Notes in Retrospect
by Richard E. Koenig (November / December 2004 — Volume 20, Number 6)
Lutheran Partners originated as a ministry of the Lutheran Church in America, under the name LCA Partners, in 1979. Its first editor tells the story of the magazine’s early years.
Like other features of our life together in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the magazine you are reading originated as a project of one of three uniting churches .As editor of this magazine’s predecessor and its first eleven issues (the first joint project of the new church), let me tell you some of how it came to be.
Lutheran Partners began as a publication produced by the Division for Professional Leadership (DPL) of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA) in 1979. According to Dr. Lloyd Sheneman, who served as the Division’s executive director at the time, the idea of a magazine for the church’s professional leaders was originally envisioned as a segment of a total LCA communications package in the restructuring that was called for by action of the church’s 1972 convention. What Dr. Sheneman did not say was that it was largely his doing that resulted in the realization of the part of the plan that became the forerunner of Lutheran Partners.
Lloyd had embraced the idea that for faithful and effective performance in mission, much depends on the quality of the church’s leaders, especially those in parish ministry. To that end, the provision of a publication as a medium of exchange and source of material for ministry seemed worthwhile, even essential. Thus, upon becoming executive director of DPL and as one of his first priorities, Sheneman set the project in motion. It took patience and skill, but Lloyd managed to steer the project through the usual organizational thickets successfully. In this he gratefully acknowledges the support of President Robert Marshall in gaining approval for its launch.
The new publication was to be called LCA Partners. Lloyd says that he suggested the name out of appreciation for the monthly letter that President Franklin Clark Fry used to send to pastors of the United Lutheran Church in America, which always began with the salutation “Dear Partners.” The value of those letters convinced Sheneman that a personal letter from the church’s President (later, Bishop) should be included in a publication for the LCA’s professional leaders. Such a letter became a regular feature of the bimonthly publication from its first appearance in February 1979.
Building Leaders’ Confidence
Like Lutheran Partners today, LCA Partners aimed at publishing material that would “increase the confidence, competence, effectiveness, and joy in Christian ministry on the part of LCA professional leaders” and “encourage dialog on significant issues in the Church’s life and mission.” In so doing the magazine would pay close attention to the intersection of what the church confessed as its theology and its mission.
Another high priority was the inclusion of women and minorities in the identification of topics to be addressed and materials to be printed. To assist the editor, an inclusive and geographically representative Consulting Committee was appointed. The committee proved to be a prime factor in the project’s acceptance. The magazine was also planned to be distributed gratis as part of DPL’s budget, another innovation that helped in its success.
Following approval by the LCA’s Executive Council in 1987, the first order of business was the selection of an editor. I was serving as parish pastor and campus pastor in Amherst, Massachusetts, as this process began. When President Eugene Brodeen of the LCA’s New England Synod learned of the project, he suggested that I be interviewed for the position. The suggestion came as somewhat of a surprise inasmuch as I was new to the LCA, having been one of the first to move out from The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod as a result of the controversy that split that church in the early 1970s. Although some were wary (“You can take the kid out of Missouri, but you can’t take Missouri out of the kid” was the way one of my new colleagues described it later), the interstaff committee that conducted the interview was unanimous in recommending me for the position largely on the strength of my more than 25 years as a parish pastor. My having been editor of various other publications in my years in the parish also contributed to the committee’s decision.
When the call came from the LCA’s Executive Council to join the staff of DPL in Philadelphia as editor of the new publication, I readily accepted. Both by family tradition (I am a tenth generation Lutheran pastor) and personal commitment, then and now I esteem the office highly. To my mind the Council’s call offered me the opportunity to support and encourage my brothers and sisters in the peculiar difficulties and challenges that the ministry presents.
As a staff member of DPL, I came to a greater and more exact appreciation of the partnership that exists between the ordained minister and other forms of ministry in the church in the context of the ministry of the whole people of God. But the pastoral ministry as “keeper of the spring” from which the grace of God for sinners flows — the Bath, the Meal, and the Word, in Gordon Lathrop’s lovely image (borrowed, he says, from Robert Frost) — continued to claim a special place in my editorial endeavors. I wholly endorsed the conviction that the faithful and effective performance of the ministry of Word and Sacrament is crucial to the church’s existence and continuance in mission.
As you may recall, the formation of the ELCA took place at an assembly of representatives from the three uniting churches in Columbus, Ohio, in 1987. It was an assembly both solemn and joyous. Even before that historic occasion, the prospect of a joint publication with the other two uniting Lutheran bodies had surfaced in meetings of the magazine’s Consulting Committee.
Not long after the votes favoring the formation of a new church had been taken in 1982, Dr. Walter Wietzke, director of the Division for Theological Education and Ministry in The American Lutheran Church (ALC), advanced a proposal for joint publication of what we were doing for the LCA. (I suspect that the appreciation of Augsburg Publishing House’s CEO, the late Al Anderson, for LCA Partners was no small factor in encouraging the overture.) Upon invitation by the ALC and LCA, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC), too, responded positively to the idea.
Thus, “On the basis of an agreement worked out with The American Lutheran Church and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches,” readers were told in a foreword to the December 1984/January 1985 issue, “LCA Partners will be transformed into Lutheran Partners.” The agreement called for me to continue as editor in tandem with an associate editor who turned out to be the able Rev. Dr. George Madsen of the ALC. Other personnel from the two churches were added to aid in serving an expanded constituency. The transition proceeded with remarkable ease. I found working together with folks from the ALC and AELC invariably enjoyable and enriching throughout my ministry as editor of the joint project.
A look back invites a comparison of LCA Partners with Lutheran Partners. The comparison reveals evidence of a sharp contrast in funding for the magazine. Its mission remains as vital as in the past, even more so given the changes in the culture and the exigencies of a greatly enlarged church, but deep budget cuts have not made things easy for succeeding editors. Those editors are to be commended for what they continue to give us in spite of the strictures under which they have to work. Let’s hope that funds will be made available once again soon for them to do even better for those in public ministry and the whole church.
Richard E. Koenig was Lutheran Partners’ first editor, beginning with its predecessor publication, LCA Partners, in 1979. He continued in his role as editor until 1986. He also was pastor of congregations in Yonkers, New York, Amherst, Massachusetts, and Woburn, Massachusetts. Now retired, he lives in Cromwell, Connecticut.