Letter from the Director – Summer 2023


There have been many occasions when someone who is a member of a congregation that is still in the ELCA has shared with me, “I have told my pastor about my concerns, but the pastor tells me that all those things happening in the ELCA will not affect us.”  I tell them that it is only a matter of time until your beloved orthodox or more moderate pastor will retire or resign and take another call.  And even if you are among the congregations that are fortunate enough to be able to find another orthodox pastor, what about the next time you will be looking for a pastor?  There are only a limited number of orthodox pastors remaining in the ELCA – and we thank God for every single one of them – and that number will only continue to decline.  Plus we know of situations where a synod used a change of pastors as an opportune time to move in and bring the congregation in line with ELCA beliefs, values, and priorities.  Every orthodox congregation still in the ELCA is potentially only one pastor change away from disaster.

And now we have in the ELCA’s Metropolitan Chicago Synod a striking example of the alarming fact that every orthodox congregation still in the ELCA is potentially only one synodical bishop election away from being swooped in on, becoming the victim of a hostile takeover, and being shut down.  Such was the case with the former (now closed by synodical action) St. Timothy Lutheran Church in the Hermosa neighborhood of northwest Chicago.


For several years St. Timothy was the location for our annual, fall, Spanish language and bi-lingual ministries Encuentro.  These Encuentros had been Lutheran CORE’s best way of reaching out to and providing a valuable resource for the ELCA.  It was hosted by an ELCA congregation, a majority of those attending were ELCA, and a majority of the presenters were ELCA.  Over the years presenters have included ELCA pastors, theologians, and even a national ELCA staff person.  While drawing primarily ELCA congregations and presenters, the Encuentros were an inter Lutheran offering to congregations and church leaders.  We were delighted a few years ago when newly elected Bishop Yehiel Curry of the Metro Chicago Synod attended a portion of one of our Encuentros.  We warmly welcomed him and we were highly encouraged when he said that he saw himself as bishop for the entire synod.  We never expected what would eventually happen.

The Awes brothers – Joel, David, and Tom – are sons of the former pastor, Robert Awes, who served the congregation from 1981 until the time of his death in 2015.  His widow and three sons continued to live in the parsonage after he died.  His wife died in 2017.  One of his sons, Joel, was serving as president of the congregation.  He and his brothers were maintaining the property and leading the congregation.  Once the site of a vibrant English-speaking ministry, the congregation pre-COVID was making significant progress in reaching out to the Latino community.  COVID brought all that to a halt, but during the last several months the congregation had been able to resume their outreach to the neighborhood.  Among their ministries is the Uncle Charlie program, a monthly social and devotional gathering for adults with special needs, most of whom live in urban group homes on Chicago’s north and west sides. 

After the death of their father, the Awes brothers contacted the Metro Chicago Synod about their need for pastoral leadership.  The only person the synod could provide did not speak Spanish.  The Awes brothers knew that that would not work because they wanted to reach out to their primarily bi-lingual and Spanish speaking neighborhood, so they contacted a bi-lingual ELCA pastor whom they knew from other associations.  Pastor Keith Forni is now retired, but at the time he was pastor of First/Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Joliet, Illinois.  He began providing bi-lingual pulpit supply at St. Timothy with the awareness and implicit encouragement of the former bishop of the Metro Chicago Synod.  He drove ninety miles round trip on most Sundays to lead an afternoon worship service at St. Timothy after leading bi-lingual and English-speaking services in Joliet in the morning.  Former Bishop Wayne Miller would often ask regarding a ministry site, “Is there green in the stem?”  There definitely was green in the St. Timothy stem.  The leaders of St. Timothy were open to being coached in bilingual neighborhood ministry.  They found in Pastor Forni the needed skill set, given his forty-plus years of experience in such contexts. 

In addition to frequently preaching and presiding at bilingual services of Holy Communion, Pastor Forni –

  • Expanded the Uncle Charlie devotional experiences.
  • Curated and gathered needed resources for bilingual Lutheran worship, outreach and Christian education.
  • Initiated sidewalk outreach to the dozens of parents and students going to and from nearby Nixon Elementary School.
  • Led the development of the Thursday Together / “Jueves Juntos” Family Bible Study themed events.
  • Provided pastoral leadership for the community at a prayer vigil following the murder of a two-year-old boy by a gang member’s stray bullet a few blocks from the church.
  • Arranged for a VBS & Service team visit by an Ohio ELCA mission partner congregation.
  • Built up cooperative relationships with area organizations including the Walt Disney birthplace, where some after school events could take place.

St. Timothy became the host site for the annual Spanish language ministry Encuentros which Pastor Forni coordinated.  Lutheran CORE began sponsoring the Encuentros after Pastor Forni became a member of the board of Lutheran CORE.   


But all that changed in January 2023 when Bishop Curry invited Pastor Forni to his office “regarding St. Timothy.”  When he arrived Pastor Forni was presented with an as yet unseen agenda critical of his service as supply pastor.  Bishop Stacie Fidlar of the ELCA’s Northern Illinois Synod (the synod in which Pastor Forni was rostered) also appeared at the meeting, having made no contact with Pastor Forni prior to that moment.  Pastor Forni felt totally ambushed.  There was absolutely no expression of appreciation for his thirty-six years of faithful ministry in the ELCA plus six prior years in the LCA – all years in Hispanic Latino bilingual contexts.  Rather he was threatened with discipline and possible removal from the ELCA roster if he were to stay any longer than two more weeks with the congregation where he, along with other available bilingual clergy and lay worship leaders, had been providing pulpit supply over a course of seven years.    

Pastor Forni quickly concluded his ministry, as he had been ordered to do.  On his final Sunday there were a couple representatives from the Metro Chicago Synod present who offered a few perfunctory words of thanks for his ministry as supply pastor.  But they spoke in English only in the presence of the predominately Spanish speaking assembly. 

