NIGERIA – On May 5, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) held a funeral service for the Rev. Sunday Obari Owateobe, with members of the church in attendance from across the nation.
“The late Reverend was a gallant soldier of the cross,” the LCN noted on social media. “May his soul rest in peace and may the Lord protect and preserve the bereaved.”
Rev. Owateobe served as LCN Vice-President from 2002-2008. He was 80 years old at the time of his death, having been born in 1937.
The Lutheran Church of Nigeria is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Its membership numbers more than 80,000. The LCN is also a member church of the Lutheran World Federation.
SWITZERLAND – Representatives of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met together at the LWF’s headquarters in Geneva from April 6-7 for regular annual consultations.
Representing the ILC were Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt (Hannover, Germany), ILC Chairman and Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK); Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (St. Louis, USA), ILC Executive Secretary; Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem (Antwerp, Belgium), ILC Secretary and President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium; Rev. Jon Ehlers (London, England), ILC’s Europe World Region representative and Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England; and Professor Rev. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Fort Wayne, USA). Representing the LWF in the discussions were Rev. Dr. Martin Junge (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF General Secretary; Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF Director for Mission and Development; Rev. Anne Burghardt, (Geneva, Switzerland), LWF Secretary for Ecumenical Relations; and Professor Rev. Dr. Hans-Peter Grosshans (Münster, Germany).
Discussions began with reports of the two bodies’ respective work over the past year. For example, ILC representatives reported on the ILC’s World Seminaries Conference which took place in Wittenberg, Germany in October 2016. Among other topics, the LWF reported on its June 2016 Council meeting, which was likewise held in Wittenberg.
Participants also discussed their respective plans for activities related to the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The LWF, for example, will hold its annual assembly in Windhoek, Namibia in May 2017, with ILC Chairman Voigt attending as an ecumenical guest. On the ILC side, the ILC Executive Committee, together with members of the ILC European region, will participate in the SELK’s Reformation festivities, taking place June 23-25, 2017 in Berlin and Wittenberg. ILC churches around the world are also planning national and regional events to commemorate the Reformation.
A number of other topics were raised in discussion throughout the meetings between the ILC and LWF. A special focus was two theological presentations on “The Importance of our Understanding of the Scriptures for the Unity of the Church.” Prof. Ziegler gave a lecture on the topic from the perspective of the ILC, while Prof. Grosshans presented from the LWF’s perspective. Dr. Ziegler stressed that, while the Lutheran Confessions themselves do not include an explicit article on the proper use of Scripture, such principles can be readily recognized in the ways in which the Confessions use Scripture. Dr. Grosshans for his part emphasized that the unity of the Church ought to drive our understanding of theology.
The participants expressed thanks for the ongoing conversations, with the two presentations on Scripture cited as particularly helpful in helping the two Lutheran world bodies better understand one another.
RUSSIA – Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) and its Theological Seminary recently held their 21st Summer Theological Seminars in Siberia under the general title “1996–2016: Ad Fontes” (To the Sources). But what are the “fontes” or “sources” of the seminars themselves?
The history of the seminars dates back to meetings with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in St. Louis in 1994 and Fort Wayne in 1995. Following this initial acquaintance with confessional Lutheran theology, Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin (then a pastor of the Lutheran parish in Novosibirsk) requested the LCMS’ Rev. Dr. Wallace Shultz to provide theological education for the Lutheran people in Siberia.
Thanks to leadership from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne) and a generous grant from the Schwann Foundation, the founding of Lutheran seminars in Siberia became a reality. But the enterprise’s real success had to do with the fact that the initiative came from the local people. When asked “How can we help you?” they responded: “Please provide theological education to us. We need solid Lutheran training.”
Rev. Dr Timothy C.J. Quill was a key contact on the American side who participated in the process of selection of teachers for the Siberian program. The first two seminars of 1996 and 1997 were perhaps the most representative and best attended ones, because they were held almost exclusively in Novosibirsk. People came to Novosibirsk from as far as St. Petersburg in the west and Sakhalin Island and the Kamchatka Peninsula in the east. The first speakers included, among others: Rev. Dr. William Weinrich, Rev. Dr. Arthur Just, Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, Rev. Kurt Marquart, Rev. Dr. David Scaer, Rev. Dr. Horace Hummel, Rev. Dr. Ronald Feuerhahn, and Rev. Dr. Scott Murray.
During the second seminar of 1997, the first building of the Lutheran Seminary in Novosibirsk was dedicated by Rev. Dr. Dean Wenthe, with classes starting in September of that year. Alexey Streltsov, aged 23 at the time, was installed as rector of the seminary. Establishing the Seminary was a major result and culmination of the Summer Seminars, as well as the ultimate realization of the initial request of Rev Vsevolod Lytkin.
But the Summer Seminars did not cease merely because a seminary was established. They continued as the ground base for providing theological education for laity and church workers. These seminars were used for different purposes: missionary, catechetical, recruitment of the new seminary students, and so forth. Over the years the seminars expanded to include such location as Tomsk, Novokuznetsk, Ekaterinburg, Khakassia, Chita, and others.
