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U of M’s LCMS campus center to be sold

University Lutheran Chapel is located on a corner lot on the University of Minnesota's campus, just across from newly-built students apartments. Metro Lutheran photo: Bob Hulteen

The board of directors of the Minnesota South District of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) voted unanimously September 13 to sell its properties on the University of Minnesota’s West Bank and Minnesota State University—Mankato (MSU—Mankato) campuses. The West Bank’s ministry, University Lutheran Chapel, is a worshipping congregation of about 200, half of which are students; the Mankato ministry is a more traditional campus ministry.

Although University Lutheran Chapel is a rostered congregation of the LCMS, the property is owned and maintained by the district. About 10.7 percent of the district budget is spent on campus ministry, according to a chart available on the Minnesota South District website.

In 2003, the Minnesota South District began a process of evaluation of its campus ministries. In November 2003, “[MSD President Lane] Seitz requested that the Mission Committee develop a plan for the expansion of our mission and ministry to the colleges and universities within our District. In response to his request, the Mission Committee created a Campus Ministry Sub-Committee to develop a plan for the expansion of ministry to the colleges and universities within our District,” according to a “Frequently Asked Questions” document on the district website, which Metro Lutheran was directed to by Mark Noren, executive assistant to the president, Minnesota South District. (Under advice from counsel, due to the possible threat of a lawsuit, Noren did not respond directly to questions, but did provide documentation that could answer those questions.)

(According to the University Lutheran Chapel [ULC] website, there is no intent to sue the District. The site says, “University Lutheran Chapel has not threatened to sue the District and is not pursuing a law suit against the District. We have no idea who is threatening to do so. The first we heard of this was when Pastor Kind was given this sheet at the Conference.”)

(At least two bloggers who support efforts by ULC to block sale of its property have mentioned the possibility of legal action.)

In December 2008, a campus ministry task force was established to review the financial viability of sustaining the campus ministries at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State University—Mankato.The property that now includes University Lutheran Chapel has been sold by the Minnesota South District, Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, to Doran Development, LLC. Metro Luthran photo: Bob Hulteen

The task force suggested in May 2009 that the property not then be sold, but that the District establish a long-range, comprehensive plan for its campus ministry. According to the FAQ document, “The current models in use and other models for campus ministry should be analyzed to determine the most cost efficient and most effective way to share the Gospel on the campuses of Minnesota colleges and universities, not only in Minneapolis and Mankato, but also throughout the District.”

In response, a campus ministry task force was established. It offered its findings to the Minnesota South District Board of Directors on May 17, 2011. It recommended sale of the properties and the establishment of an endowment fund to maintain campus ministries in those two sites, and possibly others — perhaps as many as 12-15, according to the report, with connections to existing congregations.

Now on a tight timeline

On September 23, the Minnesota South District executed a purchase agreement with Doran Development, LLC, in the amount of $3.5 million. These funds would be used to establish an endowment fund to support campus ministry in perpetuity.

The 2011 proposed budget of ULC is $225,661, with $116,651, or 52 percent, targeted towards “program and people,” and $109,000, or 48 percent, dedicated to “buildings and maintenance.” As recently as 2008, 61 percent of the budget was aimed at “programs and people.”

According to Minnesota South District documents, the endowment created from the sale of the two properties, would allow a campus ministry budget in 2012 of $220,000, entirely dedicated to “programs and people.” Approximately $120,000 of that budget would come from LCMS mission support, and $100,000 from the endowment.

The district experienced a decrease in gift receipts from 2009 to 2010 of 9.6 percent, creating a fiscal situation requiring the evaluation of its budget responsibilities.

Still, ULC members contend that it is not accurate for the District to say that the sale of the congregation’s property will not force the closure of its ministry. The ULC website states, “While [such a claim is] technically correct, the sale of the chapel would end ULC as we know it, and likely end ULC’s ability to conduct campus ministry at the U of M at all. It would also endanger the continued existence of the congregation.

“We have pointed out repeatedly to the District there are no other LCMS congregations near the U of M. Rental expenses on campus would top $50,000 per year for a congregation to lease space on campus.”

The Rev. Matthew Harrison, LCMS president, in a letter dated October 13, 2011, noted his awareness of this situation for ULC. “The church is losing her young people. This is a concern we all share. While some fall away during high school, by far the greatest losses occur during the college years. Our young adults are bombarded by a secular worldview that is antagonistic to their Christian faith. College campuses have become a place where the truth of God’s Word is mocked, the divinity of Christ is questioned, and the church is scorned.

“As you are able, I encourage you to invest in the future of University Lutheran Chapel in Minneapolis so campus ministry can continue to flourish at the University of Minnesota. While the building they have utilized for campus ministry for over 60 years will be sold, the Word of the Lord will never be silenced. The Minnesota South District has encouraged them to continue ministry in that place. Please consider making a contribution to help see that this happens. … This is not the time for us to abandon campus ministry, but the time to more fully embrace and expand it.”

The MSU—Mankato Campus Lutheran Chapel website included a similar statement from the Rev. Monte Meyer, “Campus Lutheran Chapel is the people and not the building. It has always been that way even from the early days of Gamma Delta. We should be proud that the Campus Lutheran Chapel is one of the largest, if not the largest, campus ministry in the LCMS. God continues to do powerful work through our students as they witness to the overwhelming grace of Jesus Christ. When they sell our building we will continue on campus. We feel our best days are ahead of us. God is faithful!”

Metro Lutheran will follow developments on this story, and provide updates when available.

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