WELS summer events involve thousands

For a church body the size of WELS, our synod is blessed to be able to provide a wide variety of spring and summer events. Each of those events presents opportunities for worship, spiritual growth, supporting the synod’s mission, training for service in various ways, and Christian fellowship. Some of the events held in 2024 feature all five elements.

Two of the synod’s summer events happen next week:

  • WELS Women’s Ministry Conference
    The WELS Women’s Ministry Conference will be held July 28-30 at the Ingleside Hotel, Pewaukee, Wis. It is a sold-out conference with 450 attendees planning to come.

Several other events occurred earlier this summer:

  • Taste of Missions
    Nearly 500 people attended the annual Taste of Missions on June 15 at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., for a day of food, fellowship, fun, and learning about WELS mission work. The event kicked off with a special worship service in the morning, during which nine new home and world missionaries were commissioned.

2024 WELS International Youth Rally

  • WELS International Youth Rally
    From June 25-28, WELS teens had the opportunity to worship together, learn and study God’s Word, grow in faith and fellowship with one another, as well as enjoy recreation and entertainment at the 2024 WELS International Youth Rally. Around 2,200 teens and 600 adults convened at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo. This was the second largest rally ever, second only to the 2005 rally in Orlando, Fla.
  • Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society convention
    The 61st annual convention of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) in Sioux Falls, S.D., on June 27-30 drew more than 1,000 people for the opening service. This year’s convention theme was “Being Built into a Spiritual House.” Convention highlights included the presentation of more than $100,000 to support WELS Home and World Missions projects and an opportunity to hear about the latest developments from mission administrators. In addition, the LWMS kids c.a.r.e. program received more than $43,000 in 2023–24 to support annual retreats for children of world missionaries who assimilate back to American culture.
  • WELS Night at the Brewers
    More than 2,000 members from around the Midwest enjoyed an evening of fellowship, fun, and baseball at the annual WELS Night at the Brewers on July 12.

    Rev. Paul Lindhorst sang the national anthem at WELS Night at the Brewers.

In addition to those synodwide events, summer is also the time throughout the synod when district or regional gatherings are held. Those include such things as district conventions, Sunday school workshops, marriage retreats, Lutheran summer camps, handbell festivals, and lay leadership retreats.

The popularity of these events indicates that we are a synod whose members are willing to give their time to events that support the mission of the synod and provide them with opportunities to grow in their knowledge and be equipped for service.

Learn more about upcoming events at wels.net/events.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Apache congregations look to offer aid after fire

Two WELS congregations and one school—Grace Lutheran Church, San Carlos, and Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and School, Peridot—were spared any damage when a wildfire swept through parts of the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona on July 11, burning more than 2,000 acres. The fire destroyed 15 homes, displacing 75 people in those communities.

Larger relief organizations provided immediate aid with food, clothing, and personal items to those affected by the fire, but more help will be needed in the weeks and months following the fire. “Now the Lord is giving us an opportunity to help those who aren’t part of our church,” says Rev. Dan Rautenberg, team leader of the Native Christians One Team, who could see the fire burning from his back porch in Peridot.

He continues, “You can’t build a home that quickly. Some of these families will be displaced for quite a length of time. We’re part of the community, and we want to be there and be part of the ongoing support as they get back to their lives.”

Rautenberg says that after reaching out to the families to talk about their needs, the congregations are looking to provide cleaning supplies, tools, and transportation help as these families get back on their feet. They also are working to put together community seminars with counseling for the victims.

The Native Christians One Team will be working closely with WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “In the immediate aftermath of a disaster there is always a lot of help, often more than can be used. Later, interest often wanes and with it the needed assistance,” says Rev. Dan Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief. “We are excited to be partnering with our Native Christians Mission Team to provide ongoing support to those in need.”

Learn more about Native American Missions at wels.net/missions.

 

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Together Video Update – July 16, 2024

See a compilation of highlights from the WELS International Youth Rally, held June 25-28 in Fort Collins, Colo.

 

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LWMS meets in South Dakota for annual convention

“We are here tonight, and we are here this weekend to remember and to rejoice again that God too has a long-range building plan. And that includes me and you and every single person that our ministries might touch.”

Rev. Jonathan Schroeder from Sharpsburg, Ga., set the tone for the 61st annual convention of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society (LWMS) in Sioux Falls, S.D., with those words from his sermon in the convention’s opening service.

More than 1,000 people gathered for the opening service. Among them was Paula Pease from Maitland, Fla. Attending her first convention, Pease noted, “The opening service was just phenomenal. Hearing a thousand people singing was just very—I’m going to say it—inspiring.”

This year’s convention theme was “Being Built into a Spiritual House.” Attendees learned about the expanding outreach by One Europe and Native Christians Network mission teams.

Conifer Berg presented information on his work as a missionary to the United Kingdom. He explained the importance of attending the convention—his first: “Our church is a group of maybe 70 people, and they feel really alone. So, I think for them to know that there are 1,000 people in this room who believe the same things they do, it’s huge! It’s like we’re not doing this ministry alone. It really is everything to have that support.”

“The convention,” Berg said, “is such a warm event. It’s like a big hug.”

In addition to world missionaries, home missionaries also shared experiences on outreach in Brandon, S.D., and West Des Moines, Iowa.

Workshops included: The Impact of Indigenous Art and Music on Missions, Trends in Engaging Your Community, Navigating Changes with an Unchanging God, The Real Missionary Wives—A Panel of Current and Former Missionary Wives, and a special Zoom presentation: The Lord Is With You, Mighty Warrior from a missionary in Boston, Mass.

Jacky Stoll from Oconto Falls, Wis., the current president of LWMS, marveled, “How amazing it is to hear from the missionaries in the field, engage with them and their families directly, and network with fellow believers from all over the United States and really the world!”

Convention highlights included the presentation of more than $100,000 to support WELS Home and World Missions projects and an opportunity to hear about the latest developments from WELS Home and World Missions administrators. In addition, the LWMS kids c.a.r.e. program received more than $43,000 in 2023-24 to support annual retreats for children of world missionaries who assimilate back to American culture.

For Mary Watson of Tucson, Ariz., the convention did more than inform her about missionaries who serve where she cannot go in person. She remarked, “What impressed me was just how many missions there are and how many of them just start with a single person connected with another single person, and—maybe that’s what I need to learn more about—making connections with other people in my everyday life. You just don’t know where that’s going to end up.”

The 62nd annual LWMS convention is scheduled to take place June 26-29, 2025, in Tulsa, Okla.

View additional photos:
LWMS 2024

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The Word of the Lord grows—from Hong Kong to New Zealand

The South Asian Lutheran Evangelical Mission (SALEM) is a sister church body comprised of ten congregations located in Hong Kong. This week, five members of SALEM visited our synod’s headquarters in Waukesha, Wis. They had attended the Lutheran Women’s Missionary Society convention and now were visiting various WELS sites in Wisconsin.

