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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Lutheran churches sign agreement in Ukraine

Signatories of the Ukraine agreement: Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Vice-President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU).
Signatories of the Ukraine agreement: Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Vice-President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU).

Ukraine – Representatives of four Lutheran church bodies signed an agreement in Odessa, Ukraine on August 12, pledging closer collaboration with one another and setting the stage for possible deeper cooperation in the future.

The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) was represented by Bishop Serge Maschewski. Representing the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU) were Bishop Emeritus Viktor Graefenstein and Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, SELCU Vice-President for Church Relations. Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver represented The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), while President Robert Bugbee attended on behalf of Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC). The protocol signing followed two days of meetings at SELCU’s Concordia Seminary in Usatovo, an Odessa suburb.

LCC has worked in Ukraine for more than 20 years, providing theological education for the SELCU since 1998. SELCU is a church body which began after a separation from the DELKU in the mid-1990s. Though the two Ukrainian churches have had occasional contacts since that time, the stage for stronger relations was set more recently when DELKU began expressing a desire to firm up its commitment to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.

DELKU Bishop Maschewski had been an early student in the “Russian Project” of Concordia Theological Seminary at Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW), as the LCMS began working with developing Lutheran churches after the breakup of the Soviet Union. “It is such a joy to see to see these long term relationships grow and blossom,” noted CTSFW President Lawrence Rast. “It shows us how the gospel is ‘in the whole world’ and ‘is bearing fruit and increasing’ (Colossians 1:6), just as the Scriptures promise.” The Fort Wayne Seminary provided several continuing education seminars for DELKU pastors in the past year.

Since LCMS and LCC have a long-standing practice of cooperation in world mission areas, the recent discussions sought to foster cooperation and avoid misunderstandings in Ukraine, which has historically been an LCC mission field. President Bugbee observed, “When these talks began, the participants did not expect that we would end up signing an agreement to keep each other thoroughly informed of the work we’re doing, and to consider stronger joint efforts in the future. The discussions were marked by a great brotherly spirit. I thank God for that!”

DELKU includes congregations with history reaching back to the Lutheran Church in the Russian empire, which was extensive and well developed until the communist revolution of 1917 ushered in decades of repression. After dissolution of the USSR and Ukrainian independence, DELKU worked extensively with the Lutheran (State) Church of Bavaria in Germany, but recently began cultivating ties with the LCMS and its partners, like LCC.

LCMS and LCC are both member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Rapid Growth for Mozambique’s Lutherans

Mozambican women sing during a worship service.
Mozambican women sing during a worship service.

MOZAMBIQUE – Missions in Mozambique continue to bear fruit as the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique (Igreja Luterana da Concórdia em Moçambique – ILCM) shares the good news of Jesus Christ.

In August 2015, the ILCM celebrated the ordination of its first graduating class of pastors—eight pastors to serve the young church body’s then ten churches. The celebration saw approximately 1,000 members converge on Villa de Sena, an event which drew considerable local and even national attention.

Amambo and Maviga

Among those discussing the event were Christians in Amambo, who heard the story from a local woman, who herself heard it from a truck driver. The Christian community in Amambo had been left on their own five years earlier, when the priest serving them left the village. Without pastoral care, the congregation remained isolated and alone, slowly dwindling as members fell away. The news of the ILCM ordination celebration encouraged the remaining congregation members to try to make contact with the Lutherans they had just learned of.

Two members travelled twenty kilometers by bike to a nearby town, where they found transportation by truck to Villa de Sena. In total, their trip took two days along rough roads in territory known to be frequented by lions. When they finally arrive in Villa de Sena, they were directed to Rev. Manuel Jambo, President of the ILCM, who welcomed them into his home. After a night of conversation they joined President Jambo and Rev. Mateus Sifa at the local church for worship. They returned to Amambo with the good news that the Lutherans had agreed to visit them to begin a course of instruction.

Rev. Winterle and pastors of the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique visit the congregation in Amambo.
Rev. Winterle and pastors of the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique visit the congregation in Amambo.

