Born at the beginning of this decade, Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ seeks out position in a new environment
As plans for the national gathering of Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) were being made, no one knew what to expect. The largest previous registration for such a gathering included 380 people. But this national gathering was coming just two months after the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) churchwide assembly in Minneapolis in August. And LCMC planners knew that the action of ELCA voting members could strongly affect participation in their event.
In the end, 716 individuals registered for the LCMC gathering, held at Atonement Lutheran Church (LCMC), Fargo, North Dakota. This included 275 visitors, 38 seminarians, and the 16 LCMC board members.
“Sixty percent of the people registered represent member congregations,” said Sharon MacFadyen, director of operations for LCMC, and one of only two full-time staff for the group. “But that means 40 percent are here from non- member congregations.” And, she said, more than 500 of the participants registered after the August 19 vote at the ELCA assembly.
This is the ninth annual gathering of LCMC. The theme for this year’s meeting was “The Invitation — Receive, Return, Rejoice.”
The journey for LCMC began in 2001, according to the Rev. Paul Braafladt, vice chair of the board. “The miracle of LCMC has unfolded month by month, year by year,” he told attendees. He acknowledged that LCMC is a “drop in the bucket,” but he said the body has “prospered under the shadow of an established Lutheran church body.”
As the church body has developed, it has built infrastructure. For instance, though the national staff is small, the denomination does provide outside help for congregations in need of conflict resolution. “No outside authority will be at your door, but if the council asks for help, there are people who will travel [to be of help].”
Also, LCMC is developing agreements with seminaries for the education of their future pastors. “We own no property — not even one brick or stone,” Braafladt said. But, he acknowledged, there was need to provide seminary education in order for the group to be long-term viable. Currently, seminarians are attending many different schools including Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, and the Institute for Lutheran Theology, Brookings, South Dakota, and Luther Seminary, St. Paul.
The church body is also aware of the changes it can anticipate if a number of ELCA congregations join soon. “We have a unique DNA, but it is not if we will welcome [new congregations], it is how we will welcome them,” said Debra Lingen, Lutheran Community of Grace (LCMC), Hopkins, Minnesota, and former LCMC trustee. “We want to accommodate people as long as we don’t lose our [own] identity.”
That identity is not simply a response to the ELCA. LCMC also includes congregations that have left the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the United Church of Christ (a UCC congregation with Lutheran roots).
The Rev. Garry Seefeldt pastored two New York LCMS congregations that bolted for LCMC. “The dogmatism of LCMS kept it from being the church it could be,” he said.
“We don’t define ourselves by the actions of any other Lutheran bodies,” explained MacFadyen. “We simply want to engage in the Great Commission.”
LOCAL CONGREGATIONS CONSIDER FUTURE AFTER ECLA ASSEMBLY
Following a morning of strategizing with a group of 50 pastors and laypeople from around the Twin Cities, four local Lutheran leaders announced that St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Portland Avenue South in Minneapolis, would be leaving the ELCA in response to the denomination’s vote regarding the ordination of homosexual clergy in long-term, monogomous, same- gendered relationships. In addition, other congregations, including Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fridley, Minnesota, are engaged in discussions about how to respond.
“As we look into the new configuration of Lutheran- ism, we believe the day of the large denomination is on its way out,” said the Rev. Roland Wells, pastor of St. Paul’s. “In the future, there will be a more free structure centered on mission and joy of the gospel,” he added.
“We believe that we are standing on the eve of a new configuration of Lutheranism in North America,” said the Rev. David Glesne, pastor of Redeemer and host of the press conference. “In August of this year, the activist fringe in the ELCA hijacked the ELCA in its churchwide assembly by voting to embrace gay marriage and to allow practicing homosexuals to be rostered in this church. We believe that 80 percent of the people in the pews … do not agree with that vote.”
The Rev. David Garwood, Christ Lutheran Church, Maple Plain, Minnesota, said that these actions have been coming for a long time. “[The vote at the assembly] is where the crack appeared,” he said, “but the fault lines have run deep since the beginning of this denomination.” He cited differences over the authority of scripture and the nature of forgiveness as signs of division.
These pastors will be watching what develops at the national level. St. Paul’s has already affiliated with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ, a body with about 126 congregations nationwide.