Conference of Presidents January 2022 meeting

The Conference of Presidents (COP) held its winter meeting on Jan. 3-6. The following items were discussed or decided:

  • Representatives from the Conference of Presidents will meet with the Board for Home Missions leadership and with several members of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary faculty as a part of the planning process for the effort to open 100 new home missions in ten years beginning in 2023.
  • Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) is continuing its search for a new president. Mr. Bill Ziche, current NPH president, has announced his plans to retire. Mr. Mark Buske, director of marketing for NPH, will serve as acting president until a new president is found.
  • There are currently 143 pastoral vacancies in the synod, 124 of which are parish pastor positions. Forty of the pastoral vacancies are in associate pastor positions (meaning those congregations are still being served by at least one pastor). Next year’s graduating class at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary will be larger than those in recent years, which will help to reduce the number of pastoral vacancies.
  • With expanding enrollment at our WELS schools, the growing shortage of teachers continues, especially in the area of early childhood. The COP discussed ideas for enhancing recruitment efforts.
  • The COP recently issued a pastoral letter on Christian freedom.
  • The overall cost of the vicar program is $42,000 per vicar, down slightly from last year. The vicar stipend was increased by $25 per month to $1750. Vicar compensation also provides for housing most of the cost of health insurance.
  • The COP expressed thanks to God for the high level of Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) in 2021. The exact total will be published in the coming days.
  • Congregations are asked to submit their 2021 statistics and CMO subscriptions by the Feb. 4 deadline.
  • The COP expressed its support for a proposal by Northwestern Publishing House and the Commission on Lutheran Schools to develop a comprehensive K-12 religion curriculum for schools and Sunday schools.
  • The COP has been making final edits on the restatement of the synod’s teaching on male and female roles. It is hoped that the final document will be ready for review by the district conventions this summer.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Increased school enrollments offer new opportunities for outreach

Enrollment in WELS schools is up 9.8 percent this school year (8 percent for Lutheran elementary schools alone), according to the recently released 2021–22 school statistics, with 26,586 students in 282 Lutheran elementary schools and 11,672 students in 363 early childhood ministries.

This is the highest ever recorded enrollment for WELS early childhood ministries and the highest number for Lutheran elementary schools since the 2004–05 school year, according to Mr. Jim Rademan, director of WELS Lutheran Schools.

About 70 percent of WELS schools increased their enrollment this year, while 25 percent decreased and about 5 percent stayed the same.

Besides enrollment increasing, schools are seeing more opportunities for outreach. More and more students attending WELS schools are mission prospects, with nearly 33 percent of families in early childhood ministries and 16 percent in Lutheran elementary schools identifying either as non-Christian or no church home.

“Enrollment is up in our schools,” says Rademan. “Now how can we take advantage of the opportunity? Conditions have been favorable for having more students sit at the feet of Jesus in our classrooms. But how long will that window be open and how well are we going to take advantage of that open window and be as urgent and resolute as we possibly can about sharing the gospel with those children and their families?”

To help congregations and schools connect with unchurched school families, WELS Congregational Services offers a workshop called Telling the Next Generation: Utilizing our Schools for Outreach. Available in person for groups of congregations or a single congregation or virtually for single congregations, the workshop provides resources and advice to help congregations develop outreach plans and strategies to share the gospel with school families.

Learn more about Telling the Next Generation.

Watch last week’s Together video with Mr. Jim Rademan.

 

 

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God’s work among us and through us

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

“This report reviews some of the many ways that God has blessed his work among us,” says WELS President Mark Schroeder. “As you read about them, join with the psalm writer in singing, ‘Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, for your love and faithfulness!’”

Read more about

  • Zach Satorius, a seminary student studying in Medellín, Colombia, during his vicar year;
  • Arturo and Maricruz Navarette, who sold their living room furniture and purchased chairs, tables, and a coffeemaker so they can host a new church group in their home in Mexico City, Mexico;
  • the help Christian Aid and Relief offered in New Orleans, La., following damage from Hurricane Ida; and
  • the many resources available for congregations as they begin to use the new Christian Worship: Hymnal.

These stories and more are presented in the 2022 edition of “Your gifts, God’s blessings.” Print versions of the report are being sent to every WELS congregation and individual donor. Additional print versions are available from Northwestern Publishing House for free. Visit nph.net or call 800-662-6022.

To view the report online, visit wels.net/annualreport. There you can also download a PowerPoint presentation of the report with notes that allow anyone to share the highlights of our synod’s work. Alternatively, churches can invite a WELS Christian giving counselor to give the presentation. Contact WELS Ministry of Christian Giving at 800-827-5482 for more information.

 

 

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A special 2021 Christmas message

WELS Christian Aid and Relief responds to South Central tornadoes

On Dec. 10, tornadoes caused devastation across the South Central part of the United States. Rev. Daniel Sims, director of WELS Christian Aid and Relief, reports: “At this time, we are unaware of any of our WELS congregations or members who have been directly impacted by this storm. Praise God for watching over his people!”

Because no WELS congregations are near the affected areas, WELS Christian Aid and Relief is currently not planning to mobilize volunteers for onsite disaster relief work. “Because we don’t have the deep resources or infrastructure of FEMA or the Red Cross, it’s very difficult to go into areas where we don’t have a congregation nearby to use as our ‘home base’ for volunteers,” says Sims. “However, we will continue to look for opportunities to go to the area and help those in need.”

To support those affected by the tornadoes, WELS Christian Aid and Relief has sent a gift of $10,000 to Direct Relief, which has people on-site and active in providing disaster relief in the form of medical aid.

Sims is thankful for the response from WELS members wanting to help: “We are grateful for your support and your messages of care and concern. Your love for those who are hurting is obvious. May the Lord continue to bless our efforts to ‘do good to all people’ (Galatians 6:10).”

To help those affected by the tornadoes, you can make a financial gift through WELS Christian Aid and Relief’s disaster fund at wels.net/CARgift (designate the gift to “disaster relief”). Stay updated on relief efforts at wels.net/relief.

 

 

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Introducing the new hymnal

About 45 percent of WELS congregations have ordered Christian Worship: Hymnal and accompanying resources since its release in September. Most materials are now available and are being shipped to congregations and individuals who have preordered or are currently ordering. Christian Worship: Service Builder, a digital tool to help congregations with planning worship and generating service folders, is projected to be released the week after Christmas.

Resources are available to help people become familiar with some of the key new hymnal features and to help pastors guide congregations through their first use of Christian Worship materials. Resources include:

  • Introduction scripts and a dedication rite.
  • Video presentations that highlight hymns, psalms, and liturgies included in the new hymnal.
  • Concert videos.

Some congregations are planning to purchase the new hymnal and resources in 2022, including St. John, Burlington, Wis. But even though St. John hasn’t yet bought the hymnal for its sanctuary, it already has started to introduce its members to it.