Within a few weeks, the newly ordained pastors from the ILCM did indeed visit. And on September 6, 2015, members, pastors, and visitors dedicated the Lutheran Church of Amambo. Just three weeks later, they dedicated another congregation fifty kilometers away in Maviga, as the members of Amambo shared the clear Gospel message they were now receiving.

Nine months later, international partners had the opportunity to visit the Amambo congregation. Rev. Carlos Winterle, a Brazilian pastor serving the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA) with long-time involvement in the mission in Mozambique, and Rev. Shauen Trump, Area Director for Eastern and Southern Africa for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), joined eight local pastors in visiting the community. 110 members were on hand to welcome them. Knowing that the guests would be unable to visit Maviga on the same trip, the congregation there also sent a delegation to welcome them as well—twenty-one representatives who travelled the fourteen-hour journey by foot.

Cado

Women and children in Cado sing.
Women and children in Cado sing.

The village of Cado similarly found themselves interested in learning more about Lutherans—though their reasons for doing so are somewhat different. The Christians of Cado paid dearly for pastoral services, struggling under the tyranny of a pastor who mandated a substantial cash payment for each visit. It was not until villagers started going to town, some forty-five kilometers away, to find a market for their goods that they realized not all churches operate in the same way.

When the possibility of life together under a different model came to light, the congregation took action to learn more. They sent out two youth by bicycle to Villa de Sena to make inquiries of the churches there—and once they arrived they met President Jambo and Rev. Sifa. President Jambo hosted the two Cado villagers in his home, where they discussed the theology of stewardship, offerings, and matters of financial administration in the church. Through these discussions, President Jambo was able to clearly share the Gospel, and explain the church’s focus on Word and Sacraments.

That Sunday, the two villagers attended São Paulo Lutheran Church in Villa de Sena, and got to see these focuses in practice. By the end of the service, their path was clear. They explained to the church members in Villa de Sena that they were sent out to find a parent church body for their congregation, and that they had been convicted that the Lutheran church was the one they had come to find. The Cado villagers requested the blessing of the São Paulo congregation to send a pastor to support a Lutheran church in Cado.

A few weeks later, three Lutheran pastors traveled to visit the people of Cado. The first Lutheran service was attended by fifty villagers meeting under a tree. Within a year, the congregation had grown to eighty.

Cado-Nhachiva

The congregation in Nhachiva assembles.
The congregation in Nhachiva assembles.

It was in ministering to the community of Cado that another mission opportunity presented itself. Rev. Sifa was traveling the forty-five kilometer trip home from Cado—a trip that would be taxing in the best of circumstances, and even more so on one of Africa’s typical heavy one-speed bicycles on rough dirt roads. About ten kilometers into the trip, Rev. Sifa stopped at a trading centre for rest and a refreshment. While there, a teacher noted his clerical collar and asked if he were a priest. Rev. Sifa explained he was a pastor of the Lutheran Church, and they began to discuss the history and doctrine of Lutheranism. Interested in what the pastor had to say, the teacher asked him to consider starting a church in his village of Cado-Nhachiva.

Several weeks later, Rev. Sifa was on his way to Cado again. On the way he found the teacher and several other villagers waiting for him in Cado-Nhachiva. Rev. Sifa spoke with them and invited to travel with him to the church in Cado. They went. Not much later, Cado-Nhachiva held its first worship service, with 80 people attending. Today 150 members regularly attend services where the Gospel is clearly proclaimed.

Suero

The clarity of the Gospel preaching done by Lutherans is making an impact elsewhere in Mozambique too. In Chemba, a local community radio station host learned that firsthand. In Chemba, as in communities across Mozambique, the radio station gives regular airtime to local pastors. But when Lutheran pastor Rev. Julio Castomo had his first moment on air, the host was taken aback by his message. It was so different from the other preachers who came for their five-minute radio time.

After the broadcast, the host spoke extensively with Rev. Castomo about his message and about the church. The next day, he came to visit the pastor in his home. And that Sunday, he came to church to learn more. Immediately afterwards, he travelled to his home village of Suero to tell his extended family about the love of Christ. They asked him to go back to Chemba, collect Rev. Castomo, and bring him to tell them himself. After a few evangelistic visits, the people of Suero organized a church and invited Rev. Castomo to come. The first week 60 people attended. The next week there were 80.

