ILC Chairman brings greetings to LWF Assembly, welcomes deeper conversations

Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the International Lutheran Council poses with a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia, which hosted the 2017 Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation. The banner quotes a portion of Luther’s German translation of the Bible: “Gottes Wort bleibt in Ewigkeit”—”The Word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:25).

NAMIBIA – The Twelfth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) met May 10-16, 2017 in Winhoek, Namibia, and Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) was present as an ecumenical guest. Chairman Voigt is also Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK).

During their Assembly, the LWF celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with a service in the Sam Nujoma Stadium in the Capital of Namibia. In his greetings to the assembly, Chairman Voigt expressed his gratitude for the kind invitation to attend as an ecumenical observer. He noted that the ILC’s historical roots date back to the Prussian Empire in Germany, which grew in power throughout much of Germany in the nineteenth century. As part of that consolidation of power, the Prussian King enacted the Prussian Union of Churches in 1817, which forced a merger of Lutheran and Reformed churches.

A number of Lutheran congregations rejected this Prussian Union, especially because of differences between Reformed and Lutherans on the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper. Those who resisted the Prussian Union formed the “Old Lutheran Church” in Germany. But the Old Lutherans faced significant persecution from the government, with many of their pastors imprisoned, causing numerous Lutheran families to emigrate to the United States of America, Canada, Brazil, and Australia. In these new lands, they established Lutheran church bodies that adhered to the Lutheran Confessions—churches that today are members of the ILC. In addition to marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, then, 2017 also marks the 200th anniversary since the founding of the Union Church and the subsequent persecution of the Old Lutherans.

More recently, Chairman Voigt noted, “The origins of the International Lutheran Council proper can be traced to its foundational conference in 1952. “Today it represents 3.3 million Lutherans worldwide in 38 member churches.”

In his remarks, Chairman Voigt also addressed the confusion and mistrust which exists between some members of the ILC and the LWF. “What are the reasons for these frustrations?” he asked, noting we must take the concerns seriously. In particular, he said, we must ask: “Do we have a different understanding of hermeneutics for the use and understanding of our confessions?”

To better address these kinds of questions, the ILC and LWF began in 2005 a series of annual conversations. This year, the discussions included two theological presentations—one from each side—on the “The Importance of our Understanding of the Scriptures for the Unity of the Church.” In his address to the LWF, Chairman Voigt highlighted a selection from the LWF’s presentation (given by Rev. Dr. Hans-Peter Grosshans): “In the Lutheran tradition, priority was generally given to theology to express form and life out the church’s oneness and the unity of the various churches.”

Finally, Chairman Voigt noted the theme of the LWF Assembly—“Liberated by God’s Grace”—and provided two short sentences of commentary. “First we must remember, as Anselm of Canterbury says, that we should not underestimate human guiltiness and iniquity,” he explained. “Second, we must remember, as Martin Luther says, that it is nearly impossible to overestimate God’s grace; for He is like a glowing oven, full of love, reaching from earth to heaven.”

“I wish this overwhelming warm love in your hearts and into your Assembly,” he concluded.

On May 13, 2017 the LWF Assembly elected Rev. Dr. Musa Panti Filibus, the Archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, as its new President. Chairman Voigt congratulated him on his election, and expressed pleasure in having had the opportunity to meet him earlier in 2012, when Dr. Filibus represented the LWF as an ecumenical guest to the ILC’s 2012 World Conference in Niagara Falls, Canada.

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Japanese Lutherans reelect President Shimizu

JAPAN – From May 1-3, 2017, the Japan Lutheran Church (日本ルーテル教団 Nihon Ruteru Kyoudan – NRK) held its 17th General Convention, during which time it reelected Rev. Shin Shimizu to another three-year term as President. In addition to serving as President, Rev. Shimizu serves as pastor of Totsuka Lutheran Church.

Japanese Lutheran Church President Shin Shimizu (Photo from 2015 ILC World Conference).

