Where the LCMS President is Really Elected - The Circuit Forum
“I thought the President was elected at the national convention by the delegates?” Yes, technically, that's true. But in many ways the election is already decided when delegates are chosen at the Circuit Forums leading up to the convention.
This part of the LCMS governance process is not as well known as the national convention, but just as important! These delegates will go to the national convention in July 2010 and vote in all of the elections and on all other matters (including the restructuring proposals). They are also, technically, delegates for three years until the NEXT convention – should there be a need for a special convention to be called in between. And many of these delegates already have strong opinions and positions on the issues and candidates that will come before the convention.
Who chooses the delegates? Who can be a delegate? Might I be able to serve?
Here's how it works. Sometime in the summer/fall of 2009, Circuit Counselors will be directed to convene the triennial circuit forum. It's at this meeting that one pastor and one layperson from each congregation in the circuit are permitted to vote for that circuit's delegates. Also, an alternate pastoral delegate and an alternate lay delegate are chosen. Under the current bylaws, teachers (“commissioned ministers”) aren't eligible to serve as pastoral OR lay delegates. The deadline for election of delegates is in October of 2009!
Once the date of the circuit forum is set, and notice is given to the congregations, there is a process of nomination FOR THE LAY DELEGATES ONLY! All pastors serving those congregations are automatically considered nominees (except “Assistant Pastors” but including “Associate Pastors”). A layperson who wishes to serve must be nominated IN WRITING to the Circuit Counselor before the Circuit Forum is held. This is very important! If only one Lay Delegate nominee has been nominated in writing – then the election is basically moot. (This is how it is done in our District, though I am not 100% certain all Districts do the same).
At the Circuit Forum, the pastoral delegate is chosen first. Then the Lay delegate. Then the Alternate Pastoral delegate, then the Alternate Lay. This is important to note because NO TWO of these four individuals may be members of the same congregation. Often, when only one lay delegate is nominated, this influence's the Forum's decision on a pastoral delegate, even though the pastoral delegate election happens first (.i.e. “We can't elect Pastor Smith because then Mr. Schulz, our only Lay nominee, will be unable to serve”)
In the event that the Circuit Forum is unable to elect individuals for all four of these roles, the District President may appoint people to those vacancies. This is often done with the advice of the Circuit Counselor.
Many times, Circuits have established customs or habits regarding selection of delegates, and you may or may not agree with these. Some “take turns” among the pastors. Some have an unwritten rule that no one can go twice in a row. Others have the same qualified and interested people going every convention. Whatever the case, it's important to know what the rules are and to make sure everyone is “playing fair”.
Sometimes there are even informal conversations prior to the election of delegates which may or may not be helpful. “Pastor Krueger isn't able to go, due to a previous commitment” might be an appropriate tidbit. But as with all synodical elections at any level, crass electioneering is usually frowned upon.
If you desire to serve as a delegate, consider the following:
1.Am I available to travel to Houston for the 2010 convention? This is mostly an issue of time since the District pays for your travel and lodging, and gives a stipend for meals.
2.Does my congregation know I am willing to serve?
3.Does my congregation need to be educated about the process? Let's face it, LCMS policy and governance is a mystery even to many long-serving pastors, let alone laity. You could help to inform them.
4.Can I at least serve as my congregation's representative to the Circuit Forum?
Things to find out:
1.Which congregations constitute my circuit?
2.Who is our Circuit Counselor?
3.When will our Circuit Forum be held?
4.When/how does my congregation choose its representative to the Circuit Forum?
If you are elected as a delegate, you can expect lots of information will be mailed to you from “both sides”. Some of that will be more helpful and some less. But you will have a responsibility to be as informed as possible concerning the issues and candidates. Make use of the people resources at your disposal, both to learn about the process and about the issues. Read the official synodical handbook and other pertinent documents. And don't avoid the internet, but use it discerningly.
This is my best understanding of the process, as a Circuit Counselor and delegate to 2 national conventions. I hope it helps!