And Others

Preaching in one of the new congregations near Kapasseni.
Preaching in one of the new congregations near Kapasseni.

The ILCM has welcomed other churches too. Rev. Rui Jalene Souza of Kapasseni has seen his evangelistic visits to nearby villages bear fruit, with four new congregations planted in the area. And an independent congregation in Mutarara, hearing of the ILCM’s work, recently sent two representatives forty kilometers to Villa de Sena looking for a church body with substance. The dedication of a Lutheran congregation in Mutarara is expected in the near future. Work continues in other areas as well.

There is a burning desire in Mozambique for clear Gospel preaching, both among the unchurched and those lacking pastoral care. The Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique is meeting that need, and they are supported in that work by faithful international partners. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB); the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA); The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS); The Mission of the Lutheran Churches (Bleckmarer Mission) of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK); and Redeemer Lutheran Church (Victoria, B.C., Canada) have all signed a memorandum of understanding with the pastors of the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique to provide guidance to ongoing mission work in the country.

Lutheran missions in Mozambique grew out of the work of now retired Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) pastor Rev. Joseph Alfazema and his wife Perpetua. Their work resulted in the creation of the Kapasseni Project, a Canadian organization that helped lead to the creation of a Mozambican Lutheran church body.

IELB, FELSISA, LCC, SELK, and the LCMS are all member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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The above article incorporates reporting by Rev. Shauen Trump based on translation by Rev. Winterle. Photos are by them, Carlotta C. Thies, Rony Marquardt, and Mateus Sifa.

Nicaraguan Lutherans call for prayer following earthquake

Distributing food and other supplies to those affected by the earthquake.
Distributing food and other supplies to those affected by the earthquake.

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.

A building damaged in the earthquake.
A building damaged in the earthquake.

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.

Families sleep in a make-shift shelter, following earthquakes and aftershocks.
Families sleep in a make-shift shelter, following earthquakes and aftershocks.

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.

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Confessional Lutherans and Anglicans in North America draw closer together

 

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NORTH AMERICA – Participants in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and Lutheran Church–Canada’s (LCC) ongoing ecumenical dialogue have released an interim report on their work so far. Entitled “On Closer Acquaintance,” the document is the culmination of six years of regular discussions between the three church bodies, and highlights the discovery of significant doctrinal agreement between the Anglican and Lutheran participants.

The authors are clear that there is still much work to be done before altar and pulpit fellowship between the two sides would be possible. Nevertheless, they have found the discussions promising enough to publicly declare their prayer “that, in the time and manner of His choosing, our Lord would grant each side in our conversations to acknowledge our ‘first cousin’ to be in fact a true sister church, with the result that we would welcome each other wholeheartedly to our respective altars and enjoy the blessed situation in which our clergy and people would be interchangeable with each other as we stand under the grace of God and work for His kingdom.”

In the meantime, they encourage all three church bodies to “consider the ways in which we can cooperate and come together in ways that fall short of full communion but do allow the greatest measure of cooperation while maintaining full theological integrity.”

The report can be download here.

Church leaders react

The leaders of the three churches welcomed the report warmly, reflecting on the growing relationship between confessional Anglicans and Lutherans.

“In a time when so many churches are departing from the teachings of the Bible, it has been refreshing to see the stand for Scriptural Truth that is being made by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Lutheran Church–Canada,” said ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach. “We agree on the essentials of the Faith, and share a common desire to evangelize North America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The LCMS’ President Matthew Harrison had a similar perspective. “In these trying times for global Christianity, we were joyously surprised and deeply heartened to learn of ACNA and its struggle to be faithful to the New Testament and historic Christian faith,” he said. “By God’s grace we have found real friends who have encouraged us deeply. We have been inspired by the journey of these men and women out of a church body which had abandoned the New Testament. They have sacrificed greatly, virtually all of them losing the properties of their respective congregations due to the structure of the Episcopal Church. I pray that we would be so courageous facing such difficulties.”

