Bishop Michael Rinehart



Gulf Coast Gulf Coast Synod History: The Texas Synod Gets a Full-Time President


The Texas Synod (later the Texas-Louisiana Synod) of the ULCA had a part-time President who also served a congregation in Victoria.

Delegates to the 1952 synod convention discussed the recommendations of the Committee on Full-time President. The topic had been batted around since the end of WWII. The committee proposed that a full-time president continue to fulfill the duties previously performed by part-time presidents: representing the synod in ULCA commitments, ordaining pastors, assisting congregations in the call process and so forth.

In addition, the committee recommended that a full-time president serve as superintendent of missions (planning and developing new congregations) and as editor of the synod’s paper, The Texas Lutheran. Today we would call this person a Director of Evangelical Mission.

The committee further recommended a five-year term of office with only one reelection possible and Victoria as the location for the president’s office. The current President, Lewis Speaker, declined the office for himself, but urged its approval by the convention, citing the frustration of serving a parish full-time as well as maintaining the schedule of part-time synod president.

After rejecting a resolution to refer the decision to a vote by all congregations, the delegates voted to approve the full-time office of president as recommended by the synod’s Executive Committee. The convention decided to allow the Executive Committee and the president-elect to choose the office site.

The convention elected the Reverend Royal E. Lesher as the synod’s first full-time president. He located the Synod Office in Austin. Lescher was a graduate of Thiel College and Philadelphia Seminary. He had been serving as the Director of Evangelism for the ULCA in New York. Seven months prior to being elected, he started Crestview (later St. Matthew) Lutheran Church in Waco, Texas.

Lescher presided over some of the most rapid growth of the Texas Synod. Membership grew at twice the rate of the population during his tenure. He was easily reelect on the first ballot in 1957. In 1958 he resigned, with plans to move to Illinois in February 1959 to be closer to his aging parents.

An assembly was called. The process required three ballots. The nominating ballot contained ten names. For the second ballot, three names remained: Phil Wahlberg, David Cooper and George Housewright. Phil Wahlberg was elected on the third ballot.

Pastor Wahlberg was a native Texan, born in 1924. He grew up at Grace, Houston, the first ULCA congregation in the Texas Synod. He studied for two years at Texas Lutheran College, then finished his bachelor’s at Lenoir-Rhyne, a Lutheran college in North Carolina. He graduated from Southern Lutheran Seminary. After his first call in Savannah, Georgia, he took the call at St. Mark’s in Corpus Christi. During his time, the congregation grew from 100 to 650. He chose Pastor Martin Yonts as his assistant.

He served as President of the Texas-Louisiana Synod, ULCA. At the 1962 convention, he was chosen as President of the new Texas-Louisiana Synod of the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), in a merger of the Texas Conference of the Augustana Lutheran Church, the Texas-Louisiana Synod of the ULCA and Danevang Lutheran Church. The new synod had 87 congregations (including 5 in Louisiana).

The next 24 years, the Texas-Louisiana Synod grew 76% in baptized membership, from 26,995 in 1962 to 47,437 in 1986. 58 congregations were planted, more than two per year. During the same 24 years, the LCA declined in both its total membership and the number of congregations: baptized membership fell almost six percent, from 3M to 2.9M.

In 1980, the LCA changed the title from President to Bishop. Bishop Wahlberg served until the formation of the ELCA in 1987. (His assistant, Martin Yonts, was elected the first bishop of our synod, followed by Paul Blom.) If we include his time as the President of the Texas Synod, ULCA, Phil Wahlberg served from 1959 to 1987, over 28 years as President/Bishop in Texas and Louisiana, elected six or seven times.

If you’re interested in the history of the Lutheran Church in Texas, here are some things to read:

Russell Alan Vardell, “Striving to Gather the Scattered: The Texas-Louisiana Synod and Its Predecessor Bodies, 1851-1987.” Austin, 1988.

H. C. Ziehe, “A Centennial Story of the Lutheran Church in Texas”

William Flachmeier, “Lutherans of Texas in Confluence”

Robert J. Koenig, “Pause to Ponder”

Merton Lundquist, “One Family of God” (for the Augustana Texans)

Frank Eberhardt, et al, “History of the Evangelical Lutheran Texas Synod of the ULCA.” 1928

December 6, 2015 is Advent 2C

December 6, 2009

Baruch 5:1-9 – Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on for ever the beauty of the glory from God.
Malachi 3:1-4 – See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.

