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

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