In November St. John hosted a hymnal introduction seminar where more than 100 people gathered to hear presentations as well as sing selections from the new hymnal and psalter. Both books were available for attendees to examine and use—and even buy. “This hymnal is something that will touch the lives and worship of all the members of the church,” says Rev. Kirk Lahmann, St. John’s pastor. “Because of this seminar, people were able to walk away saying, ‘I really understand why this is important,’ and that generates excitement.”

Now the church is working to raise money to buy hymnals for all the pews and enough psalters for the choir to use.

Once the hymnals are in the pews, the introduction process will continue. For worship services, Lahmann plans to distribute a simple outline to congregants and then have members use the hymnal to follow along rather than a service folder. “We need to learn how to navigate the book,” says Lahmann. “If we want this to be a book that is used in worship and the home, then let’s learn how to use it.”

Rev. Bryan Gerlach, director of the Commission on Worship, comments: “We recognize that congregations can be at very different stages of evaluating and obtaining new hymnal resources. Some preordered before the books were even in print for review. Some, like Burlington, waited longer. Others might not explore options yet for months. That’s okay. Whenever a congregation is ready, the online resources will help them explore the great benefits of the new hymnal suite of resources.”

Learn more about Christian Worship: Hymnal as well as access hymnal introduction resources at christianworship.com. Northwestern Publishing House also has published shipping updates.

 

 

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Bible study on the divine call available

People have always had questions about the divine call and the process we use to call people into the public ministry. With the high number of vacancies and with many congregations affected by the shortage, it’s not surprising that there have been more questions than normal about exactly what the divine call is and how the doctrine of the call is applied among us.

For that reason, the 2021 synod convention passed a resolution encouraging the Conference of Presidents to develop resources and perhaps a series of instructive articles in Forward in Christ that will provide our people with a better understanding of the divine call and how it works.

The COP is now making available a Bible study that deals with the public ministry, the call, and our WELS call process. That Bible study, which includes a PowerPoint presentation and a leader’s guide, is now available for download online. While designed for a Bible class setting, it will also be available to anyone for personal self-study.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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New synod in Latin America forms

In October, representatives from WELS and WELS’ sister churches throughout Latin America met in Medellín, Colombia, to form a new synod: Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional. Founding members come from churches in Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Venezuela.

“For years, our sister churches in Latin America have just been small, individual groups fighting against the wind,” says Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of WELS World Missions. “For them to be able to have this much broader ministry that’s clearly being blessed by the Lord, there’s an excitement there.”

As part of a synod, these churches will be able to do mission work together, train pastors together, and support each other with prayers and fellowship.

Synod membership is expected to swell in the future as new groups gathered during the Academia Cristo training efforts complete a two-year confessional process called Ruta Cristo (Christ path). “One of the needs that Ruta Cristo has given us is where will new congregations that come from Academia Cristo go?” says Rev. Henry Herrera, a pastor in Colombia and president of Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional. “This is why we can tell them now that the answer is Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional.”

Currently 12 groups are on that two-year path, with dozens more possible in the upcoming year. Leaders who complete the highest level of Academia Cristo classes also will be considered candidates for a new seminary program led by Iglesia Cristo WELS Internacional and supported by WELS missionaries.

“For years we were adding people to our churches [in Latin America] by the tens. To now have people joining our fellowship through the work of so many people by the hundreds—if not soon, the thousands—is just amazing,” says Schlomer. “The real blessing is that the Lord is leading more people to learn about grace and what Jesus has done.”

Learn more about Academia Cristo at wels.net/latinamerica.

 

 

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Synodical Council fall 2021 meeting

The following items were discussed or decided at November’s meeting of the Synodical Council (SC):

  • Reports from WELS Church Extension Fund, WELS Investment Funds, and WELS Foundation indicated strong and healthy financial results for all three subsidiaries.
  • Northwestern Publishing House (NPH) reported it is planning to develop a new WELS religion curriculum called “Curriculum 22:6” (a reference to Proverbs 22:6, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it”). The curriculum will include levels for early childhood through high school and will also be suitable for use in both Sunday schools and elementary schools. Development time will take approximately five years. NPH also reported that sales of the new hymnal are strong and above projections.
  • WELS Benefit Plans reported the transition to the new retirement plan is going well. The SC gave final formal approval to implement the new plan on Jan. 1, 2022.
  • Chief Financial Officer Mr. Kyle Egan reported that Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) totaled $22.6 million (the highest ever) and was $1.2 million higher than the previous year. He also reported the Financial Stabilization Fund finished the year with a balance of $19.5 million, an increase over the prior year by $3.3 million. All four synodical schools ended the fiscal year with higher surpluses than the previous year. CMO for the first quarter of fiscal year 2022 remained strong and above projections.
  • The synod learned last week that its Paycheck Protection Program loan of $2.6 million was forgiven. All synodical entities eligible for PPP loans (synodical schools, Northwestern Publishing House, and the synod) now have had their loans forgiven.
  • The SC created a new “Ministry Opportunity Fund” to provide continuing support for unfunded priorities and for new ministry opportunities. The fund will initially include about $5 million coming from the Financial Stabilization Fund. The SC passed a resolution that this fund would provide $750,000 for four years to WELS Home Missions in support of its 100 new missions in 10 years initiative.
  • The SC approved the transfer of the synod’s ownership interest in the Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel and Student Center property in Madison, Wis. The property and buildings will be fully owned by the Chapel and Student Center.
  • The SC will consider providing additional funding for WELS Military Services once the SC receives a detailed request of how the dollars will be used. A convention request for additional funding for WELS Prison Ministry was answered with grants from the Antioch II Foundation and the Schwan Foundation.
  • The SC, with the encouragement of the Conference of Presidents, appointed a committee to begin the process of developing a new synod strategic plan for the year 2025 and beyond. First Vice President Rev. James Huebner will chair the committee.
  • The SC will work with WELS Home Missions to support the 100/10 initiative that will begin in 2023.

Once again, the SC marveled at the grace of God and the generosity of our WELS members. To him be the glory!

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Making a sad day a day of joyful celebration

Divine Peace Lutheran Church in Milwaukee, Wis., was started as a mission of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod in 1957. The neighborhood on S. 76th Street was a new and growing community on the southwest outskirts of Milwaukee, an area at the time filled not with blocks of homes but with undeveloped fields and few streets.

After almost 65 years of bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to its neighborhood, Divine Peace will hold its final worship service on Sunday, Nov. 7.

It’s always a sad day when circumstances force a congregation to close its doors for the last time. But even at a time of sadness and loss, the members of Divine Peace have found a way to celebrate and to express their joy and thanks to a gracious God.

The congregation has decided that the proceeds from the sale of its building, along with its other assets, will be used to carry out gospel ministry even after Divine Peace has closed. It has designated that 80 percent of the congregation’s assets will be given to the synod to support the planting of new home missions and that 20 percent of the assets will be given to Wisconsin Lutheran High School in Milwaukee to support the Christian education of young people. In doing so, the congregation is making a beautiful statement that even though Divine Peace will no longer exist, its ministry will continue through these gifts that will be used to proclaim the gospel through new congregations and through the Christian education of future generations.