Bishop Curry did not need to be nasty.  He could have thanked Pastor Forni for his years of faithful service and then told him that the synod council had decided to move that ministry in another direction.  If the bishop had taken that approach, Pastor Forni certainly would have been totally cooperative.  But Bishop Curry does not function that way.  He operates by threats, bullying, and intimidation.  Equally disappointing was the fact that Bishop Stacie Fidlar of the Northern Illinois Synod was not willing to tell Bishop Curry to back off and not threaten someone rostered in her synod.  No resistance was given to a bishop who operates by threats, bullying, and intimidation. 

After the absolute fiasco that occurred in the Sierra Pacific Synod, when former bishop Meghan Rohrer removed Pastor Nelson Rabell-Gonzalez as mission developer of a Latino ministry on Our Lady of Guadalupe Day, an action which caused major uproar throughout the ELCA, it was absolutely astounding to me that another synodical bishop would commit such a grievous act of abuse of power.


I read with great interest an ELCA news release dated March 10, 2023 about the February 28-March 4 meeting of the Conference of Bishops.  In that publication it said that the bishops “received a report from the task force addressing the disciplinary concerns of leaders of color.”  It also said that “the task force is expected to make recommendations regarding the current process for discipline, consider a process for community healing and grief, and make recommendations for an office to receive complaints of harassment and discrimination.”  I wrote to the two people who made the presentation, Judith Roberts, senior director for ELCA Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and co-convenor of the task force, and Bishop Paul Erickson of the ELCA’s Greater Milwaukee Synod and a member of the task force.  Here in part is what I wrote:  

“The events that transpired in the Sierra Pacific Synod over a year ago certainly sounded the alarm as it brought to our attention the fact that there are times and situations where leaders of color are not treated fairly.

“I am also very aware of another situation in another synod where the synodical bishop, who is a person of color, has been bullying, intimidating, and threatening to discipline a rostered leader who is not a person of color and who is rostered in another synod.  This same synodical bishop is also bullying congregational leaders who are not persons of color.

“As you and your task force do your work, I would hope you would remember and make provision for the fact that –

Leaders who are not people of color can also be the victims of harassment and discrimination 

Leaders of color can be the perpetrators rather than the victims of harassment and discrimination.”

I never heard from Bishop Erickson.  The next day I heard from Ms. Roberts, who wrote –

“Thank you for sharing your concerns, and we will certainly take them into account.  The Churchwide Organization takes misconduct complaints against synod bishops seriously; if you believe that a synod bishop has engaged in misconduct, please direct that concern to the Presiding Bishop.”

I deeply appreciate the fact that she would write back, and in such a timely way, but after the inexcusably long time that Bishop Eaton took before she responded to the disaster in the Sierra Pacific Synod – and even then, I am certain she responded only because she absolutely was forced to – it did not all blow over and go away as she had hoped – I wondered what chance did I have of ever being heard – let alone responded to – about the situation at St. Timothy.

But to get back to the story at St. Timothy.


The next two Sundays the people of St. Timothy were deeply disturbed that the person who had been bringing them God’s Word and providing pastoral leadership and care had been so abruptly removed – and without consulting them.  Several of them wrote to Bishop Curry, advocating for Pastor Forni.  When they were told that the synod would be bringing in a couple Spanish speaking Latina pastors they asked for more time to grieve and process their emotions before the synod would replace Pastor Forni.  They were assured by an assistant to the bishop that they would be given more time.  But it did not turn out that way.  The following Sunday Bishop Curry and around a dozen people from the synod came in, took over the service from the elected leadership of the congregation, and held a congregational meeting afterwards.  At that meeting Bishop Curry said that he had visited a couple times during the meetings of the Uncle Charlie program (which simply is not true) and, in order to discredit and undermine the Awes brothers, he suggested that there may be charges brought against the Awes brothers from former members, but he would not say from whom or what those charges might be about.  Again, threats, bullying, and intimidation – this time combined with not telling the truth.  Certainly not the behavior that one would expect and hope for from a bishop.

Over the next several weeks the engaging and personable Latina pastors endeared themselves to the Spanish-speaking and bi-lingual congregation.  Then they went around the Awes brothers to recruit some of the people to serve on an advisory council for the congregation.


The next step came on May 4, when the Awes brothers received a “Demand for Possession and Notice of Termination – 30 Day Notice” from an attorney representing the synod.  They were informed that their tenancy of the parsonage would be terminated on June 30, 2023.  Again, absolutely no concern for them, no expression of appreciation for what they had been doing for many years to maintain the property and keep the congregation and its ministries going.  Just an abrupt eviction notice.  We were wondering about challenging the legality of that notice, in light of tenants’ rights in the city of Chicago and the fact that the letter stated that the synod was “the owner of the manse and church” and it gave the wrong address for the parsonage.  But the following day, on Sunday, May 5, the congregation was given a letter from Bishop Curry.  That letter told of a decision that had been made by the Synod Council to “exercise the power of S13.24 of the synod constitution to ‘take charge and control of the property of a congregation of this synod to hold, manage, and convey the same on behalf of this synod’” if “the Synod Council determines that the membership of a congregation has become so scattered or so diminished in numbers that it cannot provide required governance or that it has become impractical for the congregation to fulfill the purposes for which it was organized” and if “the Synod Council determines that it is necessary for this synod to protect and preserve the congregation’s property from waste and deterioration.”

Therefore, the letter continued, “St. Timothy Lutheran Church is now closed” and will be replaced by a “new Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community, San Timoteo.”  (It is interesting that the name San Timoteo had been used interchangeably with St. Timothy in neighborhood outreach for six-plus years.)  The letter said that the congregation had the right to appeal this decision to the next Synod Assembly.  But with the way in which the Awes brothers had been undermined and circumvented, what chance would they have?

Joel Awes, former president of the congregation and son of the man who had been pastor for thirty-four years, was telling me what it felt like on that Sunday.  There was absolutely no recognition and expression of appreciation for the thirty-four-year ministry of his father.  There was no celebration of the work of that congregation over the previous one hundred nineteen years.  There was no sense that anything of value had been done by anyone since the congregation was founded in 1904.  There was just a blunt statement from the bishop, “St. Timothy Lutheran Church is now closed.” 

