2018 assignments at Martin Luther College

The synod’s Assignment Committee met at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., last week to assign candidates for the teaching and staff ministry. In total, 136 men and women were called by assignment to their various places of service. In addition, one staff minister candidate was assigned. View the assignment list.

All candidates able to be assigned anywhere were assigned. In addition, several candidates who were limited to a geographical location (usually because of marriage) were also assigned. Since many vacancies remain, many, if not most, of those who were not assigned on Call Day will be assigned in the coming weeks and months.

We are deeply grateful to the Lord of the church for providing these workers for his harvest field. We pray that God will be with them as they carry out the ministries to which God has called them.

The Assignment Committee will meet next week at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to make assignments for vicars and candidates for the pastoral ministry. Pastor and vicar assignments will be announced on Thurs., May 24, at 10:00 a.m. Tune into the live stream of the service.

Two members of the Assignment Committee will be completing their service as district presidents in June. Rev. John Seifert, Michigan District president, and Rev. Charles Degner, Minnesota District president, have worked faithfully to carry out their important responsibilities as district presidents and as members of the Assignment Committee. We thank them for their service and ask God to bless them and their wives as they look forward to new opportunities to continue their service to God and his church.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Staff ministers “Continue in Christ” at 2018 conference

From April 26–28, Cross of Christ, Boise, Idaho, hosted the 2018 Staff Ministers Conference.

Each year staff ministers travel from churches, schools, and parasynodicals around the country for a weekend of learning and fellowship. This year’s conference featured the theme “Continue in Christ,” based on the words of Colossians 2:6, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him.” This message was chosen to encourage staff ministers as they commemorate the 25th anniversary of the staff ministry training program at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., this year.

In addition to the daily devotions and a worship service, four special sessions were held at the conference. Staff Minister Chad White of Holy Word, Austin, Tex., spoke on personal spiritual growth. Rev. Mark Cares of Truth in Love Ministry in Nampa, Idaho, presented on the principles of witnessing. Pastors and staff of Cross of Christ came together to discuss the challenges and joys of team ministry. Lastly, Staff Minister David Hochmuth of St. Andrew, Middleton, Wis., led a Bible study based on the conference theme “Continue in Christ,” where attendees considered how to approach spiritual hardships unique to different stages of life. The conference also hosted forums for four main areas of staff ministry—youth and family ministry, adult discipleship and leadership, evangelism and outreach, and worship and music.

Staff Minister Kristen Koepsell, coordinator of music and elementary education and fellowship at Cross of Christ, believes the time staff ministers spend together at the conference is critical: “Year after year attendees tell the board that the best part of the conference is the encouragement and support they receive from interacting with their fellow called workers. We benefit most simply by listening and talking to each other and sharing the truth of God’s grace.”

To learn more about Martin Luther College’s staff ministry training program, visit mlc-wels.edu. Also, watch the March 27, 2018, “Together” video update for an interview with Levi Nagel, staff minister of music and worship at St. John, Milwaukee, Wis.


A PTSD retreat

“My veteran buddy and I meet once a week. Each time we walk away with the same assignments: I am responsible for seeing to it that he stays alive for a week; and he is to make sure I am still among the living seven days from now.”

The words don’t seem so strange when considering the report that the average suicide rate among American military veterans is one per hour—every day of the year.

On the first weekend of May, the Lutheran Military Support Group (LMSG) sponsored a retreat at Camp Phillip, Wautoma, Wis., for veterans facing post-traumatic stress.

The opening devotion carried the words of Jesus, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Twelve former sailors, soldiers, Marines, and one comfort dog stepped away from the rest of the world to receive mutual support and encouragement. It was a time to refresh body, mind, and soul.

Rev. Jason Hacker, LMSG director at large and pastor at Grace, Waukesha, Wis., arranged the event. Retired Colonel Erik Opsahl, who also faces PTSD, led the group to take a closer look at how the stress disorder invades lives and minds. Painful stories were relayed. Loving comfort was offered. The saying “pain shared is pain divided” was put into practice.

Former strangers, some coming from as far away as Florida, soon found common ground based upon common values, common experiences, and a common faith.

One attendee commented, “Surviving the war is just the beginning. Now we must survive the peace.” Heads nodded in agreement.

Representatives of WELS Military Services and of the Board of Control of the Lutheran Military Support Group shared care and concern from both the Evangelical Lutheran Synod and WELS. The message was, “You have not been forgotten!” One discussion focused upon how congregations and the two church bodies might support military personnel and their families.

Attendees also discussed the difference between the civilian and the military worlds. Regret was expressed over the fact that civilians often do not recognize the needs of active duty and veteran military personnel. But it was also recognized that military people are reluctant to admit their needs to their civilian brothers and sisters.

A review of Bible passages underscored the certain source of spiritual resiliency—something much needed and desired. Closing worship services invited the participants to approach the throne of grace for forgiveness, renewal, and blessing.

The hope is that more such retreats—perhaps in different parts of the country—might be offered. The group is also exploring inviting non-WELS and non-Christian veterans as an outreach opportunity.

Learn more about WELS Military Services at wels.net/military or the LMSG at lutheranmilitary.org.

By Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS national civilian chaplain to the military and WELS liaison to U.S. Armed Forces



Changes at Northwestern Publishing House

Last week Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) announced that it will be closing its Milwaukee retail store in October. While it’s sad to say goodbye to this brick and mortar store that served thousands of WELS members over the years, we can be thankful that the scripturally sound books and church resources will still be available to purchase online at nph.net.

It was becoming increasingly evident that our publishing house was being affected the same way so many other Christian bookstores, and retailers in general, have been—more and more people are making their purchases online. In response to the challenging realities they face, Northwestern Publishing House had to make some difficult decisions with the objective of exercising good stewardship of its limited resources.

