Board for Home Missions approves five new missions

On March 31–April 1, the WELS Board for Home Missions met and approved 12 new mission requests—five new home mission starts, five enhancements at existing congregations, and two unsubsidized missions.

New home missions are being supported in:

  • Windsor, Colo., where WELS congregations in Ft. Collins, Loveland, and Greeley are supporting this mission start in a rapidly growing area in northern Colorado. Currently 20 WELS families are located in the target area, which has no Lutheran churches.
  • Wichita, Kan., where the area population is expected to grow by ten percent over the next ten years on the east side of the city. This will be a second site ministry for Messiah, Wichita.
  • Canton, Ga., a fast-growing suburb of metro Atlanta identified by members and leadership from Beautiful Savior, Marietta, Ga., as a prime location to plant a new mission church.
  • Conroe, Texas, the northernmost suburb of Houston, which is the fifth-fastest-growing city in the United States. Abiding Word, Houston, Texas, is helping this new mission get off the ground.
  • Lodi, Wis., which is a second-site ministry for Zion, Leeds, Wis. Zion has already leased a ministry center in Lodi and the 17-person ministry team hopes to launch worship services this year. This mission is financially supported by Zion, but it will receive support from Home Missions through the district mission board, mission counselors, and special grants.

The Board for Home Missions is also financially supporting ministry enhancements for St. John, St. Paul, Minn.; Cross of Glory, Baton Rouge, La.; Divine Savior, Delray Beach, Fla.; Abiding Savior, Killeen, Texas; and Our Savior, Burlington, Iowa. It is providing unsubsidized support to Mount Calvary, Redding/Anderson, Calif.; and Living Faith, Midlothian, Texas. More details about these ministries can be found at wels.net/newstarts.

Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions, commends district mission board members and mission counselors for the hard work that went into the 28 new ministry requests that the Board for Home Missions received for consideration during last week’s meetings. As Free notes, “Not all the requests could be funded, but $610,000 of new ministry was. Thank you, Lord, for those who support gospel outreach through WELS’ home mission churches.”

WELS currently has 141 home mission congregations in the United States, Canada, and the English-speaking West Indies. To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

 

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Show your youth rally excitement

Get ready for the WELS International Youth Rally by sharing your excitement with anyone who sees you! For the first time ever, WELS International Youth Rally apparel and items are available to purchase online prior to the event. Items include a hoodie, long-sleeved tee, rally hat, socks—including WELS-logo socks—and more!

Check it out

Haven’t registered yet? There’s still time to get a group together and register. The youth rally will be taking place June 28–July 1, 2022, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The rally is open to all WELS teens heading into their freshman year of high school through seniors graduating this spring. Youth from around North America will gather for group worship, small workshops, and recreation and fellowship.

Learn more and register

 

 

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Together Video Update – March 22, 2022

The WELS International Youth Rally is taking place June 28-July 1 in Knoxville, Tenn. Learn more in this Together video update featuring Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship. Visit wels.net/youthrally for all the details and to learn how to register.

 

 

 

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Pray for Ukraine

Lord God, in this world of darkness and evil, the light of your saving gospel continues to shine. Through that good news you have brought people around the world from the darkness of sin and death into your marvelous light. But evil exists and Satan’s work in this fallen world continues. As many in Ukraine are experiencing unimaginable hardships and suffering, we ask that you would be with them. Protect them; provide for them; and, above all, strengthen their faith and trust in you and your promises. We commend them to your gracious care, knowing that you have promised to be with them always. Even though they are now walking through the shadow of death, enable them to fear no evil. We ask you, in your love and wisdom, to restore peace and safety to those now enduring the horrors of war and bloodshed and to continue to let your gospel message be the comfort and hope that so many desperately need. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

The situation for our brothers and sisters in the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC) remains dire. We thank God that none of the pastors or members have lost their lives, but at least some members report that their homes have been destroyed. Some of the pastors and members have relocated to places that are relatively safe and removed from the heavy fighting, but others remain in areas where military activity is taking place every day. We continue to pray for their safety.

