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Thoughts on the recent synod convention

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

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

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

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

Some significant items of business that were addressed:

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

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

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

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

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Delegates work together at hybrid convention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Working with congregations for ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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World Missions shares updates and blessings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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New WELS hymnal presented

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Delegates endorse new retirement plan for synod workers

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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New Home Missions goal set for 2023–2033

On Wednesday morning, delegates approved an ambitious new Home Missions initiative that will begin in 2023.

“Being fully convinced that grace received is grace to share,” reads the resolution, “we commemorate the 175-year milestone of our synod’s history (1850–2025) by challenging ourselves, under God’s grace and with his blessing, to set a goal of establishing 100 new missions and 75 new or enhanced ministries throughout North America over the next 10 years, starting July 1, 2023, under the auspices of Home Missions, working together with WELS areas of ministry and their traditional mission partners.”

A task force of WELS Home Missions is exploring the challenges and opportunities that this initiative presents.

“The task force’s work has already been rewarding,” says Rev. Mark Gabb, chairman of WELS Board for Home Missions. “It’s clear that we have men and women in all areas of ministry of our synod who are dedicated to this initiative. They want to do their part in reaching more souls with the gospel. In fact, we can see how we stand on the shoulders of present and past leaders who have encouraged and supported worker training, home missions, world missions, and all the other important areas of our synod.”

“Starting and supporting missions in North America doesn’t just happen through the efforts of those in Home Missions,” notes Rev. Keith Free, administrator of WELS Home Missions. “Home Missions needs and appreciates the support of many in WELS to reach many outside of WELS with God’s Word.”

To learn more about WELS Home Missions, visit wels.net/homemissions.

 

 

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Serving the hurting with ministry of compassion

On Wednesday morning, WELS Christian Aid and Relief Director Rev. Daniel Sims reported about work carried out over the past year, which is supported fully by the generous offerings of God’s people. Sims emphasized that Christian Aid and Relief strives to imitate and reflect Christ’s compassion, carefully assess needs and opportunities, personalize relief efforts, and, above all, seize every opportunity to proclaim the gospel. Volunteers are utilized whenever possible to carry out its mission.

After showing a video to introduce delegates to Christian Aid and Relief, Sims spoke about three main areas of this compassion ministry: disaster relief, humanitarian aid, and personal grants.

In the area of disaster relief, $774,766 was utilized during fiscal year 2020-2021 to support areas like Midland, Mich., which was devastated by a flood caused by the failure of two dams. Working with Holy Scripture, an Evangelical Lutheran Synod congregation in Midland, Christian Aid and Relief coordinated volunteer efforts and equipment to help clean up the affected areas in addition to offering financial assistance.

During the pandemic, Christian Aid and Relief also provided over $400,000 in pandemic relief grants (to date) to congregations to enable them to support their communities. Light of the Valleys, Reno, Nev., was a recipient of one of the grants. Their pastor, Joel Heckendorf, is grateful for the opportunities it gave his congregation to share the love of Jesus with their community. He is also grateful to his brothers and sisters in Christ who made the grant possible: “I can’t say thank you enough to the individuals, to the congregations, to the organizations that make programs like this available.”

In fiscal year 2020-2021, Christian Aid and Relief approved $515,789 for humanitarian aid projects in WELS mission fields throughout the United States and worldwide. Projects are developed by WELS home and world missionaries, who continually look for opportunities to serve people in their communities with ongoing basic needs. Sims said, “These acts of compassion provide for people’s basic needs, build trust and goodwill with local missionaries, and lead to many opportunities to share the gospel.”

The humanitarian aid granted through WELS Christian Aid and Relief takes many forms, including providing smokeless stoves to safely heat homes in Asia, medical clinics, assistance for legal immigrants, vocational training, and backpacks and school supplies for underprivileged kids.

In fiscal year 2020-2021, Christian Aid and Relief also awarded $275,098 in personal grants to members and prospects of WELS congregations experiencing a great need, like a medical emergency or a financial crisis. “It might be an elderly couple in need of a new roof, or a child who needs expensive surgery that his parents simply can’t afford,” Sims reported. “In such cases, we partner with the local congregation to raise the necessary funds and meet the need.”

Sims touched on some upcoming initiatives, like the creation of a devotion book entitled An Ever-Present Help in Trouble. The audience of the book is twofold: people who have been through a disaster and people who don’t know much about Jesus. “We hope to give these books away to those we are serving in a disaster to encourage them with God’s truth and connect them both to their Savior and the local congregation,” said Sims.

Sims concluded his report by talking about future goals: “One of our major goals for the next few years is to expand our disaster relief efforts by establishing district disaster relief teams across WELS. It is our dream to have a curated library of disaster training materials and a well-trained corps of leaders and volunteers who are prepared to provide relief in every disaster situation. Our Disaster Relief Task Force will begin meeting this fall to begin this work in earnest.”

Learn more about the work of WELS Christian Aid and Relief at wels.net/relief.

 


 

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Preparing and supporting future called workers

Rev. Paul Prange, Rev. Duane Rodewald, and Rev. Richard Gurgel spoke to convention delegates Tuesday afternoon about the blessings and goals of WELS Ministerial Education as it prepares candidates for the public ministry as well as provides continuing education to those who are already serving.

Prange, administrator of the Board for Ministerial Education, highlighted the four schools that the synod supports: Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary (WLS), Mequon, Wis.; Martin Luther College (MLC), New Ulm, Minn.; and Luther Preparatory School (LPS), Watertown, Wis., and Michigan Lutheran Seminary (MLS), Saginaw, Mich., the synod’s two preparatory high schools. About 1,400 students attend the four schools, and 2,000 current ministers of the gospel are in continuing education courses provided by MLC and WLS.

Rodewald, chairman of the Board for Ministerial Education (BME), talked about a special task force that was recently created to improve the retention and better support men who are training to be pastors as a second or third career. “We recognize the challenges and unique sacrifices that need to be made,” says Rodewald about these students and their families. The task force will present its first report to the board in October.

After commenting on all the different educational areas the board maintains, Prange revealed another area the BME is focusing on: student educational debt, especially for MLC students.

Providing financial aid for MLC students is one of the three pillars of the ongoing “Equipping Christian Witnesses” (ECW) campaign. Rev. Richard Gurgel, MLC president, shared more with the delegates about this campaign, including that more than $7.5 million has already been donated or pledged. Construction also has begun on the Betty Kohn Fieldhouse, one of two facilities MLC is looking to build from donations to this campaign. Student recruitment is the final ECW goal. “ ‘Equipping Christian Witnesses’ is about building a foundation for years to come,” says Gurgel. “We want to renew and reinvigorate our investment as a synod to raise up future generations of faithful and qualified staff ministers, teachers, and pastors.” A video shown to delegates highlighted each pillar of the campaign, which will continue through June 30, 2022.

Following the presentations, delegates showed their support for the focus on reducing educational debt by approving a resolution that allows the WELS Ministry of Christian Giving and the MLC Mission Advancement office to continue to seek donors during and after the “Equipping Christian Witnesses” campaign who are willing to make major gifts to MLC student financial assistance.

Watch a video to learn more about “Equipping Christian Witnesses” or visit mlc-wels.edu/mlc-campaign.

 

 

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Special guests offer greetings

Presidents of two U.S.-based Lutheran church bodies addressed convention delegates on Tuesday.

Rev. Glenn Obenberger brought greetings from WELS’ sister synod, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). Obenberger became ELS president after former president Rev. John Moldstad Jr. unexpectedly passed away in January. “We still grieve but do not grieve without hope,” said Obenberger. “John shall rise again for Jesus’ sake, so we go forward.”

Obenberger encouraged the synod to continue to stand on God’s Word. “WELS, like the ELS, is committed to carrying out the mission of the church which Jesus has given us, making the same bold confessions based on the Word of God: That grace alone is the truth which sets sinners like us eternally free,” he said. “May God grant you the strength and wisdom to continue taking that bold, old Lutheran stance in the face of all opposition.”

He then presented Pres. Mark Schroeder a commemorative book on the history of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.

Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), also addressed convention delegates, calling it an honor and privilege to attend and speak at a WELS synod convention.

WELS, ELS, and LCMS representatives have been meeting annually for informal doctrinal discussions since 2012. This is the first time that Harrison has attended a WELS synod convention.

In his historic address, Harrison brought up “tragic things” in the synods’ past, referring to the break in fellowship in 1961 and events that occurred following the break. Yet he stressed the Missouri Synod’s stance on the Word: “The Missouri Synod confesses Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture. And the Lord blesses us despite ourselves.”

He also expressed appreciation for the continuing dialogue among the three church bodies, even though significant issues still separate the synods. “I thank you, Mark [Schroeder], for reaching out to me and the Missouri Synod, despite our challenging past,” he said. “We deeply appreciate your prayers and you have ours.”

Following Harrison’s address, WELS President Mark Schroeder mentioned the importance of these informal doctrinal discussions. “From the start, we believed that it was a debt of Christian love that we needed to pay for us to be talking with our friends in the Missouri Synod about important issues in doctrine and practice. I think you can sense from what Pres. Harrison said that it has truly been a mutually encouraging and beneficial set of conversations, and we pray that they will be able to continue.”

Harrison and Obenberger are two of five special guests at this year’s convention. Rev. Paul Tiefel representing the Church of the Lutheran Confession and two other representatives from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, Rev. Dr. Jonathan Shaw and Rev. Dr. John Wohlrabe Jr., also are attending.

 

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Standing for the gospel

On Tuesday afternoon, Rev. Earle Treptow, president of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, Mequon, Wis., presented his convention essay titled, “Here We Stand: Imitating Luther’s Faith.”

Each synod convention, a pastor is invited to write and present an essay on the convention’s theme. “I considered it a great honor to be asked to serve as essayist. Since I could have quickly identified many who could have handled this assignment better than I, I also considered it a great privilege. While saying no to some opportunities to serve is necessary and wise, there are times when a person simply must say yes. This, for me, was one of those times,” reflects Treptow.

The essay walked delegates through the time in Luther’s life that led to his invitation to the Diet of Worms, his time in front of the dignitaries where he made his famous statement upon which the theme of this convention is based, and the aftermath of the stand he took facing the emperor—the stand he made for the gospel.

“Stories are powerful. And this story is particularly powerful for those who love the message of forgiveness full and free in Christ,” says Treptow. “Most Lutherans know what Luther said on April 18, 1521—at least the “Here I stand” portion—but they may not be as familiar with what led up to it and what followed after it. By telling the fuller story and sharing some details, I am hoping for a couple of things. First, I am hoping that people might be identifying lessons for their lives as Christians on their own as they hear the story and reflect on it. Second, I want to ground the lessons I identified in the story itself.”

Treptow then applied this chapter of Luther’s life to how Christians today should approach the gospel and the truth and blessing of God’s Word.

“I want to draw lessons from Luther’s appearance at the Diet of Worms that has application for us as individual Christians and as a synod,” explains Treptow. “Whenever I preach for Reformation or teach about Luther’s life, I remind myself: The hero of this story is the Lord of my salvation. Luther was an instrument in the Lord’s hand. The best instruments only produce good sound when talented musicians use them. You could put me at the bench of the most impressive grand piano ever produced and it wouldn’t sound very good at all. But a master musician can make an instrument sing. While I am not Luther and you are not Luther, the Lord can work in us and through us in ways that we cannot imagine. As the gospel of Christ dwells in us richly, the Lord strengthens us in faith and empowers us for service, just as he did with the Reformer. We imitate Luther’s faith in the Lord’s promises, confident that the Lord will enable us to stand firm and to be a blessing to others.”

To dive into the history as Treptow did required a lot of research and reading. “One of the nice things about being asked to serve in this way was that I got to do some reading and reflecting that I wouldn’t otherwise have done. I’ve been greatly blessed by the time I spent on the essay,” he says. “I committed to a lot of reading. All the while I was thinking about applications for life and ministry today. Once I had completed the reading I had time to do—there’s always more to be read—I outlined the essay. I specifically noted lessons I wanted to highlight and identified passages of Scripture that connect to those lessons.”

The essay illustrates Martin Luther’s passion for the gospel and notes that the same Lord who empowered Luther to confidently, yet humbly, profess his faith, continues to work in the hearts of believers today.

Treptow summarizes his main theme: “I want convention attendees to follow in Luther’s footsteps, in his passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. His greatest concern was that the gospel be proclaimed clearly to all, so that consciences are comforted and God is glorified. Let’s stand for the gospel because the gospel has seized our hearts. . . . We proclaim God’s law for the sake of the gospel. Our desire is that all would know Jesus as their Savior.”

To download and read the essay or to watch the archived livestream of the presentation, visit wels.net/2021synodconvention.

 

 

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Delegates approve balanced ministry financial plan

“WELS is financially strong,” says Mr. Kyle Egan, WELS’ chief financial officer. “God continues to bless WELS with the financial gifts needed to maintain current ministry levels and to develop a well-balanced ministry financial plan for the next biennium.”

On Tuesday morning, Egan shared WELS’ recent financial information with synod convention delegates and explained key elements of the proposed ministry financial plan for the upcoming biennium of 2021–23. Following his presentation, delegates approved the ministry financial plan.

Prof. Daniel Balge, a pastor delegate from the Minnesota District, served as chairman of the convention floor committee that dealt with the ministry financial plan. Balge notes that “the plan reflects God’s financial blessings to the Wisconsin Synod. With gratitude for the recent past and with thoughtful confidence for the near future, our synod’s leaders have put forward a plan that energetically supports the sharing of the gospel.”

The plan includes support for WELS ministerial education, Missions, and Congregational Services. For details, see Egan’s full presentation, which is available at wels.net/2021synodconvention.

 

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First vice president, other synod position members elected

Election results for various synodical positions—including first vice president and recording secretary—were announced Tuesday morning. Elections were conducted electronically prior to the convention, making it easier for virtual delegates to participate.

Delegates reelected Rev. James Huebner to his fourth term as the synod’s first vice president.

“It is a privilege to be able to continue serving as WELS’ first vice president, a very humbling privilege at that,” says Huebner, pastor at Grace, Milwaukee, Wis. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve our Savior and our synod as we stand together on the Holy Scriptures and go forward together in our mission to proclaim Jesus’ forgiving love to all.”

They also reelected Rev. Robert Pasbrig as recording secretary. He has served in this role since 2005.

Various other synodical positions—14 in all—also needed to be filled. These positions ranged from chairman of the Board for Home Missions (BHM) to members (pastor, teacher/staff minister, and layman) of the Board for Ministerial Education (BME) to at-large representatives on the Synodical Council.

Members of synodical boards and commissions provide valuable input to administrators as they make important ministry decisions. “When the leaders of our boards are people active in parish and school ministry, it keeps the whole ministerial education program up-to-date in addressing the needs of the church body,” says Rev. Paul Prange, BME administrator.

Rev. Keith Free, BHM administrator, stresses the importance of the partnership between the board chairman and the Missions staff, which includes weekly phone calls and multiple meetings throughout the year. “The BHM chairman role is not a figurehead role,” says Free. “There is real time and input these men offer in support of Home Missions. We are grateful to their spouse and the church they serve for allowing these men to have the time to serve in this ministry role.” Rev. Mark Gabb, pastor at St. Paul, Beverly Hills, Fla., was elected as chairman for the Board for Home Missions.

View remaining election results

 

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Schroeder delivers President’s Report

On Tuesday morning WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder addressed the delegates, beginning his report by recalling Martin Luther’s stance in the face of demands to retract his position against the unscriptural actions of the church of the day. Luther had boldly proclaimed, “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted, and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Schroeder then connected the stance taken by Luther with the stance we as Christians take today in a culture that will attack the truth of God’s Word: “The theme of this convention presents us with an opportunity—as individuals, as congregations, and as a synod—to stand exactly where Luther stood, on the unchanging Word of God as proclaimed in the Scriptures.” He added, “Our only defense against these attacks is to do what Luther did: To stand boldly on the truth of God’s Word.”

Schroeder continued by recounting some of the challenges congregations faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also listed some of the blessings that God provided throughout the pandemic, including the steadfastness of WELS members in supporting gospel work: “God’s people remained faithful in bringing their offerings during the past year and, in fact, were even more generous than before. That was true for the offerings received by the synod and, in many cases, for congregations. With those increased offerings, no reductions in mission or ministry were required by the synod. In fact, the Synodical Council was able to approve additional resources for previously unfunded ministry.”

The results of these blessings on ministry include a planned increase in the establishment of home mission congregations and more opportunities to share the gospel in new world mission fields. In addition, Schroeder spoke about the blessings of funding for new facilities at Martin Luther College, a variety of new resources and assistance for congregations through Congregational Services, and the production of a new hymnal.

Schroeder then addressed some of the other challenges to the synod, including the shortage of called workers. He urged, “It’s important that we rededicate ourselves as a synod, as congregations, and as individual called workers and lay members to recruit young people for ministry as diligently and energetically as we can. The fields are indeed ripe for harvest. Workers are needed to go into those harvest fields. Pray that God will provide workers who will serve God’s people and reach the lost.”

Schroeder also spoke about the impact the proposed Federal Equality Act may have on Christian churches and religious organizations: “As a church we do not express opinions on purely political matters. However, the concern in this case is that aspects of the Equality Act could make it very difficult for the church to carry out its mission and could jeopardize our religious freedom to preach and teach God’s Word faithfully.”

At this point, it is not known what potential effect the Equality Act will have on religious organizations, but Schroeder talked about how the church body is to respond: “Our desire and responsibility . . . is to continue practicing our faith in humility and love, as we share with ourselves and others what God says in his Word for our eternal good.” He continued, “We further encourage your prayers that the Lord would give us the boldness and courage to be faithful to him, no matter the earthly consequences, as we work together as brothers and sisters in Christ to continue to carry out our Savior’s mission. The work of God’s kingdom will always move forward.”

In conclusion, Schroeder urged the synod to remain as faithful as possible, even in light of a small but steady decline in membership: “First, we strive with God’s help to remain faithful to the Word (not changing the message to become more appealing or attractive). Second, we ask God to move each of our congregations and each of us as individuals to share the gospel whenever and wherever God gives the opportunity. Third, as we strive to be faithful to the Word and to our God-given mission, we trust firmly that God will work through his Word in the ways and places that he determines best—accomplishing his desire and achieving his purpose.”

View the full report

 

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2021 synod convention opens with worship

Around 200 convention attendees and guests filled the chapel at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., Monday evening for the opening worship service of the 66th biennial convention.

WELS President Rev. Mark Schroeder presided over the service and Rev. Joel Voss, WELS second vice president and pastor at Resurrection, Centerville, Ohio, preached a sermon themed “By God’s Grace, Here We Still Stand” based on Colossians 3:15-17. Rev. James Huebner, WELS first vice president and pastor at Grace, Milwaukee, Wis., was the cantor for the service.

Voss says, “Our Lord’s encouragement in Colossians chapter 3 is to let his Word dwell in us richly. That Word led Luther to take his stand at the Diet of Worms 500 years ago, and, by God’s grace, that’s where our beloved WELS still stands today. That’s all due to the grace of God. May we ever cherish it!”

Worship during the convention is crafted around the themes covered in the convention essay entitled “Here We Stand: Imitating Luther’s Faith.” Rev. Bryan Gerlach, director of the WELS Commission on Worship, says, “There is no bravado in the convention theme. So it’s good to reinforce the foundation of Word and sacrament. Here we stand! And the remaining worship services during convention emphasize additional essay themes: humility in service, joy in all circumstances, and confessing the gospel with boldness.”

Gerlach continues, “It can be a challenge to gather a choir in summer for convention—even more so after the pandemic challenges of the past year. So, I was pleased that Rev. Huebner agreed to be cantor for the service. This also had the advantage of modeling to delegates and to all those watching online how to introduce material from the new hymnal. Furthermore, it meant that the opening service was led by the synod president and two vice presidents.”

The opening service was planned to provide a balance of familiar hymns with some new content introduced in a way to make participation comfortable for most people.

Even though fewer people attended in person than usual, it was still a moving service, especially for delegates from smaller churches. The impact of strong singing accompanied by a quality pipe organ and brass ensemble made the service a memorable and joyful worship experience.

Rev. Bruce E. Schwark, who serves Christ/Rockwood/St. Peter in the Manitowoc Conference, Wis., was moved by the music. “I always enjoy singing Thy Strong Word with the fanfare of the trumpets and as a tribute to Professor Franzmann, who wrote the words. The sermon also hit the point about what we are all about: preaching the Word. That’s what I do as a pastor. The service motivated me to keep doing that.”

“I was amazed at how great the hymns sounded and how great the preachers were,” agreed Mr. Kenneth Stephens, first-time lay delegate from Zion, Valentine, Neb. He says, “The singing was so joyful. The service was so impressive, and it really gets to my heart. I’m glad I’m here.”

You can watch the entire worship service at wels.net/news-media/2021synodconvention/convention-livestream.

 

View photos from Day 1 and the opening worship service

 

Preconvention & Opening Worship - 2021 Synod Convention

 

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Convention elections updates

Elections for the 2021 synod convention are already underway. The election process is taking place electronically, and all delegates are taking part.

In the first election, Rev. James Huebner was re-elected to his fourth term as the First Vice President of the Synod. As First Vice President, Huebner will continue to serve on both the Conference of Presidents and the Synodical Council.

The election for the Recording Secretary of the Synod is currently taking place; the final results are not yet in. Rev. Robert Pasbrig currently serves as the Recording Secretary.

Later this week, elections for all other synod positions will be held. The results of those elections will be available prior to the start of the synod convention on July 26.

Please pray that God would guide the delegates as they make their selections and that he would bless those who are elected to serve on our behalf.

Find everything you need to know about the synod convention at wels.net/2021synodconvention.

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

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Synod Convention update

You’re probably aware that the synod convention is scheduled to meet at Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis., on July 26-28. What you may not know is that the convention business has already begun.

Last January, because of the many unknowns caused by COVID-19, the Conference of Presidents changed the location and the format of the convention. The location was changed to Watertown from Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Mich. (since Michigan restrictions were tighter at the time and anticipated to be tighter in July). Instead of the normal 400 delegates attending in person, the Conference of Presidents decided that about 100 delegates would attend in person, and the remaining delegates would attend virtually. A plan is in place to enable remote delegates to vote on reports and resolutions that come before the convention.

This means that floor committees, which address all of the various areas of the synod’s work, would need to do their work virtually in advance of the convention. Many of those committees have already begun their work, and all committee work will be done by July 3. The committee resolutions will then be presented to the convention in July for discussion and action.

In addition to committee work, elections for various synodical positions will also be done electronically in advance of the convention. All delegates will participate in these elections, scheduled to begin on Monday, June 21, and conclude on Tuesday, July 13.

Even though the format is different, the Conference of Presidents has worked hard to make both the election process and the convention business process as normal as possible.

You are welcome to review convention information, including the Book of Reports and Memorials, the slate of candidates for elections, and delegate information, at wels.net/2021synodconvention.

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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Book of Reports and Memorials available online

The 2021 Book of Reports and Memorials is now available online. This book summarizes the activities of each area of ministry over the last year and contains the proposed ministry financial plan for the next biennium. The information in the Book of Reports and Memorials will help guide the delegates of WELS’ 66th biennial convention, which is being conducted in an altered format this year.

The in-person convention is being held at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., July 26–28. Only the chairman, secretary, and two laymen from each floor committee will be present. Floor committees will conduct their business and adopt their reports and resolutions via virtual meetings in advance of the convention. Elections will also be held electronically in advance. Delegates who are not attending in person will be able to vote on convention resolutions remotely.

The entire convention will focus on the theme “Here we stand.” This theme reminds us of Martin Luther’s willingness to risk his life with his bold stand on the Word of God 500 years ago at the Diet of Worms. Our convention will focus on this theme to remind us that for the Christian church today to carry out its mission faithfully, the same bold stand on the Word of God is necessary.

Major items for consideration at this convention include:

  • the proposed ministry financial plan (budget) for 2021–23,
  • increasing opportunities that God is giving our synod to proclaim the gospel to a growing number of people around the world, and
  • a recommended change in the WELS Pension Plan.

More details on the proposed changes to the WELS Pension Plan are available at www.welsbpo.net.

Six memorials are also included in the Book of Reports and Memorials. A memorial is a formal request to the synod convention for specific action.

One printed copy of the Book of Reports and Memorials is being mailed to each delegate, congregation, and male called worker. These printed copies should arrive by the first week of June.

To view the online version of the Book of Reports and Memorials, visit wels.net/2021synodconvention.

You can also see details of the proposed change to the pension plan at https://welsbpo.net/proposed-changes-to-wels-retirement-program-2021/.

Serving together with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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2021 synod convention preparations

The 66th biennial synod convention will be held at Luther Preparatory School in Watertown, Wis., July 26-28. The theme of the convention is “Here We Stand,” echoing Martin Luther’s bold stand on the Word of God at the Diet of Worms in 1521.

The location of the convention was changed from Michigan Lutheran Seminary in Saginaw, Mich., to Luther Prep because of the uncertainties of gathering restrictions in Michigan.

Another change that was made due to those same uncertainties was to hold a “mini-convention.” Instead of the usual 400 delegates, only about 75 delegates will attend the convention in person. Those delegates will include floor committee chairmen and secretaries, along with two lay delegates from each floor committee. (Floor committees are each assigned an area of the synod’s work to discuss and to bring reports and resolutions to the convention for consideration.) The remaining delegates will participate electronically in elections and floor committee work in advance of the convention. The convention will also be livestreamed to enable all virtual delegates to observe.

Important items of business to be considered by the convention will be the approval of the Ministry Financial Plan (budget) for the next two years; the proposal to change the current pension plan for WELS workers to a defined contribution plan (similar to a 401(k) plan); and the elections for various synodical positions, including the First Vice President and synod secretary. The convention will also consider a number of “memorials,” which are requests for the synod to take specific actions.

The convention website, which will house all convention information and documents, including election information and memorials, is now live at wels.net/2021synodconvention.

All delegates have received, or will soon be receiving, convention information and registration instructions via U.S. mail.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

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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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Planning has started for the 2021 synod convention

Planning has begun for the 66th biennial convention of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which will be held at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich., July 26-29, 2021. More than 400 delegates and 50 advisory members will be meeting under the theme “Here We Stand,” reflecting the 500th anniversary of the historic and bold confession made by Martin Luther at the Diet of Worms in 1521.

A convention allows us to look back on the history of God’s blessings to his church, and that’s always a good thing to do. But the convention will also look ahead to the opportunities God is giving us to carry out our mission. The convention theme will remind us that in order to carry out our mission faithfully, we need to continue to stand boldly on the unchanging Word of God. Only then will we be able to focus on the opportunities God is giving us now and the challenges we face in an increasingly hostile society. This theme also reminds us of the responsibility we have to pass our rich heritage of faith on to our children and grandchildren so that God’s church will continue to be built by the power of his gospel.

During the convention called workers and lay members will hear presentations, discuss issues, and make decisions related to the synod’s work, including setting a ministry plan (budget) for the next biennium. Two offices to be filled by election are the synod first vice president and the synod recording secretary, both to be nominated by delegates at the 2021 synod convention. Delegates will also elect others to serve on various boards and commissions. Voting members of WELS are encouraged to nominate qualified individuals to serve on these boards and commissions. A list of positions and descriptions is available online. Nominations must be received by Nov. 30, 2020.

The primary source of the convention’s business is the Book of Reports and Memorials (BORAM), which contains various departmental reports as well as formal petitions to the synod convention called “memorials.” A memorial is a proposal to be considered by the delegates. Memorials can be submitted by individuals, congregations, district, conferences, and circuits. The deadline for submitting memorials to be printed in BORAM is Jan. 15, 2021. Memorials submitted after Jan. 15 will not be printed but will be posted at the discretion of the synod presidium on the convention website if they are received by June 1, 2021. More information about submitting memorials can be found online.

Serving with you in Christ,
WELS President Mark Schroeder

 

 

 

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