What made this visit especially interesting was the report this group shared about a new mission effort in New Zealand. Since 2020, about two dozen members of SALEM moved from Hong Kong to New Zealand. With the help of SALEM, they formed a new mission congregation called SALEM New Zealand Lutheran Church. In the three years since, their group has grown to about 40 Chinese-speaking members. They joyfully described the blessings of their fellowship in this new land, and they were very excited to be sharing the gospel with other Chinese-speaking people there. SALEM will be continuing its support of SALEM New Zealand in the coming years.

The WELS Board for World Missions has provided some modest funding to support their effort. In addition, Missionary Matt Doebler, located in Thailand, will also be providing additional guidance and encouragement to this group.

This is a beautiful reminder that our sister church bodies around the world are not content to keep the gospel for themselves but are also dedicating time and resources to take the gospel to new places and new people.

To get a small glimpse of their faith and mission zeal, you can watch a brief video introducing you to these brothers and sisters in Christ.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Teens gather for 2024 WELS International Youth Rally

From June 25-28, WELS teens had the opportunity to worship together, learn and study God’s Word together, grow in faith and fellowship with one another, as well as enjoy recreation and entertainment at the 2024 WELS International Youth Rally. Around 2,200 teens and 600 adults convened at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colo. This was the second largest rally ever, second only to the 2005 rally in Orlando, Fla.

The rally started Tues., June 25, with an opening worship service in the evening. Wednesday and Thursday were packed with keynote speakers, small group workshops, and excursions. After closing worship on Friday morning, it was time for everyone to head home.

Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of discipleship, the area of ministry that holds the event, said, “Keynotes and breakouts were practical and relatable. To sum up what I heard from others regarding the two keynotes—the speakers, their stories, and the Scriptures on which their presentations were based connected with our heads and hearts. Most importantly, they pointed to and connected young hearts and heads with Christ.”

Rev. Dr. Phil Huebner, campus pastor at Wisconsin Lutheran High School, Milwaukee, Wis., along with a panel of high school students, presented the first keynote, titled You Are Not Alone! The teens who joined him shared their own journeys filled with mountains and valleys and how God, Christian friends, and family supported them.

“I was really looking forward to speaking to WELS teens because I know how much they are hurting and suffering in very challenging times, and I viewed it as an absolute privilege to be able to encourage them with the message that they are not alone,” says Huebner. “I hope that the teens clearly understood that, most importantly, they are not alone in what they are going through because Jesus is with them every step of the way. Secondly, in Christ we have a family of brothers and sisters, and there are many teens who are going through the same things they are. We can look for opportunities to encourage one another as we find strength in Christ and fellow Christians.”

Rev. Alex Groth, Beautiful Savior, Cincinnati, Ohio, presented the second keynote, titled Certainty from the Mountaintop. Groth says, “When I accepted the invitation, it struck me how important it would be to put a spotlight on God’s grace to this giant gathering of young people. Our culture is pulling them in a million directions, and most of those directions are dangerous. Having a chance to talk about Jesus and the means of grace felt like both a great privilege and a serious responsibility.”

He continues, “I pray that those who heard my presentation first understood the importance of clinging to the means of grace and, second, grasped the reality that our time on earth can be so short. We aren’t guaranteed a certain amount of time on this earth. Therefore, let’s focus on both hearing God’s Word for our own eternal benefit and sharing it with those who haven’t heard it yet.”

Throughout Tuesday and Wednesday, the attendees had a variety of small group workshops to choose from, with topics ranging from tips on how to study the Bible, apologetics, outreach through creating a community and relationships, and Christian vocation.

While in Fort Collins, attendees had the opportunity to enjoy optional recreational activities, including the popular whitewater rafting option, hiking, horseback riding, or the Fort Collins museum.

Mrs. Kris Snyder, event organizer, says, “The comment I hear over and over is how incredible it is to be with so many teens who face the same struggles but have the same hope in Jesus—that WELS teens from around North America get to be with so many other teens who all believe the same thing.” She adds, “Worship in that setting with 2,800 people is incredibly powerful. When do you get the chance to do that? When I heard the musicians, assembly, and choir all join to sing ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty’ at closing worship, it was overwhelming!”

View more photos from the event.

 

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Together Video Update – June 25, 2024

World Missions brings the light of God’s Word to the world through evangelism efforts, church planting, training national workers for ministry, and providing religious materials in foreign languages through Multi-Language Productions. God is blessing the work of WELS World Missions as it strives to go into all the world. Learn more about how WELS is spreading the gospel by watching the archived videos from this summer’s Taste of Missions celebration of WELS mission work.

 

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2023 WELS statistical summary

Rev. Jonathan Hein, WELS Congregational Services coordinator, serves as the guest writer for President Schroeder’s Together column this week.

Each year, WELS collects data from all congregations and schools. WELS Congregational Services compiles this data into a comprehensive statistical report and publishes a statistical summary and analysis.

The 2023 statistical summary shares some good news for which we give thanks to God. Last year, even though WELS total membership declined by about 5,300 (-1.6 percent), the number of WELS members participating in in-person weekly worship increased by almost 8,000 (+6.7 percent). Adult Bible study and Sunday school also saw large increases in participation. 2023 also saw WELS congregations blessed with almost 5,800 adult spiritual gains, the highest total in over a decade.

The statistical analysis for 2023 also digs into the shortage of called workers. In 2023, WELS congregations reported having 264,500 communicant members, a decline of almost 17 percent from the statistical high year of 1990. Yet, WELS has 46 percent more teachers today than in 1990 (about 970 total) and almost the exact same number of active pastors today as in 1990. So, the reality is WELS has more called workers active today than at any point in WELS history. So how can there be a high vacancy rate? The Lord has simply increased the gospel opportunities before us: to grow our local ministries (particularly school expansion), to start new congregations around the country, and to plant new outreach locations around the world.

The statistical analysis discusses the importance of strengthening our efforts to recruit people for gospel ministry as well as creating new pipelines by which one can enter ministry. It also reviews the growing challenge of those efforts in light of the fact that the need for called workers is growing at approximately 2 percent annually at the same time WELS membership is declining at approximately 1.3 percent annually.

You can find the WELS 2023 Statistical Summary and Analysis at welscongregationalservices.net/stats.

Your input is requested! The Together newsletter is produced four times per month and features news articles and videos about mission and ministry news at WELS. Your input has been requested because you have viewed Together content. Thank you for helping WELS Communication Services serve WELS members with news from their synod.

 

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Two district presidents elected at district conventions

During this summer’s district conventions, two districts elected new presidents. The Pacific Northwest District elected Rev. Daniel Lange, and the Arizona-California District elected Rev. Joel Heckendorf. They will replace the outgoing presidents: Rev. John Steinbrenner from the Pacific Northwest District, who accepted a call to serve as pastor at Martin Luther, Oshkosh, Wis., and Rev. Jon Buchholz, who chose not to stand for reelection in the Arizona-California District.