Last weekend, several ULC congregations—even some in areas controlled by foreign forces—were able to hold worship services either in person or virtually. God’s Word continues to be proclaimed even in the middle of a terrible war.

Rev. V’yacheslav Horpynchuk, the bishop of the Ukrainian Lutheran Church, has been in regular contact via Zoom with Rev. Roger Neumann, the WELS liaison to the ULC. I am also able to communicate with the bishop. Pastor Neumann has been providing daily updates on the situation as reported by Bishop Horpynchuk.

WELS members have already been very generous with gifts intended to support relief and humanitarian efforts both for members of the ULC and for the refugees and local citizens in need of help. We thank all those who have given gifts for Ukraine relief. Those gifts are being channeled through WELS World Missions, which remains in contact with the ULC and is still able to transfer funds. To date, $125,000 has been sent by World Missions. You can give a gift by going to wels.net/give-ukraine.

Currently, collecting physical relief items (blankets, water, canned goods, diapers, etc.) to send to Ukraine is not the best option for assisting those impacted by this war. The expense and logistical complexity of getting such items to those who need them make such an effort impractical. WELS is assisting with humanitarian aid for refugees in Poland through an agency called Direct Relief. To date, WELS Christian Aid and Relief has sent $50,000 to Direct Relief. This highly rated disaster relief organization specializes in providing medical assistance and supplies where they are needed most. It has both the inventory and infrastructure to bring medical aid to an area quickly. We have worked with this organization for many years and trust its work. Other sister churches in Europe are also looking for ways to provide assistance.

Missionary Luke Wolfgramm and his wife, Jennifer, who were living in Novosibirsk, Russia, have safely exited the country. They are currently staying in Durres, Albania, where Luke is providing continuing education to leaders of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Church of Albania, WELS’ sister church. From there they maintain regular contact with the three national pastors in Russia, encourage the Russian Lutheran Church’s leadership and 270 members, and continue online seminary training. The Wolfgramms will be returning to the United States this summer for regularly scheduled meetings and family time. Depending on how events unfold, they will most likely relocate to another location in Europe to partner with sister church bodies in their theological education and outreach efforts.

This entire tragic drama is another stark reminder of the wickedness and depravity that infects the human soul. And yet, even in these darkest of days, we remain confident that the Lord of lords is still ruling with his grace and power. We pray for an end to the war. We pray that God would preserve the lives of his believers in Ukraine, as well as the lives of all the citizens of Ukraine. With confidence in his promises, we commend them all to his gracious care and protection.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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New locations for cross-cultural outreach

One of the primary focuses of WELS Joint Missions is supporting people group ministries, where immigrants who have joined our fellowship in the United States and Canada are able to take the gospel back to friends and family in their country of origin. WELS currently supports 14 Hispanic ministries, 5 Hmong ministries, 4 African ministries, and single Korean, Chinese, Muslim, Vietnamese, and Hindu ministries throughout North America. Six additional mission churches are considered multicultural ministries, which means that more than two different cultures are being served. Many of these people group ministries have opened doors to new world mission work around the globe.

At a recent meeting, the Joint Mission Council approved financial support for two additional locations. Rev. Paul Prange, chairman of the Joint Mission Council, shares, “We are just grateful for the opportunities we have to support these fine people who are often working under difficult circumstances. Their optimism about the importance of the gospel is inspiring, and their willingness to work with us is humbling.”

New Sudanese Mission—Phoenix, Ariz.

In 2020, Rev. Simon Duoth graduated from the Pastoral Studies Institute and was assigned to conduct Sudanese outreach full time in the Pacific Northwest District. When unforeseen family circumstances forced the Duoth family to move to Phoenix, Ariz., conversations began between the Pacific Northwest and the Arizona-California district mission boards about the opportunity to plant a new Sudanese ministry in the area. Research shows that 4,000 Sudanese people live in the city. It was then discovered that a WELS church, Emmaus, was only four blocks away from a Sudanese cultural center. Emmaus’ church leadership is willing and excited to offer its church as a worship center as Duoth begins outreach.

