From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran Social Ministries Poised for the Future

From George Conklin <>
Date 13 May 1996 22:56:14

ELCA News Service

May 13, 1996


     NORFOLK, Va. (ELCA) -- The Association of
Lutheran Social Ministry Organizations (ALSMO) has set
the stage to take its place alongside Catholic Charities
U.S.A. as the largest charity in the country.  The ALSMO
annual meeting here April 26 unanimously approved a
"strategic alliance" of more than 250 Lutheran social
ministry organizations across the United States and
Caribbean with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA) and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod
     In 1995 about 89,000 volunteers helped 83,000
employees serve 1,763,000 people in non-residential
services and 106,000 in residential services, including
20,000 elderly in independent living and 43,000 elderly in
nursing facilities.  The combined income of the Lutheran
social ministries was $2.4 billion and expenses were $2.3
     Catholic Charities USA reported total income of $1.93
billion and expenses of $1.86 billion in 1994.
     An ELCA "blue ribbon" committee in September 1995
recommended such an alliance be formed.  ALSMO,
ELCA and LCMS representatives formed a design team
that developed a detailed governance structure for the
"unnamed Lutheran organization."
     The social ministries will elect half of the new
18-member board, the ELCA will elect six members, the
LCMS will elect three.  The ELCA has 5.2 million
members, the LCMS 2.6 million members.
     "The new organization is a way of saying that social
ministries are as much the church as the church bodies,"
said the Rev. Carl H. Toelke Jr., director, LCMS Board
for Human Care Ministries, St. Louis.  "That's what I love
about the new organization."
     "It's user-led," he added.  "The president of the new
organization will come from the social ministries.  These
are the people who are the experts ... right there in our
     The team that designed the new organization will serve
as a transition team, making all the necessary arrangements
for ALSMO to become the new organization at its next
annual meeting, April 18-20, 1997, in Milwaukee.
     "Some of it remains to be seen," said Dianne Nissen,
president, Lutheran Social Services-Southern California,
San Diego.  "It's a process I'm willing to engage in without
knowing specifically what the outcome will be."  Nissen
serves on the transition team.
     "My hope is that we will have a much larger presence
as a Lutheran system nationally and be able to speak with
some authority and conviction about social issues affecting
the country today," she said.
     "The small agencies have something to contribute, as
do the large agencies, making the whole system stronger
across the country," said Nissen.
     "It opens up opportunities to help one another in the
system," said Roberta Nestaas, executive director,
Lutheran Social Services of Washington and Idaho,
Seattle.  "Maybe some of the smaller organizations can
benefit from expertise in the larger organizations."
     "As we make decisions about how we are going to
survive, we are not able to take advantage of some of the
opportunities for technology that we need right now.  I'd
like to see what other organizations are doing and learn
from them," she said.
     "Right now our link is very helpful in the informal ways
that we communicate.  It could be better, if it is
formalized," said Nestaas.
     The new organization "has great promise and potential
for all the social ministry organizations of the church to
work together in some ways that are core and essential to
the ministry of the church," said the Rev. Mark Jerstad,
president, Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society,
Sioux Falls, S.D.  Good Samaritan Society is the largest
Lutheran social ministry in the United States.
     Jerstad listed three benefits in working as a single
system: spiritual renewal, combined advocacy at national
and state levels, and development of new leaders.  He said
the next generations of women and men who will lead the
organization must be "faithful to the ministry of the church
and competent to face the challenges" of social ministry in
the future.
     "We have an opportunity to do some things jointly, in
partnership," said the Rev. Arthur Lewis, executive
director, Lutheran Council of Tidewater, Norfolk.
     "Too often programs in neighboring states seem to be
in competition with one another.  Now they won't have to
compete with each other.  They can share ideas, share
programs," said Lewis.
     Nestaas added that her employees and volunteers will
take pride in working within a large, national system
associated with the Lutheran church.
     The ELCA is affiliated with 250 parent corporations
and their many related service agencies.  About 80 of
those organizations are also recognized by the LCMS.
Other  corporations are recognized only by the LCMS.
About 140 joined ALSMO since it was formed in 1995
by the merger of two professional organizations.
     The Rev. Fred Kammer, S.J., executive director of
Catholic Charities USA, addressed the Lutheran meeting
before the vote.  He said Catholic and Lutheran care
providers share similar missions and obstacles.
     "We've got to get out of the Christian humility bag," he
said.  Charities must spend time and money on publicity
"to toot our own horns," if they are to be effective in
serving the needy, advocating for a "humanized social
structure" and calling the church to work for justice.
     One of 12 "strategic issues" to be addressed by
forming the Lutheran alliance is "national profile
development for Lutheran social ministry."  Other issues
include defining church affiliation, planning leadership
development and networking information.
     After the ALSMO annual meeting, it's board re-elected
the Rev. Nelson Meyer as ALSMO president.  Meyer is
executive director of Lutheran Social Services of Central
Ohio, Columbus.

Reporters: for information contact Ann Hafften,
312/380-2958, or Frank Imhoff, 312/380-2955.

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