Holy Tuesday decisions

I’ve put in interview requests with a few of the Minnesota South leaders who made the decision to sell University Lutheran Chapel. This includes the District President and the Mission Exec. I haven’t heard back from them yet but will let you know as soon as I do. In doing background research, there were a few things that struck me.

The most obvious is the parallel with Issues, Etc. That program was canceled — and its hosts fired — on Tuesday of Holy Week. This previously top-secret plan to sell ULC was made public on the same day of Holy Week.

The other parallel with Issues, Etc. is that the moves were made in the name of cost-savings but reflect a deeper conflict over church and theology. This sounds like a battle over whether campus ministry should adopt church growth techniques (of which the Minnesota South is fond) or be a church centered around Word and Sacrament. ULC is known for its liturgical and sacramental approach. And while it has a reputation for producing some wonderful pastors, deaconesses and average laypeople, it has created a vibrant community without resorting to the latest trends and fashions.

Everyone I spoke with about the move mentioned that ULC’s model of sacramental, liturgical worship is at odds with the direction Minnesota South is moving in its mission funding and focus. (A cursory look at the resources on their web site also indicates this.) They say the battles between the district and the chapel go back decades. As in, at least to the 1980s. These are serious tensions and, according to the documentation I’ve seen thus far, there have been multiple attempts by the district over the years to control ULC and its resources.

In any case, the general mood seems to be that the decision to sell congregational properties is short-sighted at best. At the very least, though, this is about much larger things than finances. I’ll keep you posted with updates.


Holy Tuesday decisions — 25 Comments

  1. Will Christ let those who oppose His Word and Ministry to close His church in this place?

    Not if we the church, who follow our sheppard, do not let it happen.

  2. As I mentioned in my posting on the original story, my family’s relationship to this chapel goes back to the 1980s, when my brother Carl was the student body elected president of the chapel during the Pastor Pless’ early years there. You have it EXACTLY right, Mollie, that you can trace the problems between ULC and the MNSD back to that era because Pless and my brother absolutely opposed the “church growth” model, declared: “There’s a better way”, and they showed it. It has gnawed at the craw of the powers that govern the MNSD ever since that ULC is a living, breathing model of how to grow a Confessional Lutheran Church without aspiring to the “fads of the day”.

  3. @Rev. Don Kirchner #4 Of course what is so irritating is that often these folks will not give their real reasoning. It is almost akin to the Alinski method in politics where the means is justified by the ends.

    If openness cannot be found in the church then why call it church at all?

  4. @Rahn Hasbargen #5
    The “fads” have become old and oh so boring. You can’t tell one CG church from another or what denomination they are. Same forms of “worship”, same mantra like music, avoidance of the doctrine of sin, gospel reductionism, little glasses, “cool” facial hair, bunch of slovenly dressed often fat pastors, anointing with oil, healing services, intinction and the “HOW DARE YOU QUESTION OUR METHODS” response from the Pastors. Oh those caring, loving, christ like PASTORS!:) Bunch of teenagers trying to be “individual”. 🙂

  5. @Rev. Don Kirchner #4

    I have found it a constant reality that people who act in the interest of open communication and transparency NEVER make reference to their open communication and transparency — other people do — about them, with expressions of respect and confidence. People who talk about acting in the interest of open communication and transparency actually never do, especially when they get behind closed doors. This is a corollary of a more basic truth, found especially in church politics: People in power tend to accuse others of their own sins. I pray that this decision can be overturned.



  6. @mames #7

    That’s why Pastor Pless and my brother rejected them all. My brother learned from my Dad during his ministry that “God’s kingdom” comes ONLY “when the word of God is taught in its’ truth and PURITY” (emphasis mine) and not diluted by marketing or fadish gimmicks.

    Thank God for the PURE word!!!!

  7. Several questions have been troubling me since this came out.
    1. What, if anything, does the district pay to support the ULC campus ministry?

