Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our theme for this year’s Lutheran Week, “Missio Dei–The Work and Mission of God,” comes at the close of six years in which two years have been dedicated to each of the three persons in the Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The theme is appropriate because God, as a Triune God, has been on a mission from the beginning of time. Everything He has done and all that He has accomplished was ordained and set into motion for the sole purpose of saving the world and its people in Jesus.
No other mission comes close in importance to the one being pursued and carried out by God. No other purpose in life comes close in meaning and significance to the one given and offered to us in Christ. And no other reason for our existence and for the time we share in this life comes close to the reason we exist and why we have been brought together in the Church.
As I look back on this past year and reflect on what God has been doing since the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) was first formed, it is evident that God has been with us and blessing us from the start. Without exception, each year we have grown. Each year we have become stronger and more impactful in our witness. And each year there is growing evidence that the mission of God is being carried out in and through us.
I am encouraged by the progress we continue to make in implementing the Vision we adopted at our 2020 Mission Convocation. As you read through this report, you will see how God has been working to advance the commitments we have made together. Through the faithful ministry of our NALC Staff and the countless ways in which we have partnered with pastors, congregations, mission districts, and mission partners during this past year, our Lord’s promise to build His Church through His people is being fulfilled. Despite the global pandemic that challenged all of us in ways we had not expected, there are encouraging signs that we are well on our way to recovery and to an increased opportunity for fruit bearing and life changing ministry.
The following is a categorized summary of the work being done in many key areas of our ministry.
NALC Life-to-Life Discipleship
It has been a little over a year since we introduced the NALC Life-to-Life Experience in Intentional Discipleship for Congregations. It has been well received by many of our congregations and is being integrated into our seminary and internship programs. The Life-to-Life Discipleship team is currently working on a companion piece to address how to be more intentional in disciple-making within our family units and everyday lives. If you are interested in learning more, visit nalclifetolife.org.
There are currently 21 “Missions in Formation” and several new developing church plants in both Canada and the United States. Following Convocation, we are planning to expand these same efforts by encouraging and supporting mission districts and congregations in developing new house churches and faith communities. To aid the small church and rural ministry, which represents a growing percentage of NALC churches, an online resource titled, “Small and Rural Church Ministry,” was developed by the NALC Renewal Team. Workshops and consultations are available for this essential ministry. Finally, since many NALC congregations face the challenge of an aging demographic, we are working to prioritize our Aging Ministry by offering workshops, presentations and consultations throughout our mission districts and congregations.
On the International Mission front, last fall my wife, Mary, and I, along with the Rev. Dr. Gemechis Buba, the Rev. Dr. David Wendel, the Rev. Dr. Amy Little, the Rev. Dr. Eric Riesen and the Rev. Carol Fryer met with the leaders of the Evangelical Ethiopian Church Mekane Yesus, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania. We also visited the Rev. Martha Shanka, one of our Global Workers who is currently in Dubai.
Current Global Projects include the Leadership Project in the Middle East, the reconstruction of the Mekane Yesus Seminary in Ethiopia, and the new mission frontier in Kenya. Two new partner agencies have been approved: Bethany International and One Plus God Ministries.
Six new Global Workers will be commissioned during this year’s Convocation. Dr. Randy Stubbs in Tanzania; the Rev. Sam Chim in Cambodia; the Rev. Dr. Thomas Thorstad who will be going to Laos; the Rev. Dr. Slavomír Slávik in Slovakia; the Rev. Aleksandr Gröss in Ukraine; and Dagaga Gamechu in Kenya.
Youth and Family
The key to youth and family ministry is strong relationships—encouraging young people in their relationships with Christ, the church, to their community. Over the past year, we have prioritized ways to encourage those relationships by hosting events and planning new ones. We have hosted multiple Faith Formation Festivals, which strengthen, encourage, and equip anyone working with young people. We have organized speaking engagements with churches, local youth gatherings, and online confirmation classes. We are also planning a four-day Continental Youth Gathering, scheduled for July 2024.