God is also continuing to provide for Sudanese outreach in the Pacific Northwest. A member and longtime evangelist in the current Sudanese congregation located at Divine Peace in Renton, Wash., is stepping up to serve as leader of the church. He will begin training in the Pastoral Studies Institute as he leads Sudanese ministry in the area.

Mission Enhancement—Las Vegas, Nev.

The Korean Fellowship Lutheran Church, served by Korean Pastor Rev. Taesang Kim, is self-supporting and shares a campus with Water of Life, Las Vegas, Nev. Recently, Rev. Youngha Kim and his wife, Margaret, retired to the Las Vegas area. Youngha Kim was trained at Bethany Lutheran Seminary (Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s seminary) and has previously served in Korean ministry in the U.S. and in South Korea. Funding will allow the Korean Fellowship Lutheran Church to call Youngha Kim to reconnect with the elderly and retirees after the pandemic, freeing up Taesang Kim’s time to engage with Korean teenagers and young professionals.

Learn more about WELS Joint Missions at wels.net/jointmissions.

 

 

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2022 WELS International Youth Rally registration underway

Registration has opened for the 2022 WELS International Youth Rally, June 28–July 1, University of Tennessee—Knoxville. Usually held every other year, this will be the first rally since 2018, as the 2020 event was canceled due to COVID-19.

The rally is open to all WELS teens heading into their freshman year of high school through seniors graduating this spring. Youth from around North America will gather for group worship, small workshops, and recreation and fellowship.

The first ever WELS youth rally was in 1974; in nearly 50 years there has never been a four-year gap between events. “This is the longest we’ve ever gone without a rally,” says Rev. Donn Dobberstein, director of WELS Discipleship.

Dobberstein says this rally is going to be really important for two reasons. First, it’s bringing together teens to help them realize the church of God is so much larger than individual WELS congregationswhere the average weekly worship attendance is at 70. Second, it’s an opportunity for the youth leaders to connect and share ideas.

Jennifer Wockenfuss will be attending as a youth leader for a group of 17 teens from Messiah in Nampa, Idaho. She says, “We are in the heart of Mormon country so most of our kids are constantly surrounded by kids of other religions and have never been around many other kids that believe the same thing. I am excited for them to grow as a youth group and grow in their faith as they worship and fellowship with so many other Lutherans their age.”

The theme for the 2022 rally is “Here and Now,” inspired by Esther 4:14. Dobberstein says, “Esther probably isn’t the first name you think of as a biblical hero; her story isn’t as well known. But when you read it, it’s powerful. It’s a story of how God can choose someone out of obscurity and use them for his purpose. God doesn’t have a use for our youth only in the future or down the road. Like a young Esther, you don’t know what God’s timing is for you, but he does have a plan for you. I believe God has a plan for you here and now.”

Two keynotes will be presented to the attending teens based on the theme. Rev. Aaron Robinson, English professor and cultural diversity coordinator at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., will present “Why Not Us? Royal People,” focusing on how Christians should be asking “Why not us?” instead of “Why us?”. Rev. Jon Bare, professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., and director of the Pastoral Studies Institute, will present “Why Not Now? We Serve at a Momentous Time with Momentous Purpose,” which will examine how God places his people right where he needs them right when he needs them to serve.

Additional workshops address the challenges young Christians face in today’s world, with topics such as “Superhero Training: Bystander Intervention Strategies,” “Where’s God When . . . Responding to Faith Challenges,” and “Creating Mental Health Resilience: Strategies for Thriving in a Stressful World.” Dobberstein says some of the workshops will be recorded so they can be used as resources for youth ministry in the future.

So far, in the first week of registration, hundreds of people have already registered for the rally. Rally organizers are anticipating about 2,000 attendees. Registration runs March 8–May 31. The cost is $375 if groups register by April 30 and $395 from May 1-31.

Learn more about the workshops, recreational excursions, and the rally—and register—at wels.net/youthrally.