Rev. Daniel Lange, Pacific Northwest District president

Rev. Daniel Lange currently serves as pastor at Light of Life, Covington, Wash. Lange was born in Arkansas where his father, Rev. Douglas Lange, was assigned to plant a mission church.

During his childhood summers, Lange, with his family, had the opportunity to stay at a family property near Eagle River, Wis. “This place holds a special place in my heart,” says Lange. “It was here that I received most of my ministry encouragement from my grandfather, Robert Otterstatter. It was at his side, fixing a broken pipe or shingling a cabin roof, where he spent hours talking to me about ‘the good Lord.’”

Lange met his wife, Sara, at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. “I didn’t know at the time how tremendously the Lord would bless me through Sara,” remarks Lange. “For all the sermons I’ve given, my wife has given more. Her text is ‘Love your husband!’ and her sermons are preached through her daily actions in our house, at our church, and everywhere in our life together.” The Langes have been blessed with three children—Madelyn (14), Olivia (12), and Zachary (9).

As he begins his new role, Lange is grateful for the support and advice he has received from the outgoing district president. “John Steinbrenner continues to teach me many lessons,” says Lange. “In all things, he has placed the kingdom first.”

He continues, “I look forward to visiting our churches and schools. I’m eager to witness how Jesus is blessing them, to pray with them, and to serve them in any manner possible.”

Rev. Joel Heckendorf, Arizona-California District president

Rev. Joel Heckendorf currently serves as pastor at Light of the Valleys, Reno, Nev. As a Wisconsin native who grew up on a dairy farm in Jackson, Heckendorf remarks, “When I took the call to start a mission in Reno, it was the first time I lived outside of Wisconsin and it was the first time I was part of a congregation with less than one thousand members. Being in a mission has helped me gain a whole new perspective on ministry.”

Heckendorf has gathered insights from various people and congregations throughout his life. First, he learned from his parents, who were both involved in their home congregation. But it wasn’t until his senior year in high school that he considered becoming a pastor. “The summer before my senior year, I’d spend a few mornings a week lifting weights and playing basketball with a seminarian from my congregation,” explains Heckendorf. “As he let 17-year-old me hang around his seminary buddies, I started to consider pastoral ministry because of their peer influence.”

Now as he considers his new role as district president, Heckendorf can see how the Lord has prepared him for this path. For example, while serving as pastor at Immanuel, Greenville, Wis., Heckendorf served on the praesidium of the Northern Wisconsin District and learned a great deal from its president, Rev. Joel Zank. Additionally, Heckendorf explains, “Being on Synodical Council the past few years, I admired the laymen and administrators of our synod. Also, serving as Multi-Language Productions’ administrative chairman has broadened my experience to consider many cultures and to work alongside many gifted people.” He also notes how God prepared him through his wife, Mary. “Whether it’s watching her use her gifts or receiving her support, I thank God for providing the perfect complement.”

Heckendorf says he is grateful for all the prayers and words of encouragement through the years. “The number of people who have said they’d love to be my ‘Aaron’— to help hold me up—is amazing,” he says. “No matter what challenges we experience in our personal or professional lives, we can rejoice in the Lord, knowing that he is our Savior.”

Learn more about the role of district presidents in WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder’s column in this month’s Forward in Christ.

Your input is requested! The Together newsletter is produced four times per month and features news articles and videos about mission and ministry news at WELS. Your input has been requested because you have viewed Together content. Thank you for helping WELS Communication Services serve WELS members with news from their synod.

 

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Vacancies remain after pastoral assignments

Students and their wives at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis., learned where they will be serving as vicars, teachers, and pastors in two special services held May 22 and May 23 in the auditorium on campus. The Conference of Presidents announced a total of 79 assignments in all 12 districts of WELS.

On the evening of May 22, 40 second-year pastoral ministry students received vicarage assignments, and seven of their wives received teaching assignments in WELS schools either connected to the congregations where their husbands were assigned or in the area. While most of these assignments are to WELS congregations, one man will vicar in Medellin, Colombia, through the WELS World Mission office. Through careful planning with the WELS Home Mission office, 29 of the men were assigned to serve as Vicars in a Mission Setting.

Pastoral formation, including the year of vicarship, is the heart of what WLS does. This formation happens because of self-supporting congregations and missions around the country that partner with WLS in this work. We thank God for the supervising pastors in the field who are willing to give so much time to each vicar, for the supportive people of WELS, and for these men who have offered themselves for service in Christ’s church.

On the morning of May 23, 26 men received their first calls into pastoral ministry, one man returned to the Assignment Committee to receive his first parish call, and five recent WLS graduates were reassigned to their present fields of labor. Six of the graduates were assigned to serve Home Mission congregations. Four of the candidates were assigned to congregations that had been vacant for more than two years.

There had been 97 requests for candidates. With the 27 candidates available, 70 of those requests went unfilled. After the Assignment Committee did its work, there are still 146 vacancies for pastor-trained parish men synodwide, an 11 percent vacancy rate. Although 45 men graduated in the preseminary program at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., this year with plans to enroll at WLS next year, they will not be available to serve as pastors for four more years.

Because of the high vacancy rate, two floor committees at the 2023 synod convention asked Pres. Schroeder to appoint a Ministry Recruitment Task Force. This task force is presenting its first report to the districts in convention this summer. That report predicts that the pastoral vacancy rate will return to five percent in ten years as larger WLS classes matriculate, WELS congregations close and merge, and current pastors retire at age 70.

The task force is also suggesting 20 more immediate remedies for the synod’s current pastor and teacher shortages. We ask the Lord’s blessing on the district conventions discussing the remedies. We pray that the Lord of the harvest will send more workers into his harvest field.

Read the Ministry Recruitment Task Force’s report in the Report to the Twelve Districts.

Rev. Paul Prange, administrator of WELS Board for Ministerial Education

 

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2024 humanitarian aid grants approved

In May, WELS Christian Aid and Relief announced humanitarian aid grants totaling $490,154 for Fiscal Year 2024-25. WELS Home Missions will receive $64,258 in assistance, and WELS World Missions will receive $425,896.

WELS home and world missionaries develop humanitarian aid projects to reflect Christ’s compassion to the people of their communities and to build relationships that lead to opportunities to share the gospel.

Each year home and world missionaries, in conjunction with their mission boards and administrative teams, submit applications for grants to help them carry out humanitarian aid projects in their mission fields. These grants help to supply basic needs like water for the thirsty, food for the hungry, medical care for the sick and dying, mosquito netting for people who live in areas where malaria is a problem, school supplies for underprivileged children, and many other needs. At a spring meeting, WELS Christian Aid and Relief meets with representatives of WELS Home and World Missions to review these requests and designate funding for approved projects.