The members of Divine Peace are bringing this gift to the synod both out of desire to further mission work in new locations but also out of thanks and appreciation for the synod that established Divine Peace as a home mission in 1957.

Because of its location in Milwaukee, the members of Divine Peace will have many different opportunities to find a new WELS church home in the area. Divine Peace is providing its members with assistance in finding and joining a congregation nearby.

Our prayers are with the members of Divine Peace. And we join in thanking them for this forward-looking gift of faith that will continue to support gospel ministry for generations to come.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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An end and a beginning for these home missions

Five home mission congregations are enjoying new or renovated worship spaces.

  • Beautiful Savior, Fayetteville, N.C.: On Aug. 29, Beautiful Savior dedicated its new worship space, which was built with the help of Builders For Christ. This congregation serves a large military population.
  • Illumine, Rock Hills, S.C.: On Oct. 3, members of Illumine began worshiping in their “old” worship space and then caravanned to their new building to finish a special “Moving Day Worship Service.”
  • Risen Savior, Mansfield, Ohio: After 15 months of renovation work, Risen Savior dedicated its new space on Oct. 10. In June, the congregation hosted a Praise and Proclaim outreach seminar, which led to 15 people knocking on 300 doors and making more than 50 gospel presentations. Since then, Risen Savior’s members have continued to reach out to their neighbors by canvassing local neighbors one Saturday each month.
  • Amazing Grace, South Beloit, Ill.: Amazing Grace held a dedication service for its new building on Oct. 31. This congregation has a pumpkin patch on its church property and each year it offers community members the opportunity to pick a free pumpkin in exchange for donations for a local food pantry.
  • Shepherd of the Lakes, Linden, Mich.: On Oct. 31, Shepherd of the Lakes dedicated its new church. Members began worshiping in the new space in December 2020 but held off on a dedication service due to the pandemic and a pastoral vacancy. New seminary graduate Caleb Schaewe was assigned to serve Shepherd of the Lakes in May and was installed there in July.

“For those involved in building a church, a church dedication marks the end of a long process,” says Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions. “And yet, it really is just another beginning for the mission church to continue its efforts to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. From its inception the members of the mission strive to be gospel proclaimers with a temporary worship location as their base. Now, blessed with a permanent facility, the people of God renew their efforts to go with the gospel into their community.”

WELS Church Extension Fund, Inc., helped these congregations along the way by providing financing through loans and grants for their ministry facilities. In fiscal year 2020–21, WELS Church Extension Fund approved $15.4 million in new loans and $1.98 million in new grants to congregations. In addition, it provided grants of $1.06 million and $.6 million to the Board for Home Missions. Visit wels.net/cef to learn more about WELS Church Extension Fund.

 

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OWLS convention focuses on telling the next generation

After not being able to meet in person last year due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Organization of WELS Lutheran Seniors (OWLS) was thrilled to gather at Martin Luther College (MLC) and the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center in New Ulm, Minn., on Oct. 19–22 for its annual convention.

The convention revolved around the theme “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,” with particular emphasis on the 25th anniversary of the formation of Martin Luther College (1995-2020).

Early arrivals to the convention could choose between two informative tours. The first tour featured highlights of the MLC campus, including the Early Childhood Learning Center and the Chapel of the Christ. Participants could also view the construction progress of MLC’s new athletic facility, the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse. The second tour option highlighted historic places in New Ulm.

Daily worship, workshops, and the three keynote presentations at the convention focused on the convention theme of telling the next generation. Prof. Paul Koelpin presented lessons from the German Lutheran immigrant generation; Dr. Keith Wessel spoke about treasures old and new, featuring the new Christian Worship hymnal and accompanying resources; and Professor Em. James Pope led an informative session on how to utilize the Q&A section of wels.net.

The OWLS again used its offerings to support the WELS European Civilian chaplaincy, which serves military personnel and WELS civilians in Europe. This year, the OWLS presented Military Services with a check for $53,300 for work in Europe. Convention offerings and proceeds from the silent auction were directed for next year’s gift to the work of the chaplain in Europe as well.

One of the goals of the OWLS is to increase awareness of its ministry within local congregations and throughout WELS. Special Ministries Director Rev. Jim Behringer commented, “It was such a joy to be together with OWLS members in person again! The convention had a feeling of contentment and friendliness that probably was increased by having to postpone last year’s gathering. I encourage any congregation with a seniors group to investigate the OWLS program of senior ministry because it offers meaningful ways for seniors to serve and to gather.”

Long-time OWLS members welcomed a number of first-time attendees to the convention this year, people like Linda Klein from David’s Star, Jackson, Wis. She reflects: “My first convention was a wonderful experience—seeing old friends and making new ones, attending interesting workshops, and visiting MLC. I especially appreciated learning more about OWLS and its ministry. I’m really looking forward to next year’s convention.”

The 2022 OWLS convention for seniors will be held Oct. 11–13 at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Convention Center in Onalaska, Wis. The convention is open to all seniors in WELS and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, regardless of OWLS membership.

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

View more photos from the event.

 

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An update from Vietnam

WELS Director of Missions Operations Mr. Sean Young just returned from a month-long visit to Vietnam to discuss next steps for the theological education center in Hanoi. Hmong Asia Ministry Coordinator Rev. Bounkeo Lor accompanied him. The Board for World Missions released this report about the trip:

From the beginning of this initiative, WELS has known that that there would be potential challenges and unexpected setbacks due to this being a brand new mission field in an unfamiliar country. COVID also complicated the process, but we’re thankful that the Lord continues to guide these efforts and “work all things for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

This was the first visit to Vietnam since COVID-19 shut down international travel in March 2020. Certain conversations and building plan discussions were held via Zoom, but concrete plans for the next steps needed to be discussed in-person. Conversations with the Hmong Fellowship Church leadership went well and continue at the time of this writing. If all goes as planned, it is WELS World Missions’ goal to have the theological education center open by Easter 2022, pending no other COVID-19 complications.

Rev. Dr. Terry Schultz from Multi-Language Productions and Rev. Ger Lor from Grace Hmong Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Kan., accompanied Rev. Bounkeo Lor and Mr. Sean Young on the trip. Schultz trained Hmong Fellowship Church leaders how to use evangelism materials he created to train their members, and he gained valuable insight into the Hmong culture for the creation of future materials. Multi-Language Productions will be purchasing flip-book versions of these visual teaching aids. They also identified three Hmong Fellowship Church students with drawing skills who potentially could help develop future educational resources.

In the meantime, the second wave of visiting professors are currently in Vietnam to have their religious visas renewed/approved and conduct training. Rev. Joel Nitz is there for the first time since being called to serve the Hmong in Vietnam in February 2020. Training continues, in-person (thank the Lord!) and via Zoom, for the first 60 men who will prayerfully be ordained as pastors. These men also continue to lead rural training workshops throughout the 13 districts to share what they are learning with other Hmong Fellowship Church members.

