Thursday, October 31, 2013


The Concordia Theological Seminary Symposia series is a week-long celebration featuring lectures broken down into the symposium on Exegetical Theology (scripture) and on the Lutheran Confessions (the Book of Concord).  It is also a grand reunion of sorts, a wonderful get-together of classmates and pastors and professors and theological speakers that happens every year in January at the Fort Wayne seminary campus.

I just got the flyer for the 2014 symposia, and as usual, the line-up looks very interesting and intellectually stimulating.  Many of my colleagues are planning to be there.  There will also be additional meetings (apart from Symposia) by the editors of Gottesdienst and the Board of Directors of the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society (SLMS).

This year is the 29th annual Exegetical Symposium with the theme being "Where Does God Dwell? - A Real Presence Hermeneutics" and also the 37th annual Symposium on the Lutheran Confessions: "Lutheran Distinctives in an Age of Religious Change."

But here's the problem: it's expensive.  Very expensive.  Really expensive!

For my wife and I to attend (we often attend lectures and conferences, theological and others, together), the basic cost would be $270.  The banquet is $40/person, bringing the total to $350.  Breakfast is $6/person (very reasonable!) per day which will bring the total up to $410.  There is a Monday preaching workshop for $40 - which I would assume I would be attending alone as I am the preacher.  So we're up to about $450 - not counting lodging or travel.  Lodging is about $100/day, bringing us up to about $950.

For those of us not near Fort Wayne, there is the consideration of transportation.  If we were to drive the 944 miles each way (1,888 miles) at 30 miles per gallon (means buying 62.9 gallons of gas, which would add roughly $200 in gas - bringing the total up to about $1,150.  This doesn't count other expenses involved in travel.

There is an alternative that I considered: stream the lectures on the 'Net.  This doesn't allow for face to face visits and all the blessings of time spent with old friends, with comrades, teachers, and brothers in arms, but at least I would get to see and hear the interesting papers from this year's conference.

But in order to do that, CTS is charging a fee of $75.

Yes, $75 is better than a grand-plus.  But $75 is a lot of money in this day and age when iTunes University is free, when many lectures are posted to YouTube at no charge, when even the Tom Woods Liberty Classroom runs $100 for unlimited online use for an entire year.

$75 is a lot of money for four days of streamed lectures.

So, I'm proposing a SMPosia experience instead.

SMP is the low-cost alternative route to the Office of the Holy Ministry being offered by both of our seminaries.  It stands for Specific Ministry Pastor.  Instead of the traditional route in which a man physically moves (in many cases with his family) to the seminary for two years, then moves again to an unknown destination for a year of vicarage, followed by a move back to the seminary at the end of vicarge followed by a final year of onsite seminary study, to move one more time for his call, and instead of earning a rigorous Master of Divinity degree (with all the associated student debt), the SMP program places a man into a two-year vicarage immediately.  He is onsite at his home congregation - no moving.  He can remain in his secular job if he has one, as can his wife.  During this two-year vicarage, he must complete just eight online courses, after which he is ordained into the Office of the Holy Ministry without having to move even once, and without having to attend the seminary in person.  He is expected to do more coursework over the next few years.

But it goes without saying that SMP is a much easier and cheaper alternative.  If was initially sold as a way to attract more minorities and poor men into the ministry, but we're actually seeing rich mega-congregations being able to run men through the hoops quickly to get them into the Holy Office while bypassing the theological rigors of seminary training.  While my point is not to argue against this practice, I'm not a fan.  We certainly would not want our medical students to go directly into internship and take 8 courses online before being declared a full-fledged surgeon.  Nor would we want airline pilots or attorneys to be trained in this way.  In this day and age of the pastor glut and the shortfall of calls - especially calls that permit a man to make the district guideline salary - this shortcut program is not only unnecessary, but it also negatively affects pastors who are on CRM status, that is, able and qualified to serve but lacking a call.

But the SMP approach is certainly cheaper.

I'd actually like to see a SMPosia by having some guys with iPhones record the lectures and post them to YouTube.  It's free to upload, easy to access, and free to watch online.  There is no reason to charge $75 to stream the talks live when they can be posted basically right after they are delivered for free.  If we can offer a low-cost alternative for seminary education and ordination into the Office, why not this kind of option for a few symposia lectures?

So, what do you say, guys?  Any chance for a SMPosia?


Brian Yamabe said...

I don't think anyone needs to go to this trouble. The $75 is for the live stream. The recorded presentations will probably be up on the CTS Media site a few weeks after as they have been. The archive is from 1999 - 2013 (+1984?) so I don't expect next year to be any different.

Pastor Peters said...

I must assume that your point is sarcasm. By the same token I would ask that Gottesdiest be free, posted as a PDF that anyone can download or any other journal. $75 is cheap. It is easily worth the full amount of the trip up, lodging, etc... so to get the content live for $75 is not at all out of line. I have taken my extended family out to eat for more than this and all we got was fat off the deal.

Rev. Larry Beane said...

Dear Larry,

Obviously, to some, $75 is cheap. To some, $75 is expensive. To an increasing number of pastors, it's expensive. There are an increasing number of guys who are now worker priests. Health insurance costs are on the rise. I know of very few pastors who have had raises in the past several years, and many whose salaries and benefits have been slashed.

Symposia is not as large as it has been in the past. My impression isn't that men are voting with their feet because the theology, fellowship, and papers are getting worse, but rather it is matter of cost.

If Symposia is a fundraiser or an elite event designed to appeal to a certain demographic, okay, I get that. I never thought of it in that way. I find it a shame for our clergy to be unable to at least stream the lectures if it will make them better pastors. I've never had to pay $75 to stream lectures in any other context - including other educational opportunities.

As far as digitizing Gottesdienst goes, it's a great idea. I've suggested the same myself. Our only real production costs involve copy editing - a stipend to our copy editor - and printing and mailing costs which is the bulk of the expense. We could offer the printed journal as an option along with an e-pub or pdf option. Believe me, we're not getting paid. Fritz is not absconding to Argentina on the proceeds. We are not very tech savvy. I suspect we'll get there at some point. The goal is for the ideas to get out there.

We do have Gottesdienst Online as well, which is, of course, free.

Cecil The Sea Sick Sea Serpent said...

Pastor Beane,

I am especially glad that you and your wife and son could attend Oktoberfest at Kewanee this year. Sorry about the burden of cost for those of you who are located a great distance from Fort Wayne.

With regard to the SMP, well! Ordination? Give me a break! I am sick of the LCMS, but I live too far from the ELDoNA, and besides who in his right mind would leave Father Eckardt?

Hope you and your family can make it to Oktoberfest next year and of course to the Symposia. (We used to attend in the late 70's and throughout the 80's and maybe we will this year?)

Thank you again for your faithfulness to the Confessions and to the commentary on the social and cultural depravity of our times.

Stephen Harris
Subdeacon and Head Elder
Saint Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Kewanee, Illinois

PS "Kewanee" in Indian means "Prairie Chicken" which is currently a craft brew beer in our area.

Cecil The Sea Sick Sea Serpent said...

Dear Pastor Beane,

Thank you for your insightful commentary on the SMP craziness. The LCMS is out of it's mind on this one ..., Ordination without seminary training? Give me a break! There are a lot of loose screws in the LCMS>

Thank you and your wife and son for attending Oktoberfest this year. I hope you can find a way to attend Symposia this year. My wife, Berniece, and I used to attend in the late 70" and throughout the 80"s, perhaps we can again this year.

We look forward to your visit to Kewanee next year.

God's Blessings.

Stephen Harris
Subdeacon and Head Elder
Saint Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Kewanee, Illinois