National Lutheran News

ELCA, LCMS FACE LEADERSHIP ELECTIONS

Metro area Lutherans will face leadership choices in coming months. Both Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) synod bishops in Minneapolis and St. Paul will complete terms in 2001, as will the churchwide ELCA bishop and the national president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

Nominees were selected for bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod (ELCA) at conference assemblies held February 11. Bishop Mark Hanson is currently leading the synod, whose next leader will be chosen April 20-21 at Concordia University, St. Paul, Minnesota. Hanson is eligible for re-election.

The Minneapolis Area Synod held two identical forums at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis on December 2 and 4, to initiate a conversation about how to select possible nominees for the office which Bishop David Olson will vacate this year. Olson has completed two terms as bishop and is ineligible for re-election. The Minneapolis Area Synod Assembly will elect his replacement at a meeting which runs May 31—June 2 at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

The Churchwide Assembly of the ELCA meets in August at Indianapolis, Indiana, to select a leader for the 5.2 million member denomination. Dr. H. George Anderson’s term ends this year. Anderson was elected at the Minneapolis Convention Center in August, 1996. All indications are that he will not seek a second term.

There is a real possibility, in the case of all three ELCA elections, that some voting members will use candidates’ attitudes about implementation of the “Called to Common Mission” (CCM) document as a litmus test, some favoring candidates in support of the ELCA-Episcopal unity document, others lining up behind a candidate known to oppose it.

Meanwhile, the LCMS faces what has the potential of becoming a contentious election next July in St. Louis. Dr. A.L. Barry, who until recently led the 2.6 million member denomination, died in late March in a Florida hospital. Synod conservatives will be looking for another candidate to support, while more moderate leaders, unhappy with Barry’s track record, are working hard to find a credible “moderate” candidate.

Proponents of an unofficial LCMS renewal group which calls itself “Jesus First” has been circulating a monthly newsletter in which possible alternative names have been recommended.

High on the Jesus First list is the name of The Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, who has served for the past ten years as president of LCMS’ Texas District. He is Chairman of the Synod’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations.

LCMS congregations are entitled to forward names of candidates they wish to nominate. The deadline by which all such nominations must be officially registered was March 13.
Jesus First is also championing its own candidate for First Vice President of the Synod. He is The Rev. William Dickelman, completing a fourth term as president of LCMS’ Oklahoma District.

Jesus First wants to see church power and authority decentralized.

Another grassroots organization within LCMS, “Voices/ Vision,” is also working for a leadership change at the coming St. Louis Convention. The group champions individuals within the Missouri Synod who favor more opportunities for women in ministry leadership, including ordination.

(A group of Twin Cities LCMS pastors takes issue with the national church’s current restrictive policies on who may receive Holy Communion; the role of women in church leadership; and who may participate in leading LCMS worship services. It has assigned to itself the tongue-in-cheek nickname, “Wine, Women and Song.”)

In the Spring, 2001, edition of the Voices/Vision newsletter the editor asked, “Even if the leadership changes, will there be positive movement on gender issues?” She answers her own question by suggesting, “Things look pretty grim.”