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Important synod convention news and update from Martin Luther College

Conference of Presidents makes changes to the synod convention

At its January meeting last week, the Conference of Presidents (COP) examined its options for holding the synod convention this summer, in light of disruptions caused by COVID-19.

The Conference of Presidents (COP) is responsible for planning the synod convention, which was scheduled to take place July 26-29, 2021, at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.

At its meeting, the COP discussed the feasibility of holding the convention as planned, since it is impossible to know whether the current restriction on the size of gatherings in Michigan will remain in place, whether travel difficulties will remain, and whether travelers from certain states will still be required to quarantine after travel. In addition, the COP recognized that a significant number of people may not be comfortable with traveling, gathering in crowds, or staying in a dormitory.

In view of these uncertainties, the COP considered three options:

  1. Have the convention as normal in Saginaw, hoping that the situation changes by July.
  2. Cancel the convention and entrust the Synodical Council to make necessary decisions.
  3. Hold a “mini convention” with a reduced number of in-person delegates and the remainder of the delegates attending virtually.

Recognizing that it is impossible to know what conditions will be like in July and at the same time wanting the business of the synod to be carried out as close to normal as possible, the COP chose the third option: to hold a mini convention. Here is how it will work:

The convention will take place in Watertown, Wis., at Luther Preparatory School, since Wisconsin has been less restrictive in its COVID-19 guidelines than Michigan.

All delegates still will be assigned to floor committees. Each floor committee will have a chairman, a secretary, and lay representative appointed by the synod praesidium. These committees will meet via Zoom in early July to discuss their assigned area of the Book of Reports and Memorials as well as to discuss broader issues such as the ministry financial plan, memorials, bylaw changes, and the pension issue. Synodical area of ministry advisors (representatives) will attend the appropriate floor committee virtual meeting and present any necessary information. The committees will formulate their reports and resolutions and submit them for editing and formatting prior to the convention.

Only the chairmen, secretaries, and two designated layman from each floor committee will attend the convention in person. This means only 50 to 60 delegates will meet in person instead of the normal 400. These in-person delegates will be authorized by their floor committees to vote on behalf of those who will not attend in person. The number of advisory delegates also will be limited. There will be no displays other than unmanned displays of synodical areas of ministry.

All elections will take place electronically prior to the convention, with voting open to all delegates.

The convention itself will be run as normal, with opening worship on Monday evening. The number of special presentations will be limited. With elections already completed and resolutions  prepared ahead, it’s likely the work of the convention will be completed in two days, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The convention will be livestreamed to enable all voting and advisory delegates to observe. Delegates will be able to communicate with their chairmen during the convention if they have questions or comments.

The districts will be asked to appoint the same delegates to the next synod convention in 2023 so that they don’t miss the opportunity to attend a synod convention in person. Delegates will have the option to attend or to decline. No congregation will be charged the convention fee for this year’s convention.

The Conference of Presidents and the convention planning committee will likely make additional decisions and adjustments as needed.

An important advancement for Martin Luther College’s campaign

The Martin Luther College (MLC) administration and governing board are excited to announce a significant advancement in the Equipping Christian Witnesses (ECW) campaign pillar designated to campus facilities. Thanks to the gift of two generous donors, the new athletic center is fully funded.

After extensive interviews, analysis, and research, MLC’s comprehensive campus site plan identified two priorities: residence space and indoor athletic space for sports teams, physical education training, and student life. For that reason, an athletic center and a residence hall were included in the facility improvement pillar of the ECW campaign.

MLC is thankful for the gifts received from many individuals, congregations, and schools throughout the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. MLC is also thankful for the support it has received from the New Ulm community. Those gifts provided a generous financial foundation for facilities, and now, God has moved the heart of two very generous donors to provide a transformational gift to the athletic center that will allow construction to commence.

The athletic center, named the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse, will be located at the MLC Athletic Field Complex west of the main campus, near the soccer and baseball fields. This 36,000-square-foot indoor turfed facility will feature large practice areas, baseball/softball batting cages, golf simulators, and locker rooms. In April, the MLC campus family will celebrate the groundbreaking of the fieldhouse, with student use anticipated by the beginning of 2022.

