Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC) has been around for a decade or so. For awhile, many of their loose association of congregations remained ELCA but such dual affiliation is no longer possible (see below). In earlier posts, I suggested LCMC was merely a website and a mailing list and not much more. Are they a denomination? Hear their own explanation:
LCMC has referred to itself as “a post-denominational association of congregations,” as a way of acknowledging that its horizontal structure is different than the more vertical structure of many classic denominations.
But having said that, LCMC is recognized as a church body (denomination) by the IRS, by the ELCA, and by other denominations. LCMC does have structure that is defined in its Constitution and bylaws. LCMC has member congregations, association-wide meetings, a clergy List (roster), a retirement and health plan, and regional and otherwise configured Districts for congregational support. LCMC does endorse chaplains for the military and its pensions and health plans transfer. Seminary students have a candidacy process and clergy a certification process.
While we understand our association to be post-denominational, we are a denomination by most societal definitions.
While the LCMC organization has certainly developed in the last couple of years, it is still the case that they are intentionally congregationally based, and their national and regional structures are mere skeletons. They still have a miniscule staff and the services they offer to clergy and congregation are extremely limited. LCMC clergy tend to receive less in salary and benefits than their ELCA counterparts (see below), and their clergy standards are looser. Some clergy who have been disciplined by the ELCA have found a safe haven in the LCMC. They have no seminaries but merely working arrangements with existing seminaries that actually have more of a Baptist bent than Lutheran. A quick review of the pictures on their website suggests their informality … mostly open shirts without tie or clergy collars, and their worship style tends to be “low church”.
It is also their reputation that they have been extremely aggressive in courting ELCA congregations to switch, and their tactics have been questioned. That continues.
Anecdotally, there is a situation right here right now that is illustrative. Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in nearby New Prague, Minnesota, an ELCA congregation, has a vote scheduled this weekend to consider dual affiliation with LCMC. I became aware of that when my blog lit up earlier this week with folks from that community searching Google for variations on the term “dual affiliation”. A year ago, I wrote a blog post that questioned whether LCMC supporters were pushing dual affiliation as a non-constitutional measure to exit the ELCA. That is, in congregations where the votes are not there to achieve a withdrawal from the ELCA, some LCMC folks promoted affiliating with the LCMC, a violation of the ELCA constitution, with the hope that their punishment would be a banishment from the ELCA. They get out of the ELCA without meeting the requirements for doing so, and the ELCA is perceived as the bully … the best of all possible results.
Back to Holy Trinity in New Prague.
My sources tell me that there were two “informational” meetings recently with LCMC representatives present to make their case, but that ELCA representatives were not allowed. In fact, the ELCA bishop or his representative is persona non grata on congregational property, and the Bishop’s meeting with ELCA supporters today will take place at the local Knights of Columbus meeting hall and not at the church building! My sources also tell me that the instigator is the senior pastor, and that also fits a pattern. More often than not, when a congregation has exited the ELCA, it is because their clergy led their flock over the cliff. In an interesting twist, some suspect the senior pastor is pushing dual affiliation as a way to retain his own ELCA based salary and benefits but to allow the congregation to save money by hiring a lesser paid associate pastor from the LCMC roster.
I have a button from a United Methodist Conference that reads, “All means all”, which is meant to critique congregations that claim “all are welcome” but set preconditions. In the case of Holy Trinity in New Prague, their claim, “Holy Trinity is a congregation of warm, welcoming people who are reaching out to new people with the love and grace of Jesus Christ” apparently doesn’t apply to their own Bishop.
In any case, the ELCA does not currently allow dual affiliations, and the scheduled vote is contrary to constitution. Some have whined, “but the ELCA used to have dual affiliations with some Missouri Synod congregations,” and that is true. So, why does the ELCA strictly interpret its constitution now regarding the LCMC? Let me answer with a question: why would the ELCA permit a dual affiliation with an organization that is in its origin and identity antagonistic toward the ELCA?