After all the preliminaries, the welcomes and the thank you’s by the respective District Presidents, the preparatory sermons by Chaplain Weedon of the International Center, and the Project Guidelines, explained by Vice President Mueller, the leadership of the synod fell silent. It was time for the lowly men who hold “the highest office in the church” to begin their work.
At first, the Chaplain could be seen moving through the crowd of tables, watching, listening, standing ready to offer assistance or answer questions, should there be any. The Vice President and District Presidents were also ready to move into action, if they were needed for anything.
But as one hour turned to the next, and then the next, it was clear that the pastors had matters well in hand. By Thursday, when Chaplain Weedon wandered through the crowd, watching the tables, there almost seemed to be a longing in his eyes. His task was to preach to us. But he could not join in the discussions. He could not offer his point of view. He could not tell anyone what he saw as an essential part of any Status Controversiae. And neither could the ecclesiastical supervisors. This was, ultimately, not their conference. It was the pastor’s. They, and they alone got to speak to the others in their group. It was for them to inquire of others, to explain their point of view, to defend the doctrine and practice.
The leadership of the synod, no matter how qualified, how experienced, how beloved, was not the primary actor in this conference. They set it up, put the ground rules in place, and then let the pastors do the work.
And that is, in many ways, the most amazing thing about this conference. Those who actually minister, who actually serve in the congregations, are the voices of the Koinonia Project. Unlike previous attempts, where the powers that be direct people to do and say certain things, where the only voices heard were the ‘experts’, such was not the case here. One group skipped the introductions entirely, and began discussing the Status Controversiae immediately. Another discussed first principles for the entire project, finally nailing down the Status Controversiae in the last few minutes. And while there was the assumption going into the project that all participants have bound themselves to the same confessions, there was no moment when we were told “look how well you are getting along, therefore the problem is solved, and we can all agree to disagree.” We have not agreed to disagree. We have begun discussions to pinpoint the problems on which we seem to disagree. And, now that we have made friends among our long-distance brothers, we have a vested interest in working as hard as we can to work through scripture and our confessions to find a way to agree.
But the sad reality is, that, as mentioned before, the possibility of agreeing on only 14 1/2 out of 15 points exists. What that will mean for us as a synod is unknown. But those of us who had opportunity to visit with and get to know the brothers of the Atlantic District will do everything in our power to work through those disagreements, and find common ground on 15 of 15 if at all possible.
There are many moments in my ministry that I would not relive for all the world. Some are moments of failure for which I am grateful that the absolution applies also to pastors. Many involve the death of beloved members. I hate death. The good news is that Jesus hates it even more.
But when I am old and full of years (if God grants it), and I ramble on about days gone by, this is a moment I would have back. And as I tell the young whippersnapper visiting me in the Nursing Home about my theological adventures in New York, and wax eloquent about the heroes of faith now departed from our midst, he will say, “I wish I could have been there.” And I will say, “We few, we happy few, would have loved to have you join us. But it was our time, our day to study and speak God’s Word. Today is your day. Do it boldly.”
NOTE: The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author. They do not represent the opinion of anyone else in the Atlantic or Wyoming Districts, or in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Please also note that this disclaimer is made freely by the author, and not at the request of any person or group.