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Ex-city pastor new leader of Missouri Synod Lutherans

The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison pastored Zion Lutheran Church.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 - 10:34 am

A former Fort Wayne pastor who helped start the revitalization of the Hanna-Creighton neighborhood has been elected president of the 2.4 million-member Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Delegates to the church's annual convention in St. Louis on Tuesday gave the Rev. Matthew C. Harrison 54 percent of the votes on the first ballot, defeating nine-year incumbent Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, who received 45 percent of the ballots.

Harrison, while serving as senior pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, 2313 S. Hanna St., from 1995 to 2001, worked with nearby St. Peter's Catholic Church to remove dilapidated homes from the area and to renovate existing homes and build homes. The project led to the construction of a new library and headquarters for the Urban League and Community Action of Northeast Indiana, which in turn helped inspire the city's Renaissance Point housing project.

The notoriety and success of that project was one of the reasons Harrison was called to St. Louis in 2001 to lead the LCMS' World Relief and Human Care organization – a position that took him all over the world, including a trip to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there in January

It was there that Harrison told The News-Sentinel that his experience in leading a diverse central-city congregation and working for neighborhood renewal “was absolutely vital by showing (me) how, after receiving God's gifts, we should show the love of Christ.”

Harrison told delegates after the vote that he “will do my best by the word of Christ to lead with the generous gospel of Jesus Christ, which forgives us all our sins and motivates us to love and care for our neighbor in mercy. And I will work as hard as I possibly can for unity around the clear and compelling word of God, and nothing else.”

Harrison, 48, is a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, one of the church's two U.S. institutions for training pastors. The LCMS also operates 10 colleges and universities and has 6,200 congregations, including about 35 in Allen County.

The synod has missionaries in 88 countries and in the last five years has awarded more than $35 million through more than 900 domestic and international grants for emergency relief.

Harrison's election was greeted enthusiastically by Fort Wayne residents who knew and worked with him here.

“He's a wonderful guy who will be a great leader for the church, with his focus on mercy,” said attorney Bill Swift, a member of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, who worked with Harrison on the St. Peter's-Zion Project. “Plus, he smokes cigars.”

Harrison, who also plays the banjo, has two sons with his wife, Kathy.

Editor's note: Kevin Leininger is a member of Zion Lutheran Church.