 

 

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Grants available to help more people hear the Word

WELS Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MDHH), part of the Commission on Special Ministries, is offering $500 grants toward the installation of a hearing loop to WELS/Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregations that apply for it. MDHH is also able to point congregations toward additional research, contacts, and other resources around hearing loops.

MDHH reports that hearing the spoken word in a church setting continues to be a struggle for people dealing with hearing loss. They may miss a phrase that would have been the exact thing their heart needed that day. Or they may choose to stop coming to church because they are frustrated or discouraged by the amount of effort required to catch the full message.

Modern technology has solutions to alleviate this problem. One of these is to install hearing loops in churches. A hearing loop works with people’s hearing aids to provide a clearer sound directly into their ears. MDHH is encouraging congregations to consider a looping project by offering a grant to help fund it. If a congregation is planning or has already begun any kind of building or renovation project, this is an especially great time to consider installing a loop.

If your congregation is interested in installing a loop in your sanctuary, contact [email protected] for more information.

Learn more about the Mission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

 

 

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Together Video Update – March 8, 2022

Rev. Mike Hartman recently began serving as a missionary in London. Learn more about his ministry there and all the opportunities that are available for sharing the gospel in this multi-cultural area.


Want to learn more about Missionary Mike Hartman and his family’s experiences in the mission field? Watch this “Together” extra featuring Hartman’s wife, Rachel.

 

 

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Synodical Council holds winter 2022 meeting

The Synodical Council (SC) met Feb. 25 and 26 for its winter meeting. Here are some of the things that the SC discussed and decided:

  • Financial news was universally positive across all areas of the synod’s ministries. Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) for the first six months of the fiscal year (July through December) totaled $12.4 million, higher than planned and higher than the previous year. The Financial Stabilization Fund decreased to $15.8 million as of Dec. 31, 2021. 2021 CMO totaled $22.7 million, an increase of 4.3 percent ($938,000) over 2020. This is the highest CMO on record.
  • The ministerial education schools, WELS Church Extension Fund, WELS Foundation, WELS Investment Funds, and Northwestern Publishing House all experienced strong starts to the fiscal year.
  • The Schwan Foundation provided $1,879,000 in its regular grant to the synod for 2022; it also awarded an additional $125,000 in special project fund grants for 2022.
  • The Ministry Financial Plan was modified to enable Luther Preparatory School, Martin Luther College, and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary to fill necessary staff positions or to complete other needed projects. The additional spending will come from funds available at the schools and not through increased operating support.
  • Special fund reserves held by all areas of ministry increased to $80.2 million as of Dec. 31, 2021, up significantly from forecasts.
  • Due to recent inflationary trends, the SC approved a change to wage increases for Fiscal Year 2023 (starting in July 2022) to an average of 3.5 percent, 1.5 percent higher than the previously approved average of 2.0 percent. While not covering the full inflationary increases that everyone is feeling, this action is intended to provide called workers with at least some relief and is consistent with projected wage increase expectations for U.S. employers.
  • The mileage reimbursement rate was increased to 56 cents per mile, effective March 1, 2022.
  • The SC asked Luther Preparatory School to conduct a financial feasibility study for its proposed new music center.
  • The SC received a presentation by Northwestern Publishing House to develop a new K-12 religion curriculum for our Lutheran schools. The SC will be asking the Conference of Presidents (COP) to discuss how such a project could best be carried out under the auspices of the Commission on Lutheran Schools, with input from the Commission on Discipleship, the ministerial education schools, and Northwestern Publishing House. The COP will discuss this request in April.
  • The SC received a presentation by Home Missions on the “100 Missions in 10 Years” initiative. Planning has already begun, with the program launching in fall 2023.
  • World Missions reported that work is continuing to train Hmong pastors in Vietnam. With travel restrictions starting to ease, it is our prayer that construction of the training center in Hanoi can begin soon. World Missions also reported that the first WELS missionary has arrived in London and has begun to work with a core group of WELS families living in London. There is a possibility that a second missionary will be sent to London in the coming months.
  • Rev. Jon Kolander and Mr. Mike Krueger were re-appointed to the WELS Foundation board. The assets of WELS Foundation increased by 6.34 percent to $79 million during calendar year 2021.
  • Mr. Jeff Fisher was re-appointed to the Accounting Oversight Committee.
  • Loan demand through WELS Church Extension Fund remains weak, with less building activity going on due to the pandemic.
  • WELS Benefit Plans reports that the transition to the new retirement program is going well, with only 30 congregations not completing the enrollment process to date; those 30 are expected to complete the process in time for the April deadline. The current pension plan achieved a strong investment return of 16.1 percent during 2021; the funding status of the current plan, based on WELS’ actuarial assumptions, is 112.3 percent compared to 72.1 percent only three years ago.

