The LCMS Committee on Housing Concerns contemplated the concept of launching a housing-related funding drive heavily in its June 8, 1968 meeting in Chicago. Rev. Leslie Weber (Executive Secretary of the LCMS Board of Social Ministry) reported to the committee that he had made the request to the synodical Board of Directors asking permission for a national “Housing Sunday” which would tie into the $1,000,000 fundraising program. He also introduced Dr. Eugene Linse as the new Administrator of Housing Concerns, the position that would carry out this program once it was approved. The Committee on Housing Concerns agreed with Rev. Weber’s request for a “Housing Sunday” campaign event. They also decided that if the synodical Board of Directors did not sign off on the $1,000,000 funding program then they would reapply to the synod board to have a national Housing Sunday by itself without the financial campaign request.
This alternative plan was unnecessary as the synod’s Board of Directors approved the entire funding program at their August 2, 1968 meeting. Immediately afterwards, Rev. Weber began working with Bunn Winter Associates Inc., a local St. Louis advertising company, to produce the informational materials and resources for the national campaign. To give the company an idea of what the program should look like, Rev. Weber provided them with a document, “Prospectus for Housing Sunday.” This document outlined the plans for the Housing Sunday campaign as well as the theological foundations for why the synod was getting into the low-income housing service area.
Weber began his prospectus by outlining six basic assumptions that were integral, in his view, to the LCMS’ work in housing:
“ Historically the LCMS has concerned itself with needs and suffering of mankind in the area of food and clothing. Housing is one of these basic needs.  Because we as Lutherans believe our Lord and His Word, we stand ready to accept His directions in seeking the welfare of our fellowman as well as seeking the welfare of the city.  Because the Gospel is relevant to every need of man, the church as the body of believers has the responsibility to aid men in every circumstance of their need including housing.  Through collective efforts, growing out of individual responsibility, Lutherans can provide assistance in achieving appropriate housing for the disadvantaged.  Lutherans cannot solve all of the housing problems of the victims of inadequate housing, yet the effort needs to be expended to stimulate congregations and assist them in seeking solutions to the housing problems in their community.  Lutherans have resources for housing efforts and are looking for opportunities, corporately, to make their social concerns in the field of housing effective. “
Weber acknowledged that while the synod could not solve every housing problem, it held specific resources and had a unique history that it could bring to the table to aid in the non-profit housing sector. Weber also devoted a portion of the “Housing Sunday” prospectus to outlining a theological argument for why the Church should be involved in housing and shelter programming.
“Is there a Scriptural Basis for Housing Concerns?” was the name of one pamphlet contained inside of the “Prospectus for Housing Sunday” packet. It addressed the criticism that housing ministry was not mentioned specifically in the Bible anywhere. The pamphlet, created by the Board of Social Ministry, argued that this view ignored some of the overriding messages in Scripture. For example, the pamphlet argued, when Jesus talked about the Good Samaritan in the New Testament, He was elaborating on the Great Commandment, found in Luke 10:27: “Loving God meant loving that God who made a man’s neighbor his personal responsibility, without an extended discussion of eligibility, color, race, or classification of any kind. The dimension of need alone determined the nature and extent of the response.” It went on to note that Jesus helped everyone according to their specific needs (i.e. helping the blind to see and the crippled to walk). Lutherans were to respond in the same way: through addressing individual needs. With nearly 4,000,000 people living in substandard housing conditions in the United States alone, one of the needs in 1960s and 1970s America was certainly housing.
The prospectus laid out the general principles of how the housing fund would operate to alleviate the national problem of low income housing. The fund would provide financial resources that could be tapped to fund synodical housing programs. The fund would provide grants and loans to non-profit organizations and building programs to accomplish this goal. The Committee on Housing Concerns would also accomplish the educational goal laid out in the 1967 Convention by providing informational literature on housing concerns in the United States.
After several weeks of strategizing over the campaign’s message concepts, the Board for Social Ministry set out to begin the first funding campaign for the “Keys for Christ” program. The goal for the campaign was $1,000,000, the vast majority (at least 85%) of which would go into a revolving loan fund for seed money and loans to housing initiatives.
The first “Keys for Christ” materials were sent out in November and December, 1968. These initial materials directed individual churches to place orders for the donation envelopes and bulletin inserts for the Housing Sunday event to be held on February 16, 1969. Hundreds of churches applied for the envelopes and the Board also accepted numerous small donations of $25 to $100 for the program. While responses to the board’s grant applications were not as successful, individual donations from thousands of LCMS congregants began to build a solid foundation for housing efforts in the synod – work that would begin to bear fruit in the years to come.
To read the first part of this three-part story on “Keys for Christ,” please click here.
To read the third part of this three-part story on “Keys for Christ,” please click here.
The preceding story is the second article in our three-part series on the “Keys for Christ” fundraising program. It is excerpted from the academic thesis “Homes Built on Mercy: A History of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s Involvement in Affordable Housing” (James Kienker, Westminster College, 2008). All sources and citations have been removed to ensure proper formatting for the web.