Eastern European Lutheran bishops meet in Ukraine

Caption: Back: Bishop Alexander Yurchenko (SELCU), Vice President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU), Rev. Daniel S. Johnson (LCMS-SELC), Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis (LELB), Rev. Olav Panchu (ELCIR), Valera Partizan (DELKU). Front: President Matthew C. Harrison (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Rev. Andris Kraulin (ELCL), Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (SELC).

UKRAINE – The heads of several Lutheran churches in the former Soviet Union recently met together in Ukraine for the Eastern European Bishops Conference, along with the heads of their North American partner churches.

The conference, held in Odessa in late February, was hosted by the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) and its Bishop Sergey Maschewski. DELKU, long associated with the state (territorial) Lutheran churches of Germany, has in recent years begun aligning itself with more conservative bodies like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC). In addition to the presidents of LCC and LCMS, DELKU also hosted the bishops (or their representatives) from several other Lutheran church bodies in eastern Europe, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania (ELCL), the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU), and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The conference also welcomed a number of ecumenical guests.

Ecumenical guests at the Eastern European Lutheran Bishops Conference. (Photo: Facebook page of the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul).

During the conference, the bishops reported on their respective churches and the challenges they face. A number of these churches have to do their work over long distances: SELC, for example, is stretched out over a vast territory spanning 7,000 kilometers. DELKU, as another example, struggles with a severe clergy shortage, currently operating 28 congregations with only nine pastors. Many of these congregations are distant from the nearest neighbouring pastor or parish.

The bishops also discussed opportunities for future cooperation between their churches. “United by much of our common history and—what is of more relevance today—by similar theological outlook, we felt that there was a need for closer cooperation in the future,” explained Rev. Alexey Strelstov, rector of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia. Rev. Strelstov presented on education in a confessional Lutheran context on the final day of the conference.

Part of that future cooperation may well take place on theological education. One evening of the conference, the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine invited participants to visit their seminary in Usatovo, a suburb of Odessa. Representatives of the Siberian church expressed interest in forging closer ties with SELCU on seminary education. There were discussions on assisting the Ukrainian seminary in procuring more Russian-language theological books for its library, as well as the possibility of SELC seminary professors coming to teach short-term courses in Usatovo. “The interaction between these Russian speakers, all keenly interested in the faithful biblical training of pastors, was a real joy to watch,” noted LCC President Robert Bugbee. LCC has long-supported SELCU’s seminary education program.

Morning and afternoon devotions at the bishops’ conference were held in DELKU’s Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul in downtown Odessa, restored in recent years after having been destroyed by the Soviet regime decades ago. “Although this church was rebuilt on a somewhat smaller scale, it once seated 1,200 worshippers and was the centre for spiritual life of the entire German community before the communist repression,” noted LCC President Bugbee. Lutheran churches were severely persecuted during the soviet era.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church are both members of the International Lutheran Council, as are Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine is a partner church of LCC, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania are partner churches of the LCMS. The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, meanwhile, has been seeking closer relations to the LCMS in recent years.

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Iranian and Afghan converts to Christianity face mass deportation from Germany; Pastor calls hearings “kangaroo courts”

GERMANY – While most Canadians celebrated the Christmas season in relative comfort, that wasn’t the case for all people across the world. In particular, one German pastor is raising the situation of Iranian and Afghan converts to Christianity living in Germany, who are facing mass deportation despite the dangers they will certainly face if they are returned to their homelands.

Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz, a member congregation of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). This congregation, along with several other SELK churches, have welcomed hundreds of converts to Christianity in recent years, mostly Iranian and Afghan refugees living in Germany. Dr. Martens and his congregation were widely covered in international media in early 2016 for their work among refugees. But the German government has recently begun to deny en masse the refugee claims of many of these converts, following what Dr. Martens is calling deeply flawed refugee hearings.

“Desperate reports have been reaching me from members of our congregation,” he writes in a letter released December 23. “At this time, the Federal Ministry for Immigration and Refugees is rejecting almost all applications for asylum from our Iranian members, and in many cases also from our Afghan congregational members and candidates for baptism, and is sending them deportation notices.”