MLC President Rich Gurgel commented on this milestone of the Equipping Christian Witnesses campaign: “We are thankful to God for the generosity of so many people. The Betty Kohn Fieldhouse will serve our student body well. It is also a significant beginning to our long-range plans for making our campus even more attractive to prospective students. And we look forward to exploring how the fieldhouse can serve the recreation needs of the New Ulm community as well.”

 

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Mid-year graduation at Martin Luther College

Even though on-campus learning at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., has been interrupted for a time, we are happy to see that the work of the college to prepare young people for the public ministry continues. One visible reminder of that is the announcement that 22 students have completed their studies and have received their diplomas and graduated mid-year.

While most of those students will defer their assignment into the public ministry until next spring, several of them will be assigned to their field of labor when the Assignment Committee meets on Fri., Dec. 18.

Plans have been put in place to welcome students back to campus in January. In addition, President Richard Gurgel has announced that the governing board of Martin Luther College will be distributing an additional $200,000 in financial assistance to help students who return for the second semester.

Even in difficult times, God’s work—and his blessings—continue in our congregations and in our synod.

On behalf of all who work with you and for you in our synod’s mission, have a blessed Christmas!

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Martin Luther College celebrates 25th anniversary

Twenty-five years ago when Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., was about to open its doors for the first time, there were so many questions. What will this new college be like? How will it be organized? What will the curriculum be? Will it be able to continue to produce the number of candidates for ministry needed by the synod? How well will the students in the pastor track and teacher track get along with each other? Will there be too many marriages by undergraduate students? Will the members of the synod embrace this new school?

Now, after 25 years, these questions have been answered. And, we thank God that they have been answered in a way that demonstrates God’s rich blessings on this school and on our synod. Today, 25 years later, Martin Luther College (MLC) has been embraced and supported by the people of our synod as OUR WELS college of ministry. Enrollment at MLC continues to be strong, with our WELS young people attending in good and consistent numbers to prepare for a lifetime of service in the church. The pastor track continues to produce young men who are well prepared for continuing at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.; the teacher and staff ministry programs produce graduates who are well qualified to serve in our synod. Having future pastors, teachers, and staff ministers studying and working together on one campus builds relationships that will last a lifetime.

MLC used homecoming weekend as a time to mark its 25th anniversary. A special worship service was held on October 4, with Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary President Earle Treptow delivering the sermon. The service included special music and choirs. A special concert took place on Sunday afternoon. MLC will be planning other anniversary events later in the school year.

This anniversary is a time to say “thank you.” First of all, we thank God for blessing this school and enabling it to carry out its purpose faithfully. We thank the faculty and staff of MLC for 25 years of faithful and dedicated service. We thank the students of MLC, now and in years past, for coming to MLC and saying, “Here am I, send me!” And we thank the members of our synod who have embraced and supported this school with their prayers and offerings.

We pray with confidence that God will continue to bless this school as it continues to prepare our future called workers to be ambassadors for our Savior.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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MLC releases return-to-school plans

Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., the WELS college of ministry, released its “Knights Return to Campus Plan” on July 17, after months of planning. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, MLC had to conclude its 2019–20 school via alternative/distance learning.

The plan calls for students to return to the school’s campus in New Ulm for the fall semester, with classes starting on Aug. 24. Most of the courses will be delivered in person, with less than 10 percent being a blend of online and in-person instruction. The campus will host only essential on-campus events and provide virtual alternatives for other events where possible. Only students, faculty, and staff will be able to participate in the on-campus events at this time.

In a letter of introduction to the plan, Rev. Richard Gurgel, MLC president, shares that the fall planning team spent “hours listening to government officials, health professionals, collegiate organizations, new and returning students and their families, our faculty and staff, and many others in our synod” before putting together the document.

“Our top priority is providing the highest level of safety and confidence in our campus learning environment, while adhering to the spiritual and educational standards WELS expects from its college of ministry,” he says.

Students and administration will participate in daily screenings, including a temperature check. Isolation and quarantine procedures are in place for those who have symptoms for COVID-19, test positive, or have been in close contact with someone exhibiting symptoms or testing positive.