While many of the humanitarian aid efforts are ongoing, new projects are approved too. This year, Christian Aid and Relief is providing funding to Cross of Life, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Cross of Life is located across from a motel used by the Canadian government as a shelter for international refugees. Though the government provides some basic supplies, the refugees still need more assistance. This grant will help Cross of Life supply basic needs like clothes, cases of water, and baby supplies like formula and diapers.

Intown, Atlanta, Ga., is also receiving funding for a new effort to provide transportation assistance. One of the greatest needs for low-income families in Atlanta is transportation. Many low-income families struggle to attend worship, Bible study, and other church events. This grant supplies Uber or Lyft rides for these families so they can come to church to worship their Savior and study God’s Word.

Rev. Dan Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief, says “Most of us in America are spoiled. We flip a switch, and the light comes on. We turn the handle, and the water flows. Many in our world lack the basic needs that we tend to take for granted. Our humanitarian aid grant program allows our home and world missionaries to supply basic needs to people who are struggling and show them the compassion of Christ. This, of course, leads to many conversations about our Savior.”

The following Home Mission congregations are receiving grants:

  • Hope, Ontario, Canada
  • Living Hope, Commerce City, Colo.
  • Christ, Denver, Colo.
  • Christ the Rock, Farmington, N.M.
  • Cross of Life, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
  • Intown, Atlanta, Ga.
  • Living Hope, Chattanooga, Tenn.
  • New Mission, Bentonville, Ark.
  • Amazing Grace, Amarillo, Texas
  • Christ Our Refuge, Hewitt, Texas
  • Christ the Rock, Hutto, Texas
  • Abiding Savior, Killeen, Texas
  • Divine Peace, Rockwall, Texas
  • Our Savior, West San Antonio, Texas
  • St. Peter, Milwaukee, Wis.
  • Hope, Deerfield, Wis.
  • Bethlehem, Richland Center, Wis.

The following World Mission fields are receiving grants:

  • Africa—Malawi, Zambia, Nigeria, and Uganda
  • Asia—Indonesia, Nepal, and Pakistan
  • Europe—Albania and England
  • Latin America

To learn more about the work of WELS Christian and Relief or to support its ministry, visit wels.net/relief.

 

 

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Everyone Outreach gets a refresh 

WELS Congregational Services has recently revised Everyone Outreach, a popular program designed to help congregations discover their thought habits and develop new thinking and behaviors that build a culture of outreach. While maintaining its original elements, the revised program will now be a five-hour event instead of the original eight hours.

Rev. Eric Roecker, director of WELS Evangelism and co-developer of the program, says the goal of this revision is to encourage more participation. “Not only might this allow more congregations to participate, but we also hope a larger percentage of each congregation’s members will get involved,” he says. “This is important because the more people who participate, the better chance an outreach culture will be built in each congregation.”

More than 125 congregations have already hosted Everyone Outreach workshops since the program debuted in 2021.

Saving Grace, Mobile, Ala., was one of those congregations. “[Everyone Outreach] challenged deep-seated ideas about how we go about reaching those in our neighborhoods and looked at principles that held us back in our outreach and attacked those thoughts and changed those ideas,” says Rev. Thomas Spiegelberg, pastor at Saving Grace. “I do think it changed a lot of people and how they think about their church and their connection with how they share the gospel.”

Since the workshop, the congregation is focusing more on its children’s ministry and being more intentional with its community outreach events. It also is working on creating a welcoming environment at church for visitors and nonmembers, including extending its Sunday morning experience and encouraging its members to be friendly and open. “We have heavy food and snacks after church,” explains Don Baldwin, a member at Saving Grace and participant in the Everyone Outreach workshop. “When we have food, people stay and visit. And for the new folks, they really enjoy visiting and having conversations and fellowship. That fellowship is important for evangelism.”

He continues, “Everyone Outreach made us talk more about these and get organized.”

Saving Grace has had between 15–20 adult confirmations in the last year, and its new members are also sharing the message they discovered.

“You just want others to have what you have,” says Baldwin.

Learn more about Everyone Outreach and how your congregation can participate at everyoneoutreach.com. Read a story about how Don and Ammie Baldwin plant gospel seeds in their neighborhood in this month’s Forward in Christ magazine.

 

 

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Join us at Taste of Missions on June 15

Taste of Missions is less than two weeks away! Join us on Sat., June 15, at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., for a fun day of food, fellowship, and learning about WELS mission work. The event kicks off with a special worship service at 11 a.m. (Central) when we will commission nine new home and world missionaries:

  • Nathan Wagenknecht—Native Christians Network missionary
  • Peter Janke—Missionary to Australia
  • Jake Vilhauer—One Africa Team missionary
  • Matthias Borgwardt—Peridot-Our Savior’s Lutheran School, San Carlos Apache Reservation, Ariz.
  • Ben Bitter—Peace, Trinity, Fla.
  • Clayton Fury—New mission start: Conway, Ark.
  • Tristan Pankow—Living Shepherd, Laramie, Wyo.
  • Eli Steinbrenner—Good Shepherd, Plymouth, Wis.
  • Jacob Ungemach—New mission start: Cincinnati/Oakley, Ohio

All WELS members are invited to attend the commissioning worship service whether you register for the event or not! Doors open at 10 a.m. It will also be livestreamed at tasteofmissions.com/commissioning-service-2024.

By registering for the entire event, attendees will receive tasting tickets to three ethnic food trucks. Mingle with home and world missionaries and enjoy live music by a Latin American trio under the large outdoor tent. A kids’ activity station will feature a bounce house, passport scavenger hunt, mission-themed activity booklets, and more. Enjoy Home and World Missions headlines, Moments with Missionaries presentations, and a Q&A with the newly commissioned missionaries during the afternoon presentations from 2-4:15 p.m. There’s something for the entire family to enjoy! Find all the details at tasteofmissions.com/event-details.

Can’t be there in person? Register as a virtual attendee to watch the events via livestream, view new on-demand video updates from other home and world missionaries, and try one of the new recipes posted on the website on June 15.

Registration is $15 per person, with children 13 and under attending for free. Or attend virtually for free! Learn more and register at tasteofmissions.com today.

 

 

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Together Video Update – May 28, 2024

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., held its Call Day on Thurs., May 23. All 27 men available to receive an assignment were assigned. There were 97 requests for candidates, leaving 70 requests unfilled. Living Hope, Peoria, Ill., knows the struggle of a vacancy all too well. After more than two and half years without a shepherd leading the flock, new graduate Rev. Duane Backhaus was assigned to Living Hope.

