Lutherans bring relief and hope following Hurricane Harvey

Volunteers from Memorial Lutheran Church in Katy, Texas, clear debris September 1 at a home damaged by Hurricane Harvey. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

USA – While the United States continues to struggle under severe flooding in the state of Texas, Lutherans are present bringing relief to those affected.

Hurricane Harvey has been declared the most expensive rainfall disaster in American history, outstripping previous hurricanes that hit New Orleans in 2005 and New York City in 2012. The Category 4 storm hit landfall in Texas, quickly making its way to Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, striking numerous other communities along the way. At least fifty people have been killed, with flooding displacing more than one million people and damaging an estimated 200,000 homes. Recovery is expected to cost anywhere from $150 billion to $180 billion USD. In the end, Houston received more than 1.3 meters of rain (more than fifty inches) in just a few days.

As floodwaters slowly recede, disaster relief and recovery projects are well underway. At the front of many of these efforts are members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), as local congregations, district leaders, and the church’s national LCMS department of World Relief and Human Care reach out with relief and support to victims of the storm.

A major source of that support comes in the form of pastoral care. In a recent news story, the LCMS notes that “as more and more [people] return to their houses and as more people express their needs, the efforts of those who work to give them aid increase.” That situation provides Lutherans the opportunity to provide renewed pastoral care. “The love and the promises of God remain stronger than any disaster or occurrence that befall His people,” the report explains. “In the midst of catastrophe, pastors share the comfort and hope of the Gospel.”

Pastoral care is complemented by material care as well. Trinity Klein Lutheran Church in Spring, Texas, for example, has served as an evacuation centre for those displaced due to flooding. Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, meanwhile, began providing three hot meals a day to a local shelter. Members of Memorial Lutheran Church in Katy were likewise active immediately, helping members of the wider community recover from damage, helping remove ruined drywall and baseboards from flooded homes, among other work as necessary. Countless other LCMS congregations and members have been actively caring for the physical needs of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

The national church’s World Relief and Human Care department has likewise been on the ground, determining the best opportunity for service. An LCMS assessment team led by the church’s Director for Disaster Response Ross Johnson left August 30 for Texas. The team carried with them emergency supplies for distribution, including diapers, wipers, work gloves, face masks, batteries, flashlights, and cases of water. In addition to helping with immediate needs, the team was tasked with determining how the LCMS could best serve recovery efforts now and in the long term.

“The Missouri Synod has tremendous disaster capacity,” noted LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison. “The great thing we have is local people…. We recognize that locals understand the situation, and solutions must be local. We come alongside them and assist them in their particular challenges.”

He encouraged people to pray, to volunteer, and to give. “This effort is going to take years to bring people back into their homes, and care for them in many and various ways. Especially pray for our pastors and teachers. They are suffering mightily and they are serving greatly right now.”

LCMS headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri meanwhile became a centre and for the collection and shipping of supplies for flood-stricken Texas. On September 2, volunteers of all ages loaded a semi-truck with generators, power washers, and other supplies to aid in hurricane relief efforts among the local populace.

The LCMS writes that the primary need right now is donations to fund relief efforts. The church notes that there are several giving options. These include:

There are several giving options:

OnlineHarvey donation form.

Text — Type LCMSHarvey into the text message field and send it to 41444. You’ll receive a text back with a link to a phone-friendly, secure donation form.

Phone — Call 888-930-4438 to make a credit-card donation. Calling hours (Central time) begin at 8 a.m. and have been extended this weekend to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day Monday.

Mail — Make check payable to “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” or “LCMS.” On the memo line, please write “Disaster Response/Relief” or “Hurricane Harvey.” Mail your donation to: The LCMS, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Norwegian Lutherans consecrate bishop

NORWAY – On May 25, 2017, The Lutheran Church in Norway (Den lutherske kirke i NorgeLKN) consecrated Rev. Torkild Masvie as its Bishop.

Bishop Masvie was installed into his office by Archbishop Jānis Vanags of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), assisted by Bishop Arri Kugappi of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), Bishop Hanss Jensons of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, , and President Dan Gilbert of the Northern Illinois District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The LKN’s Deputy Bishop Rev. Alf Danbolt led the Norwegian part of the consecration.

Bishop Masvie is installed. (Photo: Sondre Masvie.)

Prior to his consecration, Bishop Masvie had previously served the LKN as provisional bishop. The LKN is a young church with five congregations and 90 baptized members. It dates back to the 2005 founding of the Church of the Messiah. The church has four pastors in active duty and one retired pastor. It was accepted into membership in the International Lutheran Council during the 2015 World Conference in Argentina.

The LCMS and the ELCIR are fellow members of the International Lutheran Council with the Lutheran Church in Norway. The ELCL is a member church of the Lutheran World Federation, but is in fellowship with the LCMS.

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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Istanbul Lutheran Church develops connections with German Lutherans

Rev. Mikko Tiira and Rev. Ville Typpö of the Istanbul Lutheran Church during meetings with SELK in Germany.

HANOVER, Germany – From May 1-2, 2017, Rev. Ville Typpö and Rev. Mikko Tiira of the Istanbul Lutheran Church (İstanbul Luteryen Kilisesi – ILK) visited the national office of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) in Hanover. Rev. Typpö oversees the young Lutheran church body in Turkey. Meanwhile, Rev. Tiira is stationed in Izmir, the Biblical city of Smyrna.

The Istanbul Lutheran Church numbers 200 members in four congregations: two in Turkey (in Istanbul and Izmir) and two in Bulgaria (Peshtera and Krusevo). Some ILK members from Bulgaria have emigrated to Germany in recent years. ILK pastors seek to help the transition of these people to German Lutheran congregations. The SELK’s pastoral leader, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, pledged the spiritual support of his church.

In addition there was discussion about possible cooperation between the Lutheran Theological Seminary of the SELK in Oberursel, Germany and the Evangelical Lutheran Institute of Religion (ELRIM) in Istanbul. The visitors from Turkey emphasized that students from Germany are always welcome at ELRIM. There one can learn of Islam as practiced in Turkey, while cultivating contacts with the Orthodox and other Eastern churches. Lectures by visiting German professors would be very much encouraged.

Following the Hanover consultations, Revs. Typpö and Tiira traveled on to Luther’s Wittenberg to participate in a conference at the Old Latin School, a joint project of the SELK and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Bishop Voigt remarked to the SELK News Service that the Lutheran work in Turkey impresses him deeply. Along the way there was also discussion on political issues. The conversation with the visiting pastors confirmed his impression that one cannot ignore the ideologizing taking place in Turkish society.

The Istanbul Lutheran Church is a Turkish-speaking confessional Lutheran church body officially established in 2004. It carries on the tradition of the first Lutheran congregation in Turkey established in Constantinople in 1709. In addition to SELK, it has developed closer relations with the LCMS in recent years, signing a Working Agreement with them in 2015. (You can find out more about the history and work of the ILK by reading this 2013 interview between The Canadian Lutheran and Rev. Typpö).

SELK and the LCMS are member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Bishop Voigt of the SELK serves the ILC as its chairman.

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With files from a SELK News story as translated by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Lutheran Church–Canada.

 

Former ILC Chairman enters into glory

Former ILC Chairman Rev. Dr. Leopoldo Heimann.

BRAZIL – On April 5, 2017, Rev. Dr. Leopoldo Heimann, former chairman of the International Lutheran Council, died in the Lord at the age of 83. Dr. Heimann served as chairman of the International Lutheran Council from 1995-1998.

Dr. Heimann was born in Erechim, a city in the south of Brazil, on December 10, 1933. A 