. Paul Prange to begin serving immediately as the interim director of the Commission on Worship. Prange currently serves as administrator of the Board for Ministerial Education and chairman of the Joint Mission Council. He will retain these responsibilities. Prange will serve as interim director until a staffing review takes place at the end of 2024.

As interim director of the Commission on Worship, Prange will give attention to several important initiatives, including:

  • Working on strategic planning with the Commission on Worship chairman Rev. Michael Schultz.
  • Serving on a preaching enrichment task force.
  • Helping link hymnology with the religion curriculum that is being developed.
  • Providing worship enrichment resources for new and existing home mission congregations.
  • Offering chapel planning resources for area Lutheran high schools.
  • Assisting in the advance planning for “The Foundation” resources for worship and preaching.

Because Prange’s work will take place in the areas of ministerial education, missions, and worship, he will have the opportunity to develop increased coordination and cooperation among these various synodical entities.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Together Video Update – December 12, 2023

Meet Rev. Jon Bergemann, the new host for WELS Marriage Moments. These short weekly videos produced by WELS Discipleship offer a quick thought to strengthen and maintain marriages. View and subscribe to Marriage Moments videos at welscongregationalservices.net/marriage-moments.

 

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Small beginnings lead to great endings in Vietnam

“In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace” (Colossians 1:6).

Colossians 1:6 served as the theme of our synod’s Grace-Hmong Outreach in Vietnam initiative that began December 2018. God’s grace and the gospel message has continued to work in the hearts of the Hmong people in Vietnam, and we are witnessing firsthand how the “gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world.” We celebrated with the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in July 2023 as a group of 55 students graduated and became the first fully trained pastors in their church. We also praised God for the dedication of the new theological education center in Hanoi. God’s blessings on this effort are clearly evident.

And those blessings have not stopped. The small mustard seeds of the gospel continue to grow in ways we never could have imagined. Since 2018, the HFC has grown from 55,000 to more than 145,000 members. The second group of 60 students began their pastoral studies in 2022, and the third group of 60 pastoral students started in July of this year. Men like Num and Zag are learning how to differentiate between law and gospel and are sharing that freedom that comes from the gospel with those in their communities. It is the prayer that the Hmong Fellowship Church will enter into full fellowship with WELS in the relatively near future.

In addition to the seminary training being provided, a new rural training program developed by WELS missionaries Bounkeo Lor and Joel Nitz is training 700 rural church leaders in the basic truths of the Bible, with 700 more church leaders targeted for future training. Twelve of the new HFC graduates were commissioned to serve as instructors in the program, including Rev. Chong Chee Yang, who shared his experience in the December edition of Forward in Christ magazine.

God has opened an opportunity for WELS to support gospel outreach to more than two million Hmong who reside throughout Southeast Asia. We thank God for giving the members of the Hmong Fellowship Church a love for his Word and an eagerness to spread the gospel. We pray that a similar spirit spread across the world so that the Lord’s kingdom continues to grow according to his will!

Learn more at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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Together Video Update – November 28, 2023

Forward in Christ magazine invites you to take time preparing and pondering our Savior’s  birth this Advent season with a special interactive devotional series. Each devotion includes online extras like a digital storybook and an audio recording as well as a video of a Martin Luther College choir. Check out forwardinchrist.net today.

 

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Gathering in thanks

Psalm 117 is the shortest of all the psalms. But it says so much: “Praise the LORD, all you nations. Worship him, every race of people. For his mercy overwhelms us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD.”

This week people throughout our country will gather with family and friends to observe a holiday that we call Thanksgiving. Sad to say, the thoughts and activities of many people will center more on food and football than on actually doing what the name of the holiday suggests—giving thanks to a gracious God for his countless blessings, both physical and spiritual.

I’m confident that your celebration of Thanksgiving will involve exactly what the psalm writer encouraged: You will praise and thank God for all he has done and all he has given. You will celebrate with humility and joy that he showers us with his overwhelming mercy and gifts even though we deserve nothing from him. And you will be filled with confidence and trust that our faithful God will continue to keep his promises to us long after the holiday celebration is over.

Have a blessed and thanks-filled Thanksgiving!

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Home mission milestones – fall 2023

WELS Home Missions has provided an update on a number of home mission congregations that experienced major milestones in fall 2023.

Christ the Rock Lutheran Church, Canton, Ga.

