Reflections on Fargo (not the movie)

I just returned from Fargo, ND attending the Joint North Theological Conference (Minnesota North and North Dakota Districts).  While the weather barely cooperated (snow and ice), the conference was outstanding.  The teacher for the conference was President Harrison, who taught the whole crowd of clergy and laity (close to 300 in attendance, double what was expected).  The subject was the new LCMS emphases, Witness, Mercy, and Life Together.  In order to get home and take care of my other vocational responsibilities, I had to miss the last question and answer session.  Here are some thoughts related to the teaching sessions:

President Harrison is certainly a gifted teacher.  He is a gift to the Church.  The only resources he had in front of him were some notes and his Greek New Testament (which he translated on the fly).  The teaching was soundly biblical.  In his presentation he mentioned Greek words, German words, Hebrew words, and maybe even some Latin – but he taught them in an understandable way with great explanations.  He taught using the Confessions, Luther, Walther, and others which he cited from memory.  The teaching was clear cut, including the application of Scripture as both Law and Gospel.

Here are some other interesting points:

President Harrison used anecdotes and stories from his own experiences which helped to teach certain points.  He would only depict himself in a poor light while speaking well of others.  A fine model of respectable conversation was had by all.

You couldn’t keep him behind the podium.  Much of the time he was right among the tables of the conference room, teaching in the midst of the people.

Questions were allowed at any point during the teaching time, and ample time was allowed for them to be asked.  I did not have to fill out a card with my questions first (this is a first for me).

I heard the word “by-law” mentioned once only.

President Harrison taught with Law and Gospel to all.  He chastised clergy and laity alike without respect of persons or “political” affiliation.  He encouraged us with the Gospel in each situation.

President Harrison was respectful of all that has gone on before.  He praised the motivation and commended what was good.

It is the first time I saw a Synod President laying across a table (depicting Lazarus in the tomb) in order to teach (man’s spiritual abilities as a corpse).

It is the first time I saw a Synod President picking away at a banjo (he plays a good “A Mighty Fortress”).  He was joined by many gifted people from the two districts for post-supper entertainment.  The entire room sang the first two stanzas of A Mighty Fortress along with the bluegrass band.

President Harrison was available during breaks.  He entertained personal conversation with a number of different people.

The whole atmosphere of the conference was lighthearted and yet the subjects were taught in all seriousness.  We were enjoying studying the Scriptures as two Districts being taught by their Synod President.  There was a certain joy in things.

President Harrison both commended the work of CPH but also encouraged the laity to make sure their pastors have copies of Luther’s House Postils and also copies for themselves.  He encouraged the laity to read the sermons and learn from them about good preaching so that they could help their pastors become better preachers.  He encouraged preachers to return to sound law-gospel preaching that uses the word “you”.

The good things of the LCMS were praised, but without the arrogance of the past.

Both District Presidents offered about 15 minutes of devotions to the conference which consisted of wonderful sermons.  Thank you to Presidents Fondow and Baneck.

This is not meant to put President Harrison on any pedestal as he once again maintained and confessed his status as a sinner often in the teaching.  He has great gifts, and hopefully we can all pray that they would be used to glorify God.

I had the honor of being a delegate to this summer’s convention.  I am gladdened to see that our Synod is going to be studying the Scriptures as both clergy and laity together, leaving behind the “party spirit” and relying upon the work of God through the Holy Spirit.  Lord, have mercy.

Now onto the holy city of Fort Wayne for Symposia.


Thanks to Rev. John F. Wurst for the following recordings of the sessions (comment # 22)

Mercy: January 13, 2011:



Life Together: January 14, 2011


About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Reflections on Fargo (not the movie) — 38 Comments

  1. Outstanding post. Informative and encouraging for us all.

    Please keep President Harrison and his staff in your daily prayers. It is increasingly clear from reports such as this that President Harison is truly a gift to the Church and our Synod. Thanks be to God!

    Rudy Wagner

  2. Pray for our DP’s, too.
    Change has to come up from the bottom and down from “the top”; it also has to happen in the middle.
    [Whatever your measure of “bottom” or “top” DP’s would seem to be in the middle.
    Whether they are bosses or servants of the church is the question.]

    Thanks for the report! It sounds worth braving a certain amount of snow and ice to have been there. I hope everyone went and returned safely (having had a little acquaintance with snow in another life and ice… ice any winter, even here).

  3. Too bad I wasn’t visiting my parents. (they live south of Fargo) Would have visited some some there, but having an oppotunity to hear Pres. Harrison would have been great.

    Something to look forward to at the BJS conference. It is so nice to have a pastor as president.

