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ST. LOUIS (RNS) Soon after his installation as the new president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Rev. Matthew Harrison was studying the responsibilities of his office in the denomination’s constitution and bylaws.
One paragraph jumped out at him.

Under Section 3.3—“Elected Officers of the Synod”—he learned that the synod president `shall be a full-time executive” and `shall not be in charge of a congregation or hold a chair at any educational institution.”

But, the bylaw continued, he “may be called as an assistant pastor, provided such services do not interfere with his official duties as President.”

Harrison knew no church president had simultaneously helped pastor a church since the 1950s. He also knew, as the author of a book about the church’s first five leaders, that early church presidents commonly held a pastoral role in a local congregation.

Harrison approached the pastor of his new parish, Village Lutheran Church in St. Louis, and asked for his thoughts.

“We sat down and talked to make sure we were on the same page, but I wasn’t too concerned about that,” said the Rev. Kevin Golden, Village Lutheran’s pastor. “I was familiar with where he stood theologically and we have mutual friends who reassured both of us that we were on the same page.”

Golden approached the 200-member church’s board of elders, and “as soon as we started talking about it, they saw that it would be a very healthy thing to have the president grounded in a local congregation,” Golden said.

In October, Village Lutheran issued “a call,” or an invitation, for Harrison to be its assistant pastor. In a move not seen in the synod for 60 years, Harrison will not only manage the second-largest Lutheran denomination in the country, but he’ll also get his uniform dirty.

“The Missouri Synod has been stagnant for 40 years,” Harrison said. “There are many different reasons for that, but this is a public affirmation of the importance of a local parish, and local pastors.”

Golden said Harrison’s new position would benefit both parties.

“When a church calls a pastor, it’s not just about the pastor caring for them, but them caring for the pastor,” Golden said. “We’re taking seriously our responsibility to care for Pastor Harrison.”

For the synod president, the new position will involve occasional preaching and teaching and visiting a handful of shut-ins each month. Harrison stressed that it will not involve meetings or administrative duties, and he will not receive any compensation from his church.

Village Lutheran will install Harrison as its assistant pastor on Jan. 9. His first duty will be to officiate during Communion.

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