Christ the Rock in Canton, Ga., held its grand opening worship service on Nov. 12, 2023. God blessed the church’s outreach efforts with 60 in attendance, including 16 brand-new guests to Christ the Rock. Home Missionary Cale Mead and the core group set up and take down for worship at a local elementary school every Sunday using a “portable church” that can be stored in a trailer from week to week. A different home mission congregation, Living Hope in Chattanooga, Tenn., donated its old trailer to Christ the Rock after purchasing its own permanent facility.

View photos of Christ the Rock’s first public worship service and other home mission activities in the South Atlantic District in the Flickr album.


Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, Dickinson, N.D.

Amazing Grace, a home mission congregation in Dickinson, N.D., launched public worship on Oct. 15, 2023. It was blessed with 29 in attendance, 10 of whom were visitors invited by a family member or friend from Amazing Grace. Home Missionary Joel Prange serves this new mission church that was approved in 2021.

The following weekend, Oct. 22, Amazing Grace dedicated its new building space with members and pastors from area WELS congregations. Church members are currently worshiping in a rented ministry center in a new local market that they were able to customize to meet their ministry needs.

View photos of Amazing Grace’s new church and other home mission activities in the Dakota-Montana District in the Flickr album.

 


New Start, Marquette, Mich.

Rev. Joseph Lindloff was installed as the pastor for the new mission start in Marquette, Mich., on Oct. 8, 2023. This mission is one of the first new missions approved as part of the effort to start 100 missions in 10 years from 2023-2033. It had its first core group meeting on Nov. 5 with 24 individuals in attendance, including 5 prospects. The church prays to start a Bible information class in the new year.

View photos of the installation service and other home mission activities in the Northern Wisconsin District in the Flickr album.

 


TheMission – a Lutheran Church, Conroe, Tex.

TheMission, Conroe, Tex., launched its worship services on Aug. 6, 2023. Rev. Jeremy Mattek serves those at TheMission. They are currently worshiping in a rented funeral home on Sundays while working with a local architect to develop plans for a new sanctuary and site plan on land that they purchased.

View photos of TheMission’s launch service and other home mission activities in the South Central District in the Flickr album.

 

 


Please keep these home missions in your prayers as they continue to share the pure message of the gospel with more people in their communities. To stay connected with these and the other 145 home mission congregations scattered throughout the United States, Canada, and English-speaking West Indies, follow WELS Missions on Facebook at fb.com/WELSMissions.

 

 

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Together Video Update – November 14, 2023

Enrollment in WELS high schools is rising, reports Mr. Jim Rademan, director of WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools. Hear from four WELS high school students on what sets a WELS high school apart.

Looking for a WELS high school? View the online listing with links to each high school’s website.

View statistics from the WELS Commission on Lutheran Schools.

 

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November 2023 meeting of the Synodical Council

The Synodical Council (SC) held its fall meeting last week. Here are some of the highlights:

President’s report

In my regular report to the SC, I shared the following information:

  • The Conference of Presidents has begun to carry out a resolution by the synod convention to prepare a pastoral brief on “critical theory.” This brief will be intended to provide called workers and members information that they will need to understand and to deal with an important issue affecting our churches and members.
  • A task force has been formed to carry out a synod resolution calling for a wide-ranging effort to address the shortage of called workers.
  • Two gifts (of approximately $800,000 and $500,000) have been given to the synod by congregations that have decided to close. The purpose of these gifts is to provide support for ongoing and expanded mission work.
  • Northwestern Publishing House will use a special grant from the Schwan Foundation to enable the inclusion of the Evangelical Heritage Version, the English Standard Version, and the Christian Standard Bible translations in the Service Builder software for the new hymnal. The new hymnal has been adopted by approximately 75 percent of WELS congregations.
  • A newly appointed committee has begun planning for the celebration of the synod’s 175th anniversary in 2025.

Updates

The SC received detailed updates from the areas of ministry, the synod’s subsidiaries, and the various departments of the synod. Highlights include:

