A new perspective on conventions from LCMS

July 16, 2010

After planning and managing six LCC synod conventions, I took the opportunity to travel to Houston, Texas to see how our sister synod, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod put theirs together.

First, it’s about ten times the size of ours. We have about 125 voting delegates, LCMS about 1200. With all the various advisory delegates, board members etc, we top out at about 230. In Houston, the count was around 2000.

As I thought about it, the logistics of putting together such an event are the same. People must be housed, fed, transported, and meet in the right rooms at the right times, however the number of volunteers and staff to make that happen is significantly larger.

With a church population bordering on 2.3 million, the paperwork for the LCMS takes a forest of trees. The Convention Workbook runs 327 pages; Today’s Business containing such things as resolutions, devotional orders of service, ongoing agenda items, minutes and announcements was already at page 544 by Wednesday with two-and-a-half days to go.

Keeping procedure orderly and on schedule is no easy task, especially when discussing and voting on major structural changes to the church body, but President Gerald Kieschnick is a skilled and efficient chairman. Having electronic voting available is also an asset. I wondered how long it took to count results when everything was done on paper with so many and often complicated ballots!

Debate on issues was very passionate, but rarely uncivil. When someone transgressed, the theme of the convention, One People-Forgiven came into play with confession and forgiveness.

Often from the floor delegates would talk of division within the synod. No one denied the reality, however, through the words of Bible study leader Ted Kober of Ambassadors of Reconciliation, devotion speakers and video vignettes by district presidents speaking about life experiences with forgiveness and reconciliation, delegates are aware of the need to offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation within the church. On Friday, the convention will hold a Service of Reconciliation preceded by opportunities for personal confession and absolution.

The convention agreed to a major restructuring of LCMS at this convention. Discussion reminded me of our LCC convention in 2002 when we went through a similar process. A lot of the discussion in Houston was very detailed. One delegate I spoke with on the shuttle bus who hadn’t attended a convention since 1995 was surprised by the what looks like “micro-management.” It may boil down to what a delegate speaker during debate indicated was a “lack of trust.”

Delegates have so far adopted restructuring and governance resolutions by slim margins: usually around 51 percent for; 49 percent against. Other resolutions have healthier majorities so it looks like not everyone is convinced about the need for restructuring, despite the words of the treasurer who said the LCMS is in a “financial crisis” and can not continue with business as usual. Upon adoption of the major restructuring resolution, an online viewer commented via Twitter that because of the change, he would have to start looking for a new church! I guess some people take their church structure more seriously than its confession and theology!

One facet of the election process is completely foreign (as far as I know) to what happens in LCC. What are essentially lobby groups publish lists of their preferred candidates. The goal is to sway the elections to their particular polity. Keep in mind, the elections here comprise a fair number of people as opposed to the 18 currently needed to fill positions in LCC!

What is really magnificent, however, is worshipping and singing hymns with such a large number of people. The congregational song is hearty in this cavernous convention space which was transformed creatively for the opening worship service. That service included examples of each “style” of music used in LCMS congregations. Styles ranged from pipe organ to jazz piano—all in one closing hymn. Unfortunately, rather than giving everyone something to which they could relate, comments indicated many found something to dislike!

This is the first real “social media” convention for LCMS, so I’ve been monitoring Twitter and Facebook for comments. At the same time, the results of elections and adoption of resolutions is communicated immediately. The convention adopted rules that regulate the use of electronics by delegates. They agreed to turn off cell phones or at least put them on vibrate, and not text message or use laptop communications in the voting section. Guests, visitors and news media were exempt. This is something we will need to discuss for our convention next year.

In some areas, some of the issues discussed at this convention could be a precursor for our own future conventions. There is great concern over last year’s decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) to ordain those in same-sex relationships and how the general direction of ELCA impacts cooperative relationships with LCMS in such things as world relief and social services. Another LCMS resolution dealt with how the church body should relate to some of the conservative groups formed by those who have left ELCA. The LCMS response may be instructive for LCC should we find ourselves in a similar situation.

Being here has given me some ideas for our LCC convention and affirmed some things we are already doing. I’m looking forward to working with our own volunteers in Hamilton over the next year as we plan our 2011 convention

Tap into the potential

July 6, 2010

Sitting in an airport waiting for the flight home to Winnipeg has given me the time to reflect on the events of the past five days.

That the youth gathering happens at all is only by the grace of God. It is an entirely volunteer effort. With overall attendance above 500, it is the largest event LCC holds, yet no paid staff is involved, except the person responsible for writing cheques in Winnipeg! Yes, the president is consulted and I provide some input, but that involvement is miniscule in the planning of this kind of event. Much of the work is done by LCC’s deacons who give their time beyond the call they currently serve.

