This year's conference saw a 20% increase in attendees and the principles of the "church growth movement" were not even invoked. Amazing! :)
The theme of the conference was "The Fired and the Staff," which is a play on words in reference to Pr. Klemet Preus' book, "The Fire and the Staff" (one of the absolute best books written to date on the importance of keeping our Lutheran doctrine and practice together), and referred to the three keynote speakers (Rev. Todd Wilken, who was "fired" by KFUO, and Rev. Klemet Preus and Mrs. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, both of whom are "staff" bloggers for BJS).
"The Fired and the Staff" (Rev. Wilken, Mollie Hemingway, Rev. Preus)
New BJS T-shirts (you can get yours at the BJS site soon)
The conference began with a Welcome Reception, which was followed by the first keynote speaker, Rev. Klemet Preus. Pr. Preus taught us that the only question which confronts the LCMS today is whether or not Christianity is a religion about what we do or what we get. He showed how the way in which we answer that question will affect how we define unity, how we worship, and how we view the Office of the Holy Ministry. If Christianity is a religion about what we do, then our unity will be based in our actions, our worship will be self-centered, focusing on what we're doing for Jesus, and the Office of the Holy Ministry will be tasked primarily with equipping people to do they're part for Jesus and His Church. If, however, Christianity is a religion about what we get, our unity will be based in what we receive from the Lord, our worship will be Divine Service, focused on Christ and the Gifts He delivers through Word and Sacraments, and the Office of the Holy Ministry will be tasked solely with dispensing the Gifts Jesus gives. Pr. Preus argued in favor of the latter view, not surprisingly, and did so in a most convincing way.
After Pr. Preus' fine presentation, we were treated to a wonderful dinner, featuring delicious Chicago-style pizza and yummy black-and-white ice cream dessert (the black-and-white playing off another theme of the conference: "Yes, Doctrine is Black and White"). After dinner, we gathered for Vespers (only, it wasn't really Vespers, but Evening Prayer - just sayin'). This was a beautiful Service, featuring the very talented musical exploits of Cantor Phillip Magness and the Bethany choir and musicians. The sermon was preached by fellow Michigander, Rev. Tony Sikora (Hope, Dewitt), who did an awesome job of pointing us to the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was one of the best sermons I have heard in a long time.
After Vespers, er, Evening Prayer, it was off to the "No Pietists Allowed" Parties. I joined several brothers at the Bull and Bear to talk theology over cigars. It was a real treat to converse with Pastors Rossow, Henrickson, and Fisk, and laymen Ross and Dennis, who were sitting in my section. After enjoying cigars over theology, a group of us headed over to Quigley's Pub, where I met up with Larry and Andrea, members of our parish who attended the conference with me. We enjoyed a few pints and some more good conversation and just as things were breaking up and we were getting ready to call it a night, my buddy Scott Diekmann called me on my cell and said he was heading over to join us. So, Larry, Andrea, and I decided to stick around for a bit. Little did we know that Scott would take the "long way" (yeah, the pilot who spends his life navigating got lost - go figure!). But, he finally did make it and we had an excellent time visiting and talking more theology with him. We actually ended up closing the bar down, which was not in my plan, and something I can't even remember doing it's been so long, but it was well worth it, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
The next morning, the conference began with a "Manly Breakfast," but due to my only getting four hours of sleep, I arrived a little late and didn't get to enjoy much of it. Oh well, I had a couple good donuts in my hotel room before I headed over.
Next on the agenda was Mollie Hemingway's presentation. I really enjoyed listening to Mollie tell us about her life as a journalist, and the challenges she faces in being a faithful, confessional Lutheran, while remaining objective in her non-religious reporting. Mollie burst on the scene for many of us when she wrote an article for the WSJ about the cancellation of Issues, Etc. She shared that experience, and many others she has had, and it was very interesting to listen to her. She did a fabulous job.
After Mollie was the last, but certainly not least, of the presenters, Rev. Todd Wilken. I always thoroughly enjoy listening to Pr. Wilken speak. He does an outstanding job hosting "Issues, Etc.", but he is even better, if that's possible, in person. He spoke about "The Myth of LCMS Exceptionalism" and correctly, I believe, diagnosed the root of what ails our synod today. The idea held by many in our synod, including our current synodical leadership, that, since we're the LCMS, we can really do no wrong, has led to confessional complacency and a crass institutionalism which has veered far astray of the path the founders of our synod plotted for us. I highly recommend that everyone listen to Pr. Wilken's presentation. You can do so by going here. You can also listen to the other presentations, which I recommend as well, and the Services held during the conference (you have to go here to listen to Pr. Preus' presentation, where you can also read the text of his presentation as well).
After Pr. Wilken's most excellent presentation, it was time for lunch. I had to skip this to head back to the hotel to pack up and check out, since I was a bit rushed in the morning and didn't have time (I blame it all on Scott!:). But, I made it back in time to grab a quick sandwich and to talk for a few minutes with Pr. Wilken about Pres. Kieschnick's book.
The ladies met with BJS Associate Director Suzanne Zobel during lunch and talked about the newly formed partner group of BJS, the Sisters of Katie Luther. I'm really excited about the formation of this group and look forward to seeing it grow in the future.
The conference then closed with Divine Service, which was wonderful. We were blessed by Cantor Magness and the musical talents of other Bethany members once again, and Southern Illinois District President Rev. Herb Mueller (hopefully the next 1st Vice President of our synod) preached the Gospel to us. It was wonderful not only to have him in attendance with us, but to hear him preach (I hope he doesn't get in trouble for hanging out with us :). So, we were fed on the Word and the very Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ to conclude the conference - no better way to do so in my book. One of the joys of attending conferences like this for me is to be able to just sit in the pew and receive. I love serving as a pastor, but I always cherish those times when I can just attend Church.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at the conference and am already looking forward to next year. For more on the conference, including more pics, head over to the BJS site. You can also read another review of the conference by heading over to Stand Firm.