  • The Board for World Missions is considering new mission efforts in several foreign mission fields, including Senegal and Australia. God continues to bless the work around the world.
  • The Board for Home Missions has approved the establishment of 10 new home missions and 10 mission enhancements this year, in keeping with the “100 missions in 10 years” initiative.
  • Reports from WELS Investment Funds, WELS Foundation, WELS Church Extension Fund, Benefit Plans, and Northwestern Publishing House all indicate a solid financial condition for all these subsidiaries.
  • WELS Communication Services has produced a video, “Doing More Together,” that provides guidance and encouragement to congregations as they establish their 2024 Congregation Mission Offering (CMO) subscriptions.
  • WELS Technology continues to focus on ensuring security and privacy in the IT systems at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry and at the synodical schools. Video surveillance cameras are being installed at the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry in keeping with a recommendation from a recent security audit.
  • The Ministry of Christian Giving reported that 2023 Congregation Mission Offerings through October are slightly higher than last year and are ahead of projections. Gifts of $521,000 have been received for the Competency-Based Education program at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., This program provides an alternative pathway to the teaching ministry for WELS second-career adults who are unable to move to New Ulm for a traditional on-campus program. The “100 missions in 10 years” initiative has received $2.66 million in gifts.
  • Chief Financial Officer Kyle Egan reported that the accounting firm of Baker Tilly has completed the audit of the June 30, 2023, financial statements and has issued an unmodified opinion (the best that can be received). With that information, the SC approved the June 30, 2023, Consolidated Financial Statements.
  • Egan also reported that the first quarter financial results are in line with planned levels for both revenues and expenditures. WELS remains in a strong and stable financial position.
  • Over 800 WELS congregations, schools, and affiliated organizations are part of the WELS Group Property and Casualty Program from Church Mutual. Because of their efforts to focus on risk management and loss control, the WELS group has again qualified for a safety dividend totaling just under $200,000 for calendar year 2021 premiums. Participating organizations can expect to receive a dividend check in the mail for their portion of the dividend from Church Mutual by the end of calendar year 2023.
  • WELS Christian Aid and Relief continues to provide assistance to congregations and sister church bodies in times of natural and man-made disasters. It is also eager to help individuals who are facing difficult financial or health situations.

Decisions

  • The SC approved a request by Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., to add a full-time employee to its recruitment staff. This position will not require additional synod operating support.
  • The SC approved a request from Martin Luther College to proceed with the first phase of the build-out of additional music space in the unfinished basement of the chapel. The $250,000 project will be funded with gifts received and designated for that purpose and will require no additional synod operating support.
  • The SC transferred $2 million from the Financial Stabilization Fund (FSF) to the synod’s Capital Projects Fund. The SC also amended the FSF policy to provide for an annual $1 million to be transferred to the Capital Projects Fund. The Capital Projects Fund is intended to be a source of support for planned synodical building projects in the future.
  • The SC approved the sale of an office condo in St. Paul, Minn., used by the WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired (MVI). Proceeds from the sale will be placed into the special funds of Congregational Services. MVI is planning on a partnership with a local congregation in the Twin Cities area for its ministry work.
  • The SC continued to discuss the inflationary environment and called worker compensation and referred the matter to the Compensation Review Committee for continued review. The SC also reminds self-supporting congregations that each calling body has the flexibility and latitude to provide called workers with increases greater than the 2.5 percent increase included in the synod compensation matrix as they consider individual circumstances, local circumstances, or other relevant factors. In addition, the SC encourages congregations that are providing compensation less than the synod guidelines to strive to increase compensation to meet those guidelines.
  • The SC determined that from now on it would meet in November and in April, with the ability to meet also in February if necessary.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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OWLS reflect on Christian vocation at annual conference

The Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) met in Stevens Point, Wis., Oct. 10–13, for its annual conference. The conference revolved around the theme “Called to Be a Blessing,” which offered opportunities for the 130 attendees to reflect on their Christian vocation through worship, keynote presentations, and workshops.

The three keynotes reinforced that, even in retirement, God calls believers to be a blessing to those around them. In Wednesday’s opening keynote, Prof. Kenneth Cherney, Jr., from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., gave an overview of Luther’s understanding of Christian vocation, in which God makes us channels through whom he pours out his blessings on others. Thursday’s keynote speaker, Rev. Jonathan Hein, coordinator of WELS Congregational Services, talked about the vital role WELS seniors will play in the next decade as WELS churches meet challenges stemming from the loss of younger members, reaching out to those who don’t see the need for church, and the need for more people to enter the gospel ministry. The final keynote on Friday featured Mr. Randy Breuer, a retired professional basketball player, speaking about being a Christian in the world of the NBA.

One of the highlights of this year’s convention was a special presentation and Q&A featuring Rev. Robert Weiss and his wife, Rachel, who joined the convention via video from Munich, Germany. Weiss was commissioned in August as the new WELS European civilian chaplain. The Weisses gave an update on their work throughout Europe as they serve both WELS military members and their families and civilians as well. Weiss encouraged those who have loved ones living and serving in Europe to fill out the form at wels.net/refer so he can connect with and serve them.

