On Monday and Tuesday of this week, Rev. Matthew Harrison, Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, was the main speaker for the West Missouri Pastors’ Conference. Although not serving in that half of the district, several of us “wise men from the East” knew this would be a good conference to attend, and so we traveled across the state to Concordia, Missouri, to listen and learn and be uplifted. We were not disappointed.
Under the conference theme, “Confessional Faithfulness for the 21st Century,” Harrison held forth, over two days, on his topic, “Top Ten Opportunities Facing the LCMS Between Now and 2017.” Drawing on the wisdom of Missouri’s forefathers, Harrison charted a course for the future of our synod that included such themes as “Back to Luther,” “Back to the Word,” “Unity,” “A Worldwide View,” “Seminaries and Missionary Endeavor,” and, of course, “Mercy.” Harrison shared some excellent quotes from the synod’s first five presidents, Walther, Wyneken, Schwan, Pieper, and Pfotenhauer–all included in the new book edited and largely translated by Harrison, “At Home in the House of My Fathers”–and he applied them to the situations and opportunities we are facing in our day. Very interesting and inspiring! For instance, when he spoke about how Walther and Wyneken had “A Worldwide View,” Harrison applied that outlook to today, saying this is “Missouri’s moment”: We have marvelous opportunities right now to work with confessional Lutheran churches all around the world, in works of mercy, in theological education, and in advancing the gospel of Christ. (I know that through his work with LCMS World Relief, Harrison has developed good relationships with leaders from these churches all across the globe.)
Not only did Harrison provide us with thought-provoking content to consider, he also demonstrated a great ability to communicate and connect with people. An engaging personality, a ready sense of humor, a thorough command of his subject matter, a theologian’s scholarship and a pastor’s heart–these traits really came through in Harrison’s presentation. In the Q & A’s, he answered several questions on controversial issues in a way that showed he was no wild “fire-breather.” All in all, his presentation was a tour de force.
(By the way, Harrison even handled the banquet entertainment, playing “The Beverly Hillbillies” on the banjo! If Matt ever wants to take a group on the road, he should call it “The Blue Grass Task Force”!)
One thing we learned at this conference was that Matt Harrison was very much “At Home in Concordia, Missouri.” No, not just the town. At home in the Concordia, the harmony and agreement that Lutherans have–and that Missouri can be renewed in–when we come together around Scripture and Confessions, striving for unity in doctrine and practice, all for the sake of the gospel. God grant us that Concordia in Missouri!