The Hmong Fellowship Church grew by 12,000 people in 2020, and the church body now numbers 138,000 members. Stay updated on progress and learn more about Hmong outreach in Vietnam at wels.net/vietnamhmongoutreach.

Serving with you in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Conference of Presidents Fall 2021 meeting

At its October meeting, the Conference of Presidents (COP) received and discussed the following reports and topics:

  • Mr. Bill Ziche, president of Northwestern Publishing House (NPH), provided an update on the new hymnal. Already 325 churches have placed orders for the hymnal, a pace that NPH considers encouraging. NPH is also in the early stages of developing a new religion curriculum for pre-school through high school.
  • President Richard Gurgel of Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., provided an overview of the strategic planning effort that has already begun at MLC.
  • WELS Benefit Plans director Mr. Josh Peterman provided an overview of the materials that will be used to introduce the new retirement plan to congregations and called workers. The change in the retirement plan takes effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
  • There are 136 vacancies in pastor-trained positions. This includes positions in world missions, schools, and administration.
  • The COP discussed the issue of called and hired workers in our early childhood ministries. More study will take place on developing principles and guidelines for congregations to consider as they staff these schools.

The COP formally expressed thanks to the members of the WELS Hymnal Project for their many years of faithful service.

The COP resolved that the on-campus requirement for staff ministry certification be the same as the practice now in place for teacher certification.  As is the case with teachers, someone enrolled in the staff ministry certification program and serving in a call will be considered provisionally ministry certified.

Work continues to clarify the synod bylaws dealing with the discipline and appeal process for called workers.

The next COP meeting takes place in January.

 

 

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New and upcoming Prison Ministry resources

WELS Prison Ministry works to reach those impacted by incarceration with the saving message of God’s grace. It does this through a vigorous ministry-by-mail program that has two components. One is mailing Bible studies to inmates that include a test to complete and mail back; it then gets reviewed by volunteers and sent back with words of encouragement. The other is an active pen pal program, composed of WELS volunteers who correspond with inmates via letters to share Christ’s love.

In addition to reaching the incarcerated, WELS Prison Ministry also seeks to equip members and congregations to help those who have been released from prison or jail. Through the faithful and generous support from WELS members in addition to a generous grant, Prison Ministry has a range of resources that were recently released or are in the planning stages.

Mentoring a Returning Citizen is a video-based training resource that helps church leaders prepare their members to mentor people returning to the community from incarceration. It can be found at welscongregationalservices.net/mentoring-a-returning-citizen.

Two resources to help promote awareness of Prison Ministry’s work are also available. Worship planning resources for a Prison Ministry Sunday include suggested hymns, psalm, and prayers together with a sermon on 2 Corinthians 5:16,17. A few stories and comments from inmates who have benefited from Prison Ministry’s Bible studies are included at the end of the sermon sheet.

A Sunday school/Lutheran elementary school lesson based on Onesimus and Philemon emphasizes the importance of welcoming those with troubled backgrounds into God’s family. The lesson contains student and leader sheets for four grade levels (PreK- Grade 6). These resources can be found online at welscongregationalservices.net/prison-ministry-awareness.

Looking ahead, the WELS Prison Ministry committee is examining ways to reach inmates as communication methods change. “Methods used to deliver the gospel to inmates are changing. Inmates are communicating less frequently via U.S. Mail. More inmates are being given access to electronic communication (similar to e-mail) as well as other services such as book or music downloads to tablets that the inmates own. Our ministry needs to adapt to this new environment. Frequent opportunities to share law and gospel with many more inmates nationwide are available if we can adapt our efforts to this new reality,” explains Mr. Dave Hochmuth, WELS Prison Ministry administrator.

There are three components to this new effort:

  • Produce devotions that support outreach to people with little if any biblical knowledge.
  • Implement a system for distributing the devotions using electronic messaging services to inmates.
  • Test and implement a system using electronic messaging services to collect Bible study tests, return corrected tests, and exchange pen pal letters with inmates.

Hochmuth says, “With changes in the environment of our ministry, we are grateful that the Lord continues to provide generous gifts from donors and organizations to meet the new opportunities for outreach right now.”

Learn how to support or get involved with WELS Prison Ministry at wels.net/prison-ministry.

 

 

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Free conference highlights innovative gospel outreach with media

The Gospel Outreach With Media (GOWM) online conference opened Monday, Oct. 18.

Presentations in this international three-week conference highlight various types of media—including stained-glass windows, virtual reality, the creative visual arts, toys, and the Internet—and how they can be used to spread the gospel.

“People normally think about technology when talking about media,” says Mr. Tom Kuster, executive director of the Christ in Media Institute, which hosts the conference, “but we highlight other media as well.” He shares that media really is whatever channel carries the message from the speaker to the audience.

Kuster says the goal of the conference is to “tickle people’s awareness” of innovative ways of using different media so they start thinking how they can get involved in outreach, no matter what their skill set or vocation. A secondary goal is to connect people with mutual interests for future collaboration on gospel-outreach projects.

This is the seventh annual GOWM conference hosted by Christ in Media Institute. The institute started in 2009 as an educational arm of Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minn., to promote research and education focused on employing God’s gift of mass media to bring the pure gospel message to vast audiences in the U.S. and abroad. It is a part of WELS’ sister synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod.

Anyone can participate in this free online conference. Presentations are available to read or watch; online discussion will be open until Nov. 8 before the conference closes and is archived. Past conference presentations are always available.

Participate now at gowm.org.

 

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60 years of God’s grace and blessings

On Sat., Oct. 9, a special worship service will be held at 5:00 p.m. at Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Milwaukee to mark the 60th anniversary of the WELS Central Africa Medical Mission. As the theme of the celebration states, members of our synod will thank God for 60 years of his grace and blessings on this important work.

The Central Africa Medical Mission (CAMM) is a mission of WELS supported entirely outside of the synod budget through gifts from WELS women’s groups, Lutheran schools and Sunday schools, and individuals. Its work is administered by the Central Africa Medical Mission Committee, with input from Medical Mission Councils in Malawi and Zambia and the WELS Board for World Missions. We thank the many committee members who have served as volunteers throughout the years.

CAMM began its work in 1961 when it established its first medical mission on the Sala Reserve near Lusaka, Zambia. A permanent dispensary was built and opened later that year. By 1963, as many as 4,000 people were being treated at the Mwembezhi Lutheran Clinic each month. Special prenatal clinics began in 1965, and an under-fives clinic began in 1968.

Work was expanded to Malawi in July 1970 with a mobile health care unit. The nurses traveled to five designated bush areas to set up a clinic for the day and then returned to their home in Lilongwe by night. Permanent structures built to serve as clinics during the week are used as churches on Sunday.

Dozens of faithful workers have carried out the work of this mission for six decades. The mission has faced many challenges, and, as circumstances changed, adjustments were made to the way in which the mission carried out its work. Despite the challenges and changing circumstances, God has blessed the work richly. With God’s help, hundreds of thousands of patients have been served and countless lives saved through the work of the Central Africa Medical Mission. Many adults and children have been baptized.

