Formed at the 2010 North Atlantic District Convention, the Tar Heel Circuit is one of WELS’ newest circuits. It was broken off from the Virginia area circuit and is comprised of all WELS congregations in North Carolina except Asheville. The Tar Heel Circuit’s congregations are spread out (the farthest congregations are about four hours apart), presenting a unique challenge which the pastors of the circuit strive to overcome.
The Tar Heel Circuit meets monthly, even during the summer, for about four hours. First, the host pastor preaches a sermon (usually the previous Sunday’s sermon, although once in a while the preacher is ambitious and has next Sunday’s sermon prepared) with his brothers offering evangelical critique. This takes up the first hour.
The second hour is devoted to an exegetical text study of an upcoming lectionary lesson. This is assigned on a rotating basis. The presenter has the freedom to choose the text. Both Old Testament and New Testament texts have been chosen. Usually, the presenter prepares a handout to guide discussion and offers some sermon helps, including a basic outline.
Currently, the third hour is spent in a study of Walther’s Law and Gospel. Again, a presenter is chosen on a rotating basis. The goal is to cover one thesis each meeting. The presenter usually has a handout prepared to facilitate discussion. The intention is that the assigned section is read by everyone in advance.
The study meeting concludes with lunch, usually at a local eating establishment. Questions of casuistry are addressed during this time. Because of the distances and the family situations of some of the brothers, this is typically the only fellowship opportunity within the circuit, although other ideas are being considered.
There are several items about the study plan of the Tar Heel Circuit worth noting:
- The ambitious meeting schedule (meeting every month) and agenda (meeting for four hours) of the Tar Heel Circuit deserve accolades. Three hours’ of study time and an hour of fellowship/informal discussion make it worth the time spent on the road.
- The Tar Heel Circuit has a well-rounded plan: sermon critique (practical theology); text study (getting into the Greek and Hebrew); doctrinal study (Walther).
- In a small circuit like the Tar Heel Circuit, every pastor is active in preaching or presenting approximately every other month. In addition, the expectation of advance preparation in the study of Law and Gospel can provide more fruitful discussion than simply reading aloud a certain portion at the meeting itself (which is probably the more common practice).
Here are a few suggestions for circuits that would consider adopting/adapting larger or smaller portions of the plans of the Tar Heel Circuit:
- While text studies on lectionary texts have the added benefit of being practical for sermon preparation, there is also benefit to studying books of the Bible in their entirety. Perhaps switching from time to time could allow for some variety in how the Bible is studied.
- One might consider a study of one of the Lutheran Confession, perhaps after the study of Walther is completed.
- Because of the isolation in a circuit so spread out, efforts at family fellowship time would probably prove beneficial. Perhaps consider combining a study meeting with an overnight family getaway.