The next triennium will see the NRK focus on the theme “Christians as Priests and Perfectly Dutiful Servants of All—Our Reformation, Progressing from the 500th Anniversary of Luther Reformation.” The theme passage selected for the next three years was Acts 20:35—“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

“We seriously considered what we can do to serve our neighbours, others, and churches as the body of Christ,” President Shimizu explained. “Also, we considered what we can to do serve our God by each one of us praying for both our neighbours and others, as we all go back to the basics of the ‘priesthood of all believers.’”

President Shimizu expressed thanks to the churches of the International Lutheran Council for their prayers, and expressed his desire that the NRK would continue to grow into closer partnership with the ILC in the coming years. The ILC is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies of which the NRK is a member. “I would like to continue cooperating with the International Lutheran Council,” President Shimizu explains, “as we further deepen our relationship with the ILC.”

The convention also reelected Rev. Tatsuomi Yoshia (Sapporo Chuo Lutheran Church) as Vice-President, and filled a number of other Executive Committee and Staff positions for the next three years.

The Japan Lutheran Church is a confessional Lutheran church body in Japan, with about 2,400 members in 33 congregations. In addition to being a member of the ILC, it is also a member of the Lutheran World Federation.

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Nigerian Lutherans remember former vice-president

Funeral banner marking the passing of LCN Vice President Emeritus Sunday Obari Owateobe.

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.

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ILC leaders meet with LWF for annual consultations

Participants in the 2017 consultations between the ILC and LWF.

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.

Discussions at the 2017 consultations between the ILC and LWF.

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.

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Russian and Norwegian Lutherans declare fellowship

ELCIR Bishop Arri Kugappi and LKN Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie.

RUSSIA – On January 18, 2017 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) and The Lutheran Church in Norway (LKN) entered into church fellowship.

The decision came following talks in St. Petersburg between ELCIR Bishop Arri Kugappi and LKN Provisional Bishop Torkild Masvie. Also participating in the talks were senior advisors from both church bodies.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and The Lutheran Church in Norway  are both members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Ethiopian Lutherans elect new president

Rev. Yonas Yigezu (right) addresses the assembly following his election as President of the Ethiopian Evangelical Lutheran Church Mekane Yesus, while outgoing President Idosa stands at right. (Photo: EECMY).

ETHIOPIA – The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) held its 20th General Assembly January 22-28, 2017 in Addis Ababa, during which time the church elected a new president, Rev. Yonas Yigezu.

“God is calling me into a challenge but for enormous blessings ahead,” President Elect Yigezu said follow the election. “I am a team builder and prayer warrior: I see my success in this.”

Prior to his election as president, Rev. Yigezu served the EECMY as Director for Mission and Theology. He was first ordained in 2006, and is currently pursuing a doctorate through Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

The theme for this year’s assembly was “I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” taken from Romans 1:18. Also elected during the assembly were Rev. Dr. Kiros Lakew (President of the Addis Ababa Synod) as EECMY Vice President and Bacha Ginaas as Treasurer.

President Elect Yigezu succeeds Rev. Dr. Wakseyoum Idosa who served two terms as EECMY President, having first been elected in January 2009. “I am very happy that the unity of the church has been maintained and growth has been recorded during the last eight years,” President Idosa said.” The participation of the EECMY in spreading the Gospel nationally and internationally has increased. I will continue to serve the church in all my capacity.” Dr. Idosa is also president of the Lutheran Communion in Central and Eastern Africa (LUCCEA), of which the EECMY is a member church.

With 8.3 million members, the EECMY is the world’s largest Lutheran church body, and is still experiencing rapid growth. The church is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, though it has broken fellowship with several LWF churches in recent years over issues of sexuality and the authority of Scripture.

The EECMY has also been moving to strengthen ties with the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and its member churches—especially the LCMS—over the past number of years, participating in the ILC’s 2015 World Conference in Argentina, for example, as well as in 2016’s World Seminary Conference in Wittenberg, Germany.

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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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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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