Each year, the OWLS designates its convention offerings to support the WELS European civilian chaplaincy. This year, the OWLS again presented the chaplaincy with a check for $50,000. Convention offerings and proceeds from the silent auction, which raised a record $2,675, were directed for next year’s gift to the work of the chaplaincy. During his video call, Weiss expressed his gratitude: “Thank you to all of you in OWLS for the support you give the European chaplaincy,” he said. “It puts a pastor with his people. Thank you also from all those over here who receive Word and sacrament because of what you do.”

Sharon and Jay Stuedeman from Bethlehem, Hortonville, Wis., were excited to return this year for their second convention. “I believe this convention just gets better every year,” Sharon says. “The presentations were excellent. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.” Jay enjoyed seeing old friends and making new ones: “One of the biggest things is the friendliness of everyone. The connections with other Christians are something I like most about the convention,” he says. “I don’t think anyone could come to this convention and not enjoy it.”

John Paulsen, OWLS executive director, says, “This year’s convention seemed to strike a chord with everyone.  Even first-time convention goers were impressed by the quality of the presentations and the fellowship of the group. We all get to grow in faith together!” Paulsen encourages any congregation with a seniors’ ministry to look into the OWLS program because it offers meaningful ways for seniors to gather and serve.

The 2024 OWLS convention will be held Oct. 14–17 at the Omaha Marriott, Omaha, Neb. The convention is open to all seniors 55 and older in WELS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, regardless of OWLS membership.

Learn more about the OWLS at wels.net/owls.

 

 

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Two announcements from WELS Benefit Plans

WELS Shepherd Plan
Administrative costs for the WELS Shepherd Plan, the retirement savings program for WELS called workers and employees, have decreased by 9.8 percent, effective Oct. 1, 2023. The new annualized administrative cost will be 37 basis points (37/100ths of one percent) per year. Administrative costs are charged to the participant’s Shepherd Plan account on a quarterly basis.

This is the fifth cost reduction since Oct. 1, 2017, resulting in a cumulative 47.1 percent decrease during that time period. The continued growth of the Shepherd Plan has made these recent cost reductions possible.

WELS VEBA
The WELS VEBA Commission is offering a limited open enrollment for the WELS VEBA Group Health Care Plan for the 2024 plan year. The limited open enrollment is available to eligible workers at sponsoring organizations with at least one active worker enrolled in medical benefits under the WELS VEBA health plan. Enrollment opened Nov. 1, 2023, and will run through Nov. 30, 2023.

Eligible participants can enroll in WELS VEBA or change current WELS VEBA coverage by going to the WELS Benefits Service Center website at www.wels.bswift.com or by calling 1-800-487-8322 (option 1) during the open enrollment period.

The WELS VEBA Commission has also announced that the 2024 premium rates for WELS VEBA medical benefits will increase by 11 percent. This increase is necessary to ensure that the plan maintains adequate long-term reserves, particularly given inflation-related increases in the cost of health care. WELS VEBA health plan rates for 2024 are available on the Benefit Plans website.

Information regarding the 2024 limited open enrollment and WELS VEBA benefits is available in the 2024 WELS VEBA Benefits Guide.

 

 

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Together Video Update – October 24, 2023

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s 2023-24 school year is underway. Hear from two first-year students about their journey to the seminary and what life is like as they train to be pastors.

 

 

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Conference of Presidents’ fall 2023 meeting

The Conference of Presidents (COP) held its fall meeting on October 3–5. Here is a summary of the matters discussed and decided:

  • The COP has begun to carry out a resolution of the synod convention asking for a pastoral brief on the subject of critical theories and justice, issues that are confronting pastors and members in our society today. A pastoral brief is a statement that will provide information and guidance on a specific subject. It is “pastoral” not because it is intended only for pastors, but because the guidance it provides is biblical, evangelical, and pastoral.
  • The COP was informed that a task force to address the called worker shortage will be appointed in the coming weeks, as directed by the synod convention. The task force will craft recommendations for a synodwide effort to increase the number of candidates for the public ministry.
  • The COP approved a proposal to extend and encourage WELS teaching ministry certification for all early childhood teachers, whether called or hired. The COP also approved a proposal that makes a distinction between synodwide early childhood teacher certification (meaning that such certified teachers are able to be called anywhere) and local teacher certification, which certifies early childhood teachers for service in their own local congregation only.
  • The COP is asking the Synodical Council’s Compensation Review Committee to propose an appropriate manner of compensating directors and teachers for increased time commitments and responsibilities involved in early childhood education.
  • The Early Childhood Ministry Support Task Force is producing a document as a resource for early childhood education (ECE) leaders, boards, district coordinators, and district presidents to build awareness and give strategies on how to efficiently operate an ECE program while meeting the needs of ECE staff, parents, and children.
  • The COP continues to look at ways to improve the guidelines and procedures dealing with the call system.
  • The COP extended a call to Rev. Michael Hatzung to serve as a Christian giving counselor in a half-time retirement call. In view of the pastoral shortage, the COP also considered filling a full-time vacant Christian giving counselor position and determined that this call, if possible, should be extended to a qualified layman rather than to a pastor. A notice for nominations for this position was issued last week.
  • The COP received reports from the Ministry of Christian Giving, the Commission on Congregational Services, and Communication Services, and was updated on the processes for gathering congregational statistics and Congregation Mission Offering subscriptions.
  • The COP is continuing its work on finalizing the restatement of the synod’s doctrinal position on male-female roles and relationships.

