“What happens at a district convention?” That was a question I was not even entirely sure I myself had the answer to until recently, since this was the first district convention I have ever attended in any capacity. From April 19-21, delegates representing the 107 LCMS congregations in South Dakota met at the Sanford Premier Center for the 61st convention of the South Dakota District. According to the LCMS constitution, each parish at the district convention is represented by one lay delegate and one pastoral delegate. I was privileged to serve as Zion’s voting pastoral delegate this year, while Pastor Brown attended in an advisory capacity. This article will serve as a brief report of the convention.
One of the items of business for each convention is to set the triennial “theme.” The theme can be a Bible passage or topic that will serve as a mission or teaching emphasis in the district for the next three years. This year, the theme was chosen, “Behold Your God! What Help! What Hope!” This theme is based on Isaiah 40:9, wherein the prophet Isaiah is instructed to direct the people of Judah to look to their God as their comforter and redeemer in their affliction and tragedy. For the next three years, the district’s focus will be on directing us to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who in Jesus Christ has become our help and hope.
The real work of the convention was to make legislative decisions on a number of items affecting church life and work in our district. Congregations and circuits (local groups of congregations) were permitted to submit “overtures” to the convention. Several committees were appointed before the convention to edit and present some of these overtures as “resolutions,” which were then presented to the convention delegates for a vote.
Perhaps the most important resolution was a proposal to disband the Huron circuit and re-assign its congregations to several other circuits. There were several reasons for this proposal. A circuit is a group of 7-20 congregations that together elect one lay delegate and one pastoral delegate to represent them at the Synod convention every three years. An additional requirement is that a circuit must have a total communicant membership of 1,500. The Huron circuit was close to being below this minimum requirement. In addition, the pastors of these churches get together each month for a conference to study, worship, and give and receive advice about difficult cases or circumstances in each church. In the Huron circuit, due to vacancies and multi-point parishes, there were only about 3-4 pastors attending each month, which is below the threshold for helpful and productive discussion and support.
The convention voted to disband the Huron circuit. Congregations in Huron, Wolsey, Wessington Springs, and Woonsocket were reassigned to the Mitchell circuit, of which we are a part. This means that our circuit now has 16 congregations with a total communicant membership of around 3,500 and spanning almost 5,500 square miles! The addition of these congregations to our circuit means new relationships will be formed among the pastors serving those churches as well as among the members of those congregations as we work to walk together and support one another in our part of South Dakota.
The district also met to elect its principal officers. President Scott Sailer, who had served his first term as our District President from 2015-2018, was reelected by a wide margin. He has served faithfully and will continue to do so as he leads our district in the future. Rev. Randy Sturzenbecher, Pastor of Divine Shepherd Lutheran Church in Black Hawk, SD, was elected as the First Vice President, and Rev. Timothy Rynearson, Senior Pastor of Peace Lutheran in Brookings, SD was elected as the Second Vice President. Our circuit elected Pastor Brown to be our Circuit Visitor, a position charged with organizing the circuit conferences and assisting vacant congregations with the process to call a new pastor. His election was ratified by the district convention.
In addition to the business, there were opportunities for worship, a Bible study presented by Rev. Reed Lessing, a former professor at Concordia Seminary, and a report from the Synod’s President, Rev. Matthew Harrison, who was in attendance the first day and preached at the opening worship service. It was a delight to gather together as representatives of all of the congregations in our district to make decisions to help the work of the church, worship, and to behold our God.
I’d like to thank you, Zion, for the privilege of serving as your pastoral delegate. I’d also like to thank Rich Found, one of our elders, for serving as our lay delegate. Should you have other questions about the convention, please talk to Rich or me.