NPH remains committed to its mission of developing biblically sound, Christ-centered, and trustworthy resources and will continue to publish new books, music, and other materials for our pastors, teachers, and WELS members. Last year, NPH launched a newly redesigned website that makes it easier to search for and find the books and products you value. If you haven’t done so lately, I’d encourage you to visit nph.net to see all it has to offer.

Synodical Council spring meeting recap

  • Through March, congregational offerings are down slightly from the previous year, but the picture will become clearer in May after Lent and Easter offerings have all been received.
  • Due to higher enrollment, lower expenses, and blessings on the new Congregational Partnership Grant program, Martin Luther College is projecting a surplus of $600,000 compared with a deficit of $600,000, which had been anticipated.
  • The Synodical Council (SC) reviewed a report from Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS) that outlined financial challenges resulting from lower than planned enrollment, lower gift totals, and several accounting errors that were discovered during the transition between business managers. The SC Executive Committee will be working with the new president of MLS, its governing board, and the Board for Ministerial Education to address these financial challenges. The SC deferred consideration of several capital improvement projects planned as a part of the MLS Foundation’s recent capital campaign until the financial challenges are addressed.
  • Significant savings were realized due to the 2016 decision to self-insure a portion of the health care costs of synodical workers. These savings were returned to the ministerial education schools, areas of ministry, and departments.
  • The SC expressed its thanks to the board and administration of Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) in the way it implemented recently announced changes to NPH operations.
  • The SC agreed on how the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in the synod’s compensation plan will be applied. To prevent sudden decreases in compensation and levels of compensation that would fall below the salaries listed on the salary schedules, the SC determined that 1) all synodical workers will receive no less than the numbers set forth in the salary matrix approved by the synod in convention; 2) the actual salary for a called position will be based on what the calling body has established as its applicable COLA for all workers at that institution; 3) salaries will be adjusted annually only if COLA increases from the previous year; and 4) exceptions to these policies for synodical workers can be granted in unusual cases by the synod president. The Executive Committee of the SC will continue to analyze how these policies will play out in actual practice prior to implementation on July 1, 2018. Salary matrices and a web-based called worker compensation calculator tool is available at wels.net/cwcompcalc.
  • Paul Holzhueter and Mr. Warren Ehlke each completed 12 years of faithful service as Synodical Council lay representatives of their districts. We thank them for their service.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder



Report to the Twelve Districts available online

The 2018 Report to the Twelve Districts is now available online. Each WELS congregation and male called worker will receive one printed copy at the end of May. Report to the Twelve Districts contains current information from WELS areas of ministry and committees that help guide district convention delegates. To streamline the printed book, the Conference of Presidents approved a plan this year to print only major reports from areas of ministry and those needed for discussion at the upcoming district conventions. Other reports, in addition to a pdf of the printed version, can be found at wels.net/rttd2018.

All of WELS’ 12 districts hold a convention in even-numbered years. (The synod convention takes place in odd-numbered years.) Each male called worker, in addition to a lay delegate representing each congregation, attends his district’s convention as a voting delegate. District conventions are held to carry out the business of a district, such as electing district officials, as well as to hear updates on synodical ministries and to react to synodical initiatives. Delegates also enjoy worship and fellowship during their conventions.

“District conventions offer delegates the opportunity to learn, to ask questions, to debate issues, to offer advice and guidance to those called to serve them,” says WELS President Mark Schroeder. “In the end, delegates have the opportunity to see God at work, uniting WELS members in a stronger faith and in a greater commitment to carrying out his work together.”

To prepare for the convention, delegates are encouraged to read Report to the Twelve Districts and the other reports available at wels.net/rttd2018.


Pastors meet to grow in grace

From April 18–20, Grow in Grace, the institute for pastoral growth at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., hosted more than 200 people for the seventh annual Celebration of Ministry retreats.

Held at the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Tex., four retreats ran simultaneously for pastors and their wives who were celebrating 3, 10, 25, and, new to this year, 35 years since graduating from the seminary.

These retreats build relationships with ministry peers and offer encouragement through worship, Bible studies, workshops, and presentations. Bible study topics covered Lessons at the Burning Bush, Philippians, 1 Peter, and 1 John. Separate and joint workshops were offered for pastors and wives and covered topics such as time management, caring for others and yourself, focusing on your own gifts, and financial challenges and opportunities.

Though these workshops and Bible studies are a key part of the retreats, fellowship with classmates, worship services, and a beautiful location also play a part in the experience.

Prof. Paul Zell attended the year 35 retreat, known as Finish in Grace. Zell shares,  “One of the best things about being at the retreat is being here with classmates and how we can be thankful for God’s grace that we can still do this after 35 years; that’s been really neat.”

Next year’s plans are already underway. All four groups for the 2019 retreats will take place in San Antonio from April 24–26 for the graduating classes of 1984, 1994, 2009, and 2016.



Conference of Presidents spring 2018 meeting summary

At its recent meeting, the Conference of Presidents (COP) reviewed the pastoral vacancy situation. It was reported that there are 125 vacancies for pastorally trained positions, with 106 of those in parishes. The vacancy rate remains high, although it has not increased since last fall.

The COP has received questions about whether the Scouting organizations have changed in a way that would make it possible for WELS members to participate. In response, the COP has begun a review of the current nature and organizational statements of those organizations to determine whether conflicts with biblical principles remain. The COP will release a report and Bible study once the study is completed.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the workload for presidents of the largest synodical districts has grown to the point where steps need to be taken to provide assistance and relief. Since we continue to believe that its extremely vital that the district presidents remain in parish ministry, any solutions considered would maintain that approach. The COP hopes to have proposals for providing assistance to the presidents of the Western Wisconsin, Southeastern Wisconsin, and Northern Wisconsin Districts by next fall. The type of assistance may vary from district to district.

The COP called Prof. John Boeder of Martin Luther College to serve as a Christian giving counselor. Another call was issued to Rev. Eric Roecker to serve as the director of Evangelism.