Campus officials say the plan may change as circumstances change. “We offer this plan trusting in God’s gracious care for us in our Lord Jesus,” says Gurgel. “At the same time, we also recognize that such trust does not diminish the responsibility God himself entrusts to us to be wise stewards of our health for the sake of our whole campus family as well as for the entire community of New Ulm.”

The other ministerial education schools—Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.—are finalizing their return-to-school documents. As of right now all three schools are planning to have face-to-face, in-person instruction on their campuses for the start of the 2020–21 school year, with classes starting the week of Aug. 24. All four schools concluded the 2019–20 school year via alternative/distance learning due to COVID-19.

“The faculty and staff at Martin Luther College have done a remarkable job pulling together the many plans and decisions that have to be made to open safely this fall,” says Rev. Paul Prange, administrator of the Board for Ministerial Education. “We ask God’s blessings on the faithful work of everyone at MLC and the other ministerial education schools, and we keep them in our prayers.”

 

 

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MLC President Mark Zarling retiring

Rev. Mark Zarling, president of Martin Luther College (MLC) from 2007 to 2020, is retiring this summer.

During Zarling’s tenure, God has blessed the college in countless ways.

The campus saw the construction of beautiful new facilities funded by God’s people: Chapel of the Christ, the Early Childhood Learning Center, a baseball field, and a soccer pitch.

The academic catalog expanded to include majors in early childhood education and special education, many four-year secondary education majors, and minors in urban ministry and Chinese. The graduate program added two new degrees: Master of Science in Educational Administration and Master of Arts in Theological Studies. And continuing education offerings expanded tremendously, including New Teacher Induction, new certifications, and a full catalog of on-campus, online, and on-location professional development options.

Zarling’s keen sense of vision led the campus family through two strategic plans, two accreditations, a Master Site Plan, and a Master Staffing Plan. He put the spotlight on lowering student debt, broadening international services, expanding experiential learning, and recruiting new students not merely to fill current vacancies but to prepare for new ministries still in development. He also traveled extensively, serving as a warm and sincere ambassador all over the synod.

Through all these changes, he kept the campus focused on the mission statement: “To train a corps of Christian witnesses who are qualified to meet the ministry needs of WELS and who are competent to proclaim the Word of God faithfully and in accord with the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord.”

Faculty, staff, and synod leaders have called Zarling a man of faith, a pastor-administrator, a humble visionary, a Christlike leader, and MLC’s spiritual compass. He spoke God’s promises in the hallways, prayed with colleagues in their offices, and uplifted the college family with his “Letters from Home” chapel messages.

“President Zarling has left an impression on Martin Luther College,” said WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder. “He has worked tirelessly to ensure that our WELS College of Ministry faithfully carries out its purpose. He has personally guided and shaped hundreds, if not thousands, of students. And through his leadership he has instilled in our synod’s members a love for and a confidence in Martin Luther College.”

To MLC students past, present, and future, President Emeritus Zarling offers this encouragement: “The apostle tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Live daily with eyes on Jesus—and the only way to keep eyes on him is to stay with the Scriptures that reveal him. Make time daily to prayerfully read the Spirit’s inspired words that you may build up your faith. As Jude tells us, ‘But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life (20-21).’ ”

Mark and his wife, Colette, are moving to Manitowoc, Wis., this summer and are planning road trips to the East and West Coasts to see children and grandchildren.

 

 

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Assignments and graduations at our ministerial education schools

The recent disruptions caused by the COVID-19 virus have had a great impact on our synodical schools. In-person classes had to be canceled at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis.; Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn.; Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.; and Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich. In addition, decisions have now been made to hold virtual events for the reading of assignments at MLC and WLS and for graduation ceremonies at all four schools. The Assignment Committee will be meeting via video conference to make the assignments in the days before the assignments are announced.

At MLC, 171 teacher and staff ministry candidates are available for assignment. At WLS, 26 pastoral candidates and 28 vicar candidates will be assigned.

Even though graduations and assignments will take place in an entirely different format this year, the reasons to celebrate remain the same. God continues to provide workers for his harvest field, and we continue to thank him for these blessings and for the faithful work done by our faculties and students.

