The NALC: Clergy and Laity

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. — 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 ESV

For many years, pastors and lay members of our congregations complained about the delegate and voting procedures in previous Lutheran church bodies. There was little representation from congregations and those who were elected were specifically told, “You are not to represent your congregation — you are here as a ‘voting member,’ not a ‘delegate.’”

Some decisions were made that did not reflect the will of the church body as a whole, and the process became politicized as those advocating for a particular agenda formed voting blocs to push through certain resolutions and elect preferred nominees.

Greater representation from the whole body is a protection and guard against agenda politics in the Church and is intended to prevent the formation of parties, voting blocs and associations aimed at politicizing elections and decision-making within the Body of Christ.

The North American Lutheran Church created a structure and constitutional form that intentionally involves representation at the Convocation from each congregation — both clergy and lay — together with a congregational ratification process that requires changes to the constitution, teaching statements, and formal ecumenical relationships to be approved by two-thirds of our congregations.

So far, the ratification process has worked well. It assures that decisions made by the Convocation have the support and approval of a super-majority of those in the NALC, or they are not ratified. This is an important aspect of being Congregationally Focused — one of our four Core Values. Another aspect of that core value is the provision for each congregation to send lay representation to our annual NALC Convocation.

Our constitution states (emphasis added):

Delegates with voting privileges at a Convocation shall be the ordained ministers of the NALC and at least an equal number of laypersons. Each congregation of the NALC shall elect one lay delegate to the Convocation for every 750 baptized members, or fraction thereof, of such congregation. … In the event that the total number of lay delegates elected pursuant to the preceding sentence is less than the total number of ordained ministers, the Executive Council shall apportion additional lay delegates based on the relative size of the congregations of the NALC. To the extent appropriate to maintain good order, and subject to any action by the Convocation, the Executive Council may adopt procedures relating to the timing of delegate selection and to verifying the credentials of all delegates. (Article 7.02)

All members of the Convocation are delegates and as such represent their congregations. (Article 7.03)

It is significant in the NALC that ordained ministers and laypersons shall be present and voting in “at least an equal number.” It is also important that our constitution states, “all members of the Convocations are delegates and as such represent their congregations.”

One would think that such stipulations would be cherished and valued as NALC pastors and laity realize that this reflects the nature of the Body of Christ — that while one body, there are different parts, each as important as the others. One would think every congregation, regardless the cost in time and money, would make it a priority to always send pastor and lay delegate to the annual Convocation to fully participate in the life, mission and ministry of our church body. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

At our recent Executive Council meetings, it has been shared that at each NALC Convocation, last minute adjustments and recruitments have been made trying to reach the 50 percent lay representation. So far, we have never reached that balance in representation. From 2014 to 2017, there have been an average of 20 percent more clergy present and voting than lay people. This is a significant percentage and can certainly impact voting at Convocation.

Because so many congregations register their delegates near the week of the Convocation, it has been a scramble to call congregations, speak to pastors, trying to find enough spouses or other visitors who will be present during Lutheran Week who are willing to serve as delegates to get us to the 50-50 threshold.

This can mean that some congregations have several delegates, while other congregations have no one present and voting as a representative. At the same time, some congregations are willing to allow their pastor to participate as their representative, with no lay persons as delegates.

While it is worthwhile having all NALC pastors present and participating, that is not what it means for the NALC to be Congregationally Focused. Congregations consist of pastors and lay persons — both are essential to the Body of Christ — locally and within the NALC as a whole.

How do we solve this problem?

The Executive Council is considering several strategies to address the shortfall in the participation of lay persons at Convocation.

However, the simplest solution is for each congregation to make a commitment to full participation in the life and ministry of the NALC by sending a lay delegate to the NALC Convocation.

Yes, it is important for pastors to attend, and most pastors look forward to the theological lectures, Mission Festival and Convocation which are all part of the annual Lutheran Week.

Yes, all realize the cost of sending a lay person to the NALC annual Convocation and asking the congregation to cover the cost of travel, hotel and registration. And yet, having at least one lay member of each congregation present and benefitting from the Bible studies, presentations, Mission Festival, and decisions will greatly benefit the local congregation.

The expectation should be for the pastor and lay delegate to return home and share a wealth of inspiration, information and insight into our shared mission and ministry in the NALC.

Lay participation at the Lutheran Week and Convocation is an investment in the life, health and well-being of the congregation.

At the same time, our Convocation is diminished when we have less than full lay participation from all our congregations.

Our constitutional stipulation that each and every congregation have representation at the annual Convocation is unusual in North American Lutheranism, to say the least. Most Lutheran bodies have representation from regional judicatories, not individual congregations.

Our congregational focus is part of the DNA of the NALC, and our hope is that all will appreciate this fact and participate in Mission District gatherings as well as in the annual Lutheran Week.

Please plan now for at least one lay delegate to attend our upcoming NALC Lutheran Week and Convocation, Aug. 14-17 in Denver, Colo. The theme will be “The Holy Spirit; Calling, Gathering, Enlightening, Sanctifying.” Our theological lectures begin on Tuesday, Aug. 14. The Mission Festival and Convocation begins mid-day, on Wednesday, Aug. 15, and concludes Friday, Aug. 17 at about 5 p.m. A full agenda and registration materials are available online at www.thenalc.org.

Each congregation and every lay member is a valued and important part of the Body of Christ in the NALC. Please ensure that you are represented at the 2018 NALC Lutheran Week!

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