The COP has begun to work with the Commission on Congregational Counseling to provide guidance to congregations seeking to merge or consolidate. The intent is to help those congregations to reconfigure their ministries in a way that results in healthy and, with God’s blessing, growing congregations.

The COP will meet in May as the synod’s Assignment Committee. Assignment Day at Martin Luther College is Sat., May 12. Assignment of vicars and graduates at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary will take place on Thurs., May 24.

Called to eternal glory

Retired pastor Rev. William Bernhardt was recently called home to heaven by our risen Savior.

Bernhardt had served as the host of the WELS Connection for more than 25 years—from its beginning in 1987 until four years ago.

“As the host of WELS Connection, Rev. Bernhardt provided a consistency that helped the program become one of the most widely used communication tools in our synod,” says Mr. Steve Boettcher, who produces and directs WELS Connection. “Every month Rev. Bernhardt had the ability to bring the sights and sounds of our synod to life for our members. Rev. Bernhardt’s steady presence reminded viewers that all the various WELS efforts worked together—serving our Lord under the banner of WELS and ultimately for his kingdom.”

Others have since stepped in to host the WELS Connection, but for many, Bernhardt will be the face that they always remember. We thank God for his service and for bringing another faithful warrior to his heavenly goal.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Home Missions approves new mission starts

On April 13, the Board for Home Missions approved support for seven new mission congregations as well as support to enhance mission-minded ministry at seven other congregations.

“Being a part of the process that determines which new starts and enhancements to support is challenging but rewarding,” says Rev. Wayne Uhlhorn, chairman of the Board for Home Missions. “Our Home Missions Executive Committee takes a thorough look at each request to prayerfully determine which requests give us the best opportunity to reach more souls with the saving gospel of Jesus. We also try to determine which requests are ready and which ones might need a few more months of preparation. That is the challenging part. The rewarding part of the process is when we leave our meeting and know we’ve been blessed to start 14 new ministries that give us ways to spread God’s life-giving Word.”

Reno, Nevada

The ministries receiving financial support for a new mission include:

  • Reno, Nev.—Two area congregations are partnering to start this congregation in the Northern Valleys area of greater Reno. On March 25, the first worship service was held; 63 people attended.
  • Phoenix, Ariz.—Crosswalk, Phoenix, is opening a second site to reach out into downtown Phoenix.
  • Joplin, Mo.—A strong core of WELS and Evangelical Lutheran Synod members from the two nearest churches are helping support this mission.
  • Brandon, S.D.—Near Sioux Falls, this new congregation includes core members from two WELS churches and an Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregation.
  • Milwaukee, Wis.—Grace in downtown Milwaukee, one of WELS’ original congregations, is establishing a new location in the area known as the Third Ward.

Two new multi-site starts are being subsidized by their original congregations. Home Missions will provide assistance through its district mission boards, mission counselors, and synodical support staff but not provide direct funding. These include:

  • Hobart, Wis.—Mount Olive, Suamico, Wis., is starting a second site in Hobart. The congregation is calling a second pastor to begin this new ministry.
  • Horicon, Wis.—Members of St. John’s, Juneau, Wis., see an opportunity to reach out in nearby Horicon, where 90 members of St. John’s live. Saturday worship services are scheduled to begin in Horicon in June.

Home Missions is also financially supporting mission-minded enhancements to these existing congregations:

  • Crown of Life, Corona, Calif.;
  • Faith, Anchorage, Alaska;
  • Grace, Seattle, Wash.;
  • Ascension, Harrisburg, Penn.;
  • Shepherd of the Hills, Knoxville, Tenn.;
  • Trinity, Waukesha, Wis.; and
  • Epiphany and First, Racine, Wis.

“It is our prayer that through these new starts and enhancements more souls will be reached with the gospel of Jesus Christ and be brought to faith in Jesus as their Savior from sin,” says Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions.

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

Cameroon mission update

Cameroon Missionary Jeff Heitsch and his wife, Stephanie, will be leaving Cameroon and be temporarily relocated to the United States due to internal political unrest in the country. They arrived in Cameroon in October 2017.

Conflict between the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Cameroon began to intensify about the time of the Heitsches’ arrival, and the security situation has deteriorated significantly since then. By mutual decision of the Heitsches and the WELS World Mission Board, the Heitsches will remain in the United States for the time being.

Missionary Dan Kroll and his wife, Karen, who also serve in Cameroon, were already planning on being back in the United States on furlough until mid-July.

The decision when and if to have a missionary return to Cameroon will be determined as the security and safety situation is monitored.

“It’s always a difficult decision to remove missionaries from their field, but it is also important that we keep them safe as well as pray for our brothers and sisters in Cameroon who live in the midst of the strife. We have faith that the Holy Spirit will continue to bless the gospel-sharing work of the national church body, and if it is his will, that one day we will, once again, be able to serve this mission field in person,” says Mr. Sean Young, director of Missions Operations.

The Lutheran Church of Cameroon (LCC) serves more than 650 baptized members in 32 congregations and two preaching stations. Due to various reasons, the LCC has not trained any new pastors since 1999. With the Lord’s blessing, 13 students are now enrolled in pre-seminary studies. Both Kroll and Heitsch worked with the LCC to further develop this worker training program. Currently, the LCC is served by eight national pastors and 12 evangelists.

Deadline approaching for hymns feedback

May 1 is the final deadline to submit feedback about the WELS Hymnal Project’s initial decision about which of the 700 currently published hymns in Christian Worship (CW) and Christian Worship: Supplement (CWS) will be included in the new hymnal.

For the past 10 months the WELS Hymnal Project has been posting a selection of hymns online, indicating which hymns are slated to be kept and which are slated to be cut. WELS members were then encouraged to choose up to ten hymns that had been cut from each list that they wanted to see kept in the new hymnal. So far the WELS Hymnal Project has received almost 7,000 responses.

