National Lutheran News

Lutheran groups hold annual conventions in Twin Cities

Pastor W. Steven Shipman, director of Lutheran CORE, addresses the Lutheran CORE Convocation. Photo provided by David Baer

More than 1,000 Lutherans from around North America representing the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) and the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal (CORE) met in a series of meetings at Calvary Lutheran Church, Golden Valley, Minnesota, August 14-17, 2012. The two intertwining groups, which understand themselves to be the centrist party within North American Lutheranism, gathered in a series of meetings to conduct business and to plan for the future expansion of Lutheranism on this continent.

Most of those attending were Lutherans who have become dissatisfied with what they see as the unchecked liberalism of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), but who were not as conservative as the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

The NALC, now entering its third year, has grown to encompass 331 congregations and 125,000 members, under the leadership of Bishop John Bradosky and General Secretary Mark Chavez. CORE is a group of Lutheran clergy and laity from a number of different Lutheran church bodies, aiming at the confessional renewal of Lutheranism, under the leadership of its director, Pastor Steve Shipman.

The CORE of law and gospel

The first group to meet was the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal, which held its annual convocation on Tuesday, August 14. At this meeting, 350 members gathered to transact business, to elect officials of the group, and to plan for the future of Lutheran CORE.

The convention heard from a number of speakers, including Pastor Gemechis Buba of the NALC and Pastor Kip Tyler of the Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). Featured speaker Dr. Robert Benne, of Roanoke College, Salem, Virginia, delivered a stirring address to the group, urging them to continue their efforts as a coalition of renewal-minded Lutherans across denominational lines, suggesting that an important key to this kind of renewal was the ability to work with like-minded individuals no matter their formal affiliation.

Members of CORE also transacted annual business and held elections. Pastor Paul Ulring (Columbus, Ohio) was re-elected as moderator of the group, and Pastor Cathy Ammlung (Sykesville, Maryland) was elected secretary; elected to the steering committee were Pastor Wendy Berthelsen (Cedar Hills, Texas), Rod Hackman (Charleston, West Virginia), Pastor Karl Johnsen (Edmunton, Alberta), and Pastor Eddy Perez (Miami, Florida).

Over 600 people attended a jointly-sponsored theological conference August 15 and 16 between the CORE and NALC convocations. With the theme “Preaching and Teaching the Law and Gospel of God,” participants in this conference examined a central aspect of traditional Lutheran theology, but one that they felt was being too much ignored in Lutheranism today. In addition to hearing addresses from Lutheran theologians Carl Braaten, Larry Yoder, Steve Paulson, Amy Schifrin, Paul Hinlicky, Piotr Malysz, and Stephen Westerholm, the group also heard on the subject from ecumenical representatives Michael Horton and Jared Wicks.

International commitments and alliances

The final event of the week was the annual convocation of the NALC, held Thursday and Friday, August 16 and 17. More than 700 delegates and visitors deliberated on the future of the young Lutheran church body, and sought to define its course for the coming years.

NALC treasurer Ryan Schwarz addresses the convention at Calvary Lutheran Church, Golden Valley, in August.

Those favoring the process of membership in the Lutheran World Federation saw it as an opportunity to bring the NALC’s theological concerns to a worldwide Lutheran audience.

With congregations scattered around the United States and Canada, one of the most important aspects of this meeting was to draw together representatives of member congregations, and to continue to develop relationships and structures to frame the work of the NALC. The convocation also heard from ecumenical visitors from other Christian bodies in North America (Lutheran, Anglican/Episcopal, and Roman Catholic), as well as reports from officials and staff.

One highly debated question concerned membership in the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the largest communion of Lutheran church bodies in the world. Conversation around this issue was spirited, and involved questions pertaining to the future direction of the NALC.

Those opposed to LWF membership worried that such an action would lead the NALC into fellowship with more liberal Lutheran denominations (such as the ELCA and some European Lutheran churches), perhaps drawing the NALC into their orbit, and at least sending the wrong signal as to the NALC’s position. Those favoring the process of membership saw it as an opportunity to bring the NALC’s theological concerns to a worldwide Lutheran audience. They also noted that NALC membership was urged by some of their partner Lutheran churches in Africa and Asia, who sought allies to stand for confessional Lutheranism within the LWF.

The convocation narrowly passed the motion with a two-thirds majority, but the motion itself still needs to be ratified by the congregations of the NALC. After the vote, NALC Bishop John Bradosky expressed his concern about the narrowness of the vote, and urged the congregations to continue to study the issue and consider it prayerfully, and “come to agreement that expressed a more definitive response to this resolution so we move forward together with far greater unanimity.”

NALC delegates also conducted other, more routine business at the convocation, hearing reports from staff and leaders about the mission of the NALC, in North America and around the world. They approved a 2013 operating budget for the NALC at the level of $1.3 million, and re-elected Dr. James Hansen (Charleston, West Virginia) and Pastor Victor Langford (Seattle, Washington), to new terms on the NALC Executive Council.

Mark Granquist is Associate Professor of Church History at Luther Seminary, St. Paul. He lives in Northfield.

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