View the graduate and vicar assignment list from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

 

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Together Video Update – May 21, 2024

On Sat., May 18, 175 students graduated from Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn. Forty-five men graduated from the pre-seminary program, now prepared to continue their pastoral studies at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis. A total of 131 teacher candidates received assignments to serve in WELS elementary schools, high schools, and early childhood centers. In addition, five staff ministry candidates received assignments to full-time ministry. View the assignment list.

To kick off graduation weekend, MLC’s musicians performed a concert Fri., May 17. The graduation service and call service were held Saturday. All three events were livestreamed and can be viewed online. Pray that God bless the ministries and continued studies of these graduates.

 

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WELS Synodical Council spring 2024 meeting

The Synodical Council (SC) held its spring meeting on April 26-27.

In my president’s report, I noted that:

  • Synod finances remain strong, with another year of record Congregation Mission Offerings and special fund balances all at a healthy status.
  • The newly established Capital Projects Fund will provide planning support for needed building projects at the synodical schools and will potentially provide support for servicing capital debt if needed.
  • Two missionaries have been redeployed from Thailand to Australia. WELS World Missions will also be working with a new Chinese congregation in New Zealand.
  • A special committee is working on plans to celebrate the synod’s 175th anniversary in 2025.

Rev. Paul Prange provided an update on the work being done by the Ministry Recruitment Task Force. The task force will provide detailed information to the district conventions this summer.

Rev. Jonathan Hein presented an overview of the draft of the synod’s new long-range plan, which is entitled “Christ through us.”

Several new office spaces will be created in the WELS Center for Mission and Ministry, providing offices to administrators who need them.

The Administration Committee received reports from the synod’s subsidiaries (WELS Foundation, WELS Church Extension Fund, WELS Investment Funds, Northwestern Publishing House) and from various synodical departments (Human Resources, Technology, Communications, Ministry of Christian Giving, WELS Benefit Plans). Appointments to various board positions were approved by the SC.

The committee also received a report from the Compensation Review Committee, which reminds congregations that paying “synod code” includes full health insurance premiums, cash housing allowance, cost of living increases, and reimbursement for the self-employment aspect of social security. Before making any major changes to the compensation code, the committee will survey congregations and other calling bodies to determine how actual compensation compares to the synod code.

The SC reviewed the summary of FY24 financial results, noting that total unrestricted support is trending better than planned, while overall expenses are trending lower than planned through the first nine months of FY24. FY24 special funds reserves through March 2024 increased to $92.7 million, a $10 million increase from FY23, and a $50.0 million increase in the last five years, more than doubling special funds reserve balances.

The SC approved the support forecast for the next biennium (an estimate of the financial support that will be available to fund the synod’s ministry). It’s estimated that synod support levels will be $35.3 million in FY26 and $36.4 million in FY27. The SC also approved the initial planning assumptions, including:

  • Congregation Mission Offerings projected to increase 0.5% each year,
  • called and non-called worker wages to increase on average 3.5% in FY26 and 2.0% in FY27,
  • healthcare expenses to increase 10% each year,
  • no increase in retirement plan expenses in either year, and
  • operational/program expenses and school subsidy to increase 3.0% each year.

The SC discussed the continued progress that the WELS CFO, Mr. Kyle Egan, has been making in helping to improve the process for planning, organizing, and prioritizing capital projects for the synod. His office has started to have conversations with firms that could assist with comprehensive site-planning across all synod locations and will work with the SC Executive Committee with the goal of getting that process started in the next few months.

The SC received reports from Home Missions, World Missions, Ministerial Education, WELS Christian Aid and Relief, and Congregational Services.

Mr. Steve Hansen, Mr. Kennith Gosch, and Mr. Thomas Schermerhorn all completed 12 years of faithful service on the SC. We thank them for all that they have done.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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WELS Prison Ministry reaching more inmates

WELS Prison Ministry has had an active and robust ministry by mail since 1993, relying on volunteers to facilitate mailing, encourage inmates with the gospel, and correct the tests that accompany the printed Bible lesson booklets distributed to inmates.

However, as Mr. Dave Hochmuth, Prison Ministry administrator, explains, sending booklets by mail to inmates has been getting increasingly difficult as prisons and jails are on higher alert for more sophisticated contraband, often drugs, sent to inmates hidden in physical mail. So, WELS Prison Ministry had to pivot how it distributes Bible lessons to the incarcerated.

Hochmuth says, “Last fall we contracted with a nonprofit organization called Edovo.com. They have created a learning management system like the ones schools use for distance learning, except theirs is for inmates. We have worked since then to develop online courses based on our Bible correspondence course booklets. We made three courses available on March 15 in an initial offering to work out the processes needed for handling this new opportunity. In the approximately seven weeks since the courses went live, we’ve been averaging nearly 300 digital tests per week generated by the inmates taking these three courses.”

This is about the same volume of tests Prison Ministry handled a decade ago when distribution by mail was near or at its peak. Hochmuth estimates Prison Ministry has gained between 500 and 1,000 new students since the launch of Edovo in March.

With the increase in inmates actively learning about their Savior, Prison Ministry has an immediate need for an additional 100 volunteers to serve as test correctors. In the near term, the test responses will be printed out and mailed to correctors, who will then correct the printed copy, which then will be returned to the inmates. This maintains a system where inmates are, at some level, still interacting with another person demonstrating Christ’s love to others.

If you are interested in volunteering, e-mail [email protected] or call 507-354-3130 (M-F 8:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Central).

If you know someone in jail or prison, use wels.net/refer to connect them with WELS Prison Ministry.

 

 

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WELS Home Missions approves new missions and enhancements

On April 18–19, WELS Board for Home Missions approved 12 new missions and enhancements for the synodwide 100 Missions in 10 Years initiative.

“We’re seeing a large increase in interest rates, and land, building, and health insurance costs that impact budgets for our current and future missions,” says Rev. Mark Gabb, Home Missions administrator. “As we considered new ministry requests this year, we worked hard to find balance between trusting God to do immeasurably more than we can imagine and not putting God to the test as we aim to wisely manage the dollars God’s people have given to WELS and Home Missions. Our goal remains the same: to aggressively go after the lost with the gospel.”

In the end, Home Missions approved five new starts and seven enhancements with the possibility of approving more in September. The five new mission starts include:

Bend, Ore.: Bend was identified in 2020 as the second-fastest growing city in the U.S. A core group of eight families has been gathering twice a month for Bible study and planning as it plants a church in an area where 62 percent of people are not involved with any religious community.

Cedar Lake, Ind.: Members from Trinity and Zion in Crete, Ill., have formed a core group to plant a new mission in nearby Cedar Lake. This area of northwest Indiana is growing rapidly as Chicago commuters look for cheaper alternatives to living in Illinois.

Conway, Ark. (pictured): Conway is a growing college town in the northwest of Little Rock with no WELS presence. A group of 19 WELS members has been gathering at a local hotel on Sundays for worship and Bible study with a part-time retired pastor and getting involved in the community as it prepares to launch a brand-new church.