Currently, 470 hymns from CW and CWS have been slated to be included in the next hymnal. These selections will account for about two-thirds of the approximately 650 total hymns, with the remaining one-third consisting of hymns or hymn settings new to WELS. According to Rev. Jon Bauer, a member of the Hymnal Project’s communication committee, members of the WELS Hymnal Project reviewed words and music from all existing CW and CWS hymns, sought usage data from all congregations, and conducted a “favorite hymns” survey before putting together the initial list.

“This feedback will be one last important piece of information for helping us determine the final hymn list,” says Bauer.

He continues, “The results of these feedback forms will be shared with the members of the executive committee for their review. We will evaluate which hymns garnered the most interest in being kept as part of our final decision on the hymns list.”

The targeted release date for the pew edition of the new hymnal is Advent 2021.

Submit your feedback on the initial list of hymns at welshymnal.com.

Series highlights new members’ journeys of faith

In April 2008, Forward in Christ (FIC) magazine started a new series called “Confessions of faith,” in which WELS adult confirmands share their journeys of faith to a WELS congregation.

What was intended to be a one-year series has now been a staple of the synod’s magazine for the past ten years. It’s also one of FIC readers’ favorite series. “I find it terribly interesting to read these stories about real faith in a real world. Being a Catholic convert, I am always interested to hear about how the Lord leads other people to faith through his Word,” writes Dean Ebert from St. Matthew, Iron Ridge, Wis.

In this series, readers learn about what other religions and denominations teach as the new members share their religious backgrounds. But readers also discover what these new members find out about WELS and its doctrine. One recurring theme, no matter what the individual’s religious background, is the focus on the Scriptures at WELS congregations. “Again and again these people mentioned that they heard the Bible’s answers to their questions and concerns in our churches and from our pastors and people,” says Rev. John Braun, executive editor of Forward in Christ.

One goal of FIC magazine is to build a community of WELS believers. This series offers opportunities to share stories from around the country that focus on our common confessional Lutheran faith. “I found that the frank and open confessions of these people were always uplifting to my faith. I hoped that it would have the same effect on our readers,” says Braun. “The people are all so different, yet together with them we all share a common faith in Jesus and a commitment to the truths of the Bible.”

He continues, “It’s about real people in the real world searching for what we all need—peace with God, the promise of his love and forgiveness in Jesus, and encouragement on our journey through life. I hope we can continue to share how some have found answers, peace, and forgiveness in the pages of God’s Word.”

Read this month’s “Confessions of faith” article. Subscribe to Forward in Christ at nph.net/forwardinchrist.


Exciting ministry opportunity in Vietnam

Since 2015, WELS has consistently been sending members of the Global Hmong Committee and the Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) to train leaders of the Hmong Fellowship Church (HFC) in Vietnam in sound, Lutheran doctrine. While much needs to be done before fellowship can be declared with this church body, its leaders have expressed a desire to learn Lutheran doctrine and to become a confessional Lutheran church body. Rev. Bounkeo Lor, Hmong Asia Ministry coordinator, has been leading these efforts, making multiple training visits per year.

In the three years WELS has provided training, the Hmong Fellowship Church has grown from 65,000 to 100,000 members and formed 53 new churches. The message of free grace received from Jesus Christ has replaced their old law-based preaching and leadership, and their churches are expanding as a result. Church leadership has stabilized, and the communist government in Vietnam has noticed this positive change.

Thanks to the Lord’s ever-guiding hand and blessing, the Vietnamese government has invited WELS to build a theological training facility in the capital city of Hanoi. This is an amazing and unexpected opportunity for our synod. As the HFC looks to the future of their church body, they realize the importance of equipping the next generation of pastors with the truth of the gospel. WELS will continue to provide HFC leaders with theological instruction and pastoral training.

This opportunity for further gospel ministry is great, as WELS is currently the only protestant church with official governmental permission to work with the Hmong in Vietnam. Our Home and World Missions team, the Synodical Council, and the Conference of Presidents are working tirelessly to fully evaluate and explore this opportunity, in addition to securing the funds needed for land acquisition, construction costs, and initial operating costs of the training facility. Watch for additional updates about this effort in the coming weeks and months.

As this opportunity lies before us, you may want to support Hmong ministry in Vietnam with a gift that will help to purchase land and build a training center in Hanoi. You can also continue to pray for our Christian brothers and sisters across the globe as they learn more about the freedom that comes through God’s grace. Pray for continued blessings on the training that Rev. Lor and the PSI team are providing to the church leaders of the HFC.

You can donate online to support this effort. Select “Vietnam-Hmong Outreach” from the drop down menu.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

New president for Michigan Lutheran Seminary

Rev. Mark Luetzow, pastor at Bethel, Bay City, Mich., has accepted the call to serve as the next president of Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS), Saginaw, Mich., one of two high schools in the WELS ministerial education system. He will be taking over for Rev. Joel Petermann, who after six years of serving as MLS president, took a call to Zion, Torrance, Calif.

“Pastor Luetzow combines the heart of a parish pastor with a keen understanding of the work of a preparatory school,” says Rev. Paul Prange, administrator for Ministerial Education.

When Luetzow as a young boy decided he wanted to pursue the ministry, his parents supported that path by sending him to Northwestern Preparatory School (now Luther Preparatory School) in Watertown, Wis. Luetzow has had a heart for the mission of the WELS ministerial education schools after his experience at Northwestern Preparatory School. “I’ve always had a deep love for our prep school system, and in some respects I feel like this is a neat way to give back to something that has given so much to us and the WELS members who have supported us,” he says.

He continues, “Michigan Lutheran Seminary has such a rich history, and it’s very much loved by its alumni and the district as a whole. I’m hoping that love for the prep school will continue to grow—and not just in Michigan but in the entire United States so that we can have a bigger reach.”