While the circumstances varied year to year, Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church was deeply committed to the Summer Seminars as a form of sharing theological expertise with the wider circles of the church. With no external funding, the activities were still performed in the local congregations and by local people. With no speakers to come from the outside, the Seminary instructors took upon themselves the responsibility of caring for the theological well-being of the SELC flock.
The 2016 Summer Seminar was like the first seminar in a number of ways. More than 110 people participated in this event with people attending from different parts of Siberia and Russia: Krasnodar and Moscow in the west, and Chita in the east. And this seminar’s speakers included three of the original teachers: Rev. Dr. William Weinrich, Rev. Dr. Arthrur Just, and Rev. Dr Timothy Quill. Also teaching was Rev. Dr. Albert Collver who has also participated in previous seminars. The topics had to do with exegetical, dogmatic, and pastoral theology. Besides lectures, there were numerous discussions of the seminar participants both with the presenters and among themselves in the small groups.
The content of the lectures and the seminar’s overall warm family atmosphere has left a long lasting impression on the clergy and laity of SELC. Now as SELC and her seminary move toward greater ecumenical engagement with the world around Siberia, it was good to remember how it all started and be reinforced in the depths of confessional Lutheran theology.
The second week of the seminar activities saw Rev. Dr Arthur Just hold a number of teaching session on a smaller scale. Dozens of Lutherans in Novokuznetsk, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Beloretsk, and Moscow were able to listen to his lectures on St. James and the theology of the Gospel of St. Luke.
Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church rejoices in such opportunities to gather around the faithful teaching of God’s work and to exercise genuine Christian fellowship at an event where doctrine and worship go hand in hand, strengthening the faithful for life in this world.
Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
WITTENBERG, Germany—The Council of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met June 15-21, 2016 in Wittenberg, Germany. In his address, LWF President Bishop Munib Younan (Jerusalem) called upon LWF member churches to carry out a critical dialogue on the foundation and mutual responsibility involved in church fellowship. “The crises facing the world demand more than our politeness. They demand action,” he said. “But we cannot act fully without interrogating our foundational assumptions and motivations.”
As the meeting of the governing body of the LWF communion got underway, Rev. Dr. Martin Junge, LWF’s re-elected General Secretary, emphasized the importance of ecumenism. This 2016 Council meeting is the last full gathering of the LWF’s highest governing body before the 12th General Assembly in May of 2017 and prior to the commemorations for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The General Secretary stressed the intention of this Lutheran communion to mark the anniversary around the world and in the spirit of ecumenical responsibility.
A joint Catholic-Lutheran Reformation event in Lund Cathedral and in Malmö, Sweden on October 31, 2016, will mark a notable high point. The fact that this event is being carried out jointly—on the Lutheran side by LWF President Younan and General Secretary Junge and on the Roman Catholic side by Pope Francis—“represents a historic turning point in our relationships, in view of the clear commitment to leave conflict behind and open up to the communion that God invites us for and holds prepared for us, while dealing with differences that remain,” according to General Secretary Junge. His report also underscored the significance of diaconal work. To be Lutheran is to be diaconal. Thus the LWF is currently supporting 2.3 million refugees.
Bishop Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), took part in the Council meeting as an ecumenical guest and observer. In his greeting, Bishop Voigt, spiritual head of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK), called attention to the fact that 2017 also marks the 200th Anniversary of the founding of independent Lutheran churches which resisted the repressive religious politics of the Prussian state after 1817. Lutherans fled to North America, Australia and Latin America. Years later, the ILC was formed by these church bodies, together with others.
Bishop Voigt expressed joy that some participants in the LWF Council meeting were being housed in Wittenberg’s “Old Latin School” and conducted a number of smaller meetings there. The Old Latin School is a joint project of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (USA) and the SELK. Bishop Voigt did not gloss over the reality that the LWF-ILC relationship has been marked by certain tensions. Thus the annual consultations between the two global fellowships are all the more important. In this spirit the ILC gratefully and joyfully gave theological attention to the dialogue paper, From Conflict to Communion, published by the LWF and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU). In conclusion, Bishop Voigt said, “May God show us His way for coming closer together between the two focal points of truth and love—love and truth.”
The LWF is a global fellowship of Lutheran churches. It was founded in 1947 and now numbers 145 member churches in 98 countries, with more than 72 million members. The ILC is an association of confessional Lutheran churches throughout the world, representing 3.3 million Lutherans in 35 member churches and is thus the second-largest international Lutheran fellowship.
NICARAGUA – Late on June 9, a major earthquake struck Nicaragua near the community of Chinandega, damaging multiple buildings and homes.
The Lutheran Church—Synod of Nicaragua (Iglesia Luterana—Sínodo de Nicaragua – ILSN), has been hit particularly hard by the quake. “Our communities were severely affected by the earthquake,” ILSN President Marvin Donaire explains. “The people of La Joya, El Piloto, Rancheria, La Villa 15 de Julio, and Tonalas Morazan are sleeping on the street, because the earth continues shaking.”
