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In Alaska, a congregation uses a tiny trailer for its office. Another, in Texas, renovates a multibuilding complex, fully intending to use every bit of space in what was once the world's largest auto mall. In Hawaii, members in bright print clothing worship outdoors; in Wisconsin, they don their "Sunday best" to worship in the 156-year-old brick and stone building built by their great-grandparents.

Whether they gather in small, white-frame churches next to century-old cemeteries or in new, soaring, glass-and-steel worship centers, they share a common confession centered in the Gospel--the Good News: "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). With 2.6 million others, these are the people who form a church body called the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.

It is in the congregation that Christ gathers His people around God's Holy Word--to hear it proclaimed, to study it, to proclaim it in worship. In the congregation, through the water and Word of Holy Baptism, God claims each child--young or old--as His own, calling them by name and bringing them into His kingdom. In Holy Communion, Christ is truly and essentially present under the bread and wine, given to His people to eat and to drink, for the forgiveness of their sins, for life and for salvation.

Little did they know what they started!

On April 26, 1847, 12 pastors representing 15 congregations signed a constitution that established "The German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States." Meeting in Chicago, they had traveled by horseback, stagecoach and boat from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and New York. (Also attending were 10 advisory pastors, four laymen, two theology candidates and seven guests.)

They were men of faith and conviction. Some were German immigrants who had come to the United States to preserve their Lutheran confession of the faith, free from government intervention. They were stirred for mission, especially to reach German immigrants, and, for some, the desire to bring the Gospel to Native Americans.

In its 150th year, The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod (the name was shortened on the 100th anniversary) counts 2.6 million members in 6,145 congregations. The original constitution was written in German (and German continued to prevail in worship and writing until World War I). Today, the list of pastors includes names like Schmidt and Nguyen and Perez and O'Connor and Zyskowski and King and Pacilli. While English dominates now, on any given Sunday, there may be worship in at least 20 different languages--including Spanish, Hmong, Eritrean, Russian, Finnish, Slovak, Chinese, even German.

Adapted from A Week in the Life of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, © 1996, Concordia Publishing House.