Luetzow has served as a parish pastor since 2003. He says he loves being a pastor, so it will only be natural for him to encourage others to do what he loves. “One of the things I’m looking forward to at MLS is being an encouraging voice for young men and women to consider full-time ministry for the Lord.”

Prange says, “In area after area, President Luetzow should be able to hit the ground running and advance the MLS mission of preparing high school students for the public ministry of the gospel.”

Luetzow will transition into the role of MLS president following this school year.

Prange says, “The synod gives thanks to God for Joel Petermann’s careful stewardship of the valuable resources at Michigan Lutheran Seminary. The whole Board for Ministerial Education appreciates his dedication to his work.”

Learn more about Michigan Lutheran Seminary at mlsem.org.

New training to help protect children

A new training program to help people recognize and respond to child abuse is being released in April by Freedom for the Captives, a WELS organization that works to protect children and empower survivors of abuse.

The program—entitled “Standing up for Children: A Christian Response to Child Abuse and Neglect”—consists of four videos that review dealing with physical, emotional, and spiritual abuse and provide a theological basis for the importance of protecting children. The course also highlights how to create and enforce a child protection policy for a church, school, or organization.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for pastors, teachers, and lay leaders to get some fundamental training on how to keep children as safe as possible,” says Rev. Ben Sadler, chairman of the Freedom for the Captives committee and pastor at Goodview Trinity, Goodview, Minn. He recommends that all pastors, teachers, and lay leaders for children’s ministries go through ongoing training like this.

Sadler says that having a child protection policy in place at a congregation or school and having ongoing training for those who work with children also encourages survivors. “When going through this training, it raises awareness in the congregation on how we might better help people who’ve been abused,” he says. “It lets those who are suffering in silence know that [the church] cares about them.”

Sexual abuse is widespread in our communities. The CDC-Kaiser Permente Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study (1997) shares that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused as children. “I think there is still the idea that this is somebody else’s church’s problem,” says Sadler. “Avoiding the issue won’t make it go away. We need to offer hope that we can encourage and help people who have gone through these difficult situations. And we need to provide the tools to keep our children safe.”

Funding from Antioch Foundation helped make this training program possible. This funding also is allowing committee member Mr. Victor Vieth, founder of the Gunderson National Child Protection Training Center, and member at St. John, Lewiston, Minn., to present at congregations, schools, and conferences in person.

E-mail freedom@wels.net to get access to the free training videos. To learn more about Freedom for the Captives, a part of WELS Special Ministries, go to freedomforcaptives.com.

Social media expands reach and offers more connections

It started with wanting to offer more women in a congregation the opportunity to study together.

Corissa Nelson, wife of the pastor at Good Shepherd, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, decided to start a midweek women’s Bible class using 2000 Demons by Professor E. Allen Sorum as the base of the study. With short chapters, already included questions, and a riveting topic, the book seemed a perfect fit.

The problem: finding time during the week when most women could meet. Also congregation members are scattered, many living at least half an hour from church.

The solution: social media.

Nelson decided to create a Facebook group where she would post a question or two a day related to that week’s reading. Members of the group could comment and share their thoughts and ideas. While a small group from the church still met in person each week, this allowed more people who couldn’t make weekday meetings to participate.

But Nelson didn’t stop there. “Once I realized that we had bridged those miles, I determined we could invite anyone to be in the study,” she says. As part of the WELS Women’s Ministry Development Committee, Nelson thought offering this online opportunity for Bible study would be a great way to build community for all WELS women. So WELS Women’s Ministry began promoting this Bible study opportunity on its Facebook page.

More than 600 women from around the country (and even some from abroad) joined the group throughout the course of the monthlong Bible study, which concluded this past February. Nelson said between 300 to 500 of these were active, returning often to the site even if they didn’t always post comments.

Nelson says that having this broader group involved helped Good Shepherd, a smaller, isolated congregation, feel more connected to the synod and other WELS members. “They were able to connect with other mature Christians and learn from them,” she says.

Others commented on Facebook that they too had difficulty getting to a Bible study and appreciated this additional opportunity to study God’s Word. “Although it’s not as perfect as everyone sitting around a table and sharing ideas, it really can encourage more people to have some personal study and connect with other women,” says Nelson.

Nelson is offering another women’s Bible study, which will start April 9. This one, written by her husband Rev. Marques Nelson, will be on getting women involved in evangelism, based on the book of Acts. To join, go to facebook.com/groups/WMStudyGSLCR.

Learn more about WELS Women’s Ministry at wels.net/women.

Appeals court to hear case on clergy housing allowance

For many years the federal government has allowed ministers of the gospel, as defined by the IRS, to deduct the cost of housing from their salaries (often referred to as the “Clergy Parsonage Allowance”). Last year, a lawsuit challenging this tax benefit was filed in a federal court in Wisconsin, arguing that this benefit provided to clergy is unconstitutional. The court ruled with the plaintiffs and declared that the IRS could no longer provide this exemption.

The case was immediately appealed by the Federal Government and will come before a federal appeals court in the coming months. The Church Alliance, an organization of church benefit plan administrators, has filed a “friend of the court” brief in support of the appeal. WELS has expressed its support for this appeal and is also participating in the effort with the Church Alliance organization.

While we recognize that this benefit, like other tax exemptions, is not one that we can demand from our government, we are very much aware of the benefits that this provides to those who serve in our synod as ministers of the gospel. Regardless of the outcome, we trust that the Lord of the Church will continue to provide for the needs of those who serve him in gospel ministry.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

New World Mission start in South America

This summer two missionaries from the One Latin America (1LA) mission team will be moving to Ecuador. This will be the first time WELS will have an active mission presence in the South American country. Rev. Nathan Schulte and Rev. Phil Strackbein have begun making arrangements to make the move. Schulte currently serves in Mexico, and Strackbein serves in Bolivia.