 

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Mission work approved in Senegal

The Board for World Missions has approved a plan to send two missionaries to Senegal to learn the culture and language in preparation for sharing the gospel and gathering a congregation.

The country of Senegal 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. Even though Senegal is an overwhelmingly Muslim country, the constitution staunchly defends freedom of religion and is a relatively peaceful and stable place. “This would be extremely ‘raw’ mission work, where we’ll be starting gospel outreach from scratch,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, World Missions administrator. “While we do not have an invitation to be in Senegal, we are going because we know these people do not have the gospel.”

Schlomer and Mr. Stefan Felgenhauer, director of World Missions Operations, made an exploratory trip to Dakar in September. They met people from the business community, local charitable organizations, and an international school to determine how easy it is for Americans to live and work in the country. They also connected with a well-respected, cross-cultural learning consultant agency. This agency will serve as a valuable resource moving forward as it’ll be able to connect future WELS missionaries with an immersion opportunity to live with a Muslim Wolof family. This opportunity will allow the missionaries to settle into the culture and community, learn the language, meet the people, and seek opportunities to share the gospel.

“This will be a new attempt by WELS to reach into the Muslim world,” says Schlomer. “The opportunity for learning, outreach, and immersion in this culture will help us grow in our understanding of Muslim influence. We pray this becomes not only a blessing to the Wolof people but also a resource for future Muslim outreach around the world.”

In 2021, world missionaries were tasked with researching where WELS might have the opportunity to plant new world mission fields, with the goal of bringing the gospel to some of the 7,000+ unreached people groups around the world. The Wolof tribe in Senegal was identified as a potential mission field opportunity. Other areas identified include Bangladesh, Dubai, New Zealand, and other U.S. Native American tribes.

Learn more about these locations for future mission work at wels.net/newworldmissionfields.

 

Senegal

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Together Video Update – October 10, 2023

The Commission on Lutheran Schools recently installed Mrs. Melanie Giddings as the curriculum coordinator. She will be organizing the work of the theology curriculum task force as it creates a framework for the next theology curriculum for WELS schools. Giddings talks about the process and insights being considered for the new program.

 

 

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Your generous offerings at work

One of the blessings of belonging to a synod is the opportunity to work together with fellow Christians throughout the country in carrying out the mission that God has given us to do: taking the gospel to as many people as possible. Working together with more than 1,200 other WELS congregations enables you and your congregation to accomplish many things that would be difficult or impossible to do alone. Together we train future pastors, teachers, and staff ministers. Together we plant new mission congregations in the United States and Canada. And together we carry out and support mission efforts in 45 countries around the world.

You and your congregation support that work with your fervent prayers. You also support that work through your generous offerings.

Sometimes those offerings come from individuals who want to support the synod’s work in general or who have a particular area of that work that they want to support.

The synod receives the majority of its financial support from Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO). WELS congregations typically designate an annual amount that they forward to the synod for our joint efforts. Your congregation is likely already discussing your CMO commitment and will soon inform the synod of what the amount for 2024 is expected to be.

To help you know exactly how your mission offerings are used, a special WELS Connection video has been prepared that will give you an informative glimpse into the many opportunities that God is giving us to proclaim his saving Word and to let you know how God is using your generous gifts. The video will likely be shown in your congregation before or after worship, but if you would like to see it now, you can view it online.

Thank you for your generous gifts of faith and love!

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Together Video Update – September 26, 2023

The Foundation is a suite of resources developed by WELS Congregational Services that builds on the importance of public worship both on Sunday morning and throughout the week. Learn more about some of the outreach components of these resources from Rev. Eric Roecker, director of WELS Evangelism.