  4. I square everything that Pr. Scheer reported. Unfortunately, I was not able to arrive until Thursday evening, but I was briefed by the two lay attendees from our congregation upon arrival and was there for the Friday morning session and the Q & A period thereafter.

    Yes, the atmosphere was entirely different from other District conferences and conventions I’ve attended in nearly the last decade. Peace, joy, and positive attitudes. The only person, in my opinion, whom I did not see happy was our most outspoken District mission facilitator, particularly after President Harrison reported that “Fan into Flame” has been a relative financial disaster on the Synod. (We have a counterpart in the MN North District- the synergistically named “Make a World for Christ our Goal” that he has tirelessly promoted.)

    But, lest one think that this was a one-sided manifestation of victory for the camp that includes many of the self-designated “confessionals,” President Harrison also commented on the ACELC actions, explaining that, rather than coming down on them which would result in the ACELC responding with, “See, those guys in St. Louis don’t care about these important issues”, he determined to treat them pastorally, and asked VP Herb Mueller to sit down with them and assure them that they would have a chance to be heard.

    A great conference. I pray that like-conferences will come soon to a district near you.

    Don Kirchner

  5. I should mention the good-natured jab at the past that President Fondow stated at the beginning of the Q & A session: “President Harrison advises that the only questions he will not answer are those submitted in writing beforehand!”

    The free-wheeling began. And when his response really didn’t answer the question (E.g., he can’t give a quick answer as to why so many guys are on CRM status.) he would complete his comment with a self-deprecating, “Well, that’s one way to not answer a question, right?”

    [BTW, all my quotes in the above two posts are paraphrases. I took notes but did not tape the session.]

  6. Is holding such conferences a synodwide endeavor? Will Pres. Harrison be conducing these across the Synod? I haven’t heard of anything like this in our area. Is there perhaps a schedule somewhere, and could someone from another part of the country attend? Sounds like it would be well worth it!

  7. @Kebas #6
    I would suggest checking your district’s website and their regular news releases (here in MN North it is called the District E-News). I hope that these conferences are more widespread. You may want to check neighboring districts as well, just in case you could sit in on things that they are offering. I think there were a couple South Dakota and MN South folks at this past one.

  8. Thank you for posting this. As we are getting back to regular life after being gone for two days I haven’t had time to blog about this conference yet. A couple of thoughts that I had were President Harrison did the same Lazarus depiction in a regular Sunday morning Bible class when he was a pastor at Zion, Fort Wayne. He also played banjo for the annual church picnic there. He is still a pastor doing what he loves to do-teach and preach and visit with his members even though his members now include all of LCMS. I don’t know what the plans are, but I hope he is able to go all over the USA doing what he did for us in Fargo. I feel very blessed that one of the first places he went to do this was near us. Sometimes we feel like we are forgotten when we are so far from Fort Wayne and Saint Louis. We have been blessed with a great pastor for our Synodical President. We need to keep his family and him in our prayers so that he can continue to serve us. I know that the devil does not like what is happening in the LCMS right now at all-almost 300 of us having a grand time singing “A Mighty Fortress” on Thursday night. Also, there was at least one car with two people that did not make it to the conference because the “ice won the fight”. We prayed for them at the conference. It was snowing when we went home but the worst was in the Fargo area, once we left Fargo the roads were fine and it stopped snowing. I imagine it was similar driving conditions for most others going home too. If Rev. Harrison does come to a district near you, make sure to attend, it is worth it! I thought it was great that laity were invited to attend in Fargo. I don’t know what percentage was laity vs. pastors, but there were several laity there.

  9. @Ewe #9
    Thank you for your comments. It was good to see your family at the conference.
    My wise friends from the east (Duluth) encountered severe snow storms all the way back.

    I would encourage whoever can to attend the BJS National Conference as Pres. Harrison will be there. Come to think of it, he will be at Fort Wayne for Symposia as well for those who are headed that way.

  10. I have seen snow higher than the roof of a large sedan in Duluth, but fortunately it was all on the ground, the sun was shining and basic clearing of main roads had occurred before we came. 🙂 It was impressive (but it was easier to get around in August).

    It happens in Fort Wayne and I have seen that, too. 😉
    It would be lovely if some of these conferences could be held when the ducks are out on the pond by the chapel, the peonies are blooming in every farmyard, and ice is not in the forecast!

    God bless all who travel!

  11. @Rev. Don Kirchner #4
    ‘Fan into Flame” has been a relative financial disaster on the Synod.’

    Rev. Kirchner,
    Did he give any direction that Ablaze will now take or if it will continue? Thank you for what you have provided.