LCC President Robert Bugbee praised the dialogue and the growing theological consensus between confessional Lutherans and Anglicans. “These discussions have been marked by great thoroughness and theological integrity,” he noted. “Nobody reached for easy compromises, nor did anyone paper over matters that needed to be fully worked through on the basis of God’s Word. Biblical Christians throughout North America face many pressures, not only with the secularization of our society, but also because of the doctrinal decay and revisionism in much of mainline Christianity. We thank the Lord for the commitment of our Anglican friends, and ask Him to use our witness to hold Christ the Saviour out to people all around us.”

All three leaders were present for the most recent round of dialogue between the LCMS, ACNA, and LCC, held February 8-9 in St. Louis, Missouri. A major focus of the meeting was finalizing the report on the six-year dialogue so far.

A Comparison of Doctrinal Positions

The report begins by recounting the close history of Anglicans and Lutherans, suggesting that while they are not as yet “sister churches” they are “the closest ecumenical cousins in Christendom.” Moreover, the current divisions in world Anglicanism mirror similar divisions in world Lutheranism. In these situations confessional Anglicans and confessional Lutherans find they have much in common. Each tradition also has much to offer the other: “We note that while Anglicans have been famous for their patterns of prayer and devotion, Lutherans have majored in more precise doctrinal definition and theological precision,” the report states. “While both sides acknowledge the essential quality of both lex credendi and lex orandi, it may be that Lutherans can assist Anglicans toward more careful attention to the first and that Anglicans can help Lutherans to deepen their practice of the second.”

The report continues by comparing the doctrinal positions of the two traditions at length. The churches have found strong agreement on a number of areas, including the subjects of the Trinity, the person of Jesus Christ, the authority of Scripture, the creeds, original sin, justification, and good works.

The talks have also identified areas that require further discussion. In particular, the report notes that “the ordering of the ministry is the area where we have found the most work, study, and discussion needs to be done to reach a common understanding of the connection between our practices.” To that end, the paper encourages Lutherans to “consider the ways in which the ministry of the bishop (as distinct from presbyter) is already at work among them” and encourages Anglicans to consider “how recognition of the office of bishop can go hand in hand with acknowledgement of the unicity of the office instituted by Christ.” Likewise, the report identifies the diaconate as another topic that would be beneficial to discuss.

The two sides also address the topic of female ordination in the report. The LCMS and LCC both understand the ordained ministry to preclude women. The report notes that a majority within ACNA also hold this position even as they are “engaged at the present time in a consensus-seeking discussion with the minority within its midst that takes the opposite view.”

Additional doctrinal stances compared in the report include the Church, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, Holy Absolution, and the role of Christian rulers.

Moving Forward

“When our open-ended conversations began six years ago, some of the signatories to this report approached our task with a mixture of low expectations and a certain nervousness before the unknown,” the report admits in its conclusion. “All of us are somewhat surprised to have discovered the deep common bonds between us in the Body of Christ, and to have registered the large measure of consensus that we have documented above. We regard these things that we have discovered together as a gift of the Lord, and trust Him to use our findings to His glory and to the good of the universal Church. As we commend this report to the people and clergy of ACNA, LCMS, and LCC, we encourage Lutherans and Anglicans to remember each other in prayer, embrace one another in Christian love, to encourage each other to confess Christ boldly in our ever darkening times, and to support each other in mission and outreach in faithfulness to Him who has laid the same Great Commission on us all.”

Elsewhere in the report the authors write, “We earnestly hope that these pages may be read and pondered as widely as possible by the clergy and people of our respective church bodies, not only in private but also in the setting of Bible classes, clergy and theological conferences, and other appropriate forums of Christian education.”

Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are both members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
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LCMS and NALC representatives meet in St. Louis

(Back Row Left to Right): Dr. Joel Lehenbauer (LCMS), Bishop John Bradosky (NALC), Rev. Larry Vogel (LCMS). (Front Row Left to Right): Rev. John Pless (LCMS), Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Rev. Mark Chavez (NALC), Rev. Paull Spring (NALC), Rev. David Wendel (NALC)
(Back Row Left to Right): Dr. Joel Lehenbauer (LCMS), Bishop John Bradosky (NALC), Rev. Larry Vogel (LCMS). (Front Row Left to Right): Rev. John Pless (LCMS), Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Rev. Mark Chavez (NALC), Rev. Paull Spring (NALC), Rev. David Wendel (NALC)

USA – Representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the North American Lutheran Church met September 9-10, 2015 in St. Louis, Missouri to continue their bi-annual consultations. The series of meetings began December 2011, at the invitation of President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS as the church bodies seek greater understanding of the other church, ways that there may be cooperation in externals, and be mutually supportive, in spite of differences that exist. A representative of Lutheran Church–Canada normally participates in the meetings as well.