View The Foundation resources.

 

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Board for Home Missions approves tenth new mission start for 2023

Last week the Board for Home Missions met for its fall meetings and approved one new start and four enhancement requests. This brings the total new mission starts this year to 10 (not to mention the approved enhancements), which is on pace with our synod’s goal of starting 100 new mission churches and enhancing 75 existing ministries from 2023-2033.

  • Buffalo, Wyo. (new start): A group of 27 WELS members living in the Buffalo area have been worshiping weekly in the local civic center since March 2020, led by the pastor from Lord of Lords in Casper, Wyo.
  • Mount Calvary, Redding/Anderson, Calif. (enhancement): Home Missions is providing financial support for Mount Calvary, a multi-site ministry, to call a staff minister to assist with evangelism and youth/family ministry at the Anderson site.
  • Christ the King, Palm Coast, Fla. (enhancement): Christ the King will receive short-term Home Missions support to call a campus pastor to reach out to the 125 students with no church home at their growing Christ the King Academy.
  • Hope, Deerfield, Wis. (unsubsidized): Hope in Deerfield began outreach and worship in fall 2021. Unsubsidized mission status gives them access to grants from Home Missions and WELS Church Extension Fund (WELS CEF) as well as support from their district mission board and mission counselor.
  • Cross of Christ, Las Cruces, N.M. (unsubsidized): Cross of Christ started in a member’s home 11 years ago. The congregation has 73 members and owns land along a major access road where most of the city’s new development is taking place and where hundreds of young families are moving.

As district mission boards and mission counselors are looking for new places to start churches and enhance ministries, WELS members have responded to help support this gospel outreach goal with their offerings. Since starting this initiative, more than 1,500 members have contributed more than $1.7 million to help launch new home missions. Thanks be to God! Thank you to all those who have contributed toward this effort of boldly taking the gospel to people in new locations throughout the country.

Learn more about these new starts and enhancements and read updates from home missions that were approved in spring at wels100in10.net.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Using The Foundation to reach the unchurched

The Foundation, a free worship planning resource developed and offered by WELS Congregational Services, is designed to assist congregations with outreach in their communities.

By using the pre-planned worship resources, busy pastors will have more time to spend visiting prospective members and interacting with their communities.

The worship plans have also been carefully constructed to be accessible to first-time guests. The orders of service and hymns, while feeding the faithful, will also bless those new to Lutheran worship.

“Perhaps most importantly, it is hoped The Foundation resources will encourage members to invite their unchurched friends, neighbors, and co-workers to join them for worship. The use of themes for worship series might mean a member brings someone who is struggling with a particular issue in their life or who may have expressed interest in a topic that will be discussed in an upcoming series,” says Rev. Eric Roecker, administrator for WELS Commission on Evangelism, part of WELS Congregational Services.

To assist with this outreach, a promotional video is produced for each series. The videos are specifically produced with the unchurched in mind, using language, images, music, etc., that unchurched people could understand and relate to. Roecker suggests some ways the videos might be used:

  • Show the video for an upcoming series after worship for two to three weeks prior to the start of the series. Not only will it prepare your people, but it might also make them think of someone they could invite to join them.
  • In certain settings, the video could be shown as an introduction to the sermon each week. This repetition would help tie the series together in the minds of worshipers.
  • Post the videos on all of your congregation’s social media pages. You never know who might see it and be intrigued enough to join you.
  • Share the videos with your members in the weeks leading up to each series so they can share them with unchurched acquaintances. It’s an easy way for them to make the invite.

View the latest outreach video:

Access all The Foundation resources at welscongregationalservices.net/foundation-yr-a.

Also, don’t forget to get Christmas outreach materials! Christmas outreach postcards and other materials are available from Echt Printing to help congregations reach their neighbors, inviting them to Christmas worship. The materials feature The Foundation Christmas theme for 2023. The deadline to order is Oct. 24.

Praise and Proclaim is also offering assistance to congregations with digital evangelism efforts. The deadline to sign up is Oct. 27.

 

 

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Together Video Update – September 12, 2023

Rev. Tom Welch, campus pastor in Houghton, Mich., shares what campus ministry looks like in his university town—the Bible studies, activities, and outreach that happen among the college students. WELS Campus Ministry invites all college students to connect with a campus ministry or pastor where they are. Sign up at wels.net/college to receive spiritual support materials for this chapter in your life and connect to a ministry or pastor near your school.

 

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