The many and varied tribes we call Lutheran
National gatherings of church bodies often fall in the summer. Thats not too unusual. But, it seems like a surprising number of Lutheran church bodies have had their conventions, assemblies, or conferences in the state of Minnesota this summer. For a person who likes to travel around this state, as I do, it has been a great opportunity to meet Lutherans of various persuasions from around the country.
The first conventions I attended actually were local ones. As a member of the Reference and Counsel Committee of the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I was at the synods assembly at the end of May. (The St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA held its convention the same weekend, so I did not make that one.) Bible study, worship, and business meant a busy schedule for those in attendance. Topics ranged from immigration reform and law and gospel in Romans to human sexuality and worship styles within the deaf community.
A couple weeks later, the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) met at the Gangelhoff Center at Concordia University, St. Paul. A gymnasium filled with Lutherans considered important issues about what defines fellowship within a church body, and how that is expressed to the public. (See South District LCMS takes action on hymnal use and emerging congregations membership, July 2009 Metro Lutheran, page one.) As a result of vigorous discussion and prayerful consideration, decisions were made.
Just a week later, I hit the road. Two Lutheran bodies the Church of the Lutheran Brethren (CLB) and the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations (AFLC) were both holding their national gatherings in Fergus Falls, Minnesota. (As I was getting ready to go, I jokingly told friends that I was glad that I had done some work with gangs in earlier jobs as it would prepare me in case the two groups met in downtown Fergus for a rumble.) There were so many Lutherans in Fergus Falls that I had to get a hotel room in Wahpeton, North Dakota!
And just a week after that, I spent a very rainy day at Bethany Lutheran College/Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS). In addition to listening in on conversations about church structure that can facilitate mission, I was able to have a visit over the lunch hour with former ELS president George Orvick, a delightfully welcoming and engaging church leader. He even agreed to autograph a book of his sermons for me. (You can read the short stories about the details of these conventions in special coverage of pages 8 and 9 of this issue.)
I wont be able to attend the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod convention, which organizers had the audacity to hold outside Minnesota in Saginaw, Michigan at the very end of July, making it impossible to cover for this issue. But I have been following the very transparent and inspiring process that the Rev. Mark Schroeder, WELS president, and his staff have been engaged in to deal with financial problems related to the economic downturn.
Later this fall, I will attend the Lutheran Churches in Mission for Christ (LCMC) gathering in Fargo, North Dakota (just a stones throw from the Minnesota border) and, I hope, the regional gathering of the Association of American Lutheran Churches (AALC) in Mandan, North Dakota.
So what?, you might ask. Well, I have been inspired by these many gatherings. Believe me, I dont mean to be a Pollyanna. While each group talked about its commitment to scripture and the Lutheran confessions, there are real differences. Lets recognize some of them the absolute inerrancy of scripture, the role of women in worship as well as society, the title used for a regional leader and that persons authority.
Within our alphabet soup of Lutheranism, real differences that affect daily decisions are evident. Within each different body, there is a clear commitment to and passion for responding faithfully and with humility.
The leadership of each convention has been impressive. These servants of Christ, whether called bishops or presidents, have facilitated processes that were meant to seek the truth in a way that serves the mission of Christs church in local communities. It is possible to disagree over just what shape that witness takes and these are very important distinctions but it would be difficult and a dangerous error, I believe, to challenge the sincerity of those clergy and lay who are committed to the gospel.
So, as the only person with the luxury of experiencing so much Lutheranism, was there anything in common? Well, there was one joke that was recited from the podium of three assemblies. Have you heard the one about the priest and rabbi who were sharing a meal? Hmm, maybe Ill save that one for the Metro Lutheran annual dinner to share that little gem, if I can remember it that long.