  12. Thank you all for your comments. Pastor Bohler and I were the ones that lost the fight with the ice. So now I got to hear a little bit! Were there any tapes or cd’s made of it that I could buy?
    Doris Volker

  13. Pastor Joshua Scheer :@Doris Volker #15 Doris, I know that two of the four sessions were recorded, I will see if I can track them down.Glad to hear that you and your pastor are well.

    Pr. Scheer,

    If you would post the recordings as MP3s for downloading, if found, it would be greatly appreciated.

    Rudy Wagner

  14. Jayne Maser :@Rev. Don Kirchner #4 ‘Fan into Flame” has been a relative financial disaster on the Synod.’
    Rev. Kirchner,Did he give any direction that Ablaze will now take or if it will continue? Thank you for what you have provided.

    I took some notes with the exact figures, because I want to ask what our MN North District counterpart project, the heterodox-named “Make a World for Christ our Goal,” has cost versus revenues. But of course I cannot find them now. 🙁

    My recollection is that it was more that the project harmed the Synodical budget, that it was projected to cost $10 million to raise $60 million, but it cost $20 million to raise $50 million or something like that. Perhaps Matt remembers; he was at my table.

    The point was that the costs harmed the Synodical budget, that this was thrown into his lap when he took on the office, and that they needed to cut elsewhere. He expressed great sadness that they had to cut expenses by cutting the jobs of many who were excellent, needed Synodical employees in the prime of their careers and capabilities.

    If I find my notes I can be more specific. Perhaps others who were there can fill in the blanks.

    Don Kirchner

  15. Perhaps I should explain my objection to the name of our District prject. Supposedly, the name is taken from LSB 831, stanza 4. The context of that hymn, however, is a prayer to the Lord to act.

    Lord, here am I”: Your fire impart
    To this poor cold self-centered soul;
    Touch but my lips, my hands, my heart,
    And make a world for Christ my goal.

    Who’s the subject and, therefore, who’s running the verbs? The Lord. In the title of the project, however, the subject has been changed to “we.” We are now driving the verb. We are directed to make a world for Christ. Via the law, we are to crank up more action.

    The result? We remain the self-centered souls. And through all the round-file materials sent to us, we are urged via the law to give more to the District project. Problem? See Walther’s 37th Evening Lecture in his “Law and Gospel.”

  16. It was indeed a great conference and I really appreciated Rev. Harrison’s pastoral personality and his approach to teaching. Certainly one of the best Bible studies I have been to in a while. Overall, very encouraging and informative.

    Witness, Mercy, Life Together. I’m all for it.

  17. Regarding #4, the “blame it on Fan Into Flame” approach has been a regular part of Harrison’s stump speech but it simply doesn’t match the facts. It didn’t cost $20M, the cost were built into the campaign (allowing funds raised to pay for costs) and cash collections are nearing or over $30M, so the math just doesn’t add up for him. Its his way of attacking Ablaze without actually attacking Ablaze.

  18. Admittedly, I thought at first that President Harrison was kind of like the “Obama” of the LCMS, one who would be very popular and charismatic, but wouldn’t be able to deliver. I realize this was not a charitable viewpoint, but I’m young enough to be in my first year of college, so I’ve grown up with nothing else but bitter synodical politics, and it’s been awful. Voter’s assemblies have been a punchline at my house since I was first growing aware of the Synod at all. So I was rather cynical of President Harrison’s ability to manage our synod. After listening to this and watching his pastoral greetings online, I’m growing more and more convinced that even if he doesn’t get much accomplished (which I doubt) he certainly seems capable of turning our synod in a new direction at least.

    Gerald B. Kieschnick was president of the Synod for as long as I could remember, and while I do not want to denigrate him too harshly (I have heard him preach a faithful Lutheran sermon before, after all), I was convinced that the Purple Palace turned every pastor into a bureaucrat, that this was a necessary evil. Thankfully, President Harrison is changing my mind, and I pray he will continue to do so. Maybe he can come to Texas, where “Church Growth” is the norm!

  19. @Paul Miles #27
    From the Fan into Flame site:

    “Q: How much will this campaign cost?
    A: Fan into Flame is designed to have the lowest reasonable operational expenses to allow the maximum amount of new funding to work in the mission field. Anticipated costs for all aspects of its daily management for three years, material production, pledge collection and professional counsel are budgeted at no more than 10% of the goal.”

    As to keeping to this, the campaign has not done well. At most, 10% of the goal $100 million would have cost $10 million

    According to their convention report, found here:

    As of May 31st, 2010 they had received $57 million in pledges (only $30 million in actual cash) and had already spent $14 million (47% of what had been collected, 24.5% of pledges). That is not a good fundraiser.

    If they had stayed at 10% for cost it would have been considered a good capital campaign Anything under 15% is considered good according to:

    Just some objective facts.

  20. $14 million “spent” –does it say spent on the costs of the campaign or are you assuming that? Perhaps that number includes money spent on program. And before you start quoting Capital Quest, I’d suggest a little homework on that outfit.

    The costs came in right where they were projected to. The revenue did not. Disappointing for all those involved in it for certain, myself included. However, the 10% was a projected cost. Obviously the cost came to more than 10% in this case. But help me answer this question – why do those who so strongly opposed Ablaze and openly campaigned against its support through Fan Into Flame, now denigrate its cost ratio? Isn’t it exactly what you all campaigned so hard for, that is, for people not to support it? However, the FACT remains consistent – FIF never cost anywhere near $20M and continuing to circulate such gossip is inaccurate, at best. And continuing to blame the Synod’s financial challenges on it is a convenient and misleading strategy.

  21. @Paul Miles #30

    Paul Miles, the Convention Report (their own, I’d assume) seems to say that FiF had spent 14 million as of May 31. Are you saying that’s all they spent, then?
    As a matter of curiosity, when does this thing wind up/(down)?

    Can you tell us where you get your FACT and how current it is?

    What “program” did FiF have except fundraising for “Ablaze”
    and that after Ablaze wasn’t working as a fundraiser
    which early advertising said it was?

  22. @Paul Miles #30
    The $14 million said “spent” so I am assuming that is the money included for consultants and advertising and so forth. There was a note with that figure to include the cost of some full time staff at World Mission whose task is the campaign.
    I did not research “Capital Quest” but was looking for some numbers on a “good” capital campaign overhead. My apologies if by citing them I am in error.

    I guess I wonder why the higher percent happened and why they went over budget.

    As to the $20 million cost, I do not have the current numbers (as of this past weekend) for cost, only those as of May 31, 2010. Until we all know what number is accurate, I would suggest that you cease calling it gossip and misleading strategy. Wouldn’t it be best to take our Synodical leadership at their word about the numbers? I guess you could always call them about it.

    As far as Synod’s financial challenges I have not heard FiF blamed on its own before. Here are some other reasons I have heard: demographics (Synod is shrinking in its membership), economics (money is just plain tight everywhere it seems), trust (one example: I struggle with this one as I see way too many glossy color printed special pieces of mail come to my congregation – color, glossy mailings are expensive – my congregation does everything in black/white). Theological divisions which contribute to what are viewed as partisan projects (and responses to them) have also cost the Synod dearly. As they continue to fester within the Synod, they cause more distrust of anything “from the other side”.

  23. FIF is still going on in a very small number of districts (NW for one). I believe some major gift activity might still be going on as well. The convention approved an extension of the timetable for remaining districts that had yet to participate.

    RE: What “program” did FiF have except fundraising for “Ablaze”
    and that after Ablaze wasn’t working as a fundraiser
    which early advertising said it was? – the program part of this was defined by the case (what the money was being raised for). There has clearly been money spent in the US and overseas that is FIF money. FIF was the fund raising component in this case but often times organizations don’t have distinguishing “fundraising” and “program” and so “money spent” takes on a greater meaning, which is to say it includes money spent on program.

    I believe Pastor Scheer’s assessment of what has contributed to Synod’s decline in revenue is pretty accurate. It is rarely one thing (though the ELCA is proving that theory incorrect) though I don’t know that glossy brochures can be a major contributor to the decline in millions of dollars. I think division, theological or otherwise, within LCMS is the most significant issue relating to finance. People and organizations do not want to fund groups in conflict. I suspect revenue will continue to decline until that conflict is resolved.

  24. @Paul Miles #35

    You’ll need to say a few more, next week!

    [Although, one fan over on LQ says what really matters is that they beat the Bears!
    Anything else is lutefisk, to him.] 🙂

  25. It is hard to imagine a more perfect Sunday – beat the bears and in the process go to the Super Bowl. I know there were some comments about a pastor wearing a Vikings jersey to service and I must admit, I cant say if I was more offended as a Lutheran Christian or a Packer!! I would like to offer my public support, however, to my good Pastor (Rossow) if he would like to wear the green and gold on Feb 6. Pastor, isn’t there a “combined stole” you could fashion for such a weekend?

  26. @Paul Miles #37
    It would seem that most of the liturgical world will be supporting the Packers since we are in the season of Epiphany (Green). I was always more fond of Lent (Purple). Some anti-Packer folks may want to look into observing The Purification of Mary (Feb 2) on Feb 6 with the color of white!

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