Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Future of Synod Tops Agenda as Lutherans Gather for Convention; Newly Elected President Faces Plenty of Work and Debate

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Future of Synod Tops Agenda as Lutherans Gather for Convention; Newly Elected President Faces Plenty of Work and Debate

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * Lutherans from around the country will spend the next several days in St. Louis for a national convention that will touch on a range of broad issues from the future of Lutheran education, to the church's economic health, to theological disputes over worship practices.

Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod conventions are held every three years. They serve as the 2.3 million-member denomination's principal legislative assembly.

The last assembly, in 2010, was held in Houston. This year, the gathering at the America's Center brings the attendees closer to the synod's home base in Kirkwood.

About 3,500 members of the church are expected to attend the convention, which begins Saturday and runs through Thursday. About 1,200 delegates will vote on more than 115 resolutions affecting the church's future.

Church officials say the delegates will face plenty of work and debate. Among issues: the synod's record of disaster relief work, increased chances for evangelism in Africa, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (coming in 2017), and ways to expand outreach to Hispanics.

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was organized in 1847 and is the second-largest Lutheran denomination in the country, after the more liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is twice as large. About 160,000 LCMS members reside in the St. Louis area. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, by comparison, has about 500,000 members.

The Rev. Matthew Harrison, recently re-elected as president of the synod, will chair the convention. Many of the proceedings will be new to even veteran delegates after a massive restructuring approved three years ago at the Houston convention.

Delegates voted at that time to consolidate seven program boards into two, reduce the geographical organization of congregations from 35 regions to five, and allow the synod president to choose his own first vice presidents from a slate of 20 nominees something the delegates once voted on themselves.

The man who orchestrated the church's restructuring was the Rev. Gerald Kieschnick, the synod's president going into the 2010 convention. Some critics, including Harrison, argued that Kieschnick's restructuring proposal was a power grab, designed to move the synod toward a hierarchical structure more similar to the Catholic Church.

"The change we really need is not structural," Harrison, who was challenging Kieschnick for the presidency, wrote at the time. "Part of me might like the massive increase in power proposed for the Synod president. That's why it's not a good idea."

The delegates eventually voted to accept Kieschnick's restructuring, but then kicked him out of office. In doing so, they handed the consolidated power to the man who said power was too big a temptation for him.

Harrison, 51, is a cigar-smoking, banjo-playing church historian from Iowa whose trademark is a bushy mustache that brings to mind President Theodore Roosevelt. …

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