Any ministry that does not line up with ELCA beliefs, values, and priorities should realize that it may be only a matter of time – perhaps only one bishop election away – before the synod will come in with a wrecking ball, knock them over, and shut them down – all while showing absolutely no respect, consideration, or valuing of anything done by the people of previous decades.

Just think about it.  Let this sink in.

A synod that claims to be on the side of the oppressed has become the oppressor.

A synod that claims to be concerned for the homeless has thrown three brothers out on the street.

And what is scary is that we are all vulnerable.


If I had the chance to talk with Bishop Curry, there are several questions I would like to ask him – 

  1. You said at a meeting with the congregation of St. Timothy on February 19 that it is against ELCA policy for a pastor to be able to serve as interim pastor, transition pastor, or do pulpit supply outside their own synod.  Where is that policy in writing?
  2. If that is ELCA policy, why would Bishop Miller (former bishop of the Metro Chicago Synod) have allowed Pastor Forni to be transition pastor at St. Timothy? What about other situations where ELCA pastors have been interims and/or provided pulpit supply outside the synod where they are rostered? 
  3. Since Bishop Miller allowed Pastor Forni to be transition pastor at St. Timothy, why did you threaten to bring charges against Pastor Forni for merely doing what he had been allowed to do?
  4. What ELCA policy or provision empowers you to threaten to bring disciplinary charges against a pastor who is rostered in another synod – especially when the bishop of that synod says that she has no charges to bring against Pastor Forni?
  5. Since you see what Pastor Forni and the Awes brothers had been doing as so grievous, out of line, and inappropriate, why did you wait so long to take action and why are you taking action now? If Pastor Forni’s serving as pulpit supply had been acceptable to you for several years after you were elected bishop, how did it become unacceptable?
  6. On Saturday, February 18 the congregation was told by your assistant, Pastor Kathy Nolte, that she would honor their request for time to process their shock and grief over the abrupt removal of Pastor Forni before scheduling any meeting with the synod regarding interim pastoral leadership.  And yet the next day you and around a dozen other people from the synod showed up and took over the proceedings of the congregation.  Why the change, and why were they not told ahead of time? How is the congregation now to trust and have confidence in any communication from the synod?
  7. On Sunday, February 19 you said that you had attended two Encuentros, including the entirety of one of them, and a couple sessions of the congregation’s Uncle Charlie program.  That simply is not true. You did attend a portion of one of our Encuentros, and you were warmly welcomed, but the director of the Uncle Charlie program does not remember a time when you attended one of their sessions.  When you attended a portion of one of the Encuentros, you said that you were bishop of the entire synod.  We were very grateful for and greatly encouraged by your comment.
  8. On Sunday, February 19 you said that there are a couple former members of the congregation who may bring charges against the Awes brothers, but you could not say who those former members are and what those charges might be.  Making a statement like that is manipulative, bullying, unfair, and inappropriate for a leader in Christ’s Church. 
  9. Paragraph C9.06 of the ELCA’s Model Constitution for Congregations states that an interim pastor is appointed by the bishop of the synod with the consent of the congregation or the congregation council. You did not have the consent of either the congregation or the council to appoint an interim pastor. You removed the congregation’s pulpit supply pastor without even consulting with the congregation and/or its leadership. Paragraph 9.31 of the ELCA Constitution for Churchwide says that congregations have authority in all matters not assigned by the ELCA Constitution and Bylaws to synods and the churchwide organization. By your words and actions you have completely dismissed, discounted, disregarded, and ignored the integrity of a congregation. 
  10. Through this whole process you have shown absolutely no regard or respect for and you have expressed absolutely no appreciation to Pastor Forni for his ministry at St. Timothy, and to the Awes brothers for their maintaining the property and ministry of the congregation. Is that typical of how you fulfill your role as Bishop of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod?
  11. On the day that a letter from you announced that St. Timothy is now closed, you showed and expressed absolutely no appreciation, respect, or regard for anything that anyone at St. Timothy had done during its life as a congregation.  You expressed no appreciation for the ministry of Robert Awes, who served the congregation faithfully for thirty-four years.  Does that complete disregard, ingratitude, and insensitivity reflect your attitude, opinion, and feelings about everything and everyone that pre-dates you?   
  12. After former bishop Meghan Rohrer was pressured to resign when their overstepping of authority was exposed after their removal of a Latinx clergy person from his congregation and the ELCA clergy roster without due process, we were surprised that yet another ELCA synodical bishop would negatively impact another bi-lingual ministry without notice. Knowing that the ELCA is 96-97% white, ELCA church leadership wishes to encourage ethnic ministries.  How do your actions support rather than work against this goal and priority?   

What is scary about this whole situation is the fact that something like this could happen to any orthodox congregation still in the ELCA.  Potentially it is only one synodical bishop election away. 

In the ELCA we are all vulnerable. 

* * * * * * *


Here is a link to our You Tube channel.  In the top row you will find both our Video Book Reviews as well as our CORE Convictions Videos on various topics related to Biblical teaching, Lutheran theology, and Christian living.  You will find these videos in the order in which they were posted, beginning with the most recent.  In the second row you will find links to the Playlists for both sets of videos.  This month we want to feature two videos.     


by Pastor Tom

Many thanks to Dr. Tom for his video discussion of Missio Dei – the Mission of God.  Here is a link to his video.  Pastor Tom has been active in global mission for many years.  In addition to being pastor of an NALC congregation in Illinois, he works with the organization Awakening Lives to World Mission as Director of their Heart for Mission Ministries.  In that capacity, he focuses on the countries of Laos and Thailand, which is a part of the world where he served for many years before returning to the United States.  In addition, he works as co-director of the Global Lutheran House of Study at the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where he also teaches a number of courses on Lutheran Theology.

Pastor Tom from Northern Illinois emphasizes that Missio Dei is God’s mission.  It is not my mission or my church’s mission.  God is the initiator.  He sends us on mission.  He entrusts us with His mission.  He created the Church to do His mission.  We have the privilege of participating in God’s mission.  We are called to embody His Kingdom and to reflect His character to those around us.