Easley, S.C.: Since 2016, Abiding Peace, Simpsonville, S.C., has been exploring the option of starting a second site in the greater Greenville area that includes Easley and Powdersville. Abiding Peace is currently offering worship and Bible study and getting involved in community events from a leased home base in Easley as it evaluates where a future, permanent site might be established with a new missionary.

Williston, N.D.: The core group in Williston has been gathering for 15 years, now under the name Lamb of God Lutheran Church. It rents a full-time ministry center where members conduct outreach and worship online with the WELS church in Bismarck, N.D. Members look forward to reaching out with the gospel with a full-time missionary at the helm.

The Board for Home Missions is also financially supporting ministry enhancements for Calvary, Dallas, Texas; Crossroads, Chicago, Ill. (restart); Faith, Prior Lake, Minn.; Good Shepherd, Plymouth, Wis.; Northdale, Tampa, Fla.; St. Marcus, Milwaukee, Wis.; and St. Paul, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Learn more about these new missions and ministry enhancements at wels100in10.net.

 

 

 

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Together Video Update – April 23, 2024

Rev. Joshua Koelpin was assigned to start a home mission in Boston, Mass., as a new graduate of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary last May. Hear how he and his wife, Katelyn, have approached this first year of planting a new church in a large urban area. Also learn about some of the supports that WELS Home Missions provides to new missionaries and their families along the way.

Read more about Missionary Koelpin’s ministry in Boston by clicking on the links to two Missions blogs below:

Athens of America

Sowing seeds in urban soil

 

 

 

 

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COP April 2024 meeting summary

The WELS Conference of Presidents (COP) met in April for its spring meeting. Among the items discussed or decided were:

  • The COP reviewed the vacancy situation for pastors and teachers. The number of vacancies continues to rise gradually. Assignment days in May will help relieve the situation somewhat, but the problem will continue for the foreseeable future. The COP received a progress report from the Ministerial Recruitment Task Force, which will be making proposals to address the need for more workers.
  • The New Teacher Induction Program and the Pastor Partners Program provide mentoring to newly assigned teachers and pastors for the first three years of their service. The cost to congregations has been $1,000 per year and has not been increased for some time. To more adequately cover the cost of the program, the COP determined that, starting in 2025, the cost will be $1,500 per worker.
  • The COP was informed that a more thorough process for vetting non-MLC-trained teachers has been developed. The process will include evaluations of professional competency, background checks, pastoral recommendations, and district president interviews. Final details are still being determined.
  • The COP reviewed the current calling process and made no changes to the current guidelines. The COP will continue discussing this issue at future meetings.
  • The COP received a report from the committee planning the synod’s 175th anniversary celebration in 2025. The committee has produced a pictorial history of the synod and updated the existing book on the synod’s history. It is working on developing special video presentations and providing worship and Bible study resources for a synodwide celebration of the anniversary in the fall of 2025.
  • The COP was pleased to learn that 96.7 percent of WELS congregations submitted their statistics for 2023 and 99.1 percent submitted Congregation Mission Offering subscriptions for 2024. The COP is grateful for this high level of participation.
  • The COP issued the following divine calls:
    • Melanie Giddings was called to serve full time as the coordinator of the new synod K-12 religion curriculum.
    • Mr. Ryan Busman was called to serve as a Christian giving counselor for the Western Wisconsin District.
    • Rev. Nathan Cordes was called to serve as a Christian giving counselor for the south Minnesota District, the Nebraska District, and the Dakota-Montana District
  • The COP will continue to monitor the issue of congregations that are discussing merging or closing. As a part of the COP’s desire that these decisions are made in an orderly and legal way, the COP is updating the comprehensive guidelines that can help congregations in this process.
  • The COP continued its work on the pastoral brief on the doctrine of the roles and men and women. The brief will be released and distributed as soon as it is completed. Similarly, the COP received an update from the committee addressing justice and critical theories.
  • The COP discussed a proposal to make some changes to the procedure for nominating and electing synod officers. A final proposal is expected to be discussed at district conventions this summer.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Gospel Hands helps for worship

A new website called Gospel Hands is now available from WELS Special Ministries. This resource, produced by the Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MDHH), aims to share the gospel and better tell the message of Jesus to all who are deaf.

Gospel Hands provides videos of interpreters demonstrating the signs for more than 700 religious words and concepts, including a contextual sentence and a Scripture reference, if applicable. In addition, each sign is demonstrated from the front and the side. The signs are listed alphabetically and searchable by category.

Gospel Hands is the culmination of a three-year project by the committee. Back in 2003, the MDHH produced a book of religious signs for interpreters called Sign to the Lord a New Song. But knowing that a printed book of religious signs is no longer practical, the MDHH utilized the blessings of technology to record sign videos for this new website. Committee members collaborated on choosing the signs and context for each word.

Mrs. Verna Weigand, a religious sign language interpreter and a long-standing member of the MDHH committee, has been involved in Gospel Hands from the beginning. She is thrilled about this new resource and also appreciates that churches have become more open to using interpreters in worship and providing other resources like words on AV screens, hearing loops, and printed sermons for those with hearing loss. “It’s really important that [those with hearing loss] know congregations will assist them and not just say, ‘We don’t offer that here,’” she says.

Weigand, a member at Mt. Calvary, Waukesha, Wis., notes that Gospel Hands is growing as new resources, like videos of signed worship services, continue to be added. Mrs. Susan Willems, a member at Christ the Lord, Brookfield, Wis., is thrilled about this expanding resource because it helps her and her family members share their faith with her one-year-old nephew, Parker, who has been deaf from birth. “We learn sign language so we can include Parker in every aspect of our family,” she says. “You also never know when the opportunity will present itself to share Jesus with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing.”

Because it’s estimated that 85 to 90 percent of those with hearing loss don’t attend church because of a lack of religious resources for them, Rev. Joel Gaertner, director of the Commission on Special Ministries, knows what a valuable faith resource Gospel Hands is. “The work to put together an online religious sign language dictionary demonstrates the dedication of the members of the MDHH committee to provide as many resources as possible to help share the gospel with the deaf and hard of hearing community,” he says. “It’s wonderful to see how they are using technology to make this website possible.”

Learn more at gospelhands.net and find additional resources at wels.net/deaf-and-hard-of-hearing.

Read more about Gospel Hands in the May issue of Forward in Christ magazine.

 

 

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A ministry partnership in Europe

How can WELS best reach and serve all its members across Europe? This question brought together a cohort in Munich, Germany, during the first week of April.

Rev. Joel Gaertner, director of WELS Commission on Special Ministries, and Mr. Paul Wolfgramm, Military Services Committee chairman, traveled to Germany for two weeks over Easter where they visited different places where the chaplaincy does ministry; attended the annual European Easter retreat held by the Military Services European chaplaincy; and also met with Rev. Luke Wolfgramm, Europe team leader; his wife, Jennifer, Europe team integrator; Rev. Rob Weiss, European civilian chaplain; and his wife, Rachel.