Germany has recently increased the number of personnel responsible for hearing asylum applications—a necessary change, given many refugees have been waiting three years for their first hearing. “Yet not even in our worst nightmares could we have pictured what this change would entail,” Dr. Martens says. “Many [of those hearing the cases] are manifestly clueless about the situation of Christians in Iran and Afghanistan, and worse yet they are utterly clueless concerning questions relating to the Christian faith. But all of this does not prevent them from assuming the role of self-appointed experts, whose questions ‘unmask’ the supposedly deceitful Iranian asylum applicants one after another, even when those hearing the cases don’t even know the difference between the [Apostle’s] Creed, and the Our Father [Lord’s Prayer].”

Instead, refugees are being tasked with obscure or even irrelevant questions to determine the “authenticity” of their conversions. “Questions are put such as the names of the two sons in the parable of the Prodigal Son, or what Martin Luther died of, or the occasion of Queen Margarethe of Denmark’s recent visit to Wittenberg,” Dr. Martens reports. “In this way, Christians who learned the first elements of the Christian faith in their house church in Iran are well and truly hung out to dry. Many hearings are more like kangaroo courts in which our congregational members and candidates for baptism have absolutely no chance of presenting what is important to them.”

Dr. Martens further reports that those hearing the cases are dismissing or even mocking the refugees when they express their faith in the importance of Christ dying on the cross for their sins. “What the applicant says here makes absolutely no sense,” one official is said to write in his official reports. Those tasked with translating for the court—mostly Muslims with little knowledge of the Christian faith, and in some cases reportedly hostile to it—are also accused of incorrectly or even falsely translating what the refugees say during their hearings. Such improper questioning and translating seriously damages the applicants’ claims for refugee status, as the final decision is made elsewhere in Germany on the basis of these reports and transcripts.

Dr. Martens says the flaws in the system are so great that the situation must inevitably be raised to a higher court. “Orders have obviously been given from above no longer to recognize Iranian converts as having the right to asylum in our country,” Dr. Martens suggests. “The systematic failure of the Federal Ministry in hundreds of cases must come to the light of day through the efforts of the superior courts.”

The challenges come after a year of other difficulties, as converts to Christianity have faced increasing persecution from Muslim refugees angry at their conversions from Islam. “This year many of them suffered violent attacks from Muslim residents of their institutional homes and from Muslim watchmen once they learned of their conversion. Time and time again—most recently last week—we have had to collect people from residences, in order to prevent worse from befalling them,” he notes. The attacks even led SELKS’ bishop earlier this year to call on the government to give Christian refugees to be given separate accommodations from Muslim refugees. “But our congregational members and candidates for baptism are continually finding that those who attack them and threaten them with death have no problem securing the right of abode here in Germany, while they themselves—the ones under attack—are ‘exposed’ by the Federal Ministry as not entitled to asylum.”

As an example, Dr. Martens notes the case of six Christian converts who were beaten by a group of nearly 100 radical Muslim asylum applicants in February 2016. Police dogs had to be released in order to protect the Christians. And yet the police investigation was eventually dropped. Now, the six Christians are among those receiving deportation notices.

Despite the challenges, Dr. Martens reports good news too for his congregation. In his letter he goes on to explain the process by which refugees are instructed in the Christian faith prior to baptism—or excluded, if a genuine conversion is not evident. Currently baptisms sit at between 30 and 40 a month. And renovations to the building to accommodate more refugees continue apace.

Dr. Martens ends his letter with a request for prayer. “Please keep praying for the work here in Stegltiz,” he writes. “It is and remains in many ways a spiritual battle loaded with many afflictions and temptations. And yet for me personally, even after 25 years, it remains the most beautiful service in the world, which I would never exchange for anything else. Pray above all that all the members who have found their way to our congregation in the last years may continue to hold to Christ and not let their love for their Lord falter!”

You can download Dr. Martens’ full letter here. The translation is by Rev. Dr. John Stephenson of Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary (St. Catharines, Ontario).

SELK is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

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Republished from The Canadian Lutheran.

