FARGO -- Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ kicked off its annual gathering Sunday in Fargo - a homecoming for some and something of a testing of the waters for others.
Hundreds are attending the ninth gathering of the international coalition of Lutheran congregations. The event runs through Wednesday at Atonement Lutheran Church in Fargo.
"We're expecting 700-plus now," said Dale Wolf, senior pastor at Atonement. "It's double what we've ever had in the past."
Richard Melchert, an LCMC pastor from Golden Valley, N.D., is attending the convention.
"The worship is alive, and it's very free, liberating, and based upon God's word," he said.
And there's also a social aspect. He runs into old friends at the convention, and said it's a "very nice reunion."
This year's theme is "The Invitation."
"LCMC is a new organization. I'm excited about it," said Ron Dale, a delegate from Farmersville, Ohio.
"It's fulfilling, meets my needs. I just get all wrapped up in it. It's exciting," he said. "The convention is just an extra little fireworks on the side."
But while some already call LCMC home, others are at the convention to do some shopping. Last week, Wolf said non-LCMC members accounted for 37 percent of those registered for the gathering at that time.
Some of that influx of visitors is likely a response to recent decisions made by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran body in the U.S. At its assembly in August, the ELCA voted to allow non-celibate gays to serve in the clergy and passed a controversial social statement on sexuality.
The Rev. Joe Beal, of an ELCA church in Lacy, Wash., was at the convention Sunday night and said his congregation is "looking for a new affiliation."
"We believe in building on solid rock," said Beal, who started his pastoral career in North Dakota. And his congregation sees recent decisions by the ELCA as amounting to a fall into "doctrinal heresy."
Stephanie Rohrer of North Little Rock, Ark., was there to "find out what LCMC is about." She's ELCA but is exploring other Lutheran groups as a result of recent ELCA actions.
The gathering, of course, is about the LCMC, not the ELCA. And Wolf said the event is "going to be awesome."
"It's really about Lutherans of like mind who believe in scripture and our heritage, getting together for worship, encouragement and support, and networking together to see how we can join hands in building the kingdom of God," Wolf said.
Featured speakers include author Walter Wangerin Jr., as well as Marilee Pierce Dunker, daughter of the founder of World Vision, and Walt Kallestad, who pastors Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Ariz.
The Rev. Robert Nordvall of Charity Lutheran Church in Bismarck is rostered with the LCMC. He called the LCMC gatherings "the most high-energy, positive, forward-looking, apolitical church gatherings I've ever attended in my life. And I will be 65, so that's a lot of conventions."
If you go
* What: Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ annual gathering
* When: Through Wednesday
* Where: Atonement Lutheran Church, 4601 S. University Drive, Fargo
* Tickets: Call (701) 237-9651 for more info.