The WELS European Chaplaincy has been serving WELS military members and civilians across Europe for more than 50 years as a ministry of WELS Military Services, which is part of WELS Special Ministries. More recently, a new opportunity for mission work has emerged. In recent years, many members from WELS’ sister churches around the world have been moving to the U.K. In response to this opportunity, WELS World Missions planted a new mission field in the U.K. in 2022. Rev. Michael Hartman was called and Rev. Conifer Berg was assigned to begin serving the group already gathering in London, connect with contacts from other sister church bodies, and launch outreach efforts.

The representatives from WELS Military Services met with Luke Wolfgramm, the team leader for World Missions in Europe, to discuss how the group of WELS pastors working abroad can best serve all WELS members living across Europe.

Gaertner says, “The biggest thing is making sure that we provide the opportunity to serve as many people as possible in Europe and in England with Word and sacrament.”

The group plans on meeting regularly to evaluate how it is working together. Gaertner says, “There’s going to be communication between Conifer Berg on the London team and Rob Weiss, the European chaplain, when we find out there’s a military person there. They will determine how the spiritual needs of that member can best be met. The big point is we will continue to serve them, but it will be based on where they’re located in England—whether the Europe team serves them or is it better for the European chaplain to serve them.”

Members in the military and their families are encouraged to go to wels.net/refer to be put in contact with WELS Military Services. Civilians moving to England can contact Rev. Conifer Berg to notify the ministry team of their desire for Word and sacrament.

 

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Ministry retreats offer opportunities for growth

About 160 pastors and wives met in San Antonio, Texas, April 3–5, for the annual Celebration of Ministry retreats. Hosted by Grow in Grace, the institute for continuing education at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., these retreats offer Bible study, workshops, and plenty of opportunities to interact with fellow classmates for pastors celebrating 3, 10, 25, and 35 years since graduating from the seminary.

That interaction is a pivotal part of the retreats. “No one can understand the joys and challenges of ministry and be able to encourage you in that ministry as someone else experiencing the same things,” says Rev. Brad Wordell, director of Grow in Grace.

Rev. Michael and Rachel Hartman, who serve in London and the United Kingdom, attended the retreat as part of the 25-year celebration group. “I very much appreciated the Bible studies directed toward the ministry milestone we were celebrating,” says Rachel. “It was a neat chance to reflect on the past and look to the future, remembering God’s promises and the confidence he gives us in our daily lives to keep moving forward.”

Outside of opening and closing worship, the groups met separately, concentrating on topics that affect them at that particular time in their ministry. This year, for the first time, they also all gathered for cross-generational, round-table discussions. “The younger generation could hear how the Lord has blessed those who have been in ministry a long time, how he has done his saving work through them, and how he carried them through difficulties,” says Wordell. “Those who are older were also blessed to see the gifts and the zeal of the younger pastors and their wives and to have the peace of knowing that God is continuing to raise up faithful servants for our churches.”

These retreats are just one part of the continuing education offered through Grow in Grace. The institute also provides a formal continuing education program, resources such as articles and newsletters, and a mentoring program for new seminary graduates. “God’s Word doesn’t change, but the world that we live in changes and how ministry gets done changes,” says Wordell. “We want pastors who are continuing to learn and to grow.”

The retreats offer that opportunity, along with a chance to unplug and reflect. “You can see it on their faces that this is a blessing to them,” says Wordell. “It’s an uplifting retreat that sends pastors and their wives back to their congregations with a renewed zeal to do what God has called them to do.”

Learn more about Grow in Grace.

 

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Together Video Update – April 9, 2024

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) held its first medical camp in Kenya in February. Over the course of the four days, CAMM medical staff helped about 1,500 patients. Hear from Angela Sievert, CAMM chairperson, as she shares how CAMM was able to expand its services and how CAMM staff and national church leaders were able to share God’s love with the people who came for medical care. Learn more about CAMM at camm.us.

Learn more about CAMM and the medical camp in Kenya in this May Forward in Christ article.

 

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God-given workers for his harvest field

The number of vacancies for pastor, teacher, and staff minister positions continues to present a real challenge for congregations throughout our synod. At the direction of last summer’s synod convention, a special task force has been formed to study the issue of enrollment at our synodical schools and bring recommendations regarding how we can encourage more young people to prepare for the public ministry.

Thankfully, we are approaching the month of May when some relief will be provided for the vacancy situation. The Conference of Presidents will be meeting as the synod’s Assignment Committee to assign teacher and staff minister candidates from Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., and to assign pastoral candidates at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis., to their first calls.

This year at MLC, 145 candidates will be available for assignment. Some of those will be teachers who will be assigned to their first calls; others who were assigned for one year last year will either be permanently assigned to the call in which they are now serving or be re-assigned to new locations. Thirty-seven of the candidates are restricted in where they can serve due to marriage or other circumstances. Many of these will be assigned in May; others will receive assignments in the weeks and months after call day.

At WLS, 27 men will be assigned as pastors. Most of those will serve in parishes; several will be assigned to one-year calls in one of our ministerial education schools as tutors. The Assignment Committee, with the input of the seminary, will also assign 40 men as vicars in congregations throughout our synod. Many of those will be assigned as “Vicars in Mission” to home mission congregations.

Assignment days at MLC and WLS are joyful days—joyful for the young men and women who learn where God will have them serve in the ministry and joyful for the members of the synod who see God keeping his promise to send workers into his harvest field. Keep giving thanks to God for these gifts to his church and keep praying that God will provide even more workers in the years to come.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Spring 2024 Home Missions’ milestones

A number of home mission congregations have experienced major milestones so far in 2024.

Refuge Church, Durham, N.C.

Rev. Doug Lange was called to plant a new home mission church in Durham, N.C., in 2021. The June 2023 WELS Connection showed Refuge in the early stages of development where the core group began to plan its ministry and look for opportunities to share Jesus with the community. Through many prayers, extensive planning, and outreach, God blessed the efforts, and Refuge launched public worship on Jan. 21 at a coworking space in downtown Durham.

 

 

New mission start, Idaho Falls, Idaho

On Sat., Feb. 10, Rev. Paul Krueger was installed as the home missionary for a new mission start in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Members of the core group traveled to Cross of Christ in Boise to participate in the installation service. This new mission was one of the first new missions approved as part of the 100 Missions in 10 Years initiative.

 

 

CrossView, Windsor, Colo.

On March 3, CrossView Church in Windsor, Colo., launched its public worship. This home mission plant was approved in 2022 and welcomed more than 85 guests to its opening worship service.

