175 Years of Change | Joel Otto

Joel Otto

175 Years of Change in WELS Worship

The founders of the Wisconsin Synod were not confessional Lutherans, and their mixed confession showed in worship practices in the early decades of the synod’s history. While a pietistic influence has always been felt in worship attitudes in WELS, changes have occurred throughout the synod’s history. By examining church architecture and the use of hymnals in Wisconsin Synod congregations across 175 years since her founding, we will note the shift toward a more confessional Lutheran understanding of worship in WELS.

Bio | Joel Otto

Prof. Otto chairs the WELS 175th anniversary committee (2025). Since 2011, he has served at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, where he teaches church history and education and is the dean of students. Previously he served congregations in Michigan, California, and Wisconsin. He is also the chairman of the WELS Historical Institute and serves on the Commission on Inter-Church Relations. He has previously served on the Commission on Worship, the Commission on Lutheran Schools, the WELS Hymnal Project, and as a writer for Forward in Christ.