This consultation was the second meeting focusing on Holy Scripture. Four questions were presented and discussed: How did the Bible get here? What kind of book is the Bible? Which method is most suitable for interpreting the Bible? What is the proper use of the Bible?

In addition to presentation of church body reports, other areas of common concern were discussed, including the recent Supreme Court Obergefell decision in the United States, the challenge to marriage in North America, and the response to the persecution of Christians today.

The representatives will meet again in March 2016.

Representing the LCMS were the Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations-Assistant to the President; the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Executive Director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations; the Rev. John Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne; the Rev. Larry Vogel, Associate Director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations.

Representing the NALC were the Rev. John Bradosky, Bishop; the Rev. Paull Spring, Bishop Emeritus; the Rev. Mark Chavez, General Secretary; the Rev. Dr. David Wendel, Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism.

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Oromo Christians hold international conference in Winnipeg

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An Oromo choir sings at the 2015 United Oromo Evangelical Churches conference in Winnipeg.

CANADA – Downtown Winnipeg was buzzing July 24-26, 2015 as Lutheran Church of the Redeemer played host to the 20th annual international Conference of United Oromo Evangelical Churches (UOEC). The event brought together delegates not only from across Canada and the United States, but also from across the globe with representatives from England, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Kenya, and Australia.

A major focus of the business of the clergy portion of the meeting dealt with building further unity among the various Oromo congregations represented, especially in the face of the liberal swing concerning human sexuality in many European and North American Lutheran Church bodies.

Oromo-Conference-02-web
Central District President Thomas Prachar welcomes delegates to Winnipeg on behalf of Lutheran Church–Canada.

Central District President Thomas Prachar brought greetings to the UOEC on behalf of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) President Robert Bugbee, speaking both to the pastors’ meeting on July 23 as well as to the larger assembly of delegates on July 25. Rev. Todd Hoeffs also welcomed the delegates on behalf of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer as well as LCC’s Red River Circuit, which aided the conference with prayer, volunteer, and financial support.

Rev. Dr. Gemechis Olana of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) was persuaded to continue on for an additional year as president of the UOEC. Lutheran Church–Canada’s own Rev. Assefa Aredo—the first graduate of LCC’s Pastors with Alternate Training program—was elected to serve on the Canadian Board of the UOEC along with two other delegates, one from Winnipeg and the other from Toronto. The Canadian Board coordinates outreach and mission planning among the Oromo diaspora within Canada.

The event came to a close Sunday July 26 with a joint English-Oromo worship, with estimates of more than 300 people in attendance.

“It was a wonderful conference,” said Rev. Aredo. “I want to say a big thank-you to all the volunteers from the Red River Circuit that helped to make it possible.” UOEC President Olana also expressed thanks on behalf of the UOEC board for all the support which LCC has provided to the various Oromo congregations and missions in Canada. This positive interaction, Rev. Aredo relates, has continued to spark interest in both LCC and Confessional Lutheranism among the scattered Oromo Churches around the globe.

The history of the UOEC is in many ways one of diaspora. From the 1970s on, thousands of Oromo people left Ethiopia to avoid persecution, political instability, and economic difficulties. As Oromo people took up residence in other nations, they began to form congregations and fellowships, many of which have since affiliated with various Lutheran denominations. In 1998, these congregations and fellowships founded the United Oromo Evangelical Churches as a way of unifying Oromo Christians living in diaspora across the globe.

While the UOEC is interdenominational in scope, many affiliated congregations are members of or have friendly relations with such churches of the International Lutheran Council as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Lutheran Church–Canada.

The 21st UOEC Conference will take place in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2016.

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First graduating class of pastors for Mozambican Lutherans

Mozambique’s newly ordained pastors pose with TEE instructors Rev. Carlos Winterle (back left) and Rev. André Plamer (back right).
Mozambique’s newly ordained pastors pose with TEE instructors Rev. Carlos Winterle (back left) and Rev. André Plamer (back right).