Luke 1:68-79 – Zechariah. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

Philippians 1:3-11 – I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.

Luke 3:1-6 – John the Baptist: As written in the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”


See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

The Messenger

I must admit, I have never quite gotten used to the recent use of “See” for הִנֵּה instead of “Behold.” I get that no one uses “behold” or “lo” anymore. But, “see” lacks the gravitas of a divine pronouncement. What would we say today? Here are some of the ways NASB translates it: after all (1), behold (938), go (1), here (41), how (5), if (18), if he sees (1), if the has indeed (1), indeed (11), lo (16), look (3), now (3), now (1), see (4), surely (2), there (2), unless (1). I suppose in Texas, a divine oracle might say, “Look here, y’all!” or “See here!” but I can’t bring myself to do that, so I’m sticking with “Behold!”

YHWH is returning to the Temple. This is a post-exilic text. The people have returned, and the Temple has been rebuilt. Already there are problems, like before. The people are worshipping foreign gods and the priests are misconducting themselves, again. YHWH is going to come and purify the priests, the sons of Levi.

YHWH is sending a messenger in advance. The word for messenger is malach, מַלְאָך. Malach means “messenger,” “ambassador,” “envoy” or even “angel.” So Malachi, the title of the book, means messenger. It is likely that the author is referring to himself.

People often pray for God to come, but they don’t know what they are asking for. Do we really want this? We think God will come to give our enemies their comeuppance. It often doesn’t occur to us, that we ourselves might be the targets of divine judgment. When God comes, who can stand? Who can endure the day of God’s coming? If we are washed thoroughly with fullers soap so that all our dirt is washed away, what will be left? I once had a car that I was afraid to wash, because the rust and dirt seemed to be holding it together.

Although the messenger the author refers to is probably himself, sacred texts often have much to say about current events. In Jesus’ day, the Roman occupation was understood as God’s judgment, and the religious establishment was considered corrupt by many. These texts rang true, and the people looked for messengers to purify the religious structures of the day.

For the followers of Jesus, John the Baptist is the messenger, announcing God’s coming in Jesus of Nazareth. John’s scathing critique of both Temple and Government (church and state) earn him the reward of many prophets: martyrdom.

What kind of reform do we need today? Can we not admit that our own religious structures are under the power of sin? As churches of the Reformation, can we not acknowledge that the church is always in need of reform, as the saying goes: Ecclesia semper reformanda: “the church is always to be reformed”, a phrase used by Karl Barth in 1947, deriving from a saying of St. Augustine.

Perhaps the preacher can engage these questions of gods and corruption prophetically. What gods do we worship? Can we name them? Money? Country? Status? Power? Are we willing to take the ire that sometimes comes when we name these gods? Can we name the places in our congregations, synods and denominations where we need reform? Where are we in bondage to tradition? Where are we in bondage to novelty? Racism? Sexism? Classicism? Do we value our buildings more than our ministry, or the people around us? When does survival of our congregation become a god? Survival to what end?

Does God still send messengers today? Who might they be? Who speaks with the refiner’s fire? Who announces Christ’s coming reign of justice and peace, where the swords are beaten into plowshares and spears into purifying hooks, where the valleys are lifted and the hills brought down to a level playing field, where death is destroyed forever and the tears wiped from all faces?

What stories of messengers can you tell? Who brought you a word of the Lord that you needed to hear, even if you didn’t want to hear it at the time? How can we make space for such messengers in our lives and communities?

Malachi is the messenger.

1862 Baltimore Photo Photoshopped

This photo of three union soldiers was taken in 1862, from Federal Hill. The cannon was trained on the city of Baltimore across Baltimore Harbor.  The photo below shows the same photo, but with modern Batimore in the background. 



A dream is just a dream, but a goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline. 

— Harvey Mackay

November 29, 2015 is Advent 1C


November 29, 2009

Jeremiah 33:14-16 – I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Psalm 25:1-10 – Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 – And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.

Luke 21:25-36 – There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Hope in Chaos

When I read this I am filled with questions. How did the original hearers understand this passage? What promise was made to the house of Israel? How will it be fulfilled? What righteous branch will spring up? Let’s sort this out.

