The Augustana Ministerium by Pr. Eric Stefanski

In mid-September, I wrote a note in response to a comment that had been made regarding an article on this site (about the wacky ‘Jefferson Hills Church’, where Missouri District mission offerings are being wasted on anti-Lutheran theology and practice). The commenter to whom I was responding had indicated that his congregation was directing its offerings away from LCMS, Inc., having seen the gross mismanagement of their previous offerings (including the directing of funds toward projects that were theologically unacceptable, while seeking to eliminate what was the corporate synod’s most excellent venue for both outreach and edification, Issues, Etc.). I made a suggestion as to a fiscally responsible organization that is focused on the cross of Christ, a group whose purpose is to support the mission Christ gave to His Church in John 20:21–23—forgiving sins—by promoting “Lutheran pastors and a distinctively Lutheran Ministry of Word and Sacrament to Lutheran congregations.” Dr. Hein was prepared to build off of that comment for an article in this space, but final preparations for teaching in Sierra Leone took precedence and he asked that I would continue in his place by fleshing out my earlier suggestion.

I had written:

If I might interject a suggestion for offerings at this point: I know of a pastor whose salary will disappear as of 10/1/08. (Indeed, I know of another, but he found a job that will take care of his family’s needs, while this pastor has not yet been able to do so.) I know of others in similar situations. I know of one and only one organization who is trying to do anything to help such men: The Augustana Ministerium.

If any of you—or your congregations—are looking for a way to help pastors and to help congregations keep their faithful pastors if they aren’t able to pay them in full, I urge you to visit the Ministerium’s website at http://AugustanaMinisterium.org, where you can find information about this group and what it does to keep pastors and their families alive and, if possible, serving parishes. Check out the ‘Confraternity’ tab on their menu, too, and download their bimonthly newsletter for an accounting of what was accomplished through this group in the past four years (including their teaming up with Lutheran Church Charities of Addison, Illinois in LCC’s fantastic work after Hurricane Katrina).

If The Augustana Ministerium received even a tenth of what is being wasted by LCMS, Inc., the assistance provided would be too amazing to recount (i.e., the need is that huge, beyond most folks’ reckoning).

Well, that’s three ‘if’s in a row…will the reality be that this pastor of more than a decade will lose all he owns while he tries to find a low-paying job just to keep food on the table, and that he goes on CRM status, never to be in a parish again, or will he receive whatever aid he needs, perhaps to start a new mission somewhere (maybe across the street from Jefferson Hills…) and to continue in service to the Church as God has prepared him to render?

I concluded by noting that I am a non-LCMS pastor but was asking for assistance to a rostered LCMS pastor and that The Augustana Ministerium (TAM, for short) wished to help any Confessional Lutheran pastor…and that now is, therefore, the time for those disgusted with Synod, Inc. [whether Missouri, WELS, or whatever] to ‘step up’ and put local pastors (even someone else’s, but especially your own) above bureaucracies, directing funding through agencies that actually put offerings to work where you think they’re going when you give them. That’s how TAM operates: we don’t just grumble and grouse about the problems, we connect gifts with needs, so that families can live and the work of Christ’s Ministry can be done. (And, as said above, if we had more gifts, we could use them all, as there is no lack of needs.)

We are now at the eve of the above-mentioned pastor’s going without pay…and the eve of The Augustana Ministerium sending him a check to help with his family’s expenses. This past weekend, another check went out to help another pastor with medical bills. There is no telling what other needs may present themselves before October is through. What will TAM do? If we have the resources, we will do what we always do: provide for pastors physically and emotionally, connecting them, when possible, with other pastors near them who can provide ongoing pastoral counsel and aid. As an example of how that has played out so far this year:

Through 08/31/08, we received $ 18,015.39 for mission and personal assistance.

  • In January, a pastor forced out of his parish without severance received $ 2,000.00 and began a mission congregation, needing no further support to this point.
  • In January, a pastor received $1,000.00 to assist his family with uncovered medical expenses.
  • In February, a designated gift of $1,000.00 was received to assist a pastor with vehicular expenses.
  • In April, a pastor received $1,000.00 to allow him to catch up on bills that were overwhelming him in his low-salaried secular job after having been illegitimately forced out of his parish.
  • In April a designated gift of $750.00 was received to assist a pastor with his wife’s medical expenses.
  • In May, a CRM pastor received $850.00 to keep him from being evicted.
  • In May, a designated gift of $1,000.00 was received to assist a pastor with living expenses after having been forced from his parish.
  • In May, a grant of $2,000 was given to assist a mission pastor and his family of four with basic living expenses while he relaunched his employment search following the unexpected withdrawal of a job offer.
  • In July, an additional $1,000 was provided to a pastor and his family who continued to suffer through a severe financial crisis, due in large measure to legal bills incurred while battling an unjust effort to remove him from serving faithfully the faithful people of God in his parish.

Total personal assistance through 08/31/08: $10,600 (I won’t have the financial statement for September for a few more days, but suffice it to say that at least a couple thousand more dollars in aid were disbursed.)

At the same time, we have worked to keep pastors in parishes where they could not afford to stay without our assistance:

  • A pastor in California has received mission assistance in the amount of $100 per month, for a total of $800.
  • A pastor in Michigan has received mission assistance in the amount of $250 per month, for a total of $2,000.
  • A pastor serving a three-point mission in Wisconsin and Michigan has received mission assistance in the amount of $300 per month, for a total of $2,400.
  • A pastor serving a mission in Minnesota has received mission assistance in the amount of $500 per month, for a total of $4,000.
  • A pastor in Nebraska, serving in a parish and on a reservation, has received mission assistance in the amount of $300 per month since March, for a total of $1,800.

Total Mission expenditures through 08/31/08: $11,000 (plus the above-mentioned $4,000 of personal aid that allowed pastors to continue to serve or to establish new mission work)

On the other hand, TAM operates very frugally. Outside of the $1,556.24 (all raised from members’ dues, not at all from gifts for personal and mission aid) that paid for this year’s Theological Conference, our total administrative costs have amounted to $102.50 (due, in part, to the fact that Administrative Council members often do not seek reimbursement for their expenses).

I hope that no one will take this as TAM ‘patting itself on the back’; I made a remark about fiscal responsibility vs. irresponsibility, and I present you with these figures only so that you will know that the data backs up such claims. If anything, TAM has been too quiet as it goes about its work, preferring to just ‘get the job done’…but we lay these facts and growing needs before you so that we might, indeed, ‘get the job done’ on the larger scale that is necessary in this ‘post-synodical’ era, where struggling pastors and congregations must look beyond an ecclesiastical structure that offers them little to no support in such practical matters. Again, I encourage you to visit our website—http://AugustanaMinisterium.org—to learn more about us, to click on the ‘Donate’ button to support this necessary work, and to join The Augustana Confraternity so that you can be sure of receiving up-to-date information about our needs and activities. If you have any questions for me or the other officers of TAM, you will also find a contact form there so that your question is directed to the right man or men.

Rev. Eric J. Stefanski
Dean of Communications, The Augustana Ministerium

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