Five members of the SC have completed their service. Rev. Don Tollefson and Rev. Paul Janke will retire at the end of June. Mr. Brad Johnston has “termed out,” and Mr. Tim Kriewall has decided not to seek re-election. Board for Home Missions administrator Rev. Keith Free, an advisory member of the SC, has accepted a call into the parish ministry.

The SC will not meet for its April meeting unless there is an urgent and unexpected need to do so.

We thank God for his many blessings on our synod.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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An update from Ukraine

WELS Ukraine liaison Rev. Roger Neumann has been able to maintain regular contact with leaders from the Ukrainian Lutheran Church (ULC), WELS’ sister church body. As of Tuesday morning, Neumann is reporting that so far the members there remain physically unharmed. However, all but 2 of the 17 congregations, comprising approximately 600 members, are in the direct line of the Russian advance. Two of the pastors have been cut off from communication. Many were able to hold online or in-person worship during the invasion on Sunday morning.

Neumann reports, “There’s a lot of fear, mixed with anger and bewilderment, as to why this is happening. They are very encouraged by the international support; very encouraged by the prayers of WELS people that are going out.”

According to Neumann, some members have been able to flee the country. However, at this time, all Ukrainian men between ages 18 and 60 are required to remain to defend their country as needed. The people who have stayed are taking shelter at night in the underground subway stations and come out during the day to find food and supplies. So far, limited supplies are still available, but the shelves are getting emptier.

WELS is financially assisting two ULC churches in western Ukraine that are setting up refugee centers to welcome Ukrainians who are fleeing from war-torn areas in the east, but space and resources are limited. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently on the move. Money is also being sent to help buy supplies for these refugees. At the time of this writing, banks and supermarkets are still open. The situation is being closely monitored regarding how funds can be safely and effectively sent and used.

“When this is all said and done—and Lord willing, it’s going to be soon and Lord willing, it’s going to be where they will keep their sovereignty—there is going to be a tremendous need for humanitarian aid,” Neumann predicts. “Pray for Ukraine; pray for the people. That’s the number one thing, and the rest God will take care of in his way.”

If you’d like to give a gift to support these relief efforts, visit wels.net/wmgift and select “Ukraine” from the dropdown menu.

 

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Forward in Christ highlights the seven words of Jesus

This Lenten season, Forward in Christ is focusing on Jesus’ final words from the cross, highlighting the seven statements through articles, music, and art.

In the March edition, a different author delves into each of Jesus’ statements, offering insights and lessons for the world today. The issue also features a new original Lenten hymn from Christian Worship: Hymnal called “The Seven Words” (Hymn 436), written by Rev. Michael Schultz, director of the WELS Hymnal Project. The hymn uses the tune of the well-known Lenten hymn, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”

To help familiarize members with this hymn—as well as provide more devotional opportunities for Lent—Forward in Christ teamed up with WELS Commission on Worship to offer short weekly videos based on each verse. WELS musicians offer different musical arrangements for each verse. The videos also include illustrations by WELS artist Corissa Nelson. The videos will be released on social media each Wednesday in Lent, starting on Ash Wednesday, March 2. They also will be online at forwardinchrist.net/videos.

