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