Cottonbelt Conference, South Atlantic District
The Magnolia Circuit is typical of many circuits in outlying districts of WELS. It is very spread out, including congregations in middle and western Tennessee and northern Alabama. Despite the distance, the Magnolia Circuit meets for study every month except when there is a conference.
Their meetings begin with a devotion led by the host pastor. Lord’s Supper is celebrated as part of the devotion. The study time is then divided into three segments, each lasting about 45 minutes.
The first segment is devoted to a text study of one of the lessons for the upcoming Sunday. The leader is chosen from a rotation and he chooses the text to study. Emphasis is given to homiletical ideas and applications.
The second segment is a study of one of the Lutheran Confessions. A different pastor in the rotation leads this study. The Large Catechism is the current study topic. In the past, this time slot has been spend reading and discussing a doctrinal essay instead of one of the Lutheran Confessions.
During the final segment, the group is reading through a book of the New Testament in Greek. This is usually facilitated by the circuit pastor. The goal of this study is to read a larger portion of Scripture in Greek and then discuss ministry applications. Galatians is currently being studied. An Old Testament book is being considered for the future.
The final 15 minutes of meeting time is devoted to questions of casuistry and the sharing of district and synodical information. Pastor Chuck Westra is usually the source of this news. The group then adjourns for lunch either at the host church or local restaurant.
Fellowship activities are difficult for this circuit because of the distances. However, a Christmas party is organized every year. In addition, the South Atlantic district convention is always planned with family activities in mind.
One other unique event on the calendar of the Magnolia Circuit is the annual “super circuit” meeting in January which includes the circuits from the Atlanta area. It almost becomes another conference meeting and it is planned by the conference officers. But the format has a greater emphasis on study. An outside presenter is usually brought in. For example, Professor Tom Nass from MLC recently gave a Greek review presentation.
There are several items about the study plan of the Magnolia Circuit worth noting:
- The Magnolia Circuit has an excellent balance of study. The heavy emphasis on keeping up the original languages is noteworthy. What is especially beneficial is reading through an entire book of the New Testament in Greek. This helps to see the book in its wider context and catch the flow of thought better than looking at a smaller section like is done for the text study of a sermon.
- A good variety is evident in what is chosen for doctrinal study, alternating between the Lutheran Confessions and other writing on doctrinal topics.
- The “super circuit” meeting gives opportunity to bring in an outside presenter to present to a larger group and expand the opportunity for more intensive study in an area.Here is a suggestion for circuits that would consider adopting/adapting larger or smaller portions of the plans of the Magnolia Circuit:
- Consideration might be given to expanding the opening devotion so that the host pastor preaches his sermon from the previous Sunday. This would allow for constructive critique to be offered by his brothers.