“The text of the new hymn is powerful and moving on its own, just as poetry,” says Rev. Bryan Gerlach, director of WELS Commission on Worship. “But when joined to beautiful music and interpretive art, it’s all the more meaningful. I am thankful for the many artistic and creative people who contributed to this project.”

Congregations may “share” Forward in Christ’s post each week or embed the video on their own social media or website post. Download the first video.

 

 

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Together Video Update – February 22, 2022

We caught up with Rev. Mark Henrich at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary’s Mission and Ministry seminar on Feb. 9. Learn about Henrich’s ministry serving at Hope, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, a multi-cultural home mission congregation.

 

 

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Congregations generously support the synod

By the gracious working of the Holy Spirit, God’s people remitted $22.68 million in Congregation Mission Offerings (CMO) during 2021, which is 4.3 percent ($938,000) more than 2020 CMO and 4.9 percent ($1,059,000) higher than projected receipts. According to Chief Financial Officer Mr. Kyle Egan, “Calendar year 2021 CMO is the second straight year in which the synod has reached a new record level of CMO and the first calendar year where CMO exceeded $22 million.”

As part of financial planning for 2022, 98 percent of congregations submitted CMO subscriptions leading to a total of $22,450,000 in 2022 CMO subscriptions. Already in January offerings are exceeding expectations. Churches gave $1.43 million, which is 21.9 percent ($256,000) more than in January 2021 and the highest level of CMO for the month of January on record.

Rev. Kurt Lueneburg, WELS director of Christian Giving, says, “This is amazing given the record amount of 2021 CMO that God’s people gave. Let us thank the Lord for continuing to bless our synod through his people’s generous gifts!”

For an engaging summary of how WELS uses congregational offerings to carry out Christ’s work in missions and ministerial education and to support our churches and schools, review WELS annual report, titled “Your Gifts, God’s Blessings,” at wels.net/annualreport.

 

 

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Mission and Ministry held at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary

From February 8–10, students at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., participated in Mission and Ministry, an annual three-day event organized by the students.

Under the theme “A World Overcome,” this event highlighted the worldwide work of WELS.

Each day featured a worship service, an overview of ministry highlights by WELS leaders, an encouraging keynote address by a worker in the field, and the opportunity to attend three breakout sessions of interest. WELS organizations also set up displays to share information about their work in God’s kingdom.

In order to give these future pastors a cross-section of experiences they may face in ministry, 24 breakout sessions were offered on specific topics. These sessions included discussions on world missions using technology post-COVID, continued mission opportunities to the Hmong in Vietnam, urban ministry, restarting a mission, church culture, and graphic design for worship and outreach. Many workshops had the underlying, connecting themes that pastors need to be intentional in their work and have a curious mind toward potential new ideas.

The seminary family was blessed to have visitors each day: the pastor-track juniors from Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., participated on the first day and the students of Bethany Theological Lutheran Seminary, Mankato, Minn., participated on days two and three. A special moment during the opening worship service was the commissioning of Missionary Michael Hartman to England.

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

 

 

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Understanding cultural diversity

Martin Luther College’s (MLC) Cultural Engagement Center offered several opportunities for students to grow in cultural awareness this January and February. The Cultural Engagement Center (CEC) works to welcome and support diverse students, provide opportunities for cross-cultural understanding, and promote community on campus—all to help students better carry out the Great Commission, Jesus’ command to share the gospel with all nations and peoples.

In January, MLC planned a full day of activities to commemorate Martin Luther King Day, including a special worship service, workshops, social simulations, and thought-provoking films. Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher and Patricia James, members at Divine Peace, Largo, Md., presented the keynote address.

In February, the Center featured decorations explaining and celebrating the Lunar New Year, a traditional festival celebrated by Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Vietnamese people. The Center also partnered with the campus’ Art In Ministry group to sponsor a Lunar New Year crafting event to teach students more about traditional Chinese art.

Earlier in the school year, students also learned more about the cultures of the international students attending MLC during International Education Week, which included ethnic food nights, student presentations, and panel discussions.