Jeremiah (יִרְמְיָהוּ) is a prophet of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, during the reign of King Josiah. At least until the Babylonian Captivity in 587 B.C. He prophesied that Judah would be dragged into captivity because of their unfaithfulness to YHWH. He’s hard on idolatry and priestly greed. These prophecies land him in jail (33:1).

Luther Seminary Associate Professor of Old Testament Kathryn Schifferdecker reminds us that this passage does not appear in the Septuagint (possibly 3rd century B.C.). It is a later addition. says chapters 1-25 are Jeremiah’s prophecies against Judah. Chapters 26-45 are prose that often refer to Jeremiah in the third person. Some believe they were written by Baruch, Jeremiah’s scribe. (Read chapter 36.)

In the midst of scathing prophecies that include corpses in the street, Jeremiah hints that better days will come, in time. Laughter will one day be heard again in the streets (33:10-11). Jeremiah cares about the streets.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the Babylonian captivity meant the end of the Davidic dynasty. It was now a dead stump. Once a tree is cut down, what can be done? The temple was destroyed – the end of a civilization or maybe not?

Jeremiah promises a shoot will spring up. It will be a righteous branch of David. This shoot, a person, will execute justice in the land.

Imagine a beautiful old tree with much history. Your grandparents were engaged there. Your parents hung a swing and pushed you. Then someone cuts it down. Forlorn, you know you will never again sit in the shade of that tree. Your children will not swing from its branches. You return to the site after a period of time and see a shoot emerging from the stump – hope.

David’s line will never again occupy the throne. But Jews hundreds of years later will come to hope for a different kind of dynasty, a different son of David. The Jews will look for this anointed one, this messiah (in Greek, Christ, from chrism, anointing).

But for Jeremiah, for the corpses in the street, for the people eventually in slavery in Babylon, this is a long way off.

Schifferdecker reminds us that we are called to do the same. When the world seems in chaos, like after events in Paris, Beirut, and Bagdad, we proclaim hope. When the world seems bent on hate and when even the best of us respond to hate with hate, we announce God’s coming reign of love. When, gripped with fear, we seem ready to shut out our neighbor, the one in the ditch, the holy family at our door, no room in the inn, we are invited to announce God’s risky, radical hospitality.

This is our privilege: to announce the love of God which casts out all fear – the love that became flesh in Jesus, son of David, our righteous branch.

When I was a stranger, you welcomed me…

As bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I am deeply saddened by the terrorist attacks of the last week, in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Egypt, and across the Middle East. DAESH (ISIS) is an illness that seeks to cultivate fear and mistrust. Our prayers are with all victims of violence and their families.

DAESH is under fire by France, Russia, the United States, and others. Its short history won’t last. DAESH wants us to hate refugees.

Every day, Syrians—including Christians persecuted for their faith—are being tortured, murdered, bombed, and traumatized. Of the millions of Syrian refugees, the United States offers to settle a small number—just 10,000 people over the next year. To close the door on resettling Syrian refugees would be signing a death warrant for thousands of families fleeing for their lives.

Are we prepared to say, as we approach the Christmas season, that there is no room in the inn?

During World War II, there were fears about terrorism by Japanese immigrants living in the United States. These fears led, regrettably, to internment camps. Similar fears—also unfounded—existed about Germans fleeing Nazi Germany. Jews were denied visas, most notably the family of Anne Frank. On June 4, 1939, the passenger ship SS St. Louis, with more than 900 Jewish passengers on board, was turned away from Florida, and the ship returned to Europe. More than 250 of the passengers ultimately died in Nazi death camps.

Jesus once told the story of a man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. The priest and the Levite passed by, no doubt in fear for their own safety. Only the Good Samaritan—a member of a despised ethnic group—stopped.

I hear the concerns for safety of the U.S. public. The Departments of State and Homeland Security can answer these questions. About 70,000 refugees are resettled in this country every year. They are the most-vetted community in the U.S. Half of those fleeing are children; half are women. Only 2 percent are men of the age of combatants; these men are primarily professional Syrians who have the resources to flee.

Let us not allow fear and rumors of threats to keep us from extending the welcome that is central to our American identity and, for many of us, our faith.

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