Unfortunately, we can distort God’s mission.  We can lose sight of God’s purpose of mission.  We can try to make it our church rather than Christ’s church.  We want to do our mission, not Christ’s mission.  If a church focuses on internal matters, it loses sight of God’s mission.  We must begin with a big mindset.  A church that has a real heart for global mission will also be more involved in local mission.  As a congregation, when we focus on God’s mission rather than our own mission, we see the fruit of our faith. 




by the Rev. Dr. Douglas Schoelles

Many thanks to NALC pastor Doug Schoelles for his review of this book by Steven D. Smith, Professor of Law at the University of San Diego.  Here is a link to his review.  A longer summary of his video can be found here.

In this book Smith argues that the current societal and legal conflicts are a renewal struggle of Paganism to “reverse the revolution Christianity achieved in late antiquity” that brought an end to “the merry dance of paganism.” Smith makes the distinction between the immanent religion of paganism and the transcendent religion of Christianity. Modern pagans resent the all-encompassing Christian standard of truth and morality as an oppressive limitation to the desire to live as one pleases. Pagans want to remove the accommodation of religion as practiced by our secular government and courts and banish any reference or preference for transcendent religion. Ultimately, he asserts the Pagan City, aka the State, must have people’s allegiance above all other powers or influences. Ultimately this means that people devoted to a transcendent religion must be marginalized and excluded from public life, by force if necessary. 

* * * * * *

May the Lord continue to bless you, keep you, watch over you, be gracious to you, and give you peace. 

Dennis D. Nelson

Executive Director of Lutheran CORE


November 2022 Newsletter

Encuentro 2022 – A New Perspective

Many thanks to retired ELCA pastor and former Lutheran CORE board member Keith Forni for organizing, and to St. Timothy’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in the Hermosa neighborhood of northwest Chicago for hosting the mid-October, annual gathering called Encuentro.  Encuentro is Spanish for “Encounter.”  This event is co-sponsored by Lutheran CORE and the Bilingual Ministry Resource Center, which is based in Chicago and Joliet, Illinois.    

Because of the pandemic this was the first time we were able to hold this event since 2019.  We were all glad that we were again able to gather for teaching, worship, fellowship, and exchange of ideas on how we can be engaged in outreach to our diverse neighborhoods, particularly focusing on Spanish-speaking people.

We gave thanks to God as we heard from Pastor Forni regarding how seventy to eighty children and their parents walk by the church each day on their way to and back home from school.  Members of the church hand out to the children Spanish language coloring books such as “Questions Kids Ask About God.” Local residents were invited to join us for the presentations and the delicious lunch.  We remembered the beginnings of significant outreach to the community before the pandemic, and we prayed for a resumption of that response.  We recalled how that outreach began with the response of one family, who invited their friends and neighbors, who in turn invited their friends and neighbors, and so on.  Outreach and ministry certainly does most effectively happen through relationships.

We were blessed by and learned much from the two keynote presentations by the Rev. Dr. Maxwell Johnson, ELCA pastor and professor of theology at Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.  His morning presentation was on “Reclaiming the Eucharist and Great Thanksgiving in Contemporary Lutheran Worship.” 

Dr. Johnson began by mentioning the misunderstanding that certainly has always been my understanding – that liturgy is the work of the people.  Instead Dr. Johnson said that Christ is the prime liturgist.  He is the one who performs the work on behalf of the people.  Liturgy is God’s work for us, not our work for God.  Our work is our deeds of service after our worship.  Dr. Johnson also stressed that right from the beginning the eucharistic meal has always been central to Christian worship.  He gave as an example of worship’s being both Word and sacrament Luke’s account of when Jesus joined His followers on the road to Emmaus.  Jesus interpreted the Scriptures to them (Word) and His presence became known to them in the breaking of the bread (meal). 

Dr. Johnson’s afternoon presentation was on “The Virgin Mary in Liturgy, Doctrine, and Life.”  This presentation was particularly timely in light of the enormous impact upon the entire ELCA of spiritual and cultural insensitivities by denominational leaders towards an ELCA Latino mission in Stockton, California in the termination of their mission developer on a day that should have been a time of great celebration for them and the ending of synodical mission support. 

Dr. Johnson reminded us that most people today are not naturally going to be looking for a Lutheran church home.  Rather, with an increasing number of Latino people in our communities, if we want to intentionally reach our neighbors, including our Latino neighbors, then we need to find a way to embrace their symbols and images.  He sees this embrace as including finding a place for Mary within our churches.  He shared a very humorous but also a very insightful remark from one bishop – that it only makes sense that it is the mother in a very dysfunctional family who keeps the family together. 

Dr. Johnson sees in the appearances of the Virgin to Juan Diego in 1531 the clear message that the Latino community is seen and known by God.  While others may look down on them, marginalize and dismiss them, God gives them hope by showing that He cares about them, reaches out to them, and treats them with dignity. 

Dr. Johnson quotes from Mary’s Magnificat as he speaks of the appearances of the Virgin to a poor peasant whose people had recently been conquered.  “He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant. . . . He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.  He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”  (Luke 1: 48, 51-53)  The appearances to Juan Diego were Gospel – good news for those who had nothing and no reason to hope for good news.  Dr. Johnson sees the Latino people’s coming to know God’s liberating power proclaimed in the Magnificat as a gift of the Latino people to the wider church. 

Dr. Johnson mentioned two books which he has written or edited which further expand on the themes he was developing – The Virgin of Guadalupe: Theological Reflections of an Anglo-Lutheran Liturgist and American Magnificat: Protestants on Mary of Guadalupe.  He concluded by saying regarding Mary, “Her presence is a sign of welcome (to Latino people); her absence or the forbidding of her would be seen as a sign of rejection.”   He then added, “Mary always points us to Jesus, who is the Savior.” 

September 2022 Newsletter

Inter-Lutheran Hispanic-Latino Ministry Encuentro Returns October 15th

After two consecutive pandemic cancellations, the Inter-Lutheran Hispanic-Latino Ministry Encuentro will take place again on Saturday, October 15th, 2022, 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. in Chicago’s Hermosa Neighborhood, offering a day of learning, worship, resource sharing and fellowship at St. Timothy Lutheran Church, 2101 N. Kildare Avenue (at Dickens), on Chicago’s northwest side.  Free off-street parking is available.

