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District convention news 2024

Each of WELS’ 12 districts met in convention this June, discussing local ministry topics and weighing in on synodical matters as well.

“District conventions are a good opportunity for grassroots review of what the various entities of the synod have done, are doing, and are planning to do,” says WELS President Mark Schroeder. “Since every pastor, male called worker, and congregation is represented, it is a way for called workers and congregations to provide guidance and reaction to the synod’s work.”

Jon Buchholz and Joel Heckendorf shaking hands
Jon Buchholz, pastor at Emmanuel, Tempe, Ariz., wishes Joel Heckendorf well as he assumes the role of president of the Arizona-California District.

The synod’s Report to the Twelve Districts, available at welsconvention.net/rttd, is prepared in advance of the district conventions and serves as a resource for delegates. It contains reports from all synodical entities describing their activities during the past year and providing information about current efforts and future plans. It also contains proposals that synod leaders want to hear feedback about from those in the districts.

Groundbreaking at Great Plains Lutheran High School
The Dakota-Montana District’s convention, which was held at Great Plains Lutheran High School, Watertown, S.D., featured a groundbreaking ceremony for the high school’s new classroom addition.

Election of district officers also takes place at each convention. This year, delegates of the Pacific Northwest and Arizona-California Districts elected new presidents to replace two outgoing presidents. John Steinbrenner accepted a call out of the Pacific Northwest, so delegates elected Daniel Lange to succeed him. Jon Buchholz stepped down as president of the Arizona-California District after 16 years, leading delegates to elect Joel Heckendorf as their next president. Both Lange and Heckendorf will join the other district presidents as well as the synod president and two synod vice presidents to form WELS’ Conference of Presidents, which maintains the synod’s doctrine and practice and is responsible for funding the synod budget.

Worship at Michigan District Convention, Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich.
The theme of the Michigan District Convention, which was held at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Saginaw, Mich., was “Lord, teach us to pray,” and this was carried out in the convention’s worship and presentations.
Minnesota District Convention installation of officers
Jacob Behnken, dean of chapel at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minn., installs the Minnesota District officers during the convention’s closing service in the college’s Chapel of the Christ. Pictured from left: Dennis Klatt, president; Nathan Scharf, first vice president; Matt Pfeifer, second vice president; and Eugene DeVries, secretary.

The election of synodical officials was one topic discussed at this year’s district conventions. Currently the synod’s president, vice presidents, and secretary are elected through a nomination and election process at the synod convention. As noted in the 2024 Report to the Twelve Districts, “Delegates have only a short time to review the nominees and their biographies. Delegates then vote for one of the five, and the voting continues until one person receives the majority of votes cast. Once a person is elected, he is expected to make a decision to accept or decline the call within 24 hours. This process requires a very quick decision and does not provide time for a person to give consideration to the call or to consult with others about it.”

The Conference of Presidents asked the districts to discuss the possibility of changing this procedure by requesting nominations from synod convention delegates well in advance of the convention. Then the ballot would be sent to all delegates prior to the convention. Those whose names are on the ballot would have time to consider the possibility of serving in that position. The actual election would still take place at the synod convention.

Leaders of the North Atlantic District
Pictured are leaders of the North Atlantic District, including district president Michael Seifert (fourth from left), at Resurrection, Chesapeake, Va., where the convention was held.

Reaction from the districts was favorable to present this change to the 2025 synod convention, so a bylaw change will be proposed. A two-thirds majority of delegates at the 2025 convention will need to approve the change and then it would go into effect for the 2027 synod convention elections.

Another proposal considered by delegates was the frequency of synod conventions. Currently synod conventions are held every two years with district conventions taking place in the off years. A proposal in Report to the Twelve Districts asked delegates to consider a triennial rotation instead. The change would allow national gatherings like ministry conferences and rallies to be held in the third year without overlapping with a synod or district convention.

Pastors Dan Lange, John Steinbrenner, and Ted Lambert
The most recent presidents of the Pacific Northwest District (from left): Daniel Lange (elected at the 2024 convention), John Steinbrenner, and Ted Lambert.

Reaction from the districts was mixed. Some districts rejected the proposal and raised concerns about whether this would limit grassroots involvement, create issues with synodical operations, or perhaps mean that international youth rallies would only be held every three years rather than every two years. Other districts suggested that the proposal should be researched more thoroughly before being presented to the synod convention in 2025. WELS leaders will consider the feedback from the districts as they decide whether to move forward with this proposal.

District conventions also discussed the report of the Ministry Recruitment Task Force that was included as an appendix to the Board for Ministerial Education’s report in Report to the Twelve Districts. This task force was created after two resolutions at the 2023 synod convention encouraged more study of this topic. Its members include representatives from ministerial education schools, the Conference of Presidents, and Congregational Services.

Attendees eating at the Northern Wisconsin District Convention at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wis.
Northern Wisconsin District delegates met at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wis. Ben Workentine, pastor at St. Mark, De Pere, Wis., presented on digital citizenship, focusing on how to use social media to reach out to the digital kingdom.

The task force begins its report by acknowledging that there are teacher and pastor shortages and then outlines 20 recommendations to help alleviate the shortages, strengthen WELS’ ministerial education system, and increase ministry recruitment.

South Atlantic District officers
Officers of the South Atlantic District (from left): Dane Mattes, secretary; Jonathan Schroeder, first vice president; Charles Westra, president; and Duane Rodewald, second vice president.

Paul Prange, administrator of the Board for Ministerial Education and chairman of the task force, notes, “A great deal of helpful feedback was received from the districts. While a final task force report will go to the next synod convention, it is likely that the Board for Ministerial Education will take responsibility for overseeing the implementation of many of the recommendations before then.”

South Central District convention held at Calvary, Dallas, Texas
The South Central District convention, held at Calvary, Dallas, Texas, supported a resolution recommending that the synod appoint a task force to study the recruitment and retention of public school students into the ministry.

 

Pastor Peter Prange presenting at the Southeastern Wisconsin District Convention
Paul Prange, administrator of the Board for Ministerial Education, presented on the Ministry Recruitment Task Force’s 20 recommendations at the Southeastern Wisconsin District Convention. Convention delegates accepted a floor committee report that strongly encouraged synod leaders and individual members of the synod to implement the task force’s recommendations.

 

Western Wisconsin District Convention hosted by Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis.
Western Wisconsin District delegates gathered at Luther Preparatory School, Watertown, Wis., and approved a resolution to establish a standing Committee for Called Worker Well-Being that will serve as part of the district’s Congregational Services. The district’s presidium notes, “The emotional well-being of our called workers must be a priority in the near future.”

 

Volume 111, Number 08
Issue: August 2024

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