Recently there has been much renewed discussion of the historic practice of visitation. This practice involves District Presidents, District Vice-Presidents or Circuit Visitors (counselors) visiting congregations to ascertain how they are doing in terms of teaching and practice. Recently I received word that my own congregation will be visited sometime in the coming year. The Wyoming District has had a triennial visit program in use for a long time, and it has generally yielded very positive results. For instance, I noted that at our last District Convention a number of unanimous votes on particularly hot topic issues (returning to AC XIV in congregational practices for example).
So here is how my congregation's visit will go: The Circuit Visitor (vote yes to the LCMS Constitutional change to restore the use of the good title!) will begin his visit by meeting with my family and I on Saturday night. This visit is to help see how we are doing. It is meant to be about the worker and his family's health.
Following this, Sunday morning will mean the Visitor attending services and seeing with his own eyes and hearing with his own ears what is going on in the parish. The goal, to make sure that the people are being cared for and that we are actually abiding by our voluntary pledge to be a part of the LCMS and practice accordingly (aberrations to these practices drawn from Scripture and Confessions do not care for people as Lutherans do). The Visitor will also attend Bible Studies and have time to talk with the congregation to bring greetings from the District and also answer questions. There is a good amount of give/take expected for this. The Visitor also meets with the pastor to discuss what is being done for Catechesis and other programs of the congregation. He will also give comment on the sermon which he heard. He will write this into a report to be given the congregation and the pastor. This is all meant to be constructive in nature, to help the pastor serve the congregation better and encourage the congregation to care for their pastor and the faith that has been handed down to them.
That is how it goes in a District united. I have also had the privilege of serving in a District that was not so united. In that case, I am not so sure about how visitations will go. I still commend the practice of visitation, but I wonder what will be the feedback when the one visiting is devoted to non-Lutheran teachings and practices (or how it will go with a faithful visitor and a parish/pastor of different variety). I suppose a level of patience and teaching will have to go with the first rounds of visits. Like it or not, we are a Synod divided (how is that for paradox), and this division will hurt the visitation process.
There are some guys who have expressed worry about a possible inquisition type of visitation. I wonder where the underlying issues of conscience lie in such comments. On the one hand, I understand being visited by someone who is of a different "party spirit" in the LCMS. That could be nerve racking. On the other hand, if you are doing something in your parish, especially publicly, you should not be ashamed to share your practice of it with others. If there is any sense of keeping it hidden, then perhaps your practice is not in line with what is faithful Gospel ministry and should be curtailed and stopped. If you need such help, maybe your visitor can help with that.
We are a Synod divided which must start coming back together. The process of Visitation can help do that. I am happy to see the renewed focus and thankful for President Harrison's efforts to renew it. I am thankful for my own District's ongoing practice and how this has been "exported" to the Synod at large. Hopefully it can be done in such a way as to foster faithfulness to God's Word and encouragement to be Lutherans. In the end, it is a hard thing for a Synod divided, but hard things are often the things worth doing.