Church of Norway 2017 — Not A State Church Any More?

Royal Palace in Oslo, Norway

Church of Norway 2017 — not a state church any more, or…?

By Torkild Masvie, Provisional Bishop Lutheran Church of Norway
ILC News

As of January 1, 2017 Church of Norway is no longer a state church. The Church of Norway has been a state church since the Reformation in Denmark/Norway in 1536. She split with the Danish church in 1814 when Norway was handed over from Denmark to Sweden as a compensation of war.  While her Danish sister church continues as a state church, Church of Norway followed the path of Church of Sweden.

Until 2016 all pastors in Church of Norway were public workers, but as the 2017 New Year rockets lit the skies, the workers became employed by a completely new legal entity: “Church of Norway” which is responsible for salaries and pension. Before the funding of Church of Norway was paid through the government budget, with church buildings being the responsibility of each local municipality.

Some changes will now take place, but something continues. The local municipalities will continue to have responsibility to provide worship facilities for Church of Norway, and the government will continue to provide a lump sum of money to Church of Norway, equivalent to what they have previously paid in salaries etc. This agreement enables Church of Norway to continue to serve the entire population nationally. In spite of the split, Church of Norway is still considered “The” Church of Norway, or a civic religion. The king is required to be a Lutheran — implying membership in Church of Norway. Her pastors will continue to be involved in follow-up in communities after disasters. Many local congregations will host school Christmas worship services prior to Christmas break. Although the church will receive the same amount of money as before, it is considered insufficient by the church leadership to cover the transition expenses, as well to meet the growing pension expenses over the coming years. A large percent of pastors are expected to retire over the next 10-15 years.

New work agreements between the church and pastors union have reduced work hours, including Sunday work days. The consequence is more frequent Sundays without worship services, thus the cuts will continue to close more churches on Sundays.

A significant drop in the number of baptisms is observed. Take one example: In Vågan, Lofoten where there are currently only gay and lesbian pastors, from 2010 to 2015 there has been a drop in the number of baptisms from 92% to 68% of children born. At the same time many of the younger believers are leaving Church of Norway due to the liberal theology. There are very few young worshipers left, while many of the “free” churches have a high percent of young participants.

As a part of the modernization, Church of Norway has simplified how to become a member and how to resign as a member in Church of Norway. Before you had to show up at the local parish office to become a new member or to resign as a member. (One could also resign by letter.). As of 2016, the process can be completed on line on the web. As a result Church of Norway in 2016 lost 41,000 members, and gained 3,200 new members who registered membership on the web. So Church of Norway are losing both the more confessional Lutheran members, as well as many, many who are now realizing that they don’t share the Christian faith at all.

This decrease of membership in Church of Norway is becoming an expensive problem for the authorities. They provide the same amount of money to Church of Norway regardless of the number of members. So the monetary support per member in Church of Norway increases per capita as the membership drops. At the same time, for the sake of equality and nondiscrimination, the government as a rule has supported all other religious groups with the same amount per member as to Church of Norway: Catholics, Muslims and even the anti-religious “The Norwegian Humanist Association”. With significant drop in membership in Church of Norway, the government support per members to all the other groups now has to go up.

It is therefore beginning to be an issue among politicians to see if there are ways to change this financial distribution system. As Church of Norway request more funds from the authorities, she is told to handle it herself through the huge church fund build up over the last hundred years of sale of the parsonages, former pastors’ farms etc.  Another problem for Church of Norway are the church buildings they close down in the biggest cities as worship attendance goes down, partly due to people leaving the church and partly because of the big immigrant groups in the cities. Those churches are often old expensive buildings to maintain and to heat. So far the solution has been to rent them out since the number of immigrant churches and new city churches of various denominations requesting to rent churches is higher than the supply of vacant church properties.

Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) Installs New President and Seeks Partnerships

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Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM)

9 November 2016
Antananarivo and Mahajanga, Madagascar

On 6 November 2016, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (in Malagasy it is known as FLM: Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy), a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), installed newly elected church officers including the president, Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina in Antananarivo. Rakotonirina succeeds the Rev. Dr. Endor Modeste as president of the approximately 4-million-member church body. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) is one of the fastest growing Lutheran churches in the world, adding approximately 100 congregations each year. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) began through the efforts of the Norwegian Mission Society (NMS) with the establishment of a preaching station in Betafo in 1867. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) will celebrate its 150th year jubilee in May 2017. Approximately 12,000 people attended, the installation of President Rakotonirina and the other officers.

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver with President David Rakotonirina and Saholy Rakotonirina Displaying Government Award
Rev. Dr. Albert Collver with President David Rakotonirina and Saholy Rakotonirina Displaying Government Award

Immediately following the installation service, government officials presented President Rakotonirina with the “Odre National” award for his service to the country through his work in the church. Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations and Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council, and Rev. Jeffrey Kuddes from the LCMS Office of International Mission, attended the installation service. After the installation service, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) held a reception where approximately 1,000 people attended to welcome and greet the new church officers. Dr. Collver presented greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church from President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and from the International Lutheran Council based upon Isaiah 42:10 & 12, particularly to “declare his praise in the islands.” He expressed the desire of the Missouri Synod and the International Lutheran Council to seek a partnership based upon Holy Scriptures and commitment to the Lutheran Confessions.

Location of the 136th KMSL Meeting in Mahajanga
Location of the 136th KMSL Meeting in Mahajanga

After the installation festivities were completed, the church leaders of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) gathered in Mahajanga, at the northeast corner of Madagascar, for the Executive Committee for the General Synod (KMSL). This “committee” is composed of over 100 people, including four people (2 clergy and 2 lay people) from each of the 25 synods (district in LCMS parlance) of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM). The KMSL is the highest decision making body after the general assembly and it meets twice a year. It met from 8-15 November 2016. President Rakotonirina preached the opening sermon based on Isaiah 49:12 – 17, which was the theme of the 136th KMSL meeting.

On 8-9 November 2016, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) and Dr. Albert Collver met to discuss partnership possibilities with the Missouri Synod and the International Lutheran Council (ILC). As a result of these discussions, the Executive Committee for the General Synod (KMSL) issued a proclamation stating that it would seek partnership with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the International Lutheran Council. President Rakotonirina and the various synod presidents issued the proclamation for partnership on November 9th. Further discussions are planned for January and May 2017 with the hope that a partnership / working agreement can be forged.

Dialogue between Confessional Lutherans and Roman Catholics continues

Third Meeting of the Informal Dialogue Group between the International Lutheran Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity

Participants in October's meeting of the Informal Dialogue Group of the ILC and PCPCU.
Participants in the October 2016 meeting of the Informal Dialogue Group of the ILC and PCPCU.

GERMANY – On October 14-15, the Informal Dialogue Group between the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity met. This time the gathering took place at the Johann-Adam-Möhler-Institute for Ecumenism in Paderborn, Germany. Delegates on the ILC side were Rev. Dr. Albert Colver III (St. Louis, Missouri), Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Oberursel, Germany), Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Ft. Wayne, Indiana), Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden (São Leopoldo, Brazil), and—standing in for Prof. Dr. John Stephenson—Prof. Dr. Thomas Winger (St. Catharines, Canada). On the Roman Catholic side were Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag (Lantershofen, Germany), Prof. Dr. Grant Kaplan (St. Louis, Missouri), PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn, Germany), Father Dr. Augustinus Sander (Maria Laach, Germany), and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen (Paderborn, Germany).

The conversations centered on the Lutheran perception of the Roman Catholic liturgy. They focused particularly on the Roman Catholic understanding of the presence of Christ’s sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Church in the Lord’s Supper. It became apparent that there were different ways of thinking—not only between Lutheran and Roman Catholic approaches to the topic, but also in the various Roman Catholic Eucharistic prayers themselves. The debate centered in particular on the problem whether and to what extent the Church might play a distinct, or “active”, role in the performance of the liturgy.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. In preparing for this meeting, cross-confessional pairings were formed. They are meant to engage with the following topics: the understanding of co-operation of the Church (“synergeia”) and sacrifice; the theological understanding of “time”, that is to say the relationship between the history of salvation and the “event” of salvation, or the issue of the realization of salvation in the liturgy; the understanding of sacrifice against the background of article 24 of the Augsburg Confession and its Apology, and in The Examination of the Council of Trent by Martin Chemnitz,  looking also at the document “The Eucharist” (1978); and questions concerning the office of the ministry and ordination. Moreover, they plan to identify and describe areas of major agreement between the Roman Catholic Church and the churches in the International Lutheran Council. The resulting texts will serve to steer the further debates in the year to come, and secure the results of this informal dialogue.

