Black Ministry: “Our Roots and Future are in Him”
The roots of Black Ministry in the LCMS date back to 1877. The first missionary, Rev. J.F. Doescher, was sent by the Western District (which became the Missouri District). Rev. Doescher established congregations in Little Rock, Memphis, and New Orleans. Rev. Nils Bakke, Doescher’s successor, would become instrumental in establishing congregations along with Dr. Rosa J. Young through Alabama and Concordia College in Selma, Alabama. Another region where ministry to African Americans began in the 1870s was in North Carolina. Immanuel Lutheran College in Greensboro, North Carolina would be established in 1903 for the training of African Americans including for pastoral ministry.
As a sixteen year old, I heard Rev. Dr. William Griffin speak at the 1986 LCMS Youth Gathering in Washington D.C. It was fascinating to hear these first-hard stories about the Civil Rights Movement from a Lutheran pastor in Montgomery, Alabama and then in Chicago. He told of his relationship with Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson, and Rosa Parks. Dr. Griffin was born to a third generation LCMS family in Kannapolis, North Carolina and attended Immanuel in Greensboro for his seminary training. He would be one of the leaders who established what is known today as the Black Clergy Caucus in the Synod. A 2019 issue of the LCMS Black Ministry newsletter includes a feature on Dr. Griffin as he celebrated his 90th birthday (click here to access online).
Black history in the LCMS, like in our nation, includes both times of celebration and grief. The closure of Concordia College, Alabama, has been painful for many in our Synod, but especially for the black families who had ties to Selma. Rev. Dr. Richard Dickinson’s book, Roses and Thorns, published in 1977 for the centennial of Black Ministry in the Synod provides a picture of the hardship and the joys of our historically black congregations and schools. Another way to learn more about our history is to view the documentary The First Rosa, about Dr. Rosa J. Young, who was instrumental in establishing Concordia College Alabama and congregations and schools that served African American families throughout Alabama (www.lcms.org/thefirstrosa).
This issue of The VOICE focuses on Black Ministry in the Missouri District and the opportunity for us to give thanks to the blessings of the past and celebrate what God is doing among us today. Our prayer is that God will continue to open up new doors for the Gospel in our communities. It is good for us to recognize the great things that things that God is doing even in the midst of these challenging times. The Church’s history is also one of bearing the cross and proclaiming the cross. May God continue to bless that proclamation and give us the strength to bear the cross in our day.
In closing, I share with you Dr. Griffin’s words from the above newsletter. He says of Black Ministry in the LCMS, “Our roots and our future are in Him, the Holy Triune God, who created us in His own image when we were lost; He redeemed us with His innocent suffering and death and by rising again on Easter morning. And by His Holy Spirit, He sanctified us in Him; our past is blessed and our future is secure. In the words of the hymn, “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.”
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan
Rev. Dr. R. Lee Hagan was elected as the fifth president of the Missouri District-LCMS in 2015. He is a 1992 graduate of Concordia College (now University), Seward, Nebraska. He graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis with a Master of Divinity in 1996 and Doctor of Ministry in 2011. Dr. Hagan served as associate pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Evansville, Indiana from 1996-2002. In 2002, he was called to serve as senior pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Concordia, Missouri until he was elected district president. Additionally, he served as the Interim Director of LCMS Rural and Small Town Mission from 2011-2012. He has previously served as Missouri District first vice-president from 2012-2015, fourth vice-president from 2011-2012, and chairman of the Board for Congregational Services from 2006-2011. He has presented workshops and retreats on a host of ministry topics including elders, rural ministry, outreach and ministry to inactives. He has written articles for Lutheran Witness, Concordia Historical Quarterly and Missio Apostolica. He has led mission trips to Cambodia, China, Guatemala and the Bahamas. Dr. Hagan is married to Jill (nee Johnson), who works as a speech-language pathologist. They have two children, Caroline and Jack.