You can participate in these happy events by joining the online events at the schools, accessible via the schools’ websites:

Martin Luther College
Graduation: Saturday, May 16, 10:00 a.m. (Central)
Announcement of assignments: Saturday, May 16, 11:15 a.m. (Central)

Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary
Graduation and announcement of assignments (pastors and vicars): Thursday, May 21, 10:00 a.m. (Central)

Luther Preparatory School
Saturday, May 23, 10:00 a.m. (Central)

Michigan Lutheran Seminary
Saturday, May 23, 9:30 a.m. (Central) (10:30 a.m. [Eastern])

If you know of a graduate from one of these schools in your congregation or extended family, let them know how much you appreciate them and that the entire synod is keeping them in our prayers.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Celebrating MLC seniors

Tomorrow, May 6, is MLC Day. Each year MLC Day brings together all who support the WELS College of Ministry around the world. Martin Luther College (MLC) supporters send messages to the college, pray for its ministry, share its ministry with others, and give gifts to assist in carrying out its mission. MLC students then share their stories and thanks with supporters.

This year, MLC Day will highlight family connections even more, especially focusing on MLC seniors.

“With students continuing to study off campus due to COVID-19 restrictions, our seniors are missing out on many end-of-year activities celebrations,” says Mr. Bill Pekrul, MLC director of public relations. “We decided to focus MLC Day on them this year and have photos and videos aimed at their reflections and encouraging others to send messages of congratulations and encouragement to these future called workers.”

Pekrul offers the following suggestions on how everyone can participate:

  • Current students can share prayers, blessings, encouragement, and thanks to a graduating senior.
  • MLC seniors can offer a message of thanks to those who encouraged and supported them throughout their time at college as well as offer advice to incoming students.
  • WELS families, schools, and congregations can record short videos or submit photos with notes of encouragement and prayers for a graduating senior. MLC is providing signs and message prompts to help the creative process.
  • WELS members can offer prayers and monetary support for MLC’s ministry. All gifts will go toward the Congregational Partner Grant Matching Fund, which directly supports students. A generous donor has agreed to match every dollar donated up to $50,000.

Visit mlcday.com to learn more. There you can also access resources and message prompts so you can show your support for MLC and its students on May 6.

 

 

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Martin Luther College announces commencement plans

In consultation with the 2020 graduating class, faculty/staff, and local health authorities, Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn., has decided that its graduation and Call Day services will be held remotely, with graduating seniors viewing from their homes.

The 2020 commencement worship service will be broadcast via MLC’s Livestream page at 10 a.m. CT, May 16. The reading of the assignments will immediately follow the commencement service. Both events will be pre-recorded at the Chapel of the Christ on MLC’s campus. Assignment lists will be posted on MLC’s and on WELS’ websites immediately following the events.

To help the graduates celebrate, MLC is sending a “graduation box” to every senior and encouraging students to send pictures of themselves in their caps and gowns and videos of their watch parties. Stay tuned to MLC’s social media to see photos and videos.

In late March, MLC already had announced that alternative/distance learning would extend to the end of the 2019–20 school year, a decision made taking into account directives from the state of Minnesota. Distance learning started March 23.

“We thank everyone for their patience and their understanding in these crazy, crazy times as God has set them before us,” says Dr. Jeff Wiechman, MLC’s vice president for academics. “But we forge ahead knowing that he’s in total control and knowing that he has our best interests at heart. His will is being done for us and for our ministry in his kingdom.”

To help celebrate the graduates, MLC has decided to focus its annual MLC Day on its seniors, offering current students, families, friends, and MLC supporters an opportunity to give a shout-out to these future called workers. This online social media event, which also provides ways to support WELS’ College of Ministry with gifts and prayers, takes place May 6. Go to mlcday.com to learn more and to access resources and message prompts.

Commencement plans for Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis., will be finalized in early May. With the Wisconsin governor’s “Safer at Home” orders extended until May 26, WLS already has decided to hold classes online until the end of the school year.

 

 

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Evangelism Day at MLC

The annual Evangelism Day at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., in January, brought a break from classes as students attended stellar seminars and got fired up about proclaiming Christ.

