September 1, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

God’s grace and peace be multiplied to you in the name of Jesus!

A change in plans is required – Every three years, in anticipation of the upcoming District Convention, the SED office prepares and sends a letter to share preliminary information about convention plans. That letter has been written and is ready to go, but we have one problem. It’s called: COVID 19. We want to ensure the greatest amount of participation for our SED delegates while bringing assurance to each of them that the environment will be safe. With our present plans, I am not able to provide that assurance.

While I am responsible to make the decision, time has been spent seeking the counsel of others including: the SED Board of Directors, the SED Staff, the LCMS President, the LCMS Secretary, the Chairman of the Council of Presidents and other District Presidents. On the basis of that good counsel, I have made a decision to change the date and the location of our SED Convention.

Our new SED Convention date is: Friday, October 22, 2021. We will be meeting in Richmond, VA.

Here are the reasons to make this change – Three years ago we made initial plans for our convention on May 13-15, 2021 in Hickory, NC (the same place we met in 2018). Those plans have changed due to the following current five facts:

Fact 1: If our convention was scheduled today, there is no location in the SED where we could legally gather due to the executive orders of the six states and Washington DC

Fact 2: In the most central geographical locations of the SED we have these restrictions:

  • Executive Orders in NC (where we were scheduled to meet) will not allow us to have more than 50 people in the convention center.

  • Executive Orders in VA allow us to have 250 people in the room, but that would only allow us to have half of our 500+ delegates participate.

Fact 3: Latest reports predict life will return to order in the second half of 2021, but more likely by the end of 2021. Our convention is scheduled in the first half of 2021.

Fact 4: While we hope for a change in executive orders, convention centers/hotels are not willing/able to negotiate contracts for our convention due to those executive orders. In normal situations, we would have signed a contract at least 12-18 months before the event.

Fact 5: We know each of the above facts will be updated and things will normalize, but have no guarantee this will happen by May 2021.

What are other districts doing? – All 35 LCMS Districts are scheduled for conventions in 2021. Many of them are facing similar situations. Some districts are small so they can meet in a local church. Seven have a Concordia University with larger facilities which provide more options, assuming the Executive Orders in their states allow it. Other Districts are in the same situation as the SED. LCMS Secretary John Sias provided this guidance to the Council of Presidents:

  • Districts may shorten conventions to one day to reduce time in hotels, restaurants and convention halls.
  • Districts can reschedule the convention for later in 2021 anticipating that things will normalize after a vaccine is available.
  • Due to Bylaw restrictions and Robert’s Rules of Order, districts may not conduct business (like elections and floor debates) using video conference applications like Zoom.
  • If Executive Orders prohibit gatherings in particular states, Districts can:

  1. Cancel the convention – which would mean there would be no resolutions, no elections, no 2021 convention. Everything would remain the same.
  2. Have a legal convention with “the presence of at least one-third of the constitutionally elected voting representatives.”

A few more details about our plans:
To ensure that our delegates know we are taking every measure possible to ensure their safety and encourage their full participation I have decided that we will:

  • Move our convention date from mid-May to Friday, October 22, 2021. By delaying the convention for an extra six months, there is more time for executive orders in the state in which we are gathering to become less restrictive. In addition, it provides more time for the long-awaited vaccine to be identified and distributed. I apologize for any inconvenience this change of dates causes for you and your congregation.
  • Move our convention site to Richmond, VA, a more central venue in the SED. While it would be long day, more delegates will have the option of driving to the convention in the morning and getting home in the evening. People from the farthest reaches of the SED will still have an overnight stay.
  • Divide our convention in two parts. The Bylaws for District Conventions state:

“Conventions of the districts shall afford opportunities for worship, nurture, inspiration, fellowship, and the communication of vital information” (Bylaw 4.2.1).

While the Secretary of Synod has given us permission to shorten our convention, the Bylaw still makes requirements of us. In order to have opportunity for “worship, nurture inspiration, fellowship, and the communication of vital information” we are planning the convention in two parts:

Part 1: Conduct pre-convention/convention gatherings on-line – The Opening Worship, the SED President’s Report, SED Board of Directors Report, the Synod Visitor’s Report, and the Essayist will be provided via Zoom, two or three evenings during the week prior to a one-day convention. Since we will be using Zoom for presentations and not the conducting of business, it is our understanding this would still be acceptable practice.

One advantage of using the Zoom platform for the information sharing aspect of the convention is that we can invite many others across the SED to participate with us. The SED has this capability and experience, so we are able to ensure a quality experience. For this particular convention, it will be important for convention delegates to have the capability and experience to participate using electronic tools and software.

In addition, this will be the third convention in which we are using our SED Convention App where delegates are able to have their own copies of all the reports, PowerPoint presentations, and videos of the actual presentations to view as often as they choose.

Part 2: Conduct a one day in-person convention – We will prioritize this in-person time for devotions, elections and resolution work. SED elections usually take a little more than half a day. This would allow time for the resolutions. Synod representatives would still be present with us for a time of Question and Answers.

Other details – Now that we have made this decision, we will re-write and send the letter that has all the preliminary information about our convention, which includes information about Circuit Forums, Nominations for District Offices and the Board of Directors, and dates by which Overtures need to be received. We know you are all waiting to hear about the convention costs. This will also be in the letter. Once we are able to write a contract with a convention center, we will let you know our convention location.

One last thought – As we make this change in our convention arrangements, we know it is no small adjustment to your schedules. While I know that our convention will fall in a busy time of the church year, I believe this is one way that we can care for one another as we conduct the important work of the church. Your understanding and your patience during this time is appreciated.

There’s another proverb that speaks to our planning: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans” (Proverbs 16:3). Please join me already now in praying God’s blessing on our convention, the delegates, the decisions, and all our preparations.

In the royal service of the King,

John R. Denninger, President
Southeastern District, LCMS