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New Lutheran synod boss is ex-city pastor

Helped to revamp Hanna-Creighton, led Zion Lutheran

Harrison

– A pastor who helped lead early efforts to revitalize the Hanna-Creighton neighborhood in Fort Wayne has been elected to head the 2.4 million-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The Rev. Matthew C. Harrison, 48, former pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, will replace Dr. Gerald B. Kieschnick, who headed the synod for nine years.

Elected Tuesday on the first ballot with 54 percent of the votes to Kieschnick’s 45 percent, Harrison comes to the post after serving as executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care.

Harrison could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Harrison took a job with the international aid agency after leaving Zion in 2001, said the Rev. Douglas D. Punke, Zion’s senior pastor.

Punke said Harrison is remembered for helping initiate the project that recruited city officials and private investors to clear dilapidated homes from a 10-block area around St. Peter Catholic Church, 518 E. DeWald St., and Zion, 2313 S. Hanna St.

“I would say Zion is pleased, excited, about Pastor Harrison’s election,” he said. “We need servants in the church and I think that’s what Pastor Harrison will be. I’m confident that’s what he’ll be.”

The Rev. John Delaney, former pastor at St. Peter, remembered Harrison as a personable and enthusiastic young pastor who could muster support.

“He was what I would call a kid. He was in his early 30s, and he had two young children,” said Delaney, who now is pastor at St. Jude Catholic Church in South Bend. “Everyone was willing to get on board because of his personality.”

Harrison got involved, Delaney said, because “I think he just saw the need in the inner city. He saw crime, and he saw drugs and he saw rundown houses, and thought this didn’t need to be this way. He saw that if the churches remained vital, they could be instrumental in maintaining the area.”

The neighborhood revitalization led to the renovation of some existing homes and the building of new ones.

It also spurred the development of the Pontiac branch of the Allen County Public Library and the Urban League headquarters on South Hanna Street.

Revitalization near the area continues with the city’s current Renaissance Pointe project.

According to the synod’s website, Harrison told the convention his election was “a tumultuous change in the life of our synod.”

He said the future poses challenges, but he promised to “work as hard as I possibly can for unity around the clear and compelling word of God and nothing else.”

Harrison holds master’s degrees in divinity and sacred theology from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne and is pursuing a doctorate at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

In recent years he has traveled around the world on behalf of disaster relief, including a trip to Haiti this year.

He, his wife, Kathy, and their two sons live in Ballwin, Mo.

Punke said Harrison’s name previously had been circulated as a possible candidate for the synod’s top post, but he did not gain enough support to be on the ballot.

Kieschnick, 67, faced controversy from denominational conservatives during his tenure for his support of a pastor who participated in an ecumenical prayer service at Yankee Stadium for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and disputes over board authority and the result of his last election.

The synod is a parent body for more than 6,100 congregations.

rsalter@jg.net

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