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World Seminaries Conference comes to an end

Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison and Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt pronounce absolution individually to conference goers at the closing service in St. Mary's Church.
Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod President Matthew Harrison and Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt pronounce absolution to conference goers at the closing service in St. Mary’s Church.

GERMANY – Thursday saw the International Lutheran Council’s 2016 World Seminaries Conference draw to a close.

Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki.
Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki.

The focus of the day was the impact of confessional Lutheranism on worldview, with Rev. Dr. Makito Masaki, President of Kobe Lutheran Theological Seminary in Japan, providing the keynote address. Dr. Masaki’s presentation gave special attention to the catechism as a method of shaping a Christian worldview in both thought and daily action. Rev. Dr. Lawrence Rast (LCMS) provided a response to the paper.

The afternoon featured two shorter presentations. Rev. Prof. Leonerio Faller of Brazil (IELB) spoke on “The Immigrant in the Light of the bible and Lutheran Theology,” while Rev. Dr. Sergei A. Isaev of Russia (ELCI) addressed “The Lutheran Penetration of Russia.”

The latter half of the afternoon was spent discussing future plans for the World Seminaries Conference, and exploring what specific resources the conference might provide to assist seminaries around the world in their work: the development of a common core curriculum, for example, or the facilitation of inter-seminary student exchanges.

ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver and ILC Chairman Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt install the Seminary Relations Committee.
ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver and ILC Chairman Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt install the Seminary Relations Committee.

The convention took time to give a special note of thanks to Dr. Andrea Grunhagen of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church for her work in helping to organize the convention.

A closing service for the conference then took place in St. Mary’s Church, the mother church of the Reformation. The service saw the installation of the current board of the ILC Seminary Relations Committee: Ghana’s Rev. William Adjei Boateng (Africa World Region), Germany’s Rev. Dr. Werner Klän (Europe World Region), Brazil’s Rev. Gerson Linden (Latin America World Region), and Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill (North America World Region). The representative for the Asia World Region will be appointed at a later date and will come from the Lutheran Church of the Philippines. The convention earlier thanked Rev. Dr. Michael Adoga for his work, as he was not continuing on as the Africa World Region representative.

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Shaping Confessional Lutheranism in the 21st Century: ILC World Seminaries Conference begins

 

Participants in the 2016 World Seminaries Conference visit in the Castle Church in Wittenberg.
Participants in the 2016 World Seminaries Conference visit at the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

GERMANY – The Sixth World Seminaries Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) opened Tuesday, October 11, 2016 in Wittenberg, Germany. Representatives from more than 30 ILC churches from all world regions are in attendance. In addition, nearly 30 guests representing other church bodies and institutions are present for the conference, which runs through the end of Thursday, October 13.

The choice of Wittenberg as the site of this year’s conference on theological education is an apt one. Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon were both professors at the University of Wittenberg, and it was in this educational environment that they developed many of the teachings of the Lutheran Reformation.

Dr. Werner Klän addresses the convention.
Dr. Werner Klän addresses the convention.

The theme for this year’s gathering is “Shaping Confessional Lutheranism for the 21st Century: The Impact of the Lutheran Reformation on Mission, Worship, and Worldview.” Professor Dr. Werner Klän, Rector of the Lutherische Theologische Hochschule (Oberursel, Germany), gave a keynote address on the conference theme Tuesday morning, following a service of Matins. “In all these areas, like mission, worship, and worldview, the witness of the Lutheran Reformation must be promulgated untiringly and without fear,” he said. “That is why with gratitude I realize that we share a multitude of points of view amongst our partner churches throughout the ILC, concerning the tasks that lie ahead for confessional Lutheran churches in post-modern and in some parts of the world (like Europe, as it seems to me) even post-Christian times.”