MOZAMBIQUE – Mozambican Lutherans celebrated a major milestone on August 9, 2015, as Concordia Lutheran Church– Mozambique celebrated its first graduating class of eight pastors. The event drew significant local and national attention: more than a thousand people gathered in the Vila de Sena for the ordinations, including local dignitaries, and national television gave ten minutes of coverage to the event. Special church dignitaries in attendance included President Egon Kopereck of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) and Bishop Dieter Reinstorf of the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA).

More than a thousand people march through the Vila de Sena on the way to the ordination of Mozambique’s first Lutheran pastors.
More than a thousand people march through the Vila de Sena on the way to the ordination of Mozambique’s first Lutheran pastors.

The CLCM is a young church body, and prior to this year’s graduating class had no pastors of its own. Instead, ministry in the region was overseen by those studying for by the. In 2014, the students received certification as deacons in preparation for their 2015 ordinations. Their ordination marks the end of five years of study through the Theological Education by Extension (TEE) program, an initiative of the IELB.

More than a thousand people march through the Vila de Sena on the way to the ordination of Mozambique’s first Lutheran pastors.
More than a thousand people march through the Vila de Sena on the way to the ordination of Mozambique’s first Lutheran pastors.

The ordination of the new pastors could not come soon enough, as the MLC continues to grow quickly (visiting professors in the TEE program were sometimes called on to conduct hundreds of baptisms at a time). Already a new class of students is beginning studies through the TEE program—and the class size has grown to fifteen.

In 2014, mission developments in Mozambique took another step forward as partners in the region signed a new Memorandum of Understanding on the TEE program. Signatories included the IELB, the current TEE students, the Kuwangisana Organization, the Kapasseni Project, FELSISA, and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The MOU calls for the construction of a permanent seminary building: the Concordia Lutheran Center.

Lutheran missions in Mozambique grew out of the work of retired Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) pastor Rev. Joseph Alfazema and his wife Perpetua. Their work resulted in the creation of the Kapasseni Project, an LCC listed service organization that continues to support missions in Mozambique.

LCC, FELSISA, the LCMS, and IELB are all member churches of the International Lutheran Council.

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International Lutheran conference addresses the challenges of “Post-Christian” society

North European and North American churches plan to share theological resources.

Participants at 2015's Theological Commission conference in Germany.
Participants at 2015’s Theological Commission conference in Germany.

GERMANY – Following an invitation from the Commission on Theology (CT) of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), representatives of various commissions on theology from Lutheran churches in Europe and North America met in Oberursel, Germany March 4-5, 2015. This meeting served the purpose of exchanging information about the proceedings and results of theological endeavours facing the challenges in—for the most part—post-Christian societies in the North Atlantic part of the world. Thus, the first day of the conference was filled with reports delivered by the participants, who hold a confessional Lutheran position. In the evening the conference participated in the Lenten service held at St. John’s church, Oberursel (SELK).

On the second day SELK’s Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt (SELK) led Matins. It was followed by a presentation on “The Relationship of Church and State as Reflected in the Understanding of Marriage,” given by Dr. Werner Klän, professor of systematic theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Oberursel. Based on preparatory papers and a document only recently issued by the SELK Commission on Theology, Klän addressed the biblical and confessional understanding of marriage and the church wedding, especially with regard to the German situation since the 19th century. He pointed out that, if the state would revoke the privilege and precedence of marriage currently guaranteed in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany, compared to other forms of living together, then churches would have to restate the basic biblical assumptions underlying matrimony, the question of establishing ecclesial jurisdiction concerning marriage, and so forth.

The discussion following the presentation identified similarities and differences for Lutherans in other nations. All agreed that the classical biblical, Lutheran understanding of marriage is being challenged in many ways, and that solutions to these challenges cannot be found easily. The topic of same-sex marriage legislation was of particular discussion, with emphases placed on the crisis of gender identity as well as the status and function of the legal protection of matrimony.

Discussions at the 2015 Theological Commission conference in Germany.
Discussions at the 2015 Theological Commission conference in Germany.

Participants in the conference agreed that the meeting contributed to discovering the common confessional grounds shared by the various church bodies, the similarity of challenges confronting them, and the diversity of contexts in which these churches exist. Participants decided to share as many theological documents as possible from their respective church bodies with the others, in order to communicate the results of theological research addressing the crucial questions of our time and day from a Lutheran point of view.

There was general support for plans to hold a second meeting in about three years’ time. Participants wished to have more time for discussion at the next meeting, and suggested future issues for consideration, including the “two realms”, ”natural law”, Luther’s position on Beruf/vocation, Islam, and mission. The CT of the SELK was asked to organize such a meeting, and Bishop Voigt agreed that the SELK would host such a follow-up conference.

Participants at the 2015 meeting included representatives from Germany, Sweden, Latvia, Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland, England, Canada, and the United States of America. Church bodies represented included the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Baden (ELKib), the Mission Province in Sweden, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria (ELCI), the Silesian Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession (SCEAV), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

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Adapted from a report by Dr. Werner Klan, March 3, 2015

Protocol agreement for Lutheran ministry in Cambodia

An ELCC congregation in Kampot, Cambodia.
An ELCC congregation in Kampot, Cambodia.

CAMBODIA – A new protocol agreement signed in September by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) will guide the next three years of confessional Lutheran mission and ministry in Cambodia.

President Vannarith Chhim.
President Vannarith Chhim at LCC’s 2014 National Convention in Vancouver.

President Vannarith Chhim of the ELCC hailed the agreement, calling it a “great blessing” for his “small church from a small country” to partner with the LCMS and LCC in ministry. In particular, he stressed the Cambodian church’s thanks for the aid North American Lutherans will continue to offer in theological training.

Despite having 32 congregations and approximately 3,000 members, the ELCC has only six ordained pastors. Consequently, the church relies heavily on the leadership of 14 male lay-leaders (who require additional training before they can be ordained), five deaconesses, and ten female evangelists. LCC has long supported the ELCC’s missions and social ministry work, with particular emphasis on providing theological education for church workers through the Lutheran Institute Southeast Asia (LISA). The LCMS operated a missionary presence in the country from 2006 until earlier this year.

Around the year 2000, Lutheran Heritage Foundation offered to interested pastors of all denominations in Cambodia the opportunity to take classes on Luther’s Small Catechism, which had just been translated into Khmer. Rev. Dr. Leonard Harms, then LCC’s Missions Director, became involved with managing these classes, becoming the director of LISA. The men and women taking these classes decided on their own to form the ELCC in 2009.

“We are thankful to God for strengthening the ELCC, LCC, and LCMS by His Holy Spirit to carry on His mission jointly in Cambodia,” said Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel, LCC Executive for Missions and Social Ministry. “It is a testament of our three churches’ desire to coordinate our work in Cambodia—to work together in spiritual and human care of many in this region of the world.”

“As we do so, we will rely on the Cambodian church to lead the way,” he continued. “They know the needs of their nation better than we do. May God bless our work together, that it bear much fruit for the Kingdom of God. And we pray the Lord’s blessing upon President Chhim and the entire ELCC as they bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Southeast Asia.”

Cambodia is primarily Buddhist, with only three percent of the population identifying as Christian.The ELCC is a young church but one committed to the Gospel. They are also deliberate in cultivating a strong Lutheran identity—translating the Book of Concord into the Khmer language, to guide their church in an authentically Lutheran faith.

They “deeply desire to be confessionally Lutheran but are still learning what that means,” said Darin Storkson, Senior Regional Director with the LCMS Office of International Mission in an interview with The Reporter. “They are probably already in line with [us] doctrinally,” he continued, “and they are trying to learn how to express that in practice.” President Robert Bugbee of LCC agreed, noting he is “impressed with the doctrinal soundness” of the young church.

In addition to theological education, the protocol agreement “unites the three churches in a common bond of faith and confession” in a number of areas, including evangelism, emergency relief, social ministry, and short-term missions. For more information on the protocol agreement, read The Reporter’s article on this story.

LCC and the LCMS are both members of the International Lutheran Council.

(The above article is from The Canadian Lutheran).

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