From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran Seminaries, Colleges and Services Discuss Connections

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date 10 Apr 2000 11:16:06


April 10, 2000


     ST. PAUL, Minn. (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA) is related to eight seminaries, 28 colleges and
universities and 280 social ministry organizations.  About 100
representatives of those institutions, bishops and staff of the
churchwide organization discussed their relationships with each other
and the church -- and what those relationships could be -- at
"Connecting Institutions," a conference held March 18-20 at Luther
     "This conference is about relationships," the Rev. Kenneth C.
Senft, president, Mission Resource Institute, Gettysburg, Pa., said in
opening remarks.  "There will be a continuing need to consult with each
other," he said.
     The purpose of the conference was not to create new official
relationships nor to draft amendments to the ELCA Constitution, said
Senft, but to explore the content of those relationships and to study
current and possible informal relationships.
     Three ELCA divisions initiated the "Connecting Institutions"
project and engaged the Mission Resource Institute to implement it.  The
Division for Church in Society relates to social ministry organizations;
the Division for Higher Education and Schools relates to colleges and
universities; and the Division for Ministry relates to seminaries.
     For two years the institute has been "gathering information about
the hopes and concerns, present experience and some of the issues
important to many," said Senft, which he compiled into a written report.
He called the conference "part two" of the project.  The third and final
part would be what comes from the conference -- "building the
partnership," he said.
     Participants engaged in a series of small group discussions based
largely on the geographic regions in which they serve.  They reported
back with various suggestions on how the church's institutions can
     They said the colleges and seminaries can work with social
ministry organizations to understand their workforces and to arrange
internships.  Colleges and outdoor ministry sites can act as retreat
centers for "exhausted leaders," with courses related to the needs of
social ministry organizations.
     The ELCA's clergy and lay leaders can get more "face time" or
exposure to the church's institutions if institutions design educational
opportunities for those leaders.  Institutions can connect through the
offices of synod bishops.  The ELCA's 11,000 congregations are organized
into 65 synods.
     Meetings related to the colleges and seminaries could coincide
with those of Lutheran Services in America -- social ministry
organizations of the ELCA and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  At
such meetings, participants could develop plans to recruit, train and
maintain the church's leaders.
     The Rev. Thomas W. Hurlocker, retired executive director, Tressler
Lutheran Services, Mechanicsburg, Pa., challenged the participants to
examine the roots of their relationships and take concrete actions to
improve them.
     "The synods elect most of the members of our boards, but there is
no model of how to do that," said Hurlocker, but there is no method for
those members to report back to the synods.
     Seminaries require those training for the ordained ministry to
complete a year's internship in an ELCA congregation.  Hurlocker asked
them to consider meeting that requirement through an internship in a
social ministry organization or hospital chaplaincy.  "Sometimes Word
and Sacrament ministry gets confined to just Sunday mornings behind the
altar," he said.
     "We are, in this country, in a crisis of biblical proportion,"
with children starving in one of the world's wealthiest nations and
"with the gap widening between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots,'" Dr.
Sara Melendez, president, Independent Sector, Washington, D.C., said in
her keynote address.  She said church institutions will need to
collaborate as much as possible to be effective.
     "First figure out where you want to be, what you want to do," she
said.  "Sometimes you find you are not able to do it alone."
     "Collaboration is not an end; it is a means to an end," said
Melendez.  "What we should not do, in our rush to be more businesslike,
is lose sight of our mission.  Look for organizations that have missions
compatible with yours."
     Collaboration must begin with a clear idea of its outcome and time
frame, and responsibilities of both parties must be clearly defined, she
said.  "If they both don't win, don't do it."
     "The problem is not the will to collaborate," said Dr. Baird
Tipson, president, Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio.  "The
problem is that we have to find things to collaborate on in which our
missions overlap."
     "We don't think we can train pastors better than seminaries can.
We don't think we can serve people better than social ministry
organizations can," he said.
     Tipson suggested that ELCA colleges create "social capital" from