“There can be no doubt,” he continued, “that as long as we are churches bound to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions and intend to remain so, we will be aware that effectiveness is not ours but the Holy Spirit’s, through God’s Word and the sacraments. It is and will be Him who creates, preserves, and strengthens faith and brings people from all races, cultures, social groups, societies, and nations to salvation.”

Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer discusses the Reformation's influence on worship.
Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer discusses the Reformation’s influence on worship.

The three areas referenced in Dr. Klän’s presentation—mission, worship, and worldview—are being developed in additional detail through the keynote addresses of three other speakers throughout the conference. Rev. Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer, Head of the School of Pastoral Studies at Australian Lutheran College (Adelaide, Australia), was the first to present, discussing the impact of the Lutheran Reformation on worship. Rev. Roberto Bustamante, Professor of New Testament at Seminario Concordio (Buenos Aires, Argentina), provided a response.

Participants also broke into small groups to discuss the challenges and opportunites facing theological education in their world regions.

The business of the day concluded with Vespers, held in the Castle Church of Wittenberg, where tradition states Martin Luther once nailed the 95 Theses to the church door. Both Luther and Philip Melanchthon lie buried in the Castle Church. A walking tour of Wittenberg followed Vespers.

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Malagasy Lutheran Church elects new Presiding Bishop

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Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, Presiding Bishop Elect.

MADAGASCAR – On 13 September 13, 2016, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy – FLM) elected Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina as the Presiding Bishop / President of the church body. Dr. Rakotonirina was elected on the fourth ballot receiving 242 votes, while Rev. Lotera  Fabien, Dean of the Higher Institute of Lutheran Theology (SALT) in Fianarantsoa received 223 votes. The Malagasy Lutheran Church’s General Assembly began on 5 September 5, 2016 and concluded on September 14, 2016.

Prior to the election on, Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina served since 2012 as the bishop/president of the Antananarivo Synod in the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Before that, from 2006-2010, Dr. Rakotonirina served as the director of Seminary Teolojikam-Paritany Luterana Atsimoniavoko. In February 2016, Dr. Rakotonirina received a Doctorate of Divinity (D.D.) from Niagara Lutheran Theological Institute (NLTI). Dr. Rakotonirina is also studying at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) where he expects to receive a doctorate upon the completion of his dissertation.

The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) has between 3-4 million members. It was founded by Norwegian Missionaries in 1866. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) is a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

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Norwegians celebrates publication of Sami-language New Testament

Two Sami congregants pose with the new edition of the New Testament along with The Lutheran Church in Norway's Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie (second from left) and Rev. Olav Lyngmo (far right).
Two Sami congregants pose with the new edition of the New Testament, along with The Lutheran Church in Norway’s Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie (second from left) and Rev. Olav Lyngmo (far right).

NORWAY – The classic Sami-language New Testament has now been published using the modern spelling standard, with the first presentation of the new edition in Norway taking place in a congregation of The Lutheran Church in Norway.

Rev. Olav Berg Lyngmo, a Sami-speaking pastor who has been involved in the project, presented the new edition of the New Testament during a service held August 15, 2016 in Alta, Finnmark (Norwegian Lapland). Many of those in attendance have been awaiting this edition of the New Testament for years.

The Sami are a small population in modern day Europe, a fact which has led to challenges for Sami Christians. The Sami in Norway consist of three different language groups who don’t understand each other’s languages. The New Testament project focuses on the largest of these three: the Northern Sami, who make up a group of about 20,000 people, with most living in Norway and some also in Sweden and Finland.

Producing Bibles and devotional material for small language groups has always been expensive, so recent efforts for the Northern Sami have focused on reproducing the 1895 Bible, Luther’s Small Catechism, a hymnal, and a few other books that have been published over the years.