Rev. Nathan Schulte

Schulte, a member of the 1LA team, explains, “In the beginning of November all the 1LA missionaries met in Mexico City to discuss a major training program we are developing and the relocation of different missionaries to best accomplish our goals as a team. We want to reach as many people as possible and to train people to be leaders in their own multiplying groups. The team had done extensive research on a number of major cities in Latin America. Quito, Ecuador, eventually came to the top of the list for a number of reasons.”

One of the main contributing factors to the decision was the large number of Facebook users in Ecuador, more than 60,000, following Academia Cristo online. Academia Cristo is a WELS Spanish-language website with videos and audio Bible studies to reach out to non-Christians as well as to train Latin American church members how to share their faith.

A second contributing factor is that with a location in Ecuador, it puts the missionaries closer to other countries in South America where WELS can’t permanently locate a missionary for safety or political reasons, but where interest in the gospel message has been demonstrated through active use of the Academia Cristo website.

And a third reason is, while WELS has never officially had a mission in Ecuador, Martin Luther College Spanish Professor Paul Bases has been taking groups of students there for years to teach English, and through that work, valuable connections have already been made.

Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions, says the main goal of the missionaries is to “facilitate the planting of small group churches in Quito and beyond.” He says, “The idea is that in a short time, to connect Ecuadorean Christians to the online materials and relationships so that they’re able to keep the ministry rolling even after our missionaries might leave.”

Schulte says, “I love the fact that, from the start, we are focused on training Ecuadorians to study God’s Word and to share it with others. They know their culture and situations better than I ever will and God has already placed them in their own unique contexts with their own connections and opportunities. I’m really looking forward to working to help them to do just that—share God’s grace with others.”

Rev. Phil and Kathryn Strackbein

The missionaries’ first priorities will be to find a location for a Christian training center while also settling in themselves and doing boots-on-the-ground work, meeting their neighbors and learning more about the community. To help this effort, two congregations, St. Matthew, Oconomowoc, Wis., and Goodview Trinity, Goodview, Minn., will be sending volunteers in May and June to host introduction workshops open to the Quito community. These two volunteer groups are the inaugural groups for the new WELS Missions Journeys program, which is starting to help coordinate opportunities and WELS members who want to volunteer in a WELS mission field.

Schulte says, “Ecuador, like all Latin America, is in desperate need of God’s grace. It is grace-starved. Even in many churches and Christian groups, the emphasis is not on Jesus and what he has done for us in our salvation. We want to bring people to the source of that grace—the Bible, to teach them to learn from it and to share it with others.”

Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions and check out Academia Cristo at academiacristo.com.

T-shirts available for WELS Night at Miller Park

Join thousands of fellow WELS members for the Milwaukee Brewers’ game against the Colorado Rockies on Fri., Aug. 3, 2018, at 7:10 p.m. For the second year, WELS Night t-shirts are available to order for $5. Imagine thousands of WELS members wearing this brightly colored t-shirt, creating a sea of blue at the fifth annual WELS Night at Miller Park.

Tickets are now for sale. The Brewers are again offering WELS members up to 50 percent off the price of tickets. Seating will be along the third base line this year and in a block for WELS members. The pricing is Field Outfield Box sections 126 – 131 for $21/ticket, Loge Outfield Box sections 228 – 232 for $17/ticket, or Terrace Reserved sections 433 – 437 for $9/ticket. The ticket service fee will be waived for groups of 20+ if you contact Greg Souza at 414-902-4492 or greg.souza@brewers.com.

Tickets can be purchased at brewers.com/wels. T-shirts can be ordered at co-store.com/WELSnight.

Highlights of the Synodical Council winter meeting

At its winter meeting on Feb. 23-24, the Synodical Council (SC) reviewed the encouraging financial results for calendar year 2017. Congregation Mission Offerings for 2017 were $21,358,000—an increase of $298,000 (1.4%) over 2016. Gifts from congregations were $138,000 more than subscriptions.

As a result, the SC voted to fund the top three items on the unfunded priority list as adopted by the 2017 synod convention. An additional $150,000 was allocated to Martin Luther College (MLC) for financial aid and for efforts to reduce student debt. Home and World Missions received an additional $200,000 for new mission starts and programs. The Publication Coordinating Commission of Northwestern Publishing House was given $50,000 to assist in the publication of theological works and resource material for congregations.

The SC adopted the proposed Support Forecast, which will guide areas of ministry in their planning for the next biennium. The planning assumptions include proposed salary increases of three percent in each year. These assumptions may change as additional financial information is gathered later in 2018.

One item was added to the unfunded priority list—a possible opportunity to establish a theological training facility in Northern Vietnam. The SC will be working with the Conference of Presidents to secure funding for this new opportunity.

The SC received an update from WELS Christian Aid and Relief on the hurricane relief efforts in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. WELS Christian Aid and Relief has provided funding for a coordinator to help with major efforts in Puerto Rico now that communication has been restored and most infrastructure has been repaired.

The SC approved the plans of Martin Luther College to undertake a major capital campaign beginning in 2019. The campaign will seek funding for student housing improvements and for student financial assistance.

The SC received an update from the special committee considering options to improve the synod’s retirement program for called workers.

The recently passed federal tax reform law no longer allows workers to deduct moving expenses. To prevent workers from being adversely affected by this change, the SC passed a resolution that calls for 20 percent additional  reimbursement of moving costs for minister of the gospel and 13 percent for non-ministers of the gospel (both as those terms are defined by the IRS) to help offset the additional tax liability.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

Registration opens for 2018 youth rally

Registration is now open for the 2018 WELS International Youth Rally, June 26-29, in Bowling Green, Ohio. WELS teens from around the country and the world will meet under the theme “Never Alone,” based on Matthew 28:20, to learn about how God’s Word applies to their lives and to meet fellow Christian youth.

