Gathering the Force in Dearborn (2 of 2), by Glen Piper

(Editor’s Note: This is from Glen Piper’s blog Territorial Bloggings. Glen is a delegate to the LCMS convention in 2010, so he attended the Regional Gathering in Dearborn, MI.) Part 1 of this article is found here.


Let the gathering breakdown continue!

If you haven’t already, you can check out Part 1 to get an idea about the nuts & bolts of how the BRTFSSG Gathering of the IN, OH, MI, & northern circuits of the EN Districts worked.

In Part 2 my goal is to lay out what was discussed & presented during the 25 hours of the gathering, i.e., the 21 TF Recommendations, their underpinnings, and also their defense (at times) by the TF.

This report will follow the flow of the gathering’s meetings, rather than a concise summary of each section of 6 recommendation groupings or of all 21 recommendations individually. I’ve chosen to do the report in this way for two reasons: 1) to give delegates at the 7 remaining gatherings an idea of what they will be encountering, and 2) to give non-delegates an idea of just how this restructuring process is being presented and “sold”.

I will endeavor to keep my commentary to an appropriate amount/minimum, and (at the very least) to clearly mark the difference between what was said by someone, and my comments. With all that said, let’s get on with it…

DAY 1

BRTFSSG Background & Overview (SP Kieschnick):

  • Total, aggregated, Synodical budgets are pushing $2 Billion/year
  • Change should not be feared
  • There are no hidden agendas
  • We are not enemies; we are all on the same team
  • No particular polity is proscribed by Scripture or Synodical founders – i.e., things can change to be updated & flexible…
  • “Growth often comes through disagreement.”

Comments:

The final bullet point struck me as very Hegelian. I was, and am, troubled by the way in which the dialectic (often through it’s “softer” counterpart, consensus) has seeped into our midst. When dealing with the absolute truth of the saving Gospel, I fail to see how the relativism-producing dialectic of “thesis->antithesis->synthesis” can move us forward.

History of BRTFSSG (Rev. Braunersreuther):

  • It’s all about congregations
  • LCMS has been unable to come to consensus on seamless changes throughout its entire history, and this has hurt congregations.
  • We have the future in our hands, to do something proactive… Finally.
  • “Our congregations are too important not to.”

Comment: This is where the constant drumbeat of “Congregations! It’s all about congregations! Congregational bias!” began, and it didn’t let up throughout the rest of the gathering.

Overview of the BRTFSSG Process (Rev. Bob Greene):

Comment: I heard this 10 minute spiel at the district convention this past July, and nothing had changed. I didn’t take any notes, because nothing jumped out at me as being worth noting…

Theological Basis for BRTFSSG (Dr. Will Sohns):

  • Overall context/format that emerged for the TF was one of a Doxological nature
  • The 1847 & 1854 (6 theological) Constitutional reasons for forming synod (see p. 3 of the BRTFSSG Final Report) were covered in detail, and linked forward into today’s context
  • “Being Confessional and being Missional cannot be separated…”
  • The Divinely instituted body is the local congregation
  • Synodical polity manifests this (immediately preceding point) theological underpinning through the “participation, voice, and support of the congregations.”

Comments: This was an interesting section. Dr. Sohns is a smart man, formidably so. A good choice to have on the TF, let the reader understand, because of his knowledge and his bearing. My tastes, though, run more to the sainted Kurt Marquart, who I think would’ve brought just as much knowledge, intellect, and passion to bear, but without being quite as intimidating as Dr. Sohns was a few times when he was challenged/pushed on some points.

There was also an interesting quote from C.F.W. Walther brought out (I was unable to catch the exact source…), in which it was implied that we risk becoming a sect if we don’t focus on the real task/mission of saving souls for Christ, instead getting bogged down by an inward focus. Frankly, this strikes me as, at best, an unfair shading of Walther’s intent when it comes to doctrine & mission.

Presentation of Recommendations (Rev. Greene & Dr. Sohns):

This section was a pretty straightforward reading of all 21 Recommendations put forth by the TF in the BRTFSSG Final Report. Nothing new really jumped out at me, except for one — #4 — that didn’t really register with me when I read through the report prior to the gathering.

