Nearly 400 representatives and staff members of 100 social and Christian ministries gathered for the 2004 annual conference of Lutheran Services in America (LSA), beginning March 31. The three-day conference, dubbed, “Building Communities” allowed the leaders of the groups to form networks that would effectively help build and service the Christian community.
"We have at least 100 social ministry organizations represented here," said Jill Schumann, president and CEO, Lutheran Services in America, Baltimore. "We have more than 85 chief executive officers here. We have at least 14 organizations that have five or more people here. So, we have both depth and breadth," she said.
The LSA, which began in 1997, binds together 296 social ministry organizations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, thereby servicing more than 6 million people in almost 4,000 communities across the United States.
"'Communities' is what Lutheran Services in America has been about since it’s beginning," said Ruth Henrichs, LSA board chairman and president and CEO of Lutheran Family Services of Nebraska, Omaha. "Community is always built when people of faith come together to worship and to learn and to share knowledge. Community is always strengthened through relationships and through sharing."
The March-April conference provided that opportunity to grow and share together through relationships.
"We worked carefully as a planning group to identify speakers and breakout sessions that would illuminate the theme and that would illuminate it from different perspectives," Schumann said.
There were thirty-five breakout sessions offered at five points in the conference, and four keynote addresses delivered by various leaders in the LSA community. Additionally, the presiding bishop of the ELCA, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, urged the attendants throughout the conference to become a public church.
"Social ministry organizations are already that public church," he said. "Help us raise up leaders for a public church,” said Hanson.
In other areas, the representatives of the social ministry organizations elected three directors to the LSA board: Dr. David Geske, president and CEO, Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services, Watertown, Wis.; Mark Peterson, president and CEO, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minn.; and Patricia Savage, president and CEO, Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries, Hollidaysburg, Pa.
The LSA board elected Suzanne Gibson Wise, president and CEO, Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas, Raleigh, N.C., its chair-elect for the next year. Roger G. Miles, president and CEO, Lutheran Child and Family Service of Michigan, Bay City, succeeded Henrichs as LSA board chair at the close of the conference. Henrichs remains on the board as past chairperson.
"There were all these wonderful leaders who helped in the formation and creation of LSA seven years ago," Henrichs said. "My role was to transition the board through a second phase. Now we're on the launch pad to phase three.”
"Phase three is taking the strengths of 296 wonderful social ministry organizations and all of their connections and the church bodies and mobilizing that for a different level of effectiveness and impact," Schumann said.
"There are some things we can do together that are greater than the sum of our parts. This is the time to identify and to move forward on those things that can best be done together," Schumann said, "for the sake of the world and especially for the sake of the world in Christ's name."
For more information about the conference, please visit www.elca.org or www.lutheranservices.org