Celebrating its 30th Anniversary, the Bilingual Ministry Resource Center (based in Joliet and Chicago) will co-sponsor the Encuentro with Lutheran CORE. A complimentary bilingual resource packet will be given to all participants.  Resource materials in the packets are curated from a variety of suppliers, including:  Concordia Publishing House, Augsburg Fortress, American Lutheran Publicity Bureau, Liturgy Training Publications, Editorial Avance Luterana and others.

The Rev. Dr. Maxwell Johnson – Presenter at the October 15th Encuentro

Returning as the day’s presenter will be the Rev. Dr. Maxwell Johnson, ELCA pastor and professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. His highly regarded lectures and publications address sacramental theology, worship and liturgy.  The Virgin of Guadalupe: Theological Reflections of an Anglo-Lutheran  Liturgist (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) and his subsequent lectures and articles have timely application at this time, given the recent impact of spiritual and cultural insensitivities of denominational leaders towards an ELCA Latino mission in Stockton CA.

Dr. Johnson will present two lectures at the Encuentro.  The morning session is entitled Reclaiming the Eucharist and the Great Thanksgiving in Contemporary Lutheran Worship.   Following a resource fair, lunch and mid-day prayer, an afternoon talk will be given:  The Virgin Mary in Liturgy, Doctrine and Life. Ample time for responses and discussion will follow each presentation.

The Reverend Dennis Nelson of Scottsdale AZ, Director, will provide an update on the ministry of Lutheran CORE.

As in past years, the Encuentro will be valued by clergy and lay leaders with long years of experience in bilingual / bicultural contexts as well as by those exploring or recently entering this field of ministry.  One-on-one Spanish liturgy read-throughs, avenues for evangelical outreach and resources for language learning will be the focus of anticipated workshops.  The 2022 Encuentro will conclude with 5:00pm Vespers with Prayers for Peace in the City.  An optional dinner outing in the city will follow.

There is no cost for the Encuentro, as expenses are covered by a grant from Lutheran CORE and its member, hosting congregation, St. Timothy Lutheran Church – ELCA.

Registration is requested by October 4th.  Contact Pr. Keith Forni, convener at keithlforni@gmail.com (815 600 3030) or Joel Awes, registrar, at joelawes123@yahoo.com (773 398 0564), 2101 N. Kildare Avenue, Chicago IL 60639.  Lodging locations can be recommended.

September 2020 Newsletter

The Nations at Our Doorstep


Many Lutheran church buildings feature cornerstones with dates and historic references chiseled in languages other than English.   In cities, towns and open country congregations across the United States, these heritage markers may well be in German, Danish, Swedish or Slovak.  They embrace a bilingual or multilingual legacy, while parishioners now worship and serve primarily in English.

Increasingly, in these ministry contexts, Spanish is heard on the streets, in shops and school yards.  Hispanic-Latino (“Latinx”) populations are rapidly growing.  The Great Commission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, speaks with power to such communities in the 21st Century.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

The nations have come to us, as evidenced by the presence of people from Latin America today.  They come, bearing the spiritual and cultural gifts of their Christian faith communities.  Some will be evangelized, drawn to Christ by the proclamation of His life, death and resurrection. Some will evangelize their new neighbors in the U.S.A., perhaps bringing renewal to wearied and diminishing Lutheran congregations.

Will the existing, long-established churches engage their changing, dynamic neighborhoods?   Many remain demographically static, functioning in ethnic or linguistic isolation.  These shrinking faith communities often gain little or no traction when it comes to engaging the diverse neighborhoods which now surround them.  Some categorically resist such engagement.

And yet, by the power of the Holy Spirit, turning points and breakthroughs can and do occur:

  • “Bienvenido/a” is added to the outdoor “Welcome” sign board,
  • Spanish or bilingual Bible Story books are given to Vacation Bible School families,
  • Pre-printed English scripture bulletins are supplemented with Spanish text inserts,
  • Bilingual Facebook posts begin to raise awareness of the parish’s micro-pantry, availability for Quinceaneras and seasonal devotions such as “Las Posadas” or the “Via Crucis” (Way of the Cross),
  • English speaking bishops, pastors, deacons, and laity can learn at least rudimentary Spanish. Indigenous leaders are identified, trained, and sent forth.

Through the co-sponsorship of Lutheran CORE, the annual Inter-Lutheran “Encuentro” (Encounter) has served to initiate, encourage and fortify Lutheran bilingual ministries during the past decade.

Hosted by two ELCA / Lutheran CORE Chicagoland parishes, the Encuentro has gathered dozens of lay leaders, pastors, theologians, diaconal ministers and ecumenical partners for mutual encouragement, learning, worship and collaboration.  In an age characterized by denominational separation – a kind of Lutheran tribalism branded by abbreviations that are unintelligible to most of the immigrant community – the Encuentro provides common ground for clear focus on the nurture and development of bilingual outreach and pastoral ministry. Here, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod scholars have shared podiums with seminary professors and bishops of the ELCA, reflecting on such topics as the Holy Spirit’s shaping of disciples, Advent’s opportunities to reflect on Mary as the Mother of God – learning from the devotional accents of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and the Emmaus Road along which we encounter the Risen Lord Jesus.  Here, at the Encuentro, NALC, LCMC, LCMS, ELCA and Lutheran “micro-synod” members can learn from one another, and from Spanish speaking community members, about the Hispanic-Latino ministry context of our time.

COVID19 has forced the cancellation of an in-person gathering this fall.  “Encuentro 2020” will take an alternate pathway.  Lutheran CORE, in partnership with the Bilingual Ministry Resource Center (BMRC) of Joliet & Chicago will provide Bilingual ministry materials at no cost (while they last) to those requesting them (September through December 2020).