We take time to thank God for what he has accomplished and for the people he provided to carry out this work faithfully for 60 years. Learn more at camm.us.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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2022 WELS National Education Conference

The Commission on Lutheran Schools (CLS) is announcing the 2022 WELS National Education Conference, June 20-22, Pewaukee, Wis., with preconference sessions on June 19.

Mr. Paul Patterson, CLS associate director and member of the conference planning committee, says, “This conference is focused on teaching and designed by teachers for teachers. We have six compelling strands that offer sectionals in topics that are the focus in professional journals: social emotional learning, feedback and assessment, higher order thinking and questioning, student achievement, student-centered classrooms, and leadership in ministry.”

Three keynote speakers have been announced: Rev. Rich Gurgel, Martin Luther College president; Mr. Eric Jensen, a nationally known writer and trainer who connects brain research to the classroom and to enhanced attention and learning; and Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a Wisconsin pediatrician specializing in early literacy.

Patterson says, “We also have seven awesome preconference strands including early childhood; a new Christian Worship conference style presentation for those who missed the 2021 Worship Conference because it was canceled; special education; ministry development plan primer; and more!”

All WELS teachers are encouraged to save the dates. Registration will open in January 2022.

For more on the conference, check out this short promotional video and check out the conference website, which includes the opportunity to sign up for the conference newsletter.

 

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New home mission plans approved

The WELS Board for Home Missions met Sept. 16-17 and approved financial support for three home mission locations.

A new home mission plant was approved in Collinsville, Ill. Christ Our Savior in Collinsville has served as a preaching station of Martin Luther in St. Louis, Mo., since 2002. The core group has maintained an average of 25 to 30 people attending worship through the years. The core group is increasing its outreach efforts, including reaching students at a local college and workers on a nearby military base, as well as offering services for the deaf in their community. Martin Luther has committed time, manpower, and financial assistance to help Christ Our Savior grow and become its own congregation. Home Missions funding will allow Christ Our Savior to call a full-time pastor to assist in this effort.

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

  • Crossville, Tenn.: Crossville is a growing area of eastern Tennessee that is attracting many retirees thanks to the retirement communities and activities in the area. A core group at Ascension Lutheran Church is committed to restarting the church and expanding gospel outreach. More and more visitors are coming to church, and its Bible information class had six people in it this past year. Home Missions funding will allow the congregation to call a full-time pastor to help kick-start this ministry.
  • Las Vegas, Nev.: Summerlin Lutheran Church was originally approved to receive three years of financial support in spring 2021 to restart its congregation, which already owned a large facility in a growing suburb of Las Vegas. Situations have changed, and a number of leaders within the core group have moved away. Home Missions is providing the congregation additional funding with the optimistic anticipation of great blessings from the Lord.

Home Missions also approved unsubsidized mission status for Good Shepherd in Beloit, Wis. Home Missions provides assistance to unsubsidized mission congregations through its district missions boards, mission counselors, synodical support staff, and special project funds, but does not provide direct financial support. Learn more about all of WELS Home Missions work at wels.net/homemissions.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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New mission opportunities in Europe

A new mission in London is one step closer to reality. After a trip to England earlier this month, Rev. Larry Schlomer, administrator of the Board for World Missions, is recommending that the board call a full-time missionary to London.

During his trip, Schlomer met with a group of WELS families in London to talk about the possibilities. These members will serve as the “core group” for this mission and its work. “They are more than excited,” says Schlomer. “A couple of the members even shared with me that they have been praying for a pastor.”

In the past, this group in London—about 30 people—has been served with the Word and sacraments by the WELS European chaplain, who travels monthly from Germany where he is based. The chaplain, part of WELS Military Services, ministers to WELS military personnel on large bases in Germany as well as serves civilians and troops in Germany, England, Switzerland, and scattered throughout Europe. Currently Rev. John Hartwig fills that role.

According to Schlomer, besides serving current members weekly with the Word, a new missionary will be able to explore opportunities for reaching out to the many immigrant populations that settle in London. WELS already has connections with several groups, including members and pastors from WELS’ sister synod in Hong Kong who have recently relocated to London. Once initial exploration has been completed, a second missionary may be called to work specifically with these immigrant groups. Funding has already been approved for both positions. “Right now our priority is to get someone there with this group of believers, and we’ll let the Spirit guide it as the Spirit will,” says Schlomer.

Phil and Sandy Parker, who have been members of this group in London since 2000, are excited about the possibilities. “London is such a multicultural area, and we think that the field amongst these immigrant populations will be particularly ripe because we can offer useful services, such as English as a foreign language classes, that can benefit them as they try to integrate into their communities,” says Sandy.

They also recognize the need for their English friends and family to hear the pure gospel message, something that is in short supply in London. “We know that the Holy Spirit is stronger than even the most stoic Englishman, and so, with a missionary here to help us with these conversations, we might be able to rest assured that our loved ones know God’s salvation too,” says Sandy.

During Schlomer’s visit, Hartwig led worship in person for the group for the first time since he arrived in Germany in June 2020. COVID-19 had made it impossible for him to travel to England, so the group had been worshiping through Zoom video meetings.

“It was such a happy experience,” says Hartwig about the service, which included communion and a baptism affirmation. “And on top of that, seeing that we may have an opportunity to have a permanent pastor—we’re definitely excited about that.”

He continues, “The European Chaplaincy has been thankful to have the opportunity to work with the military and the civilians in the U.K. for many years. We’re excited about the new turn this is taking and want to do everything possible to help that to happen.”

London is one of five new world mission opportunities being explored by WELS Missions. Learn more.

 

 

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The new hymnal has arrived

Northwestern Publishing House, in partnership with WELS Commission on Worship, is sending two copies of the new WELS hymnal and one copy of Christian Worship: Psalter to every congregation. These free copies were shipped late last week. Congregations that preordered hymnals should see deliveries begin this month.

Additional supporting resources for pastors, musicians, and worship planners will be available to congregations and WELS members, including 17 books, 3 digital products, and multiple accompaniment volumes. Nearly 100 volunteers served on 12 committees for the last 9 years as part of the WELS Hymnal Project. Learn more about the hymnal at christianworship.com.

To help introduce congregations to the new hymnal and celebrate the blessings of worship, WELS Commission on Worship is providing resources for congregations and individuals to observe National Hymnal Week, Sept. 19–26:

  • A worship service for Sunday, Sept. 19. This service will be based on the new lectionary readings of the day and include hymns and music from Christian Worship: Hymnal. Materials have already been sent to those who signed up for worship resources.
  • A hymn sing. A video recording of various choirs will lead members through hymns from different seasons of the church year. Some congregations are offering this during the Bible class hour on Sept. 19. The video will be available by Sept. 10 to assist with final planning. A promotional video preview was just released.
  • Presentations. Throughout WELS National Hymnal Week, WELS members can watch video presentations on new hymnal resources as well as on broader worship topics. Members can meet in small groups to view and discuss the presentations or watch them at home on their own.
  • Concert. A pre-recorded online concert featuring a children’s choir, chamber choir, college choir, and liturgical ensemble will be available for viewing beginning Saturday, Sept. 25.