According to Mrs. Megan Kassuelke, director of cultural engagement at MLC, the CEC is meant to cultivate diversity and culture-related discussion in respectful, mindful, and authentic ways. She says, “My goal is to foster a sense of belonging for all by inviting the entire campus family to join in the conversation about diversity awareness and cultural competency.”

Rev. Aaron Robinson, cultural diversity coordinator at MLC, says events like these offer students opportunities to grow in their understanding as WELS’ future called workers. “The reason we use days like this to talk about culture is not to divide but so we can better serve,” he says. “I want to continue the conversation and these moments—meeting the students where they’re at—so they can grow as God wants them to grow and minister to those who are not like them.”

 

 

 

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Together Video Update – February 8, 2022

Zachary Satorius, a third-year student at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., is serving as a vicar in Medellín, Colombia, during this school year. Hear from Satorius what his ministry in Colombia involves and what he is learning as he serves there.

 

 

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Home Missions begins planning for 100 missions in 10 years

At the synod convention last summer, the Board for Home Missions presented a proposal to open 100 new missions in 10 years, beginning in 2023. The convention enthusiastically embraced the proposal.

On Monday and Tuesday of this week, the planning for the project began in earnest. To start the planning process a meeting was held to bring together representatives from the synod Board for Home Missions, district mission boards from all 12 districts, mission counselors, and Home Missions administrators.

The group discussed a wide range of issues such as funding and manpower, the process for identifying and prioritizing locations for new missions, and the important responsibilities of the district mission boards to do the work necessary to carry out the project.

It’s an ambitious goal, but we’ve established that goal with trust in God’s promises, asking for the Lord’s blessings on our efforts. God uses us to plant and water, but he alone makes his church grow.

Learn more about WELS mission work at wels.net/missions.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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You Should Also Know – Feb. 1, 2022

News briefs from the Feb. 1, 2022, edition of the Together newsletter.

New Bible readings start this month

This month, Forward in Christ readers can enjoy selections from the book of Galatians in a study entitled, “Every day with Galatians.”

Luther writes the following regarding Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:

Without any merit or work on our own, we must first be justified by Christian righteousness . . . but this righteousness is heavenly and passive. We do not have it of ourselves; we receive it from heaven. We do not perform it; we accept it by faith. . . . In this epistle therefore, Paul is concerned to instruct, comfort, and sustain us diligently in a perfect knowledge of this most excellent and Christian righteousness. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 26:8,9)

This month’s daily readings are short but powerful—a fuel for our day-to-day lives. “It is a comfort to know that I am justified by what Jesus did for me. It’s important to renew that truth because there are still so many distortions that lead us to think that we can earn God’s love,” says John Braun, FIC’s executive editor. “Because he has given me this gift I find courage to live as God wants me to live. His grace changes me so that I can live as a child of God. That’s important every day.”

Additionally, short excerpts from Martin Luther’s 1535 lectures on Galatians will be available online at forwardinchrist.net/galatians-bible-readings.


Watch the WELS Investment Funds quarterly update webinar

If you missed it live you can still catch the latest WELS Investment Funds quarterly update. The 30-minute webinar featured Bill Burns, CFA, senior investment consultant for Vanguard, as he delivered a quarterly market recap, an investment performance review for the WELS Funds, and Vanguard’s market and economic outlook.

The webinar also included an informative Q&A featuring current issues impacting the markets. Here is a sample of the questions that were addressed:

  • What challenges does the Fed face in deciding to raise rates?
  • How will inflation come down?
  • What is Vanguard doing to mitigate the volatility in the WELS Balanced Fund and WELS Endowment Fund?

As of December 31, 2021, WELS Investment Funds’ net assets totaled $321 million. We currently provide investment portfolios for 240 WELS and ELS ministries, and each quarter more and more WELS members are tuning in to these updates to learn how their congregation’s or organization’s investments are making an impact on ministry.

View the webinar recording


Lutheran Schools video

The Commission on Lutheran Schools is sharing a video highlighting the blessings of Lutheran schools. 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.

Watch the video

 

 

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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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