The Wartburg Letter

Twenty-five years ago the Rev. Paul DeBlock, and his banker brother Joel, wrote a paper questioning the financial and theological approach LCC was taking toward missions. Why do Synod and Districts spend so much money on a growing administration when membership is in steady and predictable decline? Why is spending up while membership dropped, putting increasing financial pressures on congregations.

The DeBlock brothers’ paper was censured and buried by Synod officials as damaging.

Of course, the District President and Synod president at the time were right: the contents of the paper painted a picture of a church that demanded ever more from a shrinking donation base. That didn’t even address the “why are we doing this because administration isn’t a mission.” I was a full-time journalist in those days. I read the paper did some research to confirm the findings. My follow-up research was revealing. I couldn’t have access to public documents like budgets, and no official at the time would speak on the record.

Let’s be generous and say it was clear enough in 1993 that ABC District was taking financial actions that were ill-advised. District’s behaviors were bad enough that I decided to write a little newsletter to let people know that ABC District and Synod were breaking down and heading in a direction that was a serious risk for financial and spiritual catastrophe. That was in 1993.

Fast-forward 25 years, and one of my co-writers sent me the front page of the two editions of “The Wartburg Letter.” I’m sure there is one person out there who has just said, “I knew it!” The Wartburg Letter was a tempest in a teapot. It was a minor controversy at the time.

Looking back, I’m genuinely shocked how right I got it 25 years ago. Then again, I was really echoing the essay, research, intellect, and insights of the formidable DeBlock brothers.

Glancing over the front page of the Wartburg Letter, I remember the excitement of researching and writing the articles, having editorial meetings to focus on the angle of stories, and verifying the information we were publishing was correct. I recall the disappointment of having questions rebuffed by District staff. Granted it was a long time ago, but the attitudes and behaviors that lead to the collapse of CEF/DIL were firmly in operation in 1993. You can’t get to 2015’s collapse without all the decisions and actions District took in the 1990’s. The church’s problems have been decades in the making.

The March 1 cover is a personal favourite. In 1991 Synod issued a questionnaire about how much people trusted Synod and District financial management. The results of the survey were never published. If the results were that people trusted Synod, that would be exposed as a mistake. If the results were that people didn’t trust Synod, then it makes sense they buried the report. Either way, the perspective of history really doesn’t improve the picture for ABC District or Lutheran Church Canada.

If nothing else, it’s an interesting insight into just how early problems in Synod and District were identified, published, and ignored a quarter century ago.

Frankly, I’m a little shocked how well they hold up. Neither cover seems out of date.


Andreas Schwabe is editor and publisher of SolaGratia.ca, and an Edmonton-based multimedia & communication strategist and producer. His focus for SolaGratia is on administration, governance, and issues of faith. For clients, he writes or produces just about anything.