I had a glimpse of the passion that drives the volunteers to take vacation, drive for hours and spend five sleep-deprived days all for the sake of ensuring LCC’s young people stand firmly in their faith and their leaders are well equipped for ongoing service. At one point Lynn Gergens had tears in her eyes as she told the story of Jesus reaching out to Peter, restoring him. “Jesus is reaching out to you to restore you as He did Peter,” she said, her voice breaking. Everyone knew at that point how much she loved the Lord and how much she loved the youth.

Then there were the volunteers known as iBods, young men and women whose role was to help guide people to venues, hand out materials…in a single word—serve. What a great example for everyone. The iBods were a tangible expression of what it means to serve one another.

Our church body is blessed with so many talented, gifted, skilled people who are willing to give freely of their time in service to God and His people. I wonder how many servants will come from the hundreds of youth who attended the gathering, what talents and gifts they have to offer? The potential is enormous, and I’m excited about the possibilities.

What about next time?

July 5, 2010

Day three of the National Youth Gathering and everyone is tired. Yesterday at Concordia University College featured a lot of physical activity, plus the temperature was cool and it rained. This morning at the plenary session it looked like a number of participants had spent little time sleeping Sunday night. But that’s what a youth gathering is all about. Actually, from my experience a lot of church conventions result in sleep deprivation!

My impression, with which many others agree, is that this is a particularly well-behaved group. That doesn’t mean they aren’t having a lot of fun and hearing some very challenging presentations. But I haven’t seen a lot of undue rowdiness or questionable behaviour. They listen intently (maybe some are just asleep!), participate willingly and a just plain happy to be here. The “belonging and believing” theme is very evident in the way people treat each other.

As I look around at all the young faces, many in their early teens, I realize these are the kids at risk of our nemesis “post-confirmation drop-out.” I think to myself, How many will still be at this level of activity in their congregations by the time the next youth gathering rolls around? I pray that the theme of belonging grows in their hearts so that they grow into their congregations as they mature. I invite you to join me in that prayer.

Keeping youth where they belong

July 4, 2010

I may not be overseas, but I’m definitely “on the road” in Edmonton at Lutheran Church–Canada’s National Youth Gathering. This is my sixth so I guess that means I’ve been at two gatherings per district. The first in Alberta for me was in Three Hills at Prairie Bible Institute, not so fondly remembered for its hourly fire alarms beginning at midnight.

Each gathering seems to have its own personality. Gathering committee chairman Deacon Michael Gillingham and his team have created an event that focuses clearly on the theme belong&believe>> believe&belong, even in little things. This isn’t a “high tech” event. Sure, there is Powerpoint reinforcement and video clips shown to help illustrate points, but there is no video projection of speakers, the sound is not overpowering, but the energy and enthusiasm from a room full of teenagers is still there. The simplicity is building a sense of belonging. The messages are clear, strongly Scriptural and authentically Lutheran.

Each session is built around a Scripture passage and includes a Bible study. After Friday night’s opening, everyone was asked to bring their Bibles with them to the plenary sessions. Sure enough, Bible-toting Lutherans showed up the next day—and some of those Bibles were showing signs of wear and tear! (Our next Synod Convention in June 2011 will also be a BYOB—bring your own Bible—event!)

At events like this I look for unique stories. I found one in the attendance statistics. The largest delegation from a single congregation is from La Ronge Lutheran Fellowship in northern Saskatchewan. Thirty-four youth and their leaders travelled 12 hours by bus. To keep expenses down, they are sleeping at Grace Lutheran Church. I talked with a young lady who was really enjoying the gathering, her first time attending something like this. It reminded me of a conversation I had at a previous gathering with a young man from a small rural congregation who was thrilled to be among so many people his age who believed the same things he did! That’s the beauty of a youth gathering. It’s a time of great encouragement and spiritual challenge and resulting growth. Tonight’s dinner companion was a pastor who told me that being part of a youth gathering cemented his decision to attend seminary and become a pastor. Not only that, he told me of two others for whom the Lord used a youth gathering to lead them in the same direction.

This afternoon was encouraging in another way. The schedule included 11 breakout sessions, and most of these were aimed at developing gifts and talents youth could take back to their congregations. Imagine spending 90 minutes under the direction of a nationally recognized choral director learning about vocal production and conducting! Or discovering how you can use your photography skills in the service of your congregation and church body. And tomorrow at Concordia University College of Alberta there are another 20 similar opportunities.

What we adults need to do when our youth return is help them keep developing their God-given skills and talents and involve them in the areas of service for which they are trained and equipped. It’s not enough to have a “youth Sunday.” Our youth should be integrated into every church activity As the gathering sessions keep reinforcing, they already belong to Jesus and to His family through their baptism. By asking them to participate just as all the other baptized members of the family do, we affirm their place in the church, where they belong.

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