Resources will be available at welscongregationalservices.net/national-hymnal-week.

Congregations will make their own decisions whether or not to use the new hymnal. It’s my prayer that they do. I believe that it will be a rich resource that will keep us unified in our worship and will be a blessing to all who use it.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

 

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WELS Endowment Fund again receives accolade

For the second year in a row, the WELS Endowment Fund’s net investment return placed in the 90th percentile of the foundations that participated in the 2020 Council on Foundations—Commonfund Study of Investment of Endowments for Private and Community Foundations®. The investment returns for the WELS Endowment Fund were 22.39% and 21.22% in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

“This is a tremendous blessing to WELS organizations that have an endowment fund through WELS Foundation, because the distributions from the endowments help fund ministry,” says Mr. Jim Holm, WELS Foundation executive director. “This year, WELS Foundation distributed a total of $3.5 million to gospel work from more than 350 endowments. We praise God for his blessings!”

The 2020 study marks the ninth year that Commonfund Institute and the Council on Foundations have partnered to produce this research. With 260 participating private and community foundations representing combined assets of $115.4 billion, the study is believed to be the most comprehensive annual survey of its kind.

The WELS Endowment Fund is one of four portfolios managed by WELS Investment Funds, a self-supporting subsidiary of WELS. Synodical endowments, along with endowment funds benefiting WELS congregations and WELS-affiliated ministries, are invested in the WELS Endowment Fund.

To set up an endowment fund or learn how an endowment fund can support your ministry for years to come, contact Jim Holm at jim.holm@wels.net or 414-256-3206. Learn more about WELS Foundation at wels.net/foundation.

 

 

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Thoughts on the recent synod convention

The format was different, but the purpose and results were unchanged.

The 66th Biennial Convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod was held at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., on July 26-28. Last January, the potential restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic led the Conference of Presidents to alter the format and location of the convention. The location was moved from Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich., to Luther Preparatory School because of the more stringent restrictions existing in Michigan at the time. The format was changed to a include about 20 percent of the delegates as in-person delegates, with the remaining delegates participating virtually. Elections and floor committee work was done via videoconference prior to the convention.

All things considered, the convention itself took place without significant problems with communication or participation by the virtual delegates.

The opening worship provided an inspiring start to the convention and focused on the convention theme “Here we stand.” The convention theme recalled the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s bold stance on the Scriptures at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Rev. Joel Voss, second vice president of the synod, preached the sermon.

Some significant items of business that were addressed:

  • Rev. James Huebner was reelected to another four-year term as the first vice president of the synod; Rev. Robert Pasbrig was reelected as the synod’s recording secretary.
  • President Earle Treptow of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary delivered the convention essay reviewing the significance of Luther’s confession and its importance for the church today.
  • The convention approved the synod’s Ministry Financial Plan, which outlines the financial support for the work of the synod for the next two years. Chief Financial Officer Mr. Kyle Egan also reported that the synod ended last year in very good financial shape in all areas.
  • The proposed change in the synod’s pension plan from a defined benefit plan to a defined contribution plan was approved and will be implemented on Jan. 1, 2022.
  • The convention endorsed an ambitious plan by the Board for Home Missions to open 100 new missions over ten years, beginning in 2023.
  • The convention was introduced to the new WELS hymnal and formally adopted it as the synod’s hymnal. The new hymnal will be available in early fall.

Many other reports outlined and celebrated the many blessings that God has graciously given to our synod during the past two years and the many opportunities he is giving us for continuing to spread the message of Christ to the world.

The next convention is scheduled to be held at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich., in 2023.

Find all the convention news, archived livestream video, and photos at wels.net/2021synodconvention.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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WELS celebrates milestone in endowments program

This year WELS Ministry of Christian Giving and WELS Foundation are celebrating 16 years of God’s blessings—and the generosity of God’s people—through the WELS endowment funds.

In 2005, synod convention delegates prayerfully considered how WELS could help support gospel ministry in a predictable and ever-increasing manner. One answer was to establish the WELS endowments, which benefit the Lord’s work in WELS Home, World, and Joint Missions and at our four ministerial education schools. Out of gratitude for God’s love and a desire to help more people know Jesus as their Savior, WELS members have faithfully contributed to these endowments over the last 16 years, resulting in more than $100 million in gifts received ($36.7 million) and expected ($68.9 million).

“We praise Jesus for guiding our synod’s plans and prompting our members’ gifts so that we’re now able to distribute more than $1 million from these endowments for greater tuition assistance for ministerial education students and the funding of mission work to people groups located both in the U.S. and in foreign fields,” says Rev. Kurt Lueneburg, director of WELS Ministry of Christian Giving.

In addition to the two synod endowments, WELS Foundation also manages endowments that are set up by individuals, congregations, and other WELS ministries. In total, WELS Foundation distributed $3.5 million to gospel work from more than 350 endowments this year, providing ongoing financial support for gospel work throughout WELS.

One of the endowments managed by WELS Foundation was established by WELS members David and Lynette Buss, longtime supporters of Jesus’ work through their local congregation and area Lutheran high school. “We read an article about Martin Luther College in a flyer from WELS,” says David, “and we knew we needed to distribute [our blessings] to people in the ministry field.” The Busses are helping reduce the burden of tuition costs for students so they can focus on training for the ministry.

The Busses understand that an endowment fund is an ideal way to support MLC students for years to come. “This fund will grow as long as we are on this earth, and it will continue to grow and help hundreds of students in future years,” says David.

“An endowment is a great way to create a lasting legacy of Christian faith while carrying out the Lord’s work,” says Mr. Jim Holm, executive director of WELS Foundation, “and there are a variety of ways to set up an endowment: cash or appreciated assets; or through a will, trust, beneficiary designation on a retirement account, or insurance proceeds.”

To learn more about adding to an existing endowment or setting up an endowment for a ministry close to your heart, contact your local WELS Christian giving counselor at wels.net/giving-counselors or call 800-827-5482.

 

 

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WELS Historical Institute celebrates 40 years

The WELS Historical Institute will be marking 40 years of preserving WELS history at an event Sept. 25, 2021, at Salem, Milwaukee, Wis. Salem Landmark Church, the synod’s museum run by the WELS Historical Institute, is located on Salem Lutheran Church’s property.

The event, beginning at 1 p.m., will open with a message from WELS President Mark Schroeder. In addition, the event will feature a panel discussion with former WELS Historical Institute presidents; a presentation by Prof. John Brenner, the current editor of the Institute’s journal; a cemetery or Salem Landmark Museum tour; a presentation on the history of the Institute; and a hymn sing.