which the other institutions benefit.  Graduates of ELCA colleges more
closely relate to Lutheran institutions than graduates of public
universities, he said.
     The Rev. A. Donald Main, bishop of the ELCA's Upper Susquehanna
Synod, said each of the church's synods has a unique perspective of how
it relates to Lutheran schools and agencies.  In spite of that
diversity, synods and other institutions share a common mission, he
said.  "We are brothers and sisters, and our parent is the gospel."
     "We need to have intentional conversations from time to time to
look at what is happening in our part of God's world," said Main.  He
suggested that synods could assume the role of initiating those
conversations and that the church's camps and retreat centers be
     "I'm suffering from collaboration fatigue," said the Rev. Timothy
F. Lull, president of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkeley,
Calif.  He estimates that already he spends 20 hours each week
maintaining collaborative relationships.
     "Collaboration is labor intensive and resource draining," said
Lull.  "Let's collaborate when it is really in our mutual best
     "The central question for us is what does it mean for the Lutheran
church to be in mission," he said.  "What does our church need of us?
What does the world need of us?"
     "The Lutheran church has a churchly mission and a worldly mission
-- a mission beyond preaching the gospel and administering sacraments,"
said Lull, adding that the Lutheran church can play a part in teaching
society greater tolerance and mutual respect.
     In his presentation, "What in the World Can Institutions do for
the Church?" the Rev. David L. Tiede, president of Luther Seminary, St.
Paul, Minn., said the different institutions of the church are similar
in mission.
     "They read the Book.  Jesus said preach the gospel, teach and
heal," said Tiede.  "We are connected in the Body of Christ, and each is
a member of it."
     "Our institutions are the embodiment of the Lutheran argument of
'the priesthood of all believers,'" Tiede said.  "You are the ELCA in
higher education.  You are the ELCA in social service.  You are the ELCA
in financial services.  We all have a huge stake in who your successors
will be."
     "What does it mean for the Lutheran church to be in mission?  We
have to ask that question in every congregation," said Tiede.  "The
church's public mission is at the door of every worshiping community."
     "Our public mission is about to enter a dramatically new realm,"
he said.  "We will argue about what is real, and perhaps we should."
     In the past, the church saw a need and created an institution to
meet it, said Edith M. Lohr, executive director, Lutheran Social
Services of New England, Natick, Mass.  "The institutions were
emotionally owned by the people in the congregations.  That natural
connectedness no longer exists."
     Fewer clients, students and staff members are Lutheran, and fewer
dollars are coming from the church, she said.  "Connections are getting
fewer and thinner."
     "We must encourage people in our congregations to be involved,"
said Lohr.  "We are an extension of the priesthood of all believers, and
the congregation must be at the center of what we do."
     "The institutions are instruments of relevance," she said.  "We
shape people's lives and heal their souls and bodies.  This is not a
job; this is about living out the faith."
     The Rev. Robert N. Bacher, ELCA executive for administration,
predicted change but not major change for the church, its institutions
and society.  "We may be at a threshold," he said.  "We are crossing
over to something new."
     "Institutions are part and parcel of how the ELCA sees itself as
church ," said Bacher.  "If the institutions did not exist we would have
to create them to 'do church.'"
     The ELCA Constitution devotes a whole chapter to "Relationships,"
he said.  However, "connecting" the church in all its expressions is not
     Bacher portrayed the church as a network of activities
participating in God's mission.  "In networks there are many centers ...
connections are very important."
     "The trick is changing the verb in 'connecting institutions' into
an adjective," he said, crossing a threshold from goal to reality.
"Church and institutions" are not two things, he said.
     "What are the things that these institutions now want to
continue?" Senft asked after the meeting.  "Of course they want to
continue many of the same things they have been doing, but also I think
they are prepared now, with a little more intentionality, to see
themselves as ministries of the church's mission and they want the
public to see them that way."
     Because of the conference, Senft said, there will be "many more
opportunities for institutions to be mutually supportive of each other,
using the resources that they use for their own institutions and
including some of the other institutions as well ... working toward a
perception that we are connected institutions."

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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