Friday, November 4, 2011

President Harrison at the Open Forum for the ACNA-LCMS Dialogue

Finally got around to watching Pres. Harrison's speech at the recent Open Forum for the the ACNA (Anglican Church in North America)-LCMS Dialogue, which took place at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne last week. Great stuff from our president! We are truly blessed to have him at the helm in our synod right now. He speaks directly to the challenges and issues we face today, and does so from a decidedly, and unapologetic, Lutheran perspective, which is extremely refreshing, since this sort of approach has been, and remains in many places, absent among synodical leaders.

I give a hearty "Amen" to everything Pres. Harrison says here. The only thing I wish he would have addressed is the challenge/problem of clergy debt, which seems to be something that continues to be neatly swept under the synodical carpet. I'm not saying that our beloved president is unaware or unconcerned about this, but I do wish he would address it, as I think he is in the unique position to actually be heard by those who either don't see it as the HUGE problem it is or simply choose to ignore it. I'm all for opening up our seminaries to international students, which would enable our awesome seminaries to share, as Pres. Harrison aptly says, "the best Lutheran theology in the world." Amen to that! Let's do it! But, at the same time, let us not overlook the need to figure out how to increase our funding to our seminaries for the benefit of our own future clergy, so that they do not have to endure the trials and tribulations that come with exiting our seminaries saddled with immense debt. In fact, I think this needs to be addressed before we open up our seminaries to more international students - or, at least, in unison with that admirable goal. I mean, if we can raise an additional million dollars through matching funds to support an influx of more international students, it would be a real shame if we did so while neglecting our own clergy.

I've heard from/about several brother pastors just in the last few months who have had to take on an additional job to support their family, since the congregations they serve are unable to support them to the extent that they need to be supported. And, in most cases, this is due to the fact that these brothers came out of seminary with 80-100 thousand dollars of debt. In other words, they would be able to serve these congregations full time on the salaries these congregations can afford to pay, but given their debt, they simply cannot.

This is one of the biggest challenges/problems we face in our synod today and, sadly, besides the odd blog post here or there, we don't hear much about it at all. As I said, I'm all for inviting international students to our seminaries where they can learn our theology and take it abroad, but let's work on taking care of our own, too. After all, as I know Pres. Harrison and others know full well, seminary education is one of the three main pillars upon which our beloved synod was built, and that pillar has all but been destroyed. It's time to work at putting that pillar firmly back in place, lest we eventually become no different than the Baptists, the majority of whose pastors work full-time jobs and preach on Sundays. Having a clergy roster of full-time parish pastors is a blessing we should do everything we can to keep in place, and it would serve us well to vigorously (to use a synodical catchword) be about the business of doing so. I, for one, am sick of the excuses I hear about the economy and the decrease in congregational giving and such, when the reality is that less than 1% (or something like that) of our synodical budget goes to funding our seminaries. Yes, the economy is bad and, yes, congregational giving is down, but these are not the reasons why many brother pastors have to find other jobs. Had they emerged from seminary without debt (or, at least, manageable debt), they could afford to support their families and serve their congregations based on the salaries their congregations could afford to pay them. Wait, did I already say that? Oh well. I said it again. Because, it's true. And, it's a truth that no one is talking about in our synod - at least, not out loud, so that we're aware the conversation is taking place. Thus, as much as I support everything our beloved president says in the excellent speech embedded in three parts below for any of you who have not been blessed to heart it yet, I am concerned that he did not address this significant issue. I hope he, or other synodical leaders, soon will.

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