Curated and mailed by the BMRC and parish leaders from First & Santa Cruz, Joliet and St. Timothy, Hermosa – Chicago, the packets will include sample resources from a range of providers, including:

  • ALPB (American Lutheran Publicity Bureau) – publishers of bilingual Lutheran identity tracts,
  • EAL (Editorial Avance Luterano) – publishers of the Spanish language weekly text worship insert, “Plegaria y Palabra”,
  • Augsburg-Fortress – publishers of a Spanish / English edition of Luther’s Small Catechism (an endeavor inspired by the BMRC),
  • CPH (Concordia Publishing House) – providers of the iconic “Arch Book” children’s Bible story book series (with English, Spanish and Bilingual editions),
  • Various parish-based resources, such as the Faith-related “Questions Kids Ask” bilingual reader and coloring books, recently created and published by Peace Lutheran Church, New Lenox IL.

The pandemic prevents the in-person presence we so desire, and yet it does not keep us from fortifying the partnerships which enable lively outreach in Jesus’ name, true to His Great Commission.

To order an “Encuentro 2020” resource packet (one per parish, please) contact Pastor Keith Forni, Encuentro Convener at First and Santa Cruz Lutheran Church, 55 W. Benton Street, Joliet IL 60435-4094 or KeithLForni@gmail.com


The past couple months I have had the privilege of representing Lutheran CORE at four most inspiring events – the NALC theology conference, missions festival, and convocation (August 6-9 in Indianapolis); Lutheran CORE’s annual Encuentro bi-lingual ministries festival (September 14 at an ELCA congregation in Chicago); the STS (Society of the Holy Trinity) general retreat (September 24-26 at a Roman Catholic retreat center north of Chicago); and the LCMC gathering (September 29-October 2 in Omaha).

does not allow for a thorough report on all of them, so what I would like to do
is to share one or two highlights from each of them.


behalf of Lutheran CORE I would like to extend our congratulations to Pastor
Dan Selbo on his election as the next bishop of the North American Lutheran
Church.  Our prayers and best wishes are
with him as he steps into this position of leadership, care, and
oversight.  The answers that he gave to
such questions as “What Should Be the NALC’S Most Important Ministry
Priorities?” and “What Challenges Do You See Facing the NALC?” make me
confident that he is going to give wise, powerful, and effective leadership for
the church.  I believe that the Holy
Spirit was present and guiding the process for the election of a new

address from Gemechis Buba, Assistant to the Bishop for Missions, at the close
of the missions festival was most inspiring. 
He based his presentation on the account in John 20 of what took place
on that first Easter Sunday evening. 
John tells us that as “the doors of the house where the disciples had
met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said,
‘Peace be with you. . . . As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’”  Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive
the Holy Spirit” (verses 19-22).

Buba commented, “When the Holy Spirit is blown on us, there are no more closed
doors.”  Many are accustomed to indoors
Christianity.  They see everything as
diminishing and closing.  But the Holy
Spirit is moving us from indoor Christianity – where there are closed doors –
to outdoor Christianity – where there are open doors.  He spoke of several Oromo churches, who at
first were concerned because they were being kicked out of buildings.  They were wondering, “Where will we go
now?”  They are no longer renting
buildings.  Rather they are buying

Buba also shared how the church of Jesus Christ is always under pressure.  The persecution and pressure may be different
in different parts of the world, but we are all under pressure.  Satan is seeking to destroy the church.  But when the Holy Spirit is leading the
church, the church becomes unstoppable. 
Receiving the Holy Spirit, the early disciples moved from being in one
room behind closed doors to being out in the world, speaking in many different

Buba reminded us that some say that there is no future for the church in
present-day America.  But we follow an
unstoppable Holy Spirit.  With the early
disciples we move from one room with closed doors in Jerusalem through open
doors to all over the world.

we follow our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, who has given us the Holy Spirit
and who now leads us to follow him from behind closed doors into the outside,
waiting world.   

* * * * * * *


Fellowship meal at the Sept 14th Encuentro

I believe that our annual bi-lingual ministries Encuentro is our strongest connecting point with the ELCA.  The Encuentro is an annual gathering of inspiration, fellowship, support, and resources for pastors, lay leaders, and congregations who either are currently involved in or are considering becoming involved in Spanish and/or bilingual (Spanish-English) ministries.  It is held at an ELCA congregation in northwest Chicago (St. Timothy Lutheran Church).  It is co-sponsored by Lutheran CORE and the Bilingual Ministries Resource Center out of First and Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Joliet, Illinois (another ELCA congregation).  The majority of those who attend are ELCA, and the majority of the presenters are ELCA – including pastors, theologians, and national church staff.  We were especially delighted this year to receive an email greeting from Bishop Jeffrey Clements of the ELCA’s Northern Illinois Synod, and we were deeply honored that Bishop-Elect Yehiel Curry of the ELCA’s Metro Chicago Synod stopped by.  Bishop-Elect Curry said during his greeting, “I represent the entire synod.”  How delighted we were that the bishop would include in his definition of “the entire synod” a congregation that would host an event planned and sponsored by Lutheran CORE.

so much of our work is a critical review of much of what is done and valued by
the ELCA, it is refreshing to have this annual event, which is a source of
support and encouragement for many in the ELCA. 
Lutheran CORE and the ELCA disagree on many, very basic things, but we do
agree on the importance of reaching out to and receiving the gifts of Spanish-speaking

would also want to mention the intentional inter-Lutheran outreach of this
annual event.  We were very happy to
welcome several LCMS pastors and lay people. 