    2. Has the Congregation been given the opportunity to purchase the building?

    3. If the congregation has been using district real estate, rent free, can they truly be considered to be “self supporting?

    4. Has the district said what would be done with the existing congregation? (I haven’t had time to read all the articles, this question may have been answered elsewhere.)

  8. @David Hartung #11


    If you look on the previous article on this site related to ULC, one of the current members posted the following:

    1) The District pays around $13K in support to the ULC ministry, BUT

    2) ULC pays $41K in rent to the district for the building

    3) The District has offered to sell the site to ULC, but so far only at market rates (which given some high rise apartment sites that have sprung up around the area, will run into the millions). ULC’s current finances can NOT afford millions of dollars in mortgage, but operationally outside of the mortgage are in decent shape financially, considering they are a campus ministry.

    4) Where the ULC congregation will go if the site is sold is NOT clear. However, given the nature of development in the area, the chances of finding a similar site in the U of Minnesota campus area are VERY dim, meaning the congregation will be scrambling for a site that can still serve the U of M “starving student” population….

  9. I may have a unique perspective on ULC history, having attended there for 3 years prior to Pr Pless and for 3 years after Pr Pless arrived. To the best of my recollection, Carl Hasbargen and I were the only ones to have attended ULC regularly in years both pre- and post-Pless. Thus in the years since, I’ve enjoyed telling people that I was half of Pr. Pless’ first congregation and half of the second couple he married there (yes, I met my wife at ULC). Maybe that was not literally true but close – so the following is more memoir than history as I’ve not fact-checked anything. But I thought people might find it helpful to know the significance of the ’30 years’ in the tension between ULC and MNS described in several places on the different threads on this topic (of which I have no direct knowledge).

    When I started attending ULC in 1980 as a graduate student, it was a pan-Lutheran campus ministry and had both an LCMS and I believe LCA pastor. The chairs were arranged in a semicircle in the nave facing the east wall and the chancel area was not used –it was an awkward layout but intended to make things informal and less ‘churchy.’ The pastor preached standing in the middle of the semicircle of chairs. LBW was used in some services, in others, it was the Chicago Folk Service with acoustic instruments. I remember that at the time I really liked the ‘rock’ style services but found all of the other liturgical innovations designed to appeal to college students like ‘clown ministry’ (miming the gospel lesson among other things) painfully embarrassing and/or tedious. So in today’s terminology, you’d say ULC was a contemporary worship congregation 30 years ago.

    LCMS students were a distinct minority, maybe 25% of the congregation. At the time in the early 80’s that the LCMS made the decision to separate the LCMS campus ministries from the ELCA predecessor bodies , the LCMS position happened to be vacant. Thus the situation at the time of the split was that the LCMS owned the building but the pastor and the congregation were effectively ELCA (pardon the anachronism). No one was happy when the congregation was evicted by the LCMS and the whole group, including almost all of the LCMS students, packed up and moved to the Episcopal Center on the other side of campus. Almost all of the LCMS students left with the pastor and the rest of the congregation since the LCA pastor was popular guy and the students, LCMS or not, wanted to stay with their friends (especially since the LCMS was the bad guy for destroying ULC as it was at the time). I stayed at ULC out of inertia, to be honest, as the location of ULC was on the way between my apartment and my office on campus and hence convenient, while the Episcopal center was a much farther walk. As Rahn mentioned, Carl stayed out of conviction. So for most of the winter/spring of 1983, a rotating series of pastors, at least sometimes with guitar in tow, would show up on Sunday to conduct the service for the handful of LCMS students who showed up.