Home Missionary Stephen Koelpin arrived in January 2023 to work with the core group and prepare for the official launch. CrossView received a donated trailer from a home mission church in Arizona and items for its portable church from the nearby home mission church in Castle Rock, Colo. After renting a local elementary school to host worship, the group held four preview services starting in January 2024 in preparation for the launch. Learn more about what the core group in Windsor did to prepare to start its church in this special video: wels100in10.net/lightindarkness.

 

Living Hope, Chattanooga, Tenn.

On March 24, Living Hope in Chattanooga, Tenn., celebrated the grand reopening of its newly renovated facility. Living Hope began as a new home mission in May 2017 and has worshiped in a movie theater, hotel conference room, and a university campus church since then. Thanks to over $350,000 in matching land and facility grants and a loan from WELS Church Extension Fund, the congregation purchased its current facility in December 2021. Now, the newly renovated space is complete and equipped to serve the congregation and community.

 

New start and enhancement requests received

WELS Home Missions has received requests to start 16 new home mission churches and support 17 enhancements at existing congregations across North America.

Each request will be thoroughly reviewed by a dedicated team of Board for Home Missions (BHM) members. The entire BHM will meet April 18-19 to review and evaluate the requests. The approved requests will be the second round of home mission churches approved toward the synod’s goal of starting 100 new missions and enhancing 75 existing ministries in the next 10 years.

Learn more about the first year of approvals and how you can get involved at wels100in10.net.

 

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Together Video Update – March 26, 2024

On June 25-28, thousands of teens will gather at the foot of the Rocky Mountains to explore the many messages God delivers “from the mountaintops” of Scripture during the WELS International Youth Rally. Hear from Mrs. Nicole Westra, a youth rally planning committee member who has attended every youth rally since 2005, to learn more.

Learn more about the WELS International Youth Rally and Register!

 

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Groups addressing important issues

A number of groups have been carrying out their assignments to address various issues that are important to our called workers, congregations, and members. Here is an update on those groups and their assignments.

The Ministry Recruitment task force (already described more fully in a previous issue of Together)
Chaired by Rev. Paul Prange, this task force 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 bring recommendations for a synodwide effort to recruit and train more called workers. It will bring its recommendations to the 2025 synod convention.

Task force on critical theories
Chaired by Rev. Snowden Sims, this task force was assigned to evaluate the topic of critical theories and provide guidance to WELS called workers and members on how to understand and address these philosophies in light of Scripture. The task force will submit its recommendations to the Conference of Presidents, which will then produce and distribute a pastoral brief on the subject.

Theology curriculum task force
The theology curriculum task force is currently in an 18-month development of the components necessary for future content writers to create new instructional materials for WELS schools to use for the instruction of God’s Word. The task force wants the new curriculum to hold fast to our purposes of sharing God’s Word in its truth and purity with the next generation and meet the needs of increasingly diverse classrooms. One of its goals is to provide a curriculum that is primarily digital in format, which will make it possible to update the curriculum on an ongoing basis. The task force chairman is Mr. Jim Rademan. Mrs. Melanie Giddings is the curriculum coordinator.

Long-range strategic planning task force
Chaired by Rev. Jonathan Hein, this task force is developing a new synod long-range strategic plan that will guide all areas of synodical mission and ministry. The six-year plan, entitled “Christ through us” (the theme of the 2025 synod convention), will be presented to the synod convention in 2025.

175th anniversary planning committee
Chaired by Prof. Joel Otto, the committee has already begun to make plans for the celebration of the synod’s 175th anniversary in 2025. The theme for that celebration will be the same as the theme for the 2025 convention (“Christ through us”). Plans include a book that provides a pictorial history of the synod, video vignettes, an interactive online history of WELS, and a synodwide celebration Sunday in the fall of 2025.

Gender, sexuality, identity
A standing committee (not a temporary task force), chaired by Rev. Greg Lyon, is developing resources for pastors, congregations, parents, and young people to help them deal with transgender and same-sex attraction issues that are becoming more common in our society and culture.

Man/woman roles
The Conference of Presidents is continuing its work to develop a pastoral brief on man/woman roles. The brief will be distributed as soon as it is completed.

Please remember these groups as they work to address important issues biblically and evangelically.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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Supporting called workers

The Care Committee for Called Workers (CCCW), part of WELS Special Ministries, recently updated its materials. The CCCW exists to assist WELS calling bodies in the spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional care of their called workers. Its materials offer instructions on how to set up a congregational care committee as well as ways to help called workers financially prepare for retirement.

“While many calling bodies informally provide support to their workers, having an intentional, structured plan and organization makes sure workers are heard and encouraged,” says Rev. Joel Gaertner, director of WELS Special Ministries. A congregational Care Committee for Called Workers can provide that structure so congregations can make sure their workers are cared for.

St. John, Redwood Falls, Minn., has had a formal Care Committee for Called Workers for years, offering support to its 14 called workers and 2 support staff at its church and school. Five lay married couples form the committee, which is headed by Mr. Lance Otto, a member of the congregation’s Board of Elders. Each couple is assigned three to four called workers with whom they meet regularly.

Otto says a couple from the committee is in contact with the called worker from the very beginning—right when the call is accepted. That connection continues with once-a-year formal visits and numerous check-ins throughout the year. “They’re not just there to solve problems; they’re there to be a supporter and encourager,” says Otto. Having a contact couple also offers a safe place for called workers to share their concerns.

“Our Savior demonstrated a loving and caring heart for his disciples throughout his ministry. By his example, Jesus gave us a model of caring for our called workers. His command to love one another surely applies to Christians caring for the workers he sends us,” says Gaertner. “A local CCCW is often the best way to accomplish this.”

Learn more about how to set up a Care Committee for Called Workers in your congregation at wels.net/cccw.

 

 

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Together Video Update – March 12, 2024

Academia Cristo seeks to make disciples in Latin America by sharing the message of God’s grace with as many people as possible, training potential leaders, and encouraging those leaders to make disciples who plant churches. Utilizing social media platforms to reach the lost in Spanish-speaking countries, Academia Cristo reaches millions of people with God’s Word and is now celebrating its 10th anniversary. Missionary Andrew Johnston, who leads the Latin America mission team, shares an overview of Academia Cristo and how the Lord has blessed WELS mission work through this tool.

Learn more about mission work in Latin America.

 

Don’t miss Taste of Missions!

Interested in learning more about Latin American mission work? Missionary Andrew Johnston will be at the 2024 Taste of Missions!

Registration is now open!

This family-friendly event, held at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis., and online, will give all WELS members a “taste of missions,” no matter where you might be around the world. The event kicks off with a special worship service where WELS Missions will commission new home and world missionaries. Sample ethnic cuisine from some of our mission fields while enjoying fellowship and presentations from home and world missionaries alike. View displays, participate in outdoor family-friendly activities, and ask questions about the ups and downs of mission work during panel discussions.

Learn more and register!

 

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