“This event demonstrates our synod’s commitment to appreciating the way the Lord has blessed our congregations, schools, and other organizations and used them to promote the gospel of our Lord,” says Mr. Dan Nommensen, vice chairman of the WELS Historical Institute. “I pray this event will lead us to see how dedicated volunteers have overseen the process of preserving our past so we can celebrate our blessings and appreciate how the Lord continues to lead us through challenges.”

Nommensen says the event is open to “anyone who desires to learn more about our history and how we have sought to preserve and present the story of God’s grace in our WELS.” The event will be livestreamed. Find out more at wels.net/events.

 

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Delegates work together at hybrid convention

Three hundred thirty voting delegates attended WELS’ 66th biennial convention. This included 156 lay delegates (118 virtual, 38 in person), 71 teachers/staff ministers (58 virtual, 13 in person), and 103 pastors (76 virtual, 27 in person). The chairman, secretary, and two lay delegates from each floor committee were invited to attend the convention in person. Others were then encouraged to attend online as virtual delegates.

The work of the convention delegates looked different for this convention than it did in the past. Because most delegates were not at Luther Preparatory School but attended virtually from home, much of the convention business was conducted before the convention.

Most floor committees met in June via Zoom to discuss the ministry that was assigned to them. During these meetings, members discussed the ministry and its corresponding report in the Book of Reports and Memorials, heard from representatives of that ministry so that questions could be answered when needed, and then crafted reports and resolutions for delegates to consider during the convention.

“I saw definite advantages to doing a lot of work ahead of time in our floor committees,” says Prof. Steven Pagels, who served as chairman of Floor Committee #10: Ministerial Education. “We were then able to make more efficient use of our time during the convention. The downside was not getting to know fellow committee members as well, but we did take time to introduce ourselves at our first meeting, which helped.”

Elections also took place before the convention began via online ballots. During the convention, online participants could vote via online voting on resolutions presented to delegates.

James Lake, a virtual delegate from Grace, Falls Church, Va., says that the technology he needed to participate worked well and notes, “Participation in the convention from a practical standpoint was pretty seamless. It was very interesting to learn more about how the business of the synod is carried out. I loved seeing the earnestness of the participants. Even though most voting seemed to be almost pro forma, it seemed more to be due to unity of purpose rather than any sort of complacency.”

To see all the reports and resolutions presented to the delegates during the convention as well as election results and other convention business, visit wels.net/2021synodconvention.

 

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Working with congregations for ministry

WELS Congregational Services addressed convention delegates this year via a video summary of the work it’s doing to help congregations carry out local ministry.

Mr. Jim Rademan, director of the Commission on Lutheran Schools, began by thanking educators and families for their dedication to sharing Jesus with the 41,000 students in WELS’ early childhood ministries, Lutheran elementary schools, and high schools during the particularly trying year.

In his update he reported that recently retired principal Jim Sievert accepted a call to serve part time in leading school consulting services for congregations seeking to start a school or to shore up a school that is struggling. In addition, he shared a new opportunity for school leaders: “I’m excited to announce new partners who assist us with providing skills and support for current school leaders. Through a generous grant from the Kern Foundation and partnership with Milwaukee School of Engineering, early childhood directors, principals, and school leaders can earn a business certificate designed specifically for school leaders. We pray this unique program will enhance their leadership skills; increase leader retention; and God-willing, grow their school’s impact in their community.”

Rev. Jim Behringer, director of the Commission on Special Ministries, followed. He began by saying, “Special Ministries helps congregations serve individuals with disabilities, struggles, and special circumstances, people who can’t be served in the usual way churches function. We encourage Christian love in action.”

Behringer reviewed the myriad ways groups within Special Ministries carry out this calling. This includes the Mission for the Visually Impaired producing materials in digital audio formats and Braille; WELS Military Services reaching more service members due to an increased response to the online referral form; a new group, Light for Parents, formed for parents of children with extraordinary needs; and Freedom for the Captives encouraging all churches to adopt abuse prevention policies and take the Standing Up For Children Training to recognize and prevent abuse and protect children.

Introducing the Commission on Evangelism, Director Rev. Eric Roecker says, “Our culture is experiencing a radical shift in its attitude towards religion. Fewer and fewer people are growing up as active members of a Christian congregation. More and more people see the church as irrelevant at best, harmful at worst. We believe this means it will be even more important going forward for the members of our congregations to be encouraged and equipped for personal evangelism. The reason? While unchurched people may not trust churches, they do tend to trust their Christian friends and neighbors.”

To help congregations and members cultivate a culture of personal outreach, WELS Evangelism has made a number of resources available.

  • Everyone Outreach is designed to help a congregation build a culture of outreach so that every ministry and every member is thinking about and participating in outreach.
  • Let’s Go encourages and equips Christians to become more comfortable and confident in their personal witnessing. Let’s Go dials in the conversation from “what can the congregation do for outreach” to “how can I talk to my friends and neighbors about Jesus.”
  • The One by One Bible study is based on Rev. David Rosenau’s keynote presentation at the 2020 WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership.

Roecker also announced a new Bible study, titled In Season and Out of Season, will be released this fall. Using St. Paul’s evangelism efforts in Philippi as an example, this Bible study encourages Christians to be ready to share their faith whether it is convenient or inconvenient, expected or unexpected.

Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of the Commission on Discipleship, describes what discipleship is: “It’s a believer’s walk in Christ, from life’s first cry to final breath. It’s the life of the Christian whether at their home or at their church. It’s our unique callings as men and women, children and teens, and young adults. It’s singles, parents, spouses. It’s healthy living in Christ.”

Resources range from the brief, weekly Marriage Moments videos to youth Bible studies to Catechism class models to women’s ministry resources.

In response to how worship life changed during the pandemic, Discipleship released God’s People Gather. The pandemic forced many congregations to pivot to online worship. God’s People Gather provides resources that help churches put together a congregation-specific plan that reaches out to the various types of members who have not yet returned to church. Access videos, elder encouragement, Bible study, worship plan, and event ideas at welscongregationalservices.net/gods-people-gather.

A God-Lived Life is a whole-life challenge to God’s people to live the life to which he has called them. The hope is that being challenged in specific ways will urge them to put into practice a closer walk with God and a life of love toward others. The goal of A God-Lived Life is to encourage greater growth in four key areas: a life of being a disciple, a life of service for others, a life of hospitality for all, and a life lived shrewdly.

Rev. Bryan Gerlach, director of the Commission on Worship, reported on its work for the soon-to-be-available Christian Worship: Hymnal.

Gerlach introduced Year C planning tool to coincide with the new hymnal. “It gives guidance on introducing new liturgy songs and hymns that fit the new lectionary. The Year C planner will also save time for pastors. It provides both seasonal themes and themes for each Sunday. The planner is coordinated with comprehensive resources for worship, evangelism, and discipleship.”

He also reported on the upcoming National Hymnal Week, Sept. 19–26, which has been designed to celebrate worship and introduce churches to the new hymnal. The new hymnals are not needed to participate. Resources are available at welscongregationalservices.net/national-hymnal-week. Congregations interested in participating can subscribe to receive updates.