In 1977 a new Sami spelling standard was introduced in the schools. In many ways, it was a gift, as it simplified spelling for Sami schoolchildren and also allowed non-native speakers of Sami greater ease in reading the language. But it created a gap between the new generation of Sami speakers and previously produced literature, as only a limited amount of classical devotional material has ever been made available in the new spelling system.

A new translation of the New Testament was produced in 1998 in accordance with the new spelling standard, but most Sami preferred the older translation of 1895. Bringing this classic version into modern spelling has been of great importance to the Sami people, leading the Sami Parliament in 2010 to allocate funds to make the new edition of the New Testament possible.

With the traditional version of the New Testament now in modern Sami spelling, different generations can read together from the same beloved text, each using the spelling system they are most comfortable reading. While an important step forward, the Sami know challenges remain, as the Old Testament is still only available in in the old spelling system.

The Lutheran Church in Norway is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

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Wittenberg’s “Old Latin School” installs new managing director

Present and former directors of the Wittenberg Project: Rev. David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, and Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson.
Present and former directors of the Wittenberg Project: Rev. David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, and Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson.

Germany – The International Lutheran Study and Visitors’ Center in Wittenberg (also known as the “Old Latin School”) bid a formal farewell to its retiring Managing Director and installed his successor in a festival service on Sunday, August 14.

The service, held at the Town Church of St. Mary, the “mother church of the Reformation,” marked the retirement of Rev. David Mahsman, a missionary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), who served seven years in the position. During Rev. Mahsman’s tenure, the rebuilding of the “Old Latin School” (originally built in 1567) was completed, and the new center dedicated in May 2015. Rev. Mahsman and his wife, Lois, return to the United States around September 1 to live in St. Louis, their former home before moving to Germany.

The sign at the Old Latin School, noting the center's relationship with the International Lutheran Council.
The sign at the Old Latin School, noting the center’s relationship with the International Lutheran Council.

The service included the formal induction of Kristin Lange as the new Managing Director for the Center. Lange, who hails from Kansas, studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin and works effectively in both English and German. Conducting the formal farewell and induction ceremony was Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, the LCMS Assistant to the President for Church Relations. “The focus of the Managing Director’s work will obviously change now,” commented Dr. Collver, “since the building is complete. Now comes the task of shaping the Old Latin School into an active gathering point for confessional Lutherans to meet, study, and get to know church partners from around the world.” Dr. Collver went on to note that the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran churches, is working to intensify its ties with the Old Latin School—a relationship indicated clearly on the building’s signage.

Participants in the in the induction service. (Back row: Markus Fischer, Armin Wenz, Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, Thomas Junker, Bishop Emeritus Dr. Jobst Schöne. Front row: Bishop Voigt, David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, Dr. Albert Collver, President Bugbee
Participants in the in the induction service. Back row: Markus Fischer, Armin Wenz, Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, Thomas Junker, and Bishop Emeritus Dr. Jobst Schöne. Front row: Bishop Voigt, David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, Dr. Albert Collver, and President Robert Bugbee.
The “mother church of the Reformation” in Luther’s Wittenberg glows in the afternoon sunshine on the day of the ILSW induction festival
The “mother church of the Reformation” in Luther’s Wittenberg glows in the afternoon sunshine on the day of the ILSW induction festival

Serving as officiant for the service was Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK) and Chairman of the ILC. The SELK and LCMS have been sponsoring churches for the Old Latin School project since its inception. Bishop Voigt was assisted at the worship by SELK pastors from parishes near Wittenberg, as well as by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, who served as the original project director prior to Mahsman’s arrival. Preacher for the service was President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church-Canada. In his German-language sermon, President Bugbee emphasized the heartbeat of the Old Latin School’s mission: to introduce needy people to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luther’s old Town Church reverberated with festive organ music provided by Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman, an LCMS missionary.

The Old Latin School’s prime location at Jüdenstrasse 38 is just steps away from the Town Church’s main portal. The center includes offices, hotel accommodations, a lecture hall, kitchen facilities, and a chapel. In addition, Concordia Publishing House has many materials for sale in the center’s bookstore. The new director, Kristin Lange, also has her residence in the building, which has a busy calendar going into the Reformation 500th Anniversary year in 2017.

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