Rev. Donn Dobberstein, WELS director of discipleship, says, “Our church body can never over-invest the time spent with the youth of our congregations. In a day and age that makes it increasingly easy to ‘drift away’ from faith or the church, a youth rally experience gathers WELS teens together to see undisputable proof—they are not alone in their faith! It’s an event that personally encourages WELS teens to confront their doubts in faith and understand better how they truly are a highly-valued part of Christ’s church.”

If congregations haven’t already, it’s time to get a group together to attend. To register, each group needs a contact youth leader who will be the main point of communication prior to and during the rally. The contact youth leader registers first, and once the university processes their registration, the rest of the group can register individually. New this year, every youth leader must submit information for a background check. Also, the cost went down this year. The registration fee is $345 until April 30 and then $370 until May 31 when registration closes.

The theme, “Never Alone,” seems an important message now more than ever. Mrs. Kris Snyder, the youth rally planner, says, “From social media to politics, random violence to racial tensions, we are constantly on edge. We are surrounded by a tornado of information and activity, yet we can feel isolated. What a comfort to know that God remains in control. He sent Jesus to make us God’s children. And Jesus promises, ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20).”

Attendees will participate in worship services with 2,000 of their peers as well as choose from a range of workshops with topics relevant to their lives, including “Can I be a ninja when I grow up?”, “#notawkward: dating and relationships,” “Got self esteem?”, “Discover your mission,” and more. In addition to the spiritual workshops for teens, recreational workshops will also be offered as well as workshops for the youth leaders.

Snyder says, “Bowling Green State University (BGSU) is an excellent campus for the 2018 WELS International Youth Rally. It’s self-contained and compact, no more than a ten-minute walk from one end to the other, and no major streets to cross. BGSU has a wide variety of recreational buildings including an ice rink and indoor facility with artificial turf in addition to the rock climbing wall, large pool, and several basketball courts. They also have a great deal of green space to fill with inflatables, bands, and fun!”

Dobberstein says, “My hopeful prayer is that on the return trip home, our youth are challenged to see themselves as called and equipped by Christ for meaningful works of service in their churches. The way the gospel is unleashed is through THEM as they carry Christ’s light into their homes, their schools, their places of work, and their neighborhoods. WELS teens are vital to the mission of our churches. Let them participate actively in it!”

Learn more and register at wels.net/2018youthrally.

Growing opportunities in the Philippines

In February, Pastoral Studies Institute (PSI) team members, World Mission Seminary Professor Rev. Bradley Wordell and International Recruitment Director Rev. Jon Bare, joined Rev. Robb Raasch, the chairman of the Asia Pacific Rim Administrative Committee, on a trip to the Philippines. The purpose of the trip was to work with Rev. Alvien De Guzman of Law and Gospel Lutheran Church in Manilla on a plan for a pastoral training program.

A year ago, De Guzman didn’t see the potential of needing a pastoral training program for the near future. But just in the past few months, three men, who like De Guzman had left another church body for doctrinal reasons, contacted De Guzman, wondering if they might join his congregation. He discovered that all three had begun pastoral training in their original church but left when they became convinced by Scripture that they were not receiving the truth of God’s Word. Each of the men has a group in front of them ready to be led, but the men need pastoral training to be prepared to serve them.

That began a conversation with World Missions and the PSI team, leading to this visit. “It was a privilege to meet these three men and to hear their stories,” says Wordell. “Their patience and determination are inspiring. They have been waiting to see what the Lord’s plan is for them, and each of them has a strong desire to serve among Christ’s people.”

The training program will be specifically designed to meet the needs for pastoring churches in the Philippines. “Our goal is to provide the training that these men need in their own culture and context,” says Bare. “This visit allowed us to work with Pastor De Guzman to design the best program for this growing church in the Philippines.”

The courses will be offered in a variety of methods. De Guzman will teach some courses on the ground. Others will be conducted online or through intensive courses offered on short-term visits.

WELS first got involved with De Guzman in 2014, when De Guzman contacted WELS World Missions looking for help after he discovered WELS online. In early 2015, WELS determined that De Guzman was in doctrinal fellowship. His congregation is using videos and printed materials from Multi-Language Publications to reach out to the unchurched in its community.

Read more about the visit. Learn more about WELS Missions at wels.net/missions.

New WELS catechism and personal Bible study

You may not be aware that our synod, as a part of our celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, has recently produced a revision of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. The revision is not a revision of the chief parts of the catechism or Luther’s familiar answers to the question, “What does this mean?” What have been revised are the detailed questions and answers that expand on what Luther wrote.

Luther often encouraged faithful Christians to study and review the catechism as a part of their daily devotional lives. With that in mind, the newly revised WELS catechism is formatted in such a way to encourage our members to use the catechism on a daily basis, long after they have been confirmed. As in the previous version of the catechism, Scripture passages are included to provide the clear biblical basis for the doctrines we believe, and a continuing review of those teachings is always helpful in strengthening faith and increasing our knowledge of what the Bible teaches.

But in addition to those passages, the new catechism has been designed to flow for a more natural read. Each section begins with an introduction and transitional thoughts and concludes with a “Connections” section that provides application and could also serve as the basis for personal or family devotions. The new catechism provides additional guidance through Bible history narratives. It also features illustrations, thought questions, and applications of biblical truths in a way that makes it a practical and easy-to-use tool for continuing study of God’s Word.

The catechism is not just for kids. Consider getting a copy for your own devotional use. Copies are available for purchase from Northwestern Publishing House at nph.net/catechism.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

New movie focuses on outreach

Filming is complete for the movie To the Ends of the Earth, an upcoming outreach film that will follow the apostle Paul and his work in Philippi.

