During July 9-17, I was serving as the Pastoral Delegate for the New York/Philadelphia Circuits of the English District (LCMS).
The Convention was a long nine days in hot and humid Houston, Texas. Throughout the days, I was able to meet several classmates from my days at Concordia Theological Seminary, as well as meet people known only through other groups, such as the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. Seeing 1,200+ people from around the Synod shows how our local congregation is part of a greater entity. (Though being back among my own congregation this morning was just as--if not more--enjoyable!)
A major focus of this Convention was reorganization of Synod governance. For our churchbody, program boards are out, a thing of the past. That will take some adjustment, since speaking of the LCMS Board of _______ has been ingrained for years. Some other changes included the process by which the Synod Praesidium will be elected in the future: each congregation will be able to directly participate in the election of Synod President, the Synod President-elect will have influence in selecting nominees for 1st Vice President, regions of the Synod will also have direct representation within the Praesidium through election of Regional Vice Presidents. Instead of being elected by the Convention, the Synod Treasurer will be appointed by the Synod Board of Directors. Additionally, the purpose and alignment of our Synod's Districts will be the focus of a Task Force to meet during the next three years; proposals for change will be taken up in 2013. More structural changes were suggested by the Floor Committee on Structure, but were either defeated by the delegates, put off for three more years, or never put before the delegates.
As with all Synod Conventions, one primary task is the election of Synod officers. Rev. Gerald Kieschnick has served as LCMS President for nine years (2001-2010), but failed to win reelection. Rev. Matthew Harrison--the Board for Human Care Executive Director--was elected by the delegates instead. This could mark a change in emphases that comes from the top of our Synod. Along with this change, four other members of the Praesidium failed to be reelected. The changes continued in the choices for the LCMS Board of Directors and throughout most of the elected boards. These results were in striking contrast to those of the 2007 Convention.
Much time was also spent discussing the relationship that the LCMS has with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the other--and larger--major Lutheran churchbody in the United States. The decisions are too large for this post, but in summary I would characterize the desire of the delegates as wanting to reaffirm the difference in teachings between the LCMS and ELCA, as well as to ensure that core beliefs not be undermined in cooperative efforts. Principles will be delineated to apply to individual situations. Additionally, the Convention stated that encouragement and commendation needs to be given to other Lutheran churchbodies, including new and formative churchbodies, who are striving to maintain Lutheran teaching. (Thanks to an invitation, I will be able to speak next month to a local Lutheran organization that is attempting to do so.)
The two most poignant moments of the Convention were seeing the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (ELCH) and the representatives of our military chaplaincy. The Haitian leaders brought thanks for the LCMS' financial support after the major earthquake that devastated their country. To see Marky Kessa, the President of the ELCH, and Paul Touloute, another of the ELCH leaders, was touching. Both Marky and Paul were classmates of mine from seminary, beginning from our first Greek class in Summer 1999. The military chaplains held a presentation where their dogtags "spoke to them." One of the chaplains, LTC Oliver Washington, was also at seminary during my time there. To hear of their struggles and pains while serving our country's servicemen tugged at the heartstrings. We all look forward when the pain and misery of both natural disaster and war will end: until then, our Synod will work to help those affected.
It was an honor to represent my congregation and the other 16 congregations in the New York/Philadelphia Circuits. We were also represented well by Mrs. Jane Duffy, the Lay Delegate and member of Martin Luther Chapel, Pennsauken, NJ. Jane also served on the Elections & Credentials Committee for the Convention. More information about the 2010 LCMS Convention, including media highlights, can be found at www.lcms.org/convention.