Dr Maxwell Johnson

presenter was Dr. Maxwell Johnson, ELCA theologian and professor at Notre Dame
University in South Bend, Indiana.  Dr.
Johnson is incredibly knowledgeable, dynamic, energetic, and even funny.  He really engages with his audience and is
very clear in his teaching of the orthodox Christian faith.  Much of his second presentation was on the
Virgin of Guadalupe and her appearance to a native Mexican peasant farmer by
the name of Juan Diego.  Much of what he
said reminded me of the Magnificat in Luke 1, where Mary praised God for
lifting up the lowly (verse 52).  Dr.
Maxwell shared how her appearance gave the hope of the Gospel to people who had
no Good News from what was coming from Spain. 
Juan Diego was one of the low and despised indigenous persons who became
a messenger of God to the powerful, both in government as well as in the
church.  Dr. Maxwell sees her appearing
as an example of God’s care for and identification with the poor.  He said, “For people who have been told that
they are inferior – for the Juan Diegos of this world – there is
vindication.”  He added, “The Virgin of
Guadalupe is not necessary for salvation, but she is an expression of God’s

Mariachi Juvenil Tamasula prepare to lead song before the Misa Panamerica

It was exciting to see the extent to which St. Timothy is reaching out to its neighborhood.  There were several from the community present during part of the event, and both the beginning of a mariachi-led Misa Panamericana as well as a prayer vigil for peace in the city of Chicago were held outside – as a witness to the community.  One woman who came with her family to the Encuentro invited everyone to her home on the evening of Wednesday, December 11, the day before the annual commemoration of the Virgin of Guadalupe on December 12.  This will be one of several Wednesday evening Advent prayer gatherings for the St. Timothy congregation.  The text for these evening home Bible studies and Vespers will be Mary’s Magnificat from Luke’s Gospel.

Pr Dennis Nelson, Pr Myrta Robles, behind Pr Robles is Professor Klaus Peter Adam, Bishop Yehiel Curry, Pr Eardly Mendis, Pr Keith Forni & First Lutheran parishioners, Jerry Wraas and Bob Wraas, after rededication of St. Timothy’s baptismal font.

Part of the festival was a re-dedication of a more-than-a-century-old baptismal font, which had not been used in worship for several years.  That rededication seemed like a recommitment on the part of the congregation to reach out to its community.

* * * * * * *


second time I had the opportunity to hear from Dr. Maxwell Johnson was at the
Society of the Holy Trinity (STS) general retreat.  At that event he spoke on “Ecclesia Semper
Reformanda” (the church must always be reformed) as it relates to baptism and
the eucharist.  I deeply appreciated the
powerful case he built against the radical hospitality movement, which would
invite all people to receive the Lord’s Supper whether or not they have been
baptized.  Here are some of the
statements Dr. Johnson made which I thought were particularly helpful and
insightful.  “In baptism the eucharist
begins; in the eucharist baptism is sustained.” 
“No one deserves baptism; the eucharist is the birthright of the
baptized.”  “The exclusion of the
unbaptized from the eucharist is not to protect the eucharist, but out of
pastoral care and concern for the unbaptized.” 
They might not be ready to make a confession of faith in Christ and to
commit to the costly discipleship of the life of following Christ.  I also appreciated his comment, “The purpose
of liturgy is not to permeate our lives with ritual, but to permeate our lives
with Christ.”

was refreshing being with people who are not hesitant to affirm the Trinity and
the Trinitarian nature of our faith.  It
was also refreshing being with people who are not afraid and ashamed to call
God Father.  The Society of the Holy
Trinity is an inter-Lutheran ministerium which regularly gathers pastors for
mutual encouragement, prayer, and study, fortifying continued faithfulness to
ordination vows.

campus of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, where the
retreat was held, is beautiful, and the singing at the worship services was
awesome.  Very often I did not join in
the singing because I just wanted to be surrounded by the beauty of voices
lifted up in praise to God.

Rev. Dr. Ryan Mills, STS, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven,
Connecticut, and dean of the New England Chapter of the Society, gave the
message at the closing worship service. 
The Scripture passages were the account of the Last Supper in Mark 14
and Luke’s description of the shipwreck on the way to Rome in Acts 27.  As I listened to those passages being read, I
was wondering how they were going to be related to each other.  The way Pastor Mills did it was brilliant.

Mark 14 Jesus sends a couple of his disciples into Jerusalem, where they are to
follow a man carrying a jar of water. 
Men usually did not carry water in those days, so this man was sure to
catch their attention.  They were to
follow him to a house where a large upstairs room would be furnished and ready
for them to eat the Passover.  Mark tells
us, “So the disciples set out and went to the city and found everything as he
had told them” (verse 16).  All that we
need for our faith to be nourished and sustained Jesus has furnished.  It is ready in the Lord’s Supper.  The grace that he has promised and that we
need is available there – just as he has told us.

his description of the storm in Acts 27 Luke uses phrases like these.  “We were being pounded by the storm so
violently” (verse 18).  “All hope of our
being saved was at last abandoned” (verse 20). 
“We were drifting across the sea” (verse 27).  “Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they
. . . prayed for day to come” (verse 29). 
What did Paul do in a situation like that?  He urged them all to take some food – to help
them survive.  Verses 35 and 36 – “He
took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and
began to eat.  Then all of them were
encouraged and took food for themselves.”

we feel like we have been caught in a powerful storm of unfavorable
circumstances.  We feel pounded
violently.  We can lose all hope of being
saved.  We feel like we are
drifting.  Fearful, we pray that day will
come.  In circumstances such as these
what do we need?  The body and blood of
our Lord Jesus Christ, to give us courage, strength, and spiritual
sustenance.  Having heard that message,
and having attended that retreat, I felt ready to return to the challenges of
life – knowing that Jesus has already prepared all I will need, and that with
his presence and grace I can weather the storms.   

* * * * * * *


the LCMC annual gathering, I was blessed and encouraged by the resources that
that association provides for congregations that are between pastors, in the
call process, and/or in transition.  I
attended breakout sessions for Call Committee Coaches, on Intentional Interim
Ministry (with a focus on the interim pastor), and on Pastoral Succession.  I had a hard time choosing between a second
breakout session on Intentional Interim Ministry (with a focus on the
congregation) and the session on Pastoral Succession.  I found myself wishing they were not being
offered at the same time. 

session for Call Committee Coaches was led by Perry Fruhling, LCMC Coordinator
for Pastoral Ministry.  I commend Perry
for all the resources he has for congregations that are in the call
process.  I also deeply appreciate the strong
endorsement he has given to Lutheran CORE’s Congregations in Transition
ministry initiative.

was very interested in attending the breakout sessions on Intentional Interim
Ministry and Pastoral Succession because I have seen the tragedies that can
happen when pastoral succession does not go well.  I have seen a strong, orthodox ELCA
congregation where orthodoxy did not survive a change in pastors.  I have seen the massive disruption and great
damage that can happen when the largest congregation in a synod trusts the
synod to supply them with their next pastor. 
I have seen a congregation “settle” for a pastor in order to relieve
their own anxiety rather than doing the hard work of continuing in the search
process.  This congregation is now paying
a high price.  I have seen what can
happen when one person manipulates and controls the call process rather than
allows it to be a unique opportunity for the congregation to learn from its
past, identify its strengths, and prepare itself for a new future.  Having seen what can happen, I was very
grateful to learn about the Intentional Interim Ministry that the LCMC has to
offer its congregations.

was intrigued with the comparison that was given between repairing a parking
lot and interim ministry.  One option is just
to fill the potholes.  That would be like
simply having pulpit supply.  A second
option would be to apply a thin coat of sealant that would get you through
another winter.  That would be like
having an interim pastor who has not been trained to be an intentional
interim.  The third option would be to
take the time and put forth the effort to take off a few layers and get down to
the foundation.  That would be like
having an intentional interim.

kinds of situations were described where having an intentional interim would be
particularly recommended – after a long-term pastor, where there have been
several different pastors in a short period of time, and when a pastor leaves
suddenly or unexpectedly.  The comment
was made that a congregation should have an intentional interim for one month
for every year of the former pastor’s call – but no less than a year. 

learned that intentional interims can and need to be “truth speakers.”  Using all the capital and credits that they
have, they can deal with issues that the next called pastor will then not have
to deal with.  A big difference between
an intentional interim and the next called pastor is that the intentional interim
will be leaving.  That factor alone might
enable the intentional interim to do what needs to be done. 

attending the breakout session were encouraged to consider whether they might
have the gifts and calling to be an intentional interim.  We were told that intentional interims have
got to be able to love all people – even very difficult people – as they draw
from the well of God’s great love for us. 
They have got to be able to remain calm and be a non-anxious
presence.  And they have got to be engaged
in doing self-care. 

am very grateful to Dawn Spies, Steve Abend, and Steve Lien (former LCMC
coordinator of pastoral ministry) for leading the workshop.  The next day I was talking with a friend who
is serving his second term as an intentional interim.  I thanked him for what he is doing, and I
committed myself to pray and ask God to bless those who serve in this way and
to raise up more intentional interims.

* * * * * *

you to the organizers of and the presenters at these four events.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to
attend, I value the ministry partnerships, and I enjoy the relational

Blessings in Christ,
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE

September 2019 Newsletter

Annual Chicago Encuentro Set for Holy Cross Day, Sept. 14th

By Pastor Keith L. Forni, STS, Lutheran CORE Board Member & Encuentro Convener

“…Build yourselves up in your most holy faith…”    Jude 20                                              

“…Mantenganse en el amor de Dios, edificandose sobre la base de su santisima fe…”   Judas 20

Walking wet, signed with the cross of Jesus at Holy Baptism, Christians are called, gathered and sent to give bold witness by the power of the Holy Spirit. With the Church of Christ in every age, they give bold witness to their Lord Jesus, the One who has triumphed over sin, death and the power of the devil.

This year’s autumn Encuentro Luterano (Lutheran Encounter) will fortify the people of God in their Baptismal identity, beginning with the opening talk by The Rev. Dr. Maxwell Johnson, an ELCA pastor and faculty member at the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, IN.  Dr. Johnson will present “Baptism: Walking Wet in the Via Crucis” at the inter-Lutheran gathering, to be held on Holy Cross Day / Dia de la Santa Cruz, Saturday, Sept. 14th at St. Timothy Lutheran Church, 2101 N. Kildare Ave. (corner of W. Dickens), in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood. Coffee & registration begin the day at 9:00am.  (For a full Encuentro schedule, please visit the St. Timothy Lutheran Church Facebook page.) A postcard for this event can be viewed here.

St. Timothy, Chicago, baptismal font

Following the morning session, the Misa Panamericana, Spanish language liturgy of Holy Communion will be celebrated with Mariachi Juvenil Tamazula de Joliet.  Affirmation of Baptism will take place in the service, with the rededication of a restored font, originally utilized by the St. Timothy parish in the early 20th century, but stored away and out of use for decades.

In his second talk, Dr. Johnson will draw from his book “The Virgin of Guadalupe: Theological Reflection of an Anglo-Lutheran Liturgist,” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002) the Biblical witness of Mary’s Magnificat in positing “Marian Acclamations: Not Just for Roman Catholics Anymore.”

Worship will be led by Pastor Myrta Robles, CORE Board members Pastor Keith Forni and Joel Awes, with area mission partners and members of St. Timothy.  Pastor Dennis Nelson, of Scottsdale AZ,  Lutheran CORE Executive Director, will provide an overview and update of the renewal organization’s work in providing voice and network for confessing Lutherans. Afternoon workshops will accent Resources for Learning Spanish, Neighborhood Ministry and the Advent Tradition of Las Posadas, and the Development of Hispanic-Latino Lutheran Ministries with an overview of the life and outreach of St. Andrew / San Andres Lutheran Church, West Chicago, IL, by Pastor Josh Ebner.

Once again, the Encuentro
will conclude with an outdoor Vigil and Witness for Peace on Chicago’s Streets
with Compline / bilingual Night Prayers and a closing dessert fellowship.

Fairly traded, handcrafted Central American art will be available for purchase, offered by Mr. Tom Hocker of Tree of Life Imports, Hammond, IN. Handcrafted baskets and other items will be available, in support of community initiatives in Ghana, West Africa, presented by Mr. David Jones, Joliet IL. Materials for Lutheran, bilingual / Hispanic-Latino ministry will be available from the Bilingual Ministry Resource Center, Joliet / Chicago.There is no cost to attend the Encuentro, as Lutheran CORE and the host congregations are covering expenses.  Continental breakfast, lunch and supper are provided.  Participants are invited to register by calling or texting Pastor Forni at 815.600.3030 / keithlforni@gmail.com.