The initial quake, which measured 6.1 on the Richter Scale, had its epicenter near Chinandega. The western coast of Nicaragua has suffered a series of aftershocks in the days following the earthquake, with magnitudes ranging from 4.4 to 5.1 so far. Aftershocks are expected to continue for weeks or even months.
President Donaire has called on the international Lutheran community for prayers and support. “Brothers, we need your prayer,” he said. “We need help for our brethren through your prayers. The entire western region has been damaged: homes have been destroyed and our churches severely damaged. May God bless you for your prayers.”
The ILSN was founded through the missionary activity of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), which is working with the ILSN to determine appropriate relief efforts. LCC is still assessing the full extent of the situation and determining how best to assist the Nicaraguan church. In the meantime, it is sending $3,000 USD immediately from its Emergency Relief Fund to assist with primary level needs, including purchasing food, blankets, and clothing to distribute to people in the affected area.
Roberto José, the administrator of LCC’s Mission Centre in Chinandega (which is near the epicenter of the quake), is conducting field visits in order to prepare estimates of additional needs. “We are waiting on additional details from the Mission Centre at this time,” explains Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel, LCC’s Executive for Missions and Social Ministry. “We are ready to send additional funds to help with relief efforts as needs become better known.”
The ILSN and LCC are both member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
BELGIUM – On the morning of March 22, Belgium suffered twin terror attacks on Brussels’ international airport and a city metro station. At least 34 people are confirmed dead with more than 230 injured as of this report. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We are devastated by this news,” said President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB – Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België), who had been scheduled to fly from the airport later the same day. “But we take comfort in the peace of Christ—a peace which passes all understanding. Despite the raging of the world, we have the suffering and risen Lord with us.”
President van Hattem is encouraging Christians across the globe to lift up the situation in prayer. “We ask our friends around the world to keep Belgium in prayer in these days,” he said. “Pray especially for those who are mourning the loss of loved ones, those who are recovering from injuries, and those tasked with investigating this dreadful incident and protecting citizens.”
“And keep not only us in prayer,” he continued. “Pray for all those suffering in the midst of civil unrest and terrorism—in Europe, yes, but especially also in the Middle East and Africa. May God grant comfort to the sorrowing and peace to the persecuted. And may the Gospel of Jesus Christ be good news to a world in great conflict.”
The ELKB is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
PHILIPPINES – As the Philippines struggles in the aftermath of a devastating typhoon, confessional Lutherans around the world are sending aid. More than 2,200 people have been confirmed dead, with thousands more injured and hundreds of thousands displaced. The destruction of homes and infrastructure is widespread. The Philippines’ government has said 11.3 million people have been affected by Typhoon Haiyan.
In the face of this disaster, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) is calling on its member churches to respond with prayer and financial aid. ILC member church The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) has already offered $100,000 for immediate typhoon relief, and has pledged an additional $50,000 to match donations by other ILC churches.
“As we see the devastation unfolding on our television screens, our hearts go out to the victims of the typhoon,” said Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the International Lutheran Council. “President James Cerdeñola of The Lutheran Church of the Philippines (LCP) was with us in Germany when the disaster struck. I have prayed with him, and promised the ILC will do what it can to help the people of the Philippines.”
ILC churches are already collecting donations. The Japan Lutheran Church has promised 500,000 yen, and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK) reports it began collecting funds this past Sunday. ILC churches wishing to contribute to the fund are encouraged to contact the ILC’s Executive Secretary, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver at Albert.Collver@lcms.org. Individuals and congregations wishing to make donations should contact their church body for further information.
“As people forgiven by God, we are called to show the same love and mercy to others,” said Dr. Collver. “Helping the people of the Philippines now in their time of need is a tangible way we can share with them the love of God in Christ.”
Funds collected by the ILC will be directed to The Lutheran Church of the Philippines. Communications with the Philippines are still spotty, but the LCP’s President Cerdeñola was by Sunday able to determine the following: “We have three congregations in the areas worst hit by the storm,” he reported. “One is in Mahayag, Albuera, Leyte (a coastal town), and the pastor, Rev. Xavier James Palattao, told me that almost all houses in his area including those of our members are either totally destroyed or significantly damaged by Yolanda’s winds. The church building and the parsonage were not spared.”
In a later report, President Cerdeñola noted that the LCP’s three churches in the area “are gone—one, totally flattened.” Despite the devastation, he reports the good news that “many of our members—almost all of them actually—are safe,” though “their properties and means of living are gone.” The LCP’s own disaster response team is already hard at work, but the full extent of damages and loss of life is not yet known. An LCMS World Relief team is set to leave for the Philippines on Friday.
The Rev. James Cerdeñola, president of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP), shares this update in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, which wreaked havoc across the Philippines on Friday, Nov. 8. Rev. Cerdeñola has been in contact with LCP officials, Mindanao District officers, as well as the local ALERT team (Active Lutherans Emergency Response Team) as they mobilize in the Philippines to extend the mercy of Christ. For more news on The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s response to Typhoon Haiyan, plus information on how you can help, visit: www.lcms.org/disaster.