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