NALC Disaster Response
NALC Disaster Response has recently responded to seven disasters: Kentucky flooding, California wildfires, Hurricane Ian in Florida, Ohio train derailment, Arkansas tornado/outbreak of 200+ tornadoes, and Oklahoma tornadoes. We have been working on Disaster preparedness for our volunteers. We have had nine trainings and 12 Disaster Response Sundays across the country, and we encourage congregations to reach out and schedule one at their church.
We have also had 25 “Stuff the Truck” events to help bolster our emergency relief efforts, but 15 regional warehouses need to be filled. Flood buckets, quilts, kits, and gift cards of all kinds are needed. Twenty servant event mission trips have been held in each of the states, and disasters listed above, and more teams of youth and adults are needed to help families rebuild their homes. We thank Jesus for amazing volunteers and we pray that God will continue to raise up faithful servants.
Lastly, the new Volunteer Training & Retreat Center is nearly complete—the Disaster Response Team encourages congregations to start planning a trip to the center in Caldwell, Ohio, with your youth and adults in 2024.
North American Lutheran Seminary (NALS)
This has been a full year for the NALS. In the past year and a half, we have called three new full-time faculty members: Dr. David Luy, Dr. Alex Pierce, and the Rev. Dr. Nathan Yoder. Drs. Luy and Pierce are at the seminary center in Ambridge. Dr. Yoder is the new Director of the Lutheran Studies Program at Gordon-Conwell (Charlotte). We also called the Rev. Jeff Morlock this year to serve as the Director of Vocational Discernment for the NALS/NALC.
In the Spring, the NALS released the first edition of the new NALS magazine, Word & Sacrament, and is preparing for the launch of its first podcast, Cardigan & Collar, hosted by Dr. Luy and Pastor Maurice Lee. Lastly, the NALS has a new Memoranda of Understanding with both Fuller Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary to better promote the “spokes” surrounding our hub that is at Trinity in Ambridge, PA.
The NALC call process is a prayerful discernment of ministry for congregations and pastors. In the past 12 months, 26 congregations have called a pastor to their congregation. There are 41 congregations currently seeking a full-time pastor and 37 pastors seeking a full-time call. The NALC call process website has been redesigned and is much easier to navigate and can still be found at thenalc.org/call.
Ministry & Ecumenism
Fresh Eyes for Mission summits, which aim at renewal, re-energizing and re-focusing on mission within congregations, have been held all over North America since 2020. As of this Convocation, 35 have been facilitated and many positive responses have been received.
Ecumenism for Inter-Lutheran relationships has been continuing, with representation from myself, Pastor David Wendel, and other NALC appointments attending meetings with the USCCB Bishop’s committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious affairs meeting and LCMS-LCC-NALC. We also are working on continued relationships, through Bishop Ray Sutton, Presiding Bishop of the Reformed Episcopal Church, to reconstitute the ACNA/NALC consultation.
The Commission on Theology and Doctrine has restarted post-COVID, continuing to oversee the Braaten-Benne Theological Lectures Series and Lutheran Theologians for the Church group (formerly Younger Theologians study group). We are also continuing to work on various NALC topics, such as the marriage and sexuality statement, sacramental practices document, non-Lutheran presidency and preaching statement of advice and counsel, and catechesis in the NALC.
This year saw expansion on our communications team with the additions of Alana Brooks and Steven Neaton. In its efforts to increase a sense of unity, identity, and testimony across the NALC, much of this year’s efforts were directed towards new strategies for the NALS Network as well as communication overhauls related to the NALC candidacy and call processes. Additionally, new platforms were developed to support the ongoing work of our mission team, as well as to resource congregations launching financial initatives related to the 2020 Vision. Finally, we launched a weekly video series to give updates on our life and ministry together.
One of the major items we have been working on in “operations” is strengthening and streamlining the process we have for vetting and certification of pastoral candidates. The Candidacy Process has been reworked to be more relationship oriented, and the certification of pastors has been tightened up in terms of requirements for those who are coming to the NALC as non-Lutherans. A first call team of seasoned pastors was formed to provide ministry support for the newly ordained.