This movie is the final installment in a series of four outreach movies that are a collaboration between WELS Commission on Evangelism, WELS Commission on Discipleship, Northwestern Publishing House, WELS Multi-Language Publications, and Boettcher+Trinklein Television, Inc. “Our goal for this movie is to show in a dramatic way how the gospel is spread into the world following the command of Jesus and to show how it impacted people’s lives,” says Rev. Mike Hintz, who recently retired as director of WELS Evangelism but continues to serve as a member of the movie production team. The film’s title is taken directly from Jesus’ command to his disciples at his Ascension: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Filmed in Ouarzazate, Morocco, from Jan. 29–Feb. 3, the movie highlights four major events from the book of Acts—the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus, the conversion of Lydia, the casting out of a demon from the slave girl, and Paul and Silas in prison followed by the baptisms of the jailer and his household.

The filming location, in a setting where many other Bible-era movies have been shot, allowed the production team to make use of already available sets, beautiful scenery, and local talent. The production team is the same crew that worked on the recent Luther film, A Return to Grace: Luther’s Life and Legacy. “Our goal was authenticity, and, honestly, I felt like I was back in that time,” says Hintz, who served as a consultant on set. “The way the people looked and sounded, the scenery, the sets—I think people are going to feel like they’re in Philippi.”

The goal is to have the movie available by the end of summer 2018 in time for congregations initially to use the film and accompanying materials as an option for celebrating a synodwide Mission and Ministry Sunday on Oct. 21. Plans are to show a movie trailer at the district conventions in June.

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

“It is our goal that this not only be a movie that will hold our attention but also move us with our hearts and minds to continue to follow the Lord’s will to take the gospel to the ends of the earth,” say Hintz.

Seminary students learn about WELS missions and ministry

From Feb. 6–8, presenters with experience in mission work in North America and around the world spoke at Mission and Ministry, an annual three-day event at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., to introduce seminary students to the worldwide work of WELS.

Under the theme “Building on the Rock,” participants heard from world and home missionaries as well as congregational leaders. This provided future pastors a big-picture view of synod work. Because assignments, calls, and ministries will vary, three breakout sessions are offered each day, allowing students to learn more about areas of personal interest. Some of these topics included beginning a mission church, evangelism for the busy pastor, using teens in outreach, compassion ministry, getting involved in the community, Multi-Language Publications, and an update on the new hymnal.

In addition, more than 30 WELS areas of ministry and organizations set up display booths. This allowed students the opportunity to learn more about what synodical resources are available. “Mission and Ministry is important because it connects students training to be pastors with the work that is being done throughout their synod,” says senior Noah Willitz, one of the event organizers.

Not only does Mission and Ministry help students learn more about their synod, the organizers learned personal lessons that will carry into their ministry. “Mission and Ministry is like a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s good to hear presentations and rub shoulders with pastors doing some great evangelism,” says Thomas Gorzalski, another senior and organizer. “It is a good reminder that every church is a mission church. No matter where I am sent in a few months, I know evangelism will be a priority.”

Seminary students are not the only ones who benefited from the event. On Feb. 6, the junior class of pastor-track students at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., attended presentations, and the entire student body of Bethany Evangelical Theological Seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) attended sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. In all, almost 200 students, professors, and guests participated.

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

Conference of Presidents hold winter meeting

The Conference of Presidents (COP) held its winter meeting during the second week of January. Items discussed and decided include:

  • The COP was informed of a request to WELS Christian Aid and Relief to provide a grant for and assistance to the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Puerto Rico as it recovers from last fall’s hurricane. The grant would enable a disaster response coordinator to spend up to a year in Puerto Rico to work with the Puerto Rican pastors to identify and prioritize specific needs, plan construction and repair projects, and coordinate volunteer efforts. He would also help to coordinate continuing theological training for two men whose training was interrupted by the storm. The COP expressed support for this proposal. (The proposal was later approved by WELS Christian Aid and Relief.)
  • The COP is working with the president’s office to identify and track retired pastors who are willing to serve extended vacancies or to serve smaller congregations in a semi-retired capacity. Many retired pastors have already been serving in this way and have helped to reduce the impact of the high number of pastoral vacancies in the synod.
  • Five pastors from other denominations have either requested colloquy or begun the process. (The colloquy process is a lengthy and involved process that determines whether a pastor or teacher from another synod can be received into our synod and serve in the ministry.)
  • There are 117 pastoral vacancies, with 97 of those in parish pastor positions. It was encouraging that this number has only grown by three since last October.
  • The COP approved a request from WELS Canada that seminary graduates assigned to Canada be given the opportunity to accept or decline the assignment, as is done in the case of world mission calls.
  • The COP approved a recommendation from Congregational Services that the Commission on Adult Discipleship and the Commission on Youth and Family be combined into a single Commission on Discipleship. Rev. Donn Dobberstein, who currently serves as director of both commissions, would be the director of the combined group.
  • The COP approved a proposal to reduce the size of the printed Report to the Twelve Districts by publishing about two-thirds of the reports electronically. The date for distribution of the material would not change from previous practice.
  • The COP appointed Rev. Joel Nitz to serve on the Support Committee.
  • The district presidents and circuit pastors were encouraged to work closely with congregations in remote locations and with congregations that are not able to support a full-time pastor to ensure that their pastoral needs are being met. The COP also encourages Congregational Services to continue its plans to provide worship materials and other resources for such congregations.
  • The COP continued its discussions on the workload levels of district presidents in large districts. A committee will be looking at options to provide appropriate assistance.
  • The COP scheduled October 21 as the synodwide Mission and Ministry Sunday. Congregations are encouraged to place this on their calendars. Materials will be provided to assist congregations in their planning.
  • The COP expressed thanks to God and to our members that Congregation Mission Offerings for calendar year 2017 finished at $21,358,000, an increase of $298,000 or 1.4 percent over 2016 receipts. Actual results were also greater than subscriptions by $138,000 or 0.7 percent.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder