Unwrapped–A Review and Encouragement

unwrappedHow should I put this?  I’m an insufferable pessimist.  I find it easier to just assume at best a neutral outcome.  It drives my wife nuts, but I usually greet those feel-good personal interest stories on the news with an audible groan.  Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but I find optimism somehow unrealistic.  Having been raised in Central Illinois, I was accustomed to the ubiquitous statement from a Cubs fan: “There’s always next year.”

And for my time in the LCMS, especially on the clergy roster, I’ve gone through times like many of us were I wonder if much good can happen.  As one of my professors famously says, “Doesn’t Lutheranism get you down?”  Yes, it often does.  We often sweep the work of our altars and pulpits under the rug so we can move on to the “REAL” mission work, the kind of stuff you can learn about at a conference and bring home a three ring binder to learn 5 Simple Techniques for tricking unbelievers into loving Jesus.

In all honesty, when I see one more conference, one more synod program or initiative, I tend to be at best indifferent.  I formed this opinion over the last several years when I saw many LCMS conferences featuring non-Lutheran speakers with enthusiastic worship practices.  It’s like we’re embarrassed of who we are.  I didn’t expect this from Unwrapped, but the skepticism is always there.  Knowing the people involved in the planning, I was eagerly awaiting the fruits of their labors.  I (yes, even I) was excited because the tide is changing, we have a fantastic new staff at the IC, a new day seems to be dawning, and this curmudgeon thinks maybe we’re doing alright and the Son of Man just might find faith on earth.

I’m actually confessing a sin here.  The pessimist can start thinking the worst, not so much about things and events, but can think the worst about people.  Repent, my fellow grumbling, muttering pessimists!

388269_10101042072485410_1227850538_nThere is nothing that has brought my error into focus like the recent Unwrapped Conference in St Louis.  I attended the conference as a presenter excited to see how it would shape up, and one of my people from Philly whom I met working with the homeless was invited along.


College students from around the nation gathered to hear speakers from WITHIN the LCMS speak on various topics.  The pastors were actually rostered with our synod.  I saw Rev Todd Wilken present his sectional called “The Online Apologist,” and another fellow BJS blogger, Sam Schuldheisz, presented on apologetics in literature.  Other sectionals included Adriane Dorr’s presentation on being single, a topic which is a timely one to address, since the church often focuses on married couples and singles can feel inadequate in our hook-up culture.  This is just a sample of the many great sectional offerings.

On the final day, President Harrison addressed the entire conference about the synod’s emphasis of Witness, Mercy and Life Together.  Interestingly enough, at the end of his presentation, he received a standing ovation.

But the highlight of the conference was the times everyone came together for morning and evening prayer.  A Roman Catholic congregation within the campus of St Louis University allowed us to their space for the prayer offices, affording us a beautiful building.  So, after Lutherans spoke as Lutherans to our college students in sectionals, everyone worshiped as Lutherans together.  Unlike many of the conferences using contemporary worship where I’ve noticed only a few “participate” (mostly the Baby Boomer tables in the front), everyone filled the space with singing that can almost rival Kramer Chapel on the CTS campus–almost.

The formerly homeless man I brought with me, someone who is just recently introduced to Lutheranism, was fascinated.  He left the chapel humming “Thy Strong Word” and learned how to chant the Psalms.  He took a lot away from President Harrison’s presentation on WMLT.  But more than that, he was brought into the circle of the other groups there.  Everyone loved him and he had a blast.  He is the “cookie guy” I’ve mentioned before, and the organizers brought him in to make 1500 cookies for the conference.  At the closing, he was introduced like a rockstar to tell a bit of his story, and I think only President Harrison got louder applause than he.  This speaks to the the general atmosphere of the conference that encouraged both of us.  Not only does he appreciate the love Lutherans have shown him, he also thinks we’re pretty cool too.

I do, however, have one complaint, as a good pessimist should.  We never received the Sacrament during the conference.  I’m sure I wouldn’t want a Roman Catholic altar to be used for this at a Lutheran event, but there had to be an LCMS church nearby, or at least the seminary.  I heard that it was a logistical nightmare to cart around 450 conference attendees, but I’m sure being fed to the lions was a nightmare for the early church, but they celebrated the Sacrament anyway.  I want our people to desire the things of God no matter the cost, and we should set an example that there is no hurdle too high to receive Christ’s body and blood, for God’s Gifts are never an inconvenience.  It’s this pragmatism that causes congregations to have the Sacrament maybe once a week, when we sin daily and daily require the Medicine.  A conference is a great way to introduce our synod to daily mass through its young people, but I digress…

So, to wrap up, there is much to be encouraged by with Unwrapped.  Marcus Zill and his coordinators have set a pretty high bar for the future of these conferences, a future I pray is long and fruitful.  We should rejoice.  We should be encouraged.  Not only were college students soaking up Lutheran theology and Lutheran liturgy, but they were actually given it without the played-out excuse that they don’t care for the historic doctrine and practice of the church.

Where I used to assume the worst, I now assume the best.  I assume that the conferences we have coming from us will knock it out of the park like Unwrapped did.  I think we are giving people the best we have.  Think about it, folks.  This is our Reinassance.  We have the Confessions in the hands of more lay people than we probably ever have in our history.  New media has been taken over for the cause of exposing the world to Confessional Lutheranism.  We have a stellar administration and more worth-while events like Unwrapped.

This fantastic conference was due to the persistence of the new administration, and these good things will endure the more we support them in it.  Send your members to these events.  You won’t be sorry.

About Pastor Joshua Gale

Pastor Joshua Gale was born in Danville, IL, and later studied at Illinois State University, graduating with a degree in Philosophy in 2007. He then began his studies toward ordination into the Office of the Holy Ministry at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, IN. Pastor Gale served a summer vicarage at a rural church plant in Hartford City, IN, and later a vicarage in Gary, IN, as an urban missionary to the city. Upon graduation from the seminary, Pastor Gale served as a missionary pastor with Philadelphia Lutheran Ministries, developing urban mission plans for mercy work and church planting in Philadelphia. In 2013, he accepted the call to serve in Lima, Peru, as a mission developer and church planter, focusing on the neighborhood of La Victoria through the recently opened Castillo Fuerte Mercy Center. He and his wife Amanda have two children, Zechariah and Katharina. View his blog here.


Unwrapped–A Review and Encouragement — 47 Comments

  1. “And for my time in the LCMS, especially on the clergy roster, I’ve gone through times like many of us were I wonder if much good can happen.”

    What, you’ve been ordained for what – 5 minutes and your saying this? Good grief – why not just say the conference was great and leave it at that. I talked to Dave Kind yesterday and he said it was fantastic too – without all the negative garbage.

    If you want to be the change agent in the church – then start with yourself. I think it’s great that Pres. Harrison, Marcus Zill and others are taking an interest in the most vital mission field of the 21st century.

    Let’s just enjoy that, huh?

  2. It was written in flat-out honesty.

    And if you bothered to read the article, I mentioned in more than one way that my pessimism (and that of others) often amounted to sin. I repent of this as an error on my part. Yes, the conference was great–greater than that. And I see bright days ahead. If you still have a problem with what I wrote, that’s up to you.

  3. Thank you for the positive report, Pr. Gale. It is good to know that these conferences are getting better.

  4. Joshua – If you need to confess, do you it to your pastor. From my reading, it feels that it’s just one more swing at the evil you perceive, couched in repentance, to makes it palatable for the reader.

    The UnWrapped Conference was a tremendous success. Let’s just hope students you bring don’t catch that same aura of skepticism which you have. Attitude is a lot in life. You can rejoice at the inroads you are making without poking the stick at your perceived evils

    We have a RC priest who is a campus pastor at the University I serve. He’s a great friend and is also leading a very conservative liturgical movement in his work – with great success. And you know what – it’s all positive – it’s all full of joy – and he isn’t ripping or grousing. He’s doing his work – getting out with his students -and his students reflect his attitude.

    That’s all I’m saying.

    Plus – I still have to chuckle at you guys who have been ordained for a fortnight who are complaining at how terrible it is. Good grief – get some experience under your belt first.

    Campus ministry is on the upswing in the LCMS – and after all the garbage that out of the last 2 years – I personally am happy to see it. Campus ministry is one of the largest mission fields of the 21st century. Let’s get the message out!

  5. Monte Meyer,

    Why do you have a problem with Pastor Gale saying that this conference was a refreshing positive change from past ones? He pointed out come specific improvements. Do your agree that those are improvements?

  6. Oh you are right – I’m hoping the moderators are just going to delete my comments. I’m just too soon from the campus wars we had recently.

    Rock on – just make it positive!

  7. I ask that Monte Meyer’s comments NOT be deleted. For one, my replies would make no sense. Second, my article stands as written, and the comments should be held to the same standard.

    If they are deleted, let me be clear for those who also refuse to read my article as it stands:

    1.) We adopted seriously bad practices in the past. The current administration should be supported by all of us in their laudable steps to be faithful, and they have borne fruit that will benefit out college ministries.
    2.) The current administration has made significant gains, as Unwrapped has shown.
    3.) The conference was simply stellar, and those responsible for it are to be commended. It was fantastic…I’m running out of ways to say it was…well, awesome. Even though I wish we had the Sacrament, my review was nothing short of positive.
    4.) Let’s step into the future with a desire to support one another in what I see as, Lord willing, a glorious future.

    Can I be more clear?

  8. The comments should remain, unedited. BOJS needs to remain open, especially to what those who disagree really think. I cannot think of another place where readers can hear the opponents of confessional Lutheranism being honest. TW

  9. No opponents Todd – I was just on an attitude rant and changed my mind – because it was doing exactly what I was complaining about.

    I’m not your opponent. I hear you did a good job at the conference.

  10. I agree totally with Josh and Todd and I’m glad the post will be restored. Most of all after Monte has admitted it was a temper “issue.” Because all is forgiven on that front and we can restore the open blog with no hard feelings. Monte are you adverse to having your post put back on at this point?

  11. Nah – because I still stand by what I said – I just didn’t like the tone I took. Thats all.

    Put it back up.

  12. FWIW, Monte, I don’t think my short time in the ministry invalidates value judgments on my part, in anything, provided they are made in equity. If I had written it in a way you instinctively liked, I’m sure you wouldn’t have said, “Well, this kid has only been ordained a fortnight and doesn’t know anything. Get some experience.” Maybe times like these take fresh eyes on things. Or, maybe it takes two generations of pastors equally valuing and listening to the other’s observations. But mostly, in this case, a gracious reading would have sufficed.

  13. @Monte Meyer #9
    I am rather upset about your comment toward Josh being ordained for five minutes. Inthinknthat was below the belt as if his ordination is some how less valid than yours. With that said, I am curious about your contention with this post. Care to explain?

  14. Further, BJS itself has been renewed thanks to young Pastors (and the new associate editor and our readers) willing to speak out, at times, at great expense to ensure a confessional confession of our faith. Those is something to be admired and not demonized.

  15. Didn’t demonize it – I commented on this quote “And for my time in the LCMS, especially on the clergy roster, I’ve gone through times like many of us were I wonder if much good can happen. ”

    He hasn’t been in the ministry very long to come to those conclusions yet – but then again – I also wanted it deleted because it was worded roughly. Precisely the reaction from you I did NOT want to happen – thus my desire to delete both my posts. But in grand BJS fashion – it’s all up here.

    Like I said – I wish I could have just taken it down to avoid precisely what is happening now.

    Oh well, have at it.

  16. See and here is my rub. Yes I was stupid to not temper my reaction – or better yet – not comment at all. I should have learned from last year. But part of me wonders if you wanted it put back so you could point and howl. LOL – come on.

    They outlawed faking fouls in the NBA. I tried to change it – because of the way it was worded roughly towards you – but now you want it put back up – so you can howl at it?

    Come on…

  17. Here’s the thing though, Monte: I was very upfront about that error of mine, and I said it wasn’t befitting of my calling or my faith. I said it in humbling and even embarrassing honesty. I could have hid it to make myself look better, but I didn’t in hopes that we’ll all look at ourselves and our motives, that we’ll move on and support the good things that are happening. We’re “howling” at it because you read into it what you wanted, then insulted my call, wanted to hide behind moderation and people reacted.

  18. And let us not forget, in the “fortnight” that has elapsed since my ordination, ULC’s church building was stripped out from underneath them (something that was on my mind when I wrote the words you objected to). Things like that tend to get even a young pastor down. And then, Unwrapped comes along and I find cause to be thankful for our witness on campus. It seems a lot can happen in a fortnight.

  19. OK then. Thanks for reminding me about the ULC/CLC thing. I didn’t know about that.

  20. @Monte Meyer #18
    Why so obstinate? You were too harsh and your evaluation of this post is at best flawed. Josh has been more clear than you could ever hope for. What more do you want? He has admitted his faults publicly and plainly. May you do the same.

  21. In all honesty, when I see one more conference, one more synod program or initiative, I tend to be at best indifferent. I formed this opinion over the last several years when I saw many LCMS conferences featuring non-Lutheran speakers with enthusiastic worship practices.

    Thanks for the report, Pastor Gale! That you went doubting and came away convinced that this conference was a very good thing is exactly what I needed to know. I’ve seen more than enough of the ersatz myself, just from the sidelines. Three cheers for anything better!!!

    And remember that advice to Timothy! It takes a lot of courage to go where you went and do what you are doing. Nobody needs to comment on your “youth”.
    God bless!

  22. All comments restored.

    And remember, when we can’t argue with the substance of your article, we will have to argue against the tone or some other feature of the author. As many of our authors are young, this kind of experiential prejudice is common on BJS.

  23. @Monte Meyer #25
    Monte: That genie is out of the bottle. “Missional” DPs and their supporters may wish it otherwise, but we will never forget.

    Blessings to you and your ministry, Pastor Gale!

  24. With reference to the article itself: I identify entirely with Pastor Gale’s pessimism. When I was invited to come (as an attendant) I was very resistant on the grounds that I was not interested in one more superficial Jesus-is-my-boyfriend-songs-and-Warrenesque-plenary-speakers conference like those I have attended in years past (such as NYG: “Higher Things” and various district youth retreats). I was ultimately persuaded to go (read: cajoled and guilted), and found the event to be 180 degrees opposite my expectations.

    The organizers deserve kudos upon kudos for their efforts, which marvelously culminated in what can only be described as a Confessional Lutheran conference for Confessional Lutherans. After so many disappointing youth/college events that appeared to have been organized by my [ana]Baptist friends, which majored on pop songs and pop spirituality, and barely took a class in (much less minored in) any sort of traditional or sacramental theology, this was – if I may put this reverently – a Godsend.

    The LCMS has been patronizing its youth for as long as or longer than my lifetime (at least if we take my case and observations as representative). We are not stupid, nor are we ignorant – or at least we don’t want to be. We know when we are getting spiritual-lite fluff, and we crave to quaff from the depths of our Confessions and liturgy, and to learn how to “give an answer for the hope that is within us.” Thank you to all who had a hand in making the “Unwrapped” conference the very image of Confessional Lutheran Orthodoxy, and – instead of talking down to us – treating us as the adults we are.

  25. So let me make sure I understand correctly. You prayed and maybe more in a Roman Catholic Church and the cookie guy gave his “testimony” I am no expert in The Lutheran Confessions, but there has got to be a violation there somewhere;)

  26. @KrustyKraut #31

    Well, Jason hardly gave a “testimony.” Others who were there could comment, but he basically thanked the group for inviting him and mentioned that he came from much more difficult times. I think he used all of 30 seconds.

    As for using a Catholic church to pray, I hardly find issue there. Our synod was founded on churches who rented space, I believe from Episcopalian churches if I remember correctly. And many churches to this day will rent space for services. While I would be uneasy about using a Roman Catholic altar for the Sacrament, I see no issue why we can’t hold a prayer office there. Although, I found some irony in Lutherans using a Jesuit church for this conference.

  27. Sometimes people that are new to a “profession” have valuable insights that people that have been there a while don’t notice. I never discount what someone with less experience than I have says. As a pilot, if I did that, I’d be dead by now. New pastors are placed there by God. To belittle or discount what they say is to thumb your nose at God’s called and ordained servant. I know plenty of young people who have the insight and wisdom of people half their age. That wisdom and insight is a gift given to them by their Heavenly Father. I know some really sharp young pastors in our Synod and rejoice that God has been gracious in blessing us with them.

  28. You should have left a bust of Luther at the Roman church as a thank you 😀

    Seriously though, sounded like a good conference! Good to hear Lutheran things at a Lutheran conference (Though not a pastor, I too can relate to the pessimism thing for conferences, being a teacher).

  29. I have only heard very positive comments regarding the conference and its goals.

    If somehow a teacup of gas is needed for the tempest….


    If the the service in which this was held was at St. Louis University…then also note that just a few years ago, this is the same “chapel” in which Higher Things had no challenge offering communion to all confirmed attendees.

    and I can’t complete the end of the “If”, “Then”, “Else”

  30. @Monte Meyer #1
    Rev. Meyer,

    I’m probably reading your reaction wrong, so please correct me if that is the case, but I get the impression that you are against negatively critiquing ourselves or our synod. If this is the case I pray that you will reconsider your position. We need to be honest about our sinful predicament and propensity to constantly blow it as individuals and as a synod so that we can turn from our sin and lead lives of repentance. 1 John 1:8-9

  31. @Thomas Lemke #30

    I really think Higher Things is in a better (more Lutheran) category than the rest of your recitation! I don’t think you found “Warrenesque” stuff in its program!
    Unless HT put on a good show, “just for me”… which is doubtful, considering the hundreds of kids there. HT is a breath of fresh air compared to the non Lutheran “mid way-at-the-fair” programs put on by synod and district, especially in the 90’s and 00’s.

  32. Actually, I made an embarrassing oversight. How could I forget Craig Parton, the headliner for 5 hours worth of plenary sessions? In short, he was great too. He said many great things and I hope Sam covers them in his review.

  33. I wish I could have attended. I’m only three hours from St. Louis. Another member of my chapel board was supposed to go but he suffered an injury a day or two before the conference. We had just become a HT: Christ on Campus chapter too.

  34. @Scott Diekmann #33

    “Sometimes people that are new to a “profession” have valuable insights that people that have been there a while don’t notice.”

    Yes, youth and inexperience do not guarantee a lack of insight or wisdom any more than age and experience do guarantee them. Or as I’ve heard it so pithily put:

    “Wisdom doesn’t always come with age; sometimes age arrives alone.”

    (BTW, thank you, Mr. Diekmann, for sharing all your hard work of research in the Scriptures and the Confessions and for your level-headed reasoning with fools, young and old.)

  35. Rev. Larry Wright :If the the service in which this was held was at St. Louis University…then also note that just a few years ago, this is the same “chapel” in which Higher Things had no challenge offering communion to all confirmed attendees.
    and I can’t complete the end of the “If”, “Then”, “Else”

    The difference is that Higher Things recommends that only confirmed members of LCMS congregations attend, while their pastors and youth leaders are also members of LCMS congregations. In campus ministry, the students attending the conference might not be members of a LCMS church or may not attend a church at all.

  36. It saddens me that a positive article celebrating something good seems only to have provided an opportunity for negativity and anger.

  37. I’m not seeking to get in the fray here, other than to say thank you for all the kind words about the conference from everyone all around, Josh Gale as well as Monte Meyer! Thanks to one and all! We are truly trying to build a coalition of everyone who has an interest and stake in campus ministry and I am thankful that that spirit resonated with those who attended UNWRAPPED.

    I do want to reply briefly to the following in order to set the record straight.

    Rev. Larry Wright :

    If the the service in which this was held was at St. Louis University…then also note that just a few years ago, this is the same “chapel” in which Higher Things had no challenge offering communion to all confirmed attendees.

    Larry, actually such is not the case. I am well aware of the policies of St. Francis Xavier College Church, the Higher Things Conferences that have taken place at St. Francis Xavier, and obviously what we just did at UNWRAPPED.

    In brief, St. Francis Xavier College Church is not directly affiliated with SLU but is an autonomous church. They have been gracious in allowing their chapel to be used for a variety of conferences. However, they have not, and would not, allow the Sacrament to be celebrated at their Altar by Higher Things, the Synod, or anyone else. Higher Things has held the Divine Service at their conferences in St. Louis at the St. Louis Seminary for this reason.

    Our committee considered the possibilities, but for a variety of reasons, decided to not have the Divine Service.

  38. Pr. Gale,

    Thanks for the thoughtful reflections. I want to echo your thoughts on the Holy Eucharist. Looking back, I wish a way had been found to offer the Sacrament, and hope that going forward that will be addressed. One thing I think really should be mentioned: the fabulous work of our Cantor Paul Soulek and the musicians he worked with. I keep telling myself: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s cantor…

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