In the 63rd regular convention of the LCMS in 2007, “One Message Christ,” Rev. Harrison was asked to be a devotion leader. His devotion was titled, “Courage to Carry the Message into a World of Hurt.” The Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer, President of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and one of the convention chaplains, introduced Rev. Harrison.
When I heard the number of nominations Rev. Matthew Harrison received for the office of Synodical President my mind went back to the first time I met Matt and Kathy. It was the fall of 1991. I was the Circuit Counselor of the Westgate Circuit in Iowa District East. At the time we were experiencing a shortage of pastors. Of the nine congregations in the Westgate Circuit five were without a resident pastor. So, in addition to serving my home congregation, St. John in Waverly, I was also serving as Vacancy Pastor of St. Paul, rural Waverly and St. Peter, Westgate. Now we were receiving two Candidates from Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne – Candidate Paul Mc Cain was called to St. Paul and Candidate Matthew Harrison was called to St. Peter. It was an exciting time, not only for the candidates and congregations, but also for me! Now perhaps I would be able to spend some time with my wife!
Immediately following the Ordination/Installation service the Harrisons received word that Kathy’s sister-in-law had just died of cancer. What was the new pastor to do? He had not even preached his first sermon! My counsel was that Kathy and the family needed him. The congregation had survived my pastoral leadership for several months so they could put up with me one more week! Pastor Harrison reluctantly agreed.
I didn’t have to be around Matt long before I realized that this young man had a remarkable grasp of Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. There was no doubt that he was an orthodox, conservative, confessional Lutheran Theologian, but was he a PASTOR? The one does not necessarily the other make! The first glimmer of hope came by way of a phone call.
Pastor Harrison had discovered that a young couple was living together without the benefit of marriage. Pastor Harrison called me to seek advice on how to deal with this situation. I must confess, I was very pleasantly surprised. The question was not, “Is this a sin?” The question was, how could he deal with this in a pastoral way. Matt was not simply concerned about the correct theological answer, he was concerned about how to apply the correct theological answer in a loving, caring, pastoral way. Not only is he a remarkable theologian, he has a pastoral heart!
In Westgate the morning gathering place for coffee was the local tavern. Pastor Harrison was frequently one of the guys that gathered to chat about the weather and whatever else was exciting in Westgate! The mark of a good pastor is meeting people where they are. That seemed to come naturally for Rev. Harrison. His pastoral concern for God’s people showed up again and again as we discussed matters of casuistry in our circuit conferences. Perhaps most telling of all is the fact that I never received one single phone call from any member of St. Peter complaining about their pastor!
Small town and rural congregations have learned that when they receive a talented young pastor in all likelihood the Lord is going to, sooner or later, call him to a larger and more challenging ministry. For Pastor Harrison that call came in 1995 to Zion Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana.
And so, once again I was asked to serve St. Peter Lutheran Church as vacancy pastor. It is funny how, as I grow older, I sometimes have trouble remembering important things, but some little incident is indelibly etched in my mind. One such incident occurred soon after I started serving at Westgate for the second time. I was there for some midweek evening event. As I was walking to the back of the church a young boy, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, stopped to tell me, “A lot of people think ‘Isaiah, Mighty Seer in Days of Old’ is hard to sing, but it ain’t!” There was no doubt in my mind that this boy had been sitting at the feet of Pastor Harrison who taught the kids to sing “Isaiah, Mighty Seer…” while strumming on his banjo! As I served the members of St. Peter I repeatedly heard what a good shepherd Rev. Harrison had been and how they wished he had not been called away.
In 2003, after I had become District President of Iowa District East and Harrison was Executive Director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, Matt approached me about the possibility of Iowa District East teaming up with LCMS World Relief and Human Care to build a facility for a congregation in Palanga, Lithuania. He had visited Palanga and learned that the congregation’s church facility had burned to the ground in 1938. Under the Soviets they were not allowed to rebuild and then, with the economic disaster created by the Soviets, the congregation could not afford to build it themselves. Once again Rev. Harrison’s pastoral heart was showing through. These Lutheran brothers and sisters in Palanga needed a facility where they could gather for worship and from which they could carry out their diaconal ministry.
The writings Harrison has produced the last few years reveal, not only his theological expertise and pastoral heart, but also his humility and his great sense of humor! Check out his latest, “A Little Book on Joy.” (Lutheran Legacy)
I believe that the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod needs a President who is both a superb theologian and an excellent pastor. I also firmly believe that the Rev. Matthew Harrison is such a man.
Rev. Gary M. Arp
Past President of Iowa District East
Okay, so I’m as uncomfortable with the title as you are. It sounds so…political! Which is truly odd because one of the reasons I so favor Pastor Harrison is because of how a-political an animal he is. I first met him in a class we took under Dr. Nagel – “Koinonia and the Church.” I’ll never forget listening to him deliver on St. Ignatius to us – from the Greek of course. Since that day many moons ago, I’ve had the blessed opportunity to hear him speak numerous times, and what always impresses me is how Pr. Harrison doesn’t like to talk about Pastor Harrison or Synodical structure or guilting people into evangelism or any such. What Pr. Harrison consistently talks about is our Lord and the great things He has done for us and the amazing life into which He has summoned us – a life shaped by mercy. Mercy, first of all, that we receive from Him, but secondly and just as vital, mercy that must shape our lives as we pass it onto others.