    When Pr. Pless showed up in the summer of 1983, he had a building and one active member (Carl) and one passive member (me). (I apologize to anyone else I’ve forgotten who also stayed through the transition). I don’t know anything about how supportive or resistant to the MNS district was to Pr Pless’s efforts to revive ULC as a liturgical congregation rather than as the CoWo one it had been. LBW was out and TLH was in. I never heard a guitar again in ULC, though it was a while before the chairs were turned to face the chancel. I’m sure the data is out there, but I am quite certain that the numbers of LCMS students who attended ULC when it was a CoWo congregation in the early 80’s were much less than when it was revived as a liturgical congregation under Pr Pless and continued with Pr Kind. And of course I don’t know how you quantify the even greater “success” of ULC in terms of the formation of solidly grounded, committed Lutherans who go on not just to start the careers the U of M trained them for, but also to be active in their congregations as elders, trustees, Sunday School teachers, forming and raising Lutheran families and so on. Undoubtedly, selling out ULC (or any campus ministry) is the equivalent of eating the LCMS’s seed corn. My life would have unfolded entirely differently if not for Pastor Pless and ULC, and not just because I met my wife at ULC, but because it set me on a pathway for growth in my faith in line with the Lutheran Confessions that has not wavered though 30 years of life’s ups and downs because of what I learned and experienced at ULC AFTER Pr Pless arrived (and not when ULC was CoWo).

    Others know more about the history of ULC after Pr Pless’s arrival, but I’d not seen any comments on this topic about what ULC was like before he arrived so I thought those interested in the fate of ULC would find this bit of history interesting and the significance of statements about ’30 years’ and “since the 1980’s” helpful to appreciate.

    So I’ll also use this opportunity to say ‘hi’ to any other mid-80’s ULC alums who have posted to BJS, e.g. Matt Mills and others. Feel free to correct my memoirs if I’ve stated anything factually incorrect.

  10. @Rev. Robert W. Schaibley #8

    To parallel what you’ve said, myself and my congregation have been fed more than once the line “Just trust me” by a higher official on District/Synodical level with whom we (and arguably also the Scriptures and Confessions) clearly didn’t see eye to eye on regarding many matters Lutheran, and time and time again actual experience would consequently go on to show that we were right to be wary of doing just that: Trusting them.

    My larger point is, trust is in some ways earned. Or, as the proverbial “Fool me once…fool me twice” goes, we begin with “trustworthiness”, but such is preserved/lost by keeping/failing to keep to your professed positions and vows in terms of actual word and deed and/or conscientiously repenting when you consciously fall short. When this doesn’t happen, well, “once bit, twice shy”. The lack of the very trust that higher officials demand and the distrust among clergy/church workers they cite as a main cause of disharmony in the synod often starts with they themselves, especially for example in how some of them often exercise ecclesiastical supervision in cases where they shouldn’t and were never called upon to do so, and often fail to do so in cases where they should and were called upon to do so. I do not mean to malign all higher officials in iure humano positions, as there are some marvelous exceptions including our new Synod President so far—may the Lord by His grace miraculously preserve them in fidelity and integrity!

  11. @Steve Gehrke #14
    Thank you for that confirmation to my recollection. Carl was going to the U of M Med School while I was going to the University of Nebraska as an undergrad. I happened to come up to Minneapolis in the fall of 1983 to see a Nebraska-Minnesota football game (the 84-13 drubbing the Huskers put on the Gophers that night is still embarrassing to both sides of the field). The next day, I went with Carl to the ULC for church before I went back to Lincoln, and saw MAYBE a half dozen attendees of the service (Carl warned me about being “a voice crying in the wilderness”). However, I met Pastor Pless for the first time that day, and Carl and Pless told me of their vision for the Chapel. To see the fruits of that “vision” manifest itself by the solid output of that work all these years later is a TRUE example of the REAL way to grow a confessional church. That is why this issue is so real to me and my family….

  12. Hi Rahn,
    I know that I met Carl’s siblings at ULC and I remember that football game, so we very likely did meet that weekend. As you note, it would have been hard to miss anyone in the congregation at the time.

    As I recall, Nebraska scored 21 pts in each quarter, and when Minnesota’s coach complained about the Nebraska running up the score, Tom Osborne slapped him down (unintentionally I think, which made the sting that much worse) with the comment to the effect that “we had our third and fourth string play the whole second half, and still we couldn’t help but score 84 points.” I also remember seeing a middle aged couple in full Nebraska regalia walking into the Gay 90’s bar as I drove down Hennepin. I’ve always wondered how long it took for them to realize that this wasn’t simply a bar done in Victorian decor!


  13. @Steve Gehrke #17
    Carl kept me away from all of the bars that night, so it could NOT have been us. LOL!!

    I believe Carl introduced me to you that Sunday. It was easy to greet the whole congregation back then. Carl is now going to his wife’s independent Lutheran Church (formerly WELS) in the suburbs, but his church’s mission funds still support ULC:

    Carl also was instrumental in helping set up the endowmwent funds for the day to day operation of the chapel, but the fund can’t support millions of dollars in mortgage that the South District is try to lay on them to buy the building:

    One can only pray this works out for the best…..

  14. @Steve Gehrke #14

    Didn’t the decor include the columns painted silver in the narthex? Another part of the history in earlier years included things such as the Walther League and Delta Gamma.

  15. Rahn, Nice to hear about Carl, I had not kept in touch. My wife and I have contributed to the endowment fund, I didn’t know or recall of his involvement with setting it up.

    Yes, Luvable, I remember that too – as I remember, it was metallic silver wallpaper – a leftover from the disco era perhaps?

    To anyone reading who might know: I know the building has had a very long history,and I believe it was built specifically for the LCMS campus ministry, perhaps in the 50s? I wonder where the money for the property and the construction of the building came from? Does ULC still own the parsonage next door also? As I recall, pre-Pless, it was rented to ULC students, but Pr. Pless moved in when he arrived.

  16. @Steve Gehrke #20
    Regarding the parsonage–My sister Carol is still a member of ULC, serving as organist and in other capacitites, so most of the information i will relay is based on recollections of conversations with her.
    Pastor Pless moved out of the pasonage during his tenure there However, to keep the house occupied, it was then used by the Counseling Center there as a crisis pregnancy center for unwed mothers to use in an “all things in common” community living mode. Since I heard the Counseling Center had moved out of the Chapel Offices, i am unsure what the current use of the parsonage is.

    Between my sister Carol’s current membership at ULC and my brother Carl’s ongoing consultation with Carol related to the issues involved, ULC is a frequent topic of family get-togethers. What I know is based on my hearing the open conversations between my siblings during family get togethers, and these conversations take place often….

  17. @Rahn Hasbargen #22
    Rahn –

    Pr Pless was in the parsonage until he left for CTS-FW. Then, when Pr Kind was called, the parsonage was redecorated for Pr kind and his wife. He lived there for the first few years of his tenure (Pr kind now owns his own house).

    The parsonage was empty for a brief time until the District leased the property to a group called People of Praise (A charismatic ecumenical group – http://www.peopleofpraise.org/ ), who remain tenants. The parsonage and ULC proper are considered a single property due to tied-in utilities (water, sewage, etc.).

    As of the end of last year, the Lutheran Counseling Center is not in existence: “After considerable prayer and lengthy discussion, the Board of Lutheran Counseling Center (LCC) voted unanimously to close as of October 29, 2010. This was a painful and difficult decision.” – http://www.lutherancounseling.org/

    Oliver Young
    Elder, ULC

  18. John- Thanks for the link. SoI was right that the building was from the 50’s and remodeled in the 70’s to be ‘contemporary’ – so the metallic wallpaper was from the disco era. It was interesting to see that ULC had been a pioneer in CoWo in the decades before Pr. Pless. I guess I was wrong that the joint ministry pastor in the early 80’s was ALC not LCA though, though I know students from LCA and AELC also attended in significant numbers.

    Rahn, My wife Kathy and I do remember Carol, I think I might have seen in a ULC newsletter that she was still attending but I did not know that for sure.

    Oliver, thanks for the update.


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