Rev. Jonathan Hein, director of the WELS Commission on Congregational Counseling, reports, “In 2020, for the first time in American history, the number of Americans who claimed they had a church home dropped below 50 percent. Virtually every Christian denomination is in statistical decline. We are not immune. Last year, one WELS church closed about every five weeks. How do we face these challenges? What is our strategy for conducting ministry in a post-Christian America? What, if anything, can we do about the growing hostility toward religion? Those are the types of topics we will be discussing at the second WELS National Conference on Lutheran Leadership, which we are planning to hold in Chicago in January of 2023.”

WELS Congregational Services is committed to building a library of resources to strengthen WELS congregations’ ministries and members. More information can be found at welscongregationalservices.net.

 


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World Missions shares updates and blessings

WELS World Missions has been able to continue the Christian’s Great Commission to spread the Word throughout the world, even during a global pandemic, reported WELS World Missions Chairman Rev. Paul Janke and WELS World Missions Administrator Rev. Larry Schlomer.

While COVID-19 certainly impacted in-person mission work and travel, Janke says, “To paraphrase Isaiah, this has been a time for strengthening the stakes so we can lengthen the cords. So when things open up it can be a time of sharing the gospel with more and more people. Because so much of our work these days has been able to go online, this has actually been a time when world mission work has been able to flourish through vehicles like Academia Cristo and TELL, the English-language version of Academia Cristo.”

Janke says the number of people being reached through these two gospel and outreach training apps from Multi-Language Productions—more than three million—is “evidence that the Lord is using these difficult times to turn people to his Word and to the living hope that we have in Jesus Christ and his resurrection of the dead.”

Janke concludes, “I want to speak a word of thanks for the generous offerings that come from congregations and individuals, even during this time of pandemic. Because of the generosity of WELS people, World Missions is well funded and can take advantage of the numerous opportunities that have been handed to us by the Lord.”

Schlomer continued the World Missions presentation by providing an overview of the work and blessings around the world.

He reported that in East Asia, a particularly dark place for the gospel where few people have heard the Word, the number of house churches has doubled—throughout the pandemic.

In Vietnam, more than 60 future pastors are being trained to reach the Hmong people in that country. Throughout the shutdowns, these men were able to continue their training digitally. This first group of pastors is about a year away from graduating. There are about 135,000 members that make up the Hmong Fellowship Church.

In Latin America, online outreach efforts through Academia Cristo have connected the Latin America missions team with potential church planters in many different countries. Additional manpower is needed to follow up with these contacts and continue training new Christians in grace-starved Latin America. Plans are underway to add up to five new positions to the team, which could be made up of pastors, staff ministers, teachers, and laypeople.

World Missions has plans to send missionaries to two new fields, London and Senegal. The London area is already home to more than 50 WELS families who could serve as a nucleus for outreach. In addition, due to government policy changes, more than 20 percent of members from WELS’ partner church in Hong Kong have moved to the United Kingdom, including two pastors.

Schlomer says Senegal is a “raw” mission, but it appears that the country is open to missionaries and mission work. “We are not going here because we have a contact; we don’t have an invitation. We are going because we know those people don’t have the gospel.” Two missionaries will go to learn the language, meet the people, and seek opportunities to share the gospel.

Schlomer says that it is possible, especially with the growing church in Vietnam, that the number of Christians in our fellowship around the world could exceed the number of members in North America.

“We think this is significant for us as a confessional Lutheran church body, standing on the rock-solid Word of God, and now with the privilege of having these connections all around the world.”

 

 

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New WELS hymnal presented

“I present to our church body Christian Worship: Hymnal for the glory of God and the edification of his people.”

Rev. Michael Schultz, director of the WELS Hymnal Project, said these words as he presented the first copy of the new hymnal to Pres. Mark Schroeder Wednesday morning.

It has been 28 years since a presentation like this happened and 10 years since the 2011 synod convention resolved to establish the WELS Hymnal Project committee. This fall, the new hymnal, psalter, and multiple supporting resources for pastors, musicians, and worship planners will be available to congregations and WELS members. In September, Northwestern Publishing House will send every congregation two copies of Christian Worship: Hymnal and one copy of Christian Worship: Psalter as a preview.

Schultz called for a celebration as he shared more about the 17 books, 3 digital products, and multiple accompaniment volumes that are part of the Christian Worship suite of resources—resources that the WELS Hymnal Project states are “for a generation yet unborn.”

“These are books that will put our worshiping church body in a good place for the next 20 to 30 years,” said Schultz.

He stressed that these resources are a careful collection of materials, not “everything under the sun.” Said Schultz, “We’re confident in commending these resources to the church body that they’re going to see these things and they’re going to hear about Jesus Christ, our Savior, and God’s love for the world in Christ.”

Schultz thanked the 90 to 100 volunteers who served on 12 committees for the last nine years as part of the WELS Hymnal Project. He also highlighted the work of Northwestern Publishing House in the production of the suite of resources and acknowledged the support and partnership of the Synodical Council and WELS Congregational Services throughout the process.

As part of his presentation, Schultz announced the first major release for the hymnal project: a limited release of the new lectionary through the Christian Worship: Service Builder electronic resource. Access the lectionary at builder.christianworship.com.

WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder asked delegates to resolve to thank all who worked on the project to the glory of God and to formally accept and adopt Christian Worship: Hymnal as the official hymnal of WELS. He also encouraged all congregations to use this resource not just in their churches but also in their homes.

The presentation ended with delegates praising God through the singing of the Doxology.

Watch a video sharing more about the hymnal or visit christianworship.com.

 

 

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Delegates endorse new retirement plan for synod workers

Mr. Joshua Peterman, director of WELS Benefit Plans, presented the findings of the WELS Retirement Benefit Strategy Committee to delegates on Wednesday morning. This included the details of the proposal to change WELS’ current Pension Plan to a defined contribution plan for future worker retirement benefits.

“There are three main advantages to the change,” notes Peterman. “First, workers will receive meaningful contributions for retirement benefits. Then, workers will have more flexibility to provide for their retirement income needs and to share savings with their survivors. Finally, sponsoring organization costs will remain more stable over time.”

As the WELS Retirement Benefit Strategy Committee worked on developing a future retirement program that would best serve the synod, sponsoring organizations, and workers, it sought input from called workers across the synod as well as experts in benefit plans and finance. It also developed tools to help workers and sponsoring organizations understand how the changes will affect them. In addition, Peterman answered questions from delegates today to make sure that the new plan is well understood.

The final proposal that was passed by convention delegates approves the Pension Plan to be frozen on Dec. 31, 2021, which means that no new benefits will be earned under the Pension Plan for any service performed after Dec. 31, 2021. Beginning Jan. 1, 2022, eligible workers will be provided with contributions to be used for retirement benefits through a defined contribution plan that will be administered through the Shepherd Plan, which is the name of WELS’ retirement savings plan for synod workers.

Learn more about the plan. Calculate retirement benefits for synod workers using the newly passed defined contribution plan.

 

 

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