The OUSC (Ordination Under Special Circumstances) process has been revised and improved as we learn how to maintain the integrity of the process while providing pastoral support to congregations who are in “special circumstances.” The Diaconate process is being established. Since August 2022, we have grown to 490 congregations. In the past year we have received 16 new congregations, two new mission starts, and have welcomed 19 new pastors who have gone through certification. We have also celebrated the ordination of eight new pastors.
For more than 8 years, the NALC Living and Giving Stewardship team has created and made monthly devotions available. They highlight faith and giving, and generosity and gratitude, and are aligned seasonally with lectionary readings.
Monthly stewardship messages will begin in August 2023, along with expanded topic resources available on the NALC website. New RESET workshops will be offered to mission districts come February 2024, and a new publication addressing the origin of giving in the Old Testament with the grace of giving in the New Testament will be published in August 2024. Mike Johnson, NALC Treasurer has published a micro-book on the newly formed NALC Foundation. Ask the Registration Table how you can pick up a copy here during Lutheran Week.
2020 Vision Financial Initiative (Today, Tomorrow & Forever)
One of the essential components to our 2020 Vision is to be in a strong enough financial position so that we can respond to ministry and mission opportunities as they arise. The purpose of the financial initiative is to increase the funding we have available for ministry and mission and to invest that money in ways consistent with our Core Values and our Lord’s Commission.
Having kicked off our 2020 Vision financial initiative last August, we have already received more than $1.3M in commitments. Most of these have come from individuals who have the capacity and the heart for supporting our work financially. Other gifts have come from congregations as they strive to play a larger and more supportive role in the mission we share together.
During this first year alone, we have invested in our seminary, expanded our global workers, and increased renewal efforts in congregations. Our prayer is that commitments will continue to be made by individuals and congregations so that the legacy of faith we have received will be passed on to future generations, “Today, Tomorrow & Forever.”
Since the 2022 Mission Convocation, the Executive Council has moved on important actions. Some of the highlights include: approving a request from Pastor Lalisa Daniel, Mission Director for Mekane Yesus, to translate the NALC Discipleship Manual into the Amharic and Afan Oromo languages; approval of funding to our mission partners as adopted by the previous Convocation; acceptance of a colloquy process for clergy from non-Lutheran backgrounds; and the adoption of the seminary model of a hub and spokes, with the three options for seminary education as presented by the NALS (North American Lutheran Seminary) Faculty and Staff. You can read the full Executive report online at lutheranweek.com.
Women of the NALC
The Women of the NALC work together to serve as a resource, and to support the spiritual growth and flourishing of all women throughout the NALC. This year, they have worked to support their Mission Partners, NALC Disaster Response, and the Great Commission Society of the NALC. Some other highlights include their seasonal newsletters, re-creating their logo immediately recognizable as a part of the NALC, and the proposed operational guidelines update.
Lutheran Week Planning Team
The Lutheran Week Planning Committee, established in 2018, helps organize the robust nature of the annual event, whether online or in person. Working directly with the General Secretary and NALC staff, the committee functions as a forum to provide effective Lutheran Week planning and responsible budgeting reflecting the NALC’s Mission, Ministry and Core Values. They meet monthly via Zoom.
We are soon coming to the close of our 13th year as a denomination. In these so-called teenage years of our existence, we are addressing challenges and opportunities that were not there when we first started. Adjustments in how things are done, a rethinking of strategies being employed, along with the necessary changes in infrastructure that inevitably need to happen to support continued growth, are among the growing pains we are experiencing. At the same time, we continue to grow in numbers, our collective Gospel reach and impact are expanding, and lives are being transformed as they are drawn into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Thanks to all of you for your faithful ministry, for your God-honoring service, and for the part you play in support of the work to which we have been called. It remains an honor to serve as bishop and a joy and privilege to serve with you.
Yours in Christ,