“Evangelism Day,” says Maddy Leckwee, “is filled with energy and fire for the gospel. It makes you excited for the work you are training to do.”

Pastors, teachers, and laypeople presented on topics ranging from youth ministry and social media outreach to the gospel in East Asia and witnessing to Mormons.

Others snagged an opportunity to practice confessing their faith with Praise and Proclaim Ministries’ evangelism training. The group looks forward to canvassing later this spring.

View photos from the day.

Article from Martin Luther College’s e-mail newsletter KnightWatch.

 

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Rev. Richard Gurgel accepts call to serve as MLC president

Rev. Richard Gurgel has accepted the call to serve as president of WELS’ college of ministry, Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn. He will begin his new call on July 1, 2020.

Gurgel brings years of parish and teaching experience to his new ministry. Since 1999, he has served as a professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., teaching homiletics, systematics, and Christian education. He also directs the continuing education arm of the seminary, the Grow in Grace Institute.

The MLC Governing Board issued the call Sept. 26, and Gurgel officially accepted Oct. 21, saying, “With a deep awareness of my weaknesses as a jar of clay but with a still deeper appreciation for Christ’s forgiving and empowering grace, I accept the call to serve as Martin Luther College’s next president. May God give me a double portion of the servant-hearted, gospel-filled spirit with which President Zarling has so faithfully served.”

Furthermore, Gurgel noted, “God has used and continues to use what happens on MLC’s campus to prepare one generation after another of Christian witnesses to proclaim the gospel of his kingdom in classrooms and congregations and communities around the world. Truly a city set on a hill cannot be hidden!”

Rev. Mark Zarling, retiring president of MLC, is grateful that such a faithful shepherd will soon assume the leadership mantle. “Prof. Gurgel is a shepherd gifted with many abilities and with a heart that beats with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” says Zarling. “I am thrilled that he has accepted and am confident that Jesus will use him mightily for the good of this important ministry.”

To learn more about MLC, visit mlc-wels.edu.

 

 

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Equipping Christian Witnesses effort underway

Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., is embarking on a two-year synodwide offering called “Equipping Christian Witnesses.”

Martin Luther College (MLC) is our WELS college of ministry. It prepares nearly all of our called workers, training teachers and staff ministers to serve when they graduate and providing college-level training to young men who will enroll at the seminary to prepare to serve as pastors. Our synod is experiencing a great need for more called workers, and that is what this effort intends to help address.

The offering will provide resources to increase recruitment efforts around the synod.

In addition to that, it will address one barrier to enrollment at MLC: the cost of education. Even though MLC strives to keep educational costs down (and is widely considered to be successful in doing that), the prayer is that this offering will assist in recruitment by providing additional resources for student financial aid, reducing the need for students to borrow for their education.

Another goal of this offering is to provide funds that will help the college improve its facilities, particularly student housing and recreation facilities. While certainly not the main motivation for studying for the ministry, campus facilities do play an important role in recruitment.

We pray that God will move the hearts of our congregations and their members to take part in this opportunity to support the important work that MLC is doing on behalf of us all.

To learn more, visit mlc-wels.edu/mlc-campaign.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Assignments at Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary

Last week the synod’s Assignment Committee met in New Ulm, Minn., to assign teacher and staff ministry candidates. The Assignment Committee is comprised of the Conference of Presidents and is assisted by various advisors.

One hundred forty candidates were assigned to the teaching ministry. All candidates who were able to go anywhere were assigned. Many candidates that could be assigned to limited geographical areas (due to marriage or other circumstances) were assigned, and more of those will be assigned in the coming weeks.

Two staff minister candidates who could go anywhere were assigned; two that were limited by geography were not yet assigned but could be assigned in the future if calls become available.

The complete list of assignments can be found at mlc-wels.edu.

This week the Assignment Committee moves to Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon, Wis. There the committee will assign vicars and pastoral candidates. The announcement of those assignments will take place on Thurs., May 23, at 10:00 a.m. The service can be viewed live online at wls.wels.net.

Our gracious God has provided candidates to serve in the public ministry, and he has moved them to say, “Here am I; send me!” We thank God for these gifts to his church and pray for his blessings on their service.

Serving in Christ,
President Mark Schroeder