NOTE: In the survey form that we got to fill out, indicating strong agreement to strong disagreement on a 5-point Likert Scale, each recommendation was broken down into several subcomponents, most likely mapping to what Floor Committee 8 (FC8) will grapple with in terms of resolutions.

Recommendation 4.1 read: “Direct the Synod President to convene a special task force to make recommendations with respect to the function, number, and configuration of districts, as proposed.”

In other words, re: changing the number of districts, the TF punted! Their recommendation is to have the 2010 Convention form another TF to deal with this issue, such that the earliest it’ll get resolved is 2013/14. Nifty…

Table Talk:

Not too much happened here. We had some ice-breaker type discussions, as well as some good chats about the overall tenor & direction of the gathering. I had the good fortune to be at a table with some good folks, none of whom were wearing mauve-colored glasses.

Dinner:

Good buffet. The beef was choice. Absence of Lutheran beverage was quite unfortunate.

Q & A w/Panel Respondents:

Respondents: Rev. Greene, Dr. Sohns, & SVP David Buegler

Question Readers: Rev. Braunersreuther & DP Larry Stoterau

Format: 60 min, written questions & 30 min, questions from mics

NOTE 1: Written questions came from cards filled out & submitted by delegates/participants during the first 4 hours of the gathering. Additional questions could be written & submitted throughout the gathering, and would be incorporated into the next day’s Q & A session. 135 questions were submitted prior to this first Q & A session.

NOTE 2: I didn’t write down each and every Q & A; rather, I took note of the ones that struck me as noteworthy. Therefore, please don’t consider the following list to be canonical.

  • The most questions were asked about Recommendation #18
  • Q: Re: 2 Mission Commissions; what about the role of LCMS WR & HC and the potential for overlap? A: No clear answer was given.
  • Q: Re: Fiscal savings, what about Treasurer Kuchta’s comments? A: Because no resolutions exist yet, purposely no specific projections on savings were made. This will need to wait until July.
  • Q: What happens if none of the recommendations are adopted? A: 1) Economic impact – the BOD will need to make VERY tough choices & cuts, and some ministries will not get funded (NOTE: SPK jumped in to answer this first part of the question), 2) Congregations will not be properly or fully engaged, and 3) We’ll go back to the status quo, facing the bullet points on p. 2 of the TF’s Final Report.
  • The choice is: Proactive Lean & Mean (Do what the TF says) vs. Reactive Lean & Mean (BOD cuts)
  • The resolutions put forth by FC8 will not be all-or-nothing; rather, each recommendation/resolution will be considered separately on its own merit
  • Q: (paraphrasing) What’s up with the Regional layer? A: Currently, the BOD already has ad hoc regional groupings. This would just formalize that, as it has proven to be useful. There would not, necessarily, be equal numbers of people/congregations in each region
  • Q: (paraphrasing) What’s up with VI.2 vs. VI.B.3 wording changes? A: The TF feels that the new wording is “stronger” than the old
  • Q: (paraphrasing) What’s up with extra District Convention votes for big congregations? A: COMMENT: As I recall, it was along the lines of, “congregational bias”, “equal representation”, “fairness”, etc… I must admit that all my notes say are: “The rationale of the TF is INFURIATING in its bad theology… Pig-headed & just ignorant…”
  • Q: (paraphrasing) Isn’t this all just a raw power grab by SPK & his cronies, to give him what he wanted? A: Of course not. It was/is “a spiritual exercise for the TF, and SPK didn’t ask for anything.” Also, a 1981 bylaw was read (at SPK’s request, re: “power grab” part of the question) as an example that Synod Presidents had more power in the past. COMMENT: I really wonder(ed) if this wasn’t a planted question. I mean, really, are any anti-SPK folks dumb enough to actually write down & submit a question like that? Using the words “power grab” & “cronyism”? Really?

At this point, the 60 minutes of read questions ended, and we moved into the 30 minutes of open mic, follow up, questions. Before I get to those Q & A’s, let me offer this comment on a potential contradiction in reasoning on the part of the TF…

During an answer defending the TF’s reasoning on lowering the number of delegates to the Synodical Convention, Dr. Sohns offered that quality of representation was of greater import than quantity. Reasonable point, that. In light of that, however, I wonder how the TF can justify pushing so hard to get big congregations extra votes at the district level (i.e., emphasizing quantity of representation over quality). Which is it, quality or quantity?

On to the open mic Q & A’s…

  • All changes listed in Final Report Appendix 1.1 – 1.11 will need 2/3 ratification from both the 2010 Convention and LCMS Congregations in order to pass & go into effect.
  • Q: Follow-up on LCMS WR & HC duplication from earlier – would there be coordination & clarification, perhaps under the proposed CMO? A: Short answer, they don’t know yet
  • Q: Circuit Activities: w/Circuits’ new importance, how to deal with current dysfunction if these recommendations are adopted? A: The DP is responsible & has ecclesiastical oversight, in conjunction with the Circuit Counselor (CC – who is an Officer of the District)
  • Q: Would the CMO (need to) be ordained? A: This is not specified, and would be left to the SP/BOD to find the best qualified person. Also, the CMO would not have oversight of the seminaries
  • Q: Re: Confessional subscription & addition/elevation of Synodical Constitution to subscription status. A: (Dr. Sohns gave this answer) When joining Synod, signing the constitution = subscribing to it; i.e., this is the way it’s always been, and now we’re just putting it into the constitution, where it should have been all along.
  • Q: A mixed message re: CC as district officer and cohesion-builder in circuit? A: Perhaps, but more of a necessary balancing act. The CC is rightly the “arm of the DP in ecclesiastical supervision”
  • Q: What about implementation of all this? A: It’s not easy. 6+ months for Constitutional changes. FC8 will draft resolutions for convention; this will give more clarity. COMMENT: They basically don’t know yet…
  • Q: What’s the theological backing/basis for Commissioned Ministers not being Laity? A: TF Final Report, p. 27. CTCR, The Ministry (1981). IRS Code. Walther’s Church & Ministry. NOTE: Since the congregation has “the vote”, it’s not a problem for them to give the clergy vote to a Commissioned Minister of the congregation instead of an Ordained Minister. COMMENT: Huh?!?

District Caucus:

TF Rep in our midst: SVP Buegler

Closing out the 8+ hours of Day 1 was a caucusing of each district. Each district got to discuss the events of the day, delegates chatting with their DP, as well has having a rep from the TF in their midst to answer any questions that might crop up needing clarification. For the IN District, we got TF member & FC8 Vice Chair, SVP Buegler. We had a good caucus. The discussion was good. Our DP Dan May was great (as always – he’s a good man). I do, however, think that SVP Buegler was more than a little frustrated with us, as we were quite persistent in hammering on a few subjects like the proposed extra votes for big congregations & the removal of the electoral nature of circuits, and how those proposals really actually eroded the concept of “congregational basis”.

DAY 2

Q & A w/Panel Respondents #2:


NOTE: All information re: format & participants is the same as Q & A #1

  • Q: If SP can be elected by all congregations, why can’t more/all business be done by all congregations? A: This could be too complicated. COMMENT: This was one of the 7 questions I submitted (thumbnails at the very end of this post…)
  • Q: SP/Synod will have too much authority over individual congregations – fact or fiction? A: Fiction. This is a tough perception management issue/problem. This is NOT about power; it’s about congregational bias, and it’s why “congregation” was used so much in the TF Report. There is no agenda to gather power centrally. COMMENT: Another planted question? I have to wonder…
  • Q: Why is #3 so critical? A: Because of our theology & polity, where the “power” is at the grassroots; therefore, circuits MUST be restored for everything else to hang together properly
  • COMMENT: Much was said about the Word of God being the only “power” we have to convince others; however, what if there is no common agreement on what the Word of God says/means???
  • Q: Re: Regional VPs – why regional nominations but synodical elections? A: This is following the model & practice of many/most districts; also, the VPs are Officers of Synod.
  • Q: Re: the Franchise; What about categories of Licensed Deacons & SMP? A: Deacons are laity, not Commissioned Ministers, and are not rostered – no vote/franchise. SMP are ordained, but as currently constituted are not able to vote at Synodical Conventions; this could prove a sticky wicket if the changes wrt Commissioned Minister franchise are passed.
  • Q: How will questions & feedback from all the BRTFSSG Gatherings be incorporated by FC8? A: They’ll be considered just as they were all throughout the whole TF process, esp. via getting surveys at the gatherings.
  • Q: Re: Restructuring of Non-Geographic Districts. A: They’ll want to have a say, but it isn’t yet known how that whole district restructuring process will work
  • Q: Re: “Exclusive use…” vs. “In harmony with Confessional Basis…” — Doesn’t this seem to foster disunity? A: (Dr. Sohns answered) The TF feeling was/is that “In harmony with…” is “about as exclusive as it can get.” Also, (per Sohns) part of the thinking & justification for this is that much of the hue & cry over “exclusive” is sinfully binding over a rite/form, and thus a hindering of the Gospel (NOTE: linkage was made to the COP Theses on Worship, Thesis #7 here…).

Round Table Discussion & Feedback:

During this time, each table was charged with discussing what we had learned up to this point, and developing two lists: 1) The 3 Most Important Topics for the 2010 Convention (i.e., the TF recommendations that needed to be discussed in Houston), and 2) The 2-3 Least Important Topics (i.e., “Don’t Go There!”).

At our table, the top 3 important were: #3 Circuit Reengagement, #9 4yr Cycle, & #12 Consistency in Terms. Why these? Well, theoretically, #3 is pretty important, and it wouldn’t hurt for it to be talked about down in Houston. The other two we chose, largely because we wanted to pick relatively innocuous “wins” for the TF to pass along to FC8 — IOW, we didn’t want to risk giving a tacit stamp of approval to a topic just by stating that it should be discussed. Cynical? Sure. But also wise as a serpent, I would think/hope.

The 2 least important (i.e., “Don’t Go There!”) for our table were: #20 Name Change, and #1 Constitutional wording & emphasis changes. Frankly, the name change is a no-brainer. And #1, while certainly an important subject/topic, is something that really doesn’t warrant a whole lot of time in Houston, at least in our table’s opinion.

The feedback from all the other tables was, as I’m sure you can imagine, all over the map. However, a few trends did emerge.

  • The name change is DOA. 19 listed it as “LEAST”; only 1 (a table with some District apparatchiks) as “MOST”
  • Circuit Reengagement strongly resonated. 13 listed it as “MOST”; 0 as “LEAST”
  • Delegates want to discuss the “omnibus” #18 (the 2 missions boards drove a lot of it) in Houston. 19 listed it as “MOST”; 2 as “LEAST”
  • No other recommendation got into double digits
  • The only recommendations that were evenly “matched” with more than two or three total votes were #1 (7 “MOST” vs. 6 “LEAST”), #4 (4 “MOST” vs. 3 “LEAST”), #5 (3 “MOST” vs. 6 “LEAST”).

COMMENT: As I alluded to above, I found/find the “MOST”/”LEAST” important way of voting & giving feedback to be very frustrating and fuzzy. First, it’s not a great way to give feedback, because it doesn’t really allow for the necessary nuance. Second, and perhaps most important, it lends itself to some misuse if it allowed to veer into the “good/bad” or “agree/disagree” realm. My prayer is that FC8 stands strong against the temptation to equate the feedback it receives via these “votes” (as well as the gathering surveys) with (dis)agreement/(dis)approval. Instead, it is my hope that they view this feedback as an indicator & reminder of the need to produced objectively neutral resolutions.

Wrapping Things Up:

After some closing remarks, and some housekeeping type business looking ahead towards Houston next summer, we closed with another devotion (there had been several throughout, I just didn’t show them in the timeline of this post…).

This was an interesting event. Did I learn anything new? Not really, at least about the TF’s recommendations. I got what I needed about those from the Final Report. It was, however, interesting to hear first hand some of the justifications they had for why they did what they did, and what they were thinking when they did it. I can’t say that it changed my mind, but it’s still good to know it.

The best part for me, I think, was getting to see & meet folks. The ride up with my circuit’s pastoral delegate & a member of our district BOD was very enjoyable, and we had lots of good & fruitful conversation. Likewise, it was good to see some familiar faces in the meeting room, along with getting to meet some new folks for the first time. I find that each time I go to one of these circuit/district/synod events, I get more comfortable with speaking up and being social. Lots of good people, even for a curmudgeonly introvert like me!

I hope that this lengthy tome has proven to be of interest and use, and if you’ve made it all the way through it to this point, I thank you for your interest, your attention, and your perseverance! If you have any questions, just let me know.

-ghp

P.S., here are the promised thumbnails of the questions I submitted…


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