When he spoke at our District Convention last year, one of our older pastors (and a dear friend of mine) came up to me afterward and with all earnestness looked me in the eye to ask: “Has anyone ever thought of HIM being elected Synodical President?” My friend doesn’t do blogs or email or any such. I smiled and told him that yes, the thought had crossed a mind or two.
Why did my friend so gravitate to Pastor Harrison? Well, first know that my friend is a true evangelical catholic. A man who has sought for many years to lead his beloved flock in living from the Eucharist as the very center of the Church’s life, the deep wellspring of her hidden joy and letting that Eucharist shape our mission as church in this world. As my friend listened to Pastor Harrison deliver high-octane Gospel to the assembly in that scholarly and yet utterly engaging, popular way he has, my friend realized the deepest truth about Harrison: “That man” he said to me “is a pastor at heart.” And he was right.
It was Holy Week when Issues, Etc. was suddenly and inexplicably yanked off the air, and the producer of that show – a member of my parish, with a very sick wife – faced a most uncertain future. What would happen? I thought it typical Harrison for him to show up at our parish on Maundy Thursday, bringing Bishop Obare’s son along with him. He was there to feast on the Word and on our Lord’s body and blood, to be sure. But he was also there to be a friend to Jeff Schwarz, to speak a personal word of comfort to him in the time of his trial. 30 miles outside of St. Louis through the cornfields he had driven, just to worship with a hurting church and a hurting family that evening. It’s the sort of thing he does. “A pastor at heart.”
And besides this pastoral heart that rejoices in God’s infinite mercy reaching and transforming us in the means of grace, he is a man who has consistently shown a deep concern for the Church’s mercy ministry. Before he ended up heading the mercy arm of the Missouri Synod, he had led an absolutely stunning effort in Fort Wayne to reclaim a neighborhood for its citizens. Partnering with the local Roman parish, he and his beloved Zion Lutheran Church began buying and renovating burned out, trashed houses all around the neighborhood. They went into them with hammers and saws, with paint and nails, they enlisted the citizen’s help and let them know that they were not alone and that those parishes were NOT abandoning their neighborhood. It was a time of rebirth in that part of Fort Wayne, and it was the success (a nationally noted success) of that work there that led directly to the Synod tapping Pr. Harrison to guide its mercy ministries throughout the world – a task he has handled with the same energy and zeal he showed in transforming a ghetto into a thriving neighborhood for love of Christ and the people there.
As he [Harrison] ponders the Synodical disarray that we continue to find ourselves in (the worship wars, the decline in evangelistic zeal among our people, the deterioration of our missionary work throughout the world, and so much more), he has proposed a plan for letting the Word of God do its work among us. He knows that true renewal will come in no other way. “The Word of God must do this thing, and not we poor sinners.” (Luther) You can read his plan at http://itistime.org.
All of that and so much more (that I’ll spare you) is why I support for Synodical President this banjo playing, hammer swinging, paint-brush wielding, masterful teaching servant of God (and fine scholar, to boot!), this man with a pastor’s heart, who gets that the Church literally lives from the Divine Service where the Gospel is preached and the Body and Blood of the Savior delivered into mouths and hearts to strengthen and enliven God’s people in faith toward the Blessed Trinity AND in fervent love toward one another. Yes, I believe it is HE we should elect as our next Synodical President. It’s time, Missouri. It’s time.
William Weedon, Pastor
St. Paul Lutheran Church
Reprinted with permission from the March 2010 issue of Forum Letter. Copyright 2010 by the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau. All rights reserved.
The following is Pastor Harrison reading the final chapter on courage from his book, “Christ Have Mercy.”
Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled — Sermon CTSFW
Rev. Matthew Harrison preached today (30 April 2010) at Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne. His text was John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” This was especially fitting considering that a number of graduates at CTSFW did not receive calls on “Call Day.” In the sermon, Rev. Harrison told the seminary community “Thank You” for their faithfulness, mission outreach, and other scholarly works that serve the church. He concluded the sermon with a quotation from Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration XI, 49: “… before time began God preordained what sort of crosses and sufferings he would use to conform each one of his elect to ‘the image of his Son,’ and that the cross of each should and must ‘work together for the good’ of that person …” Listen to the sermon below and / or download it.
CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
Fort Wayne, Indiana
The Fourth Week of Easter
30 April 2010
Matins – LSB 219
Venite – LSB 220
Hymn 829 “Christ the Eternal Lord”
Reading – John 14:1–14
Responsory for Easter – LSB 222
Homily – Reverend Matthew Harrison
Executive Director, LCMS Board for World Relief and Human Care
Canticle – LSB 940 “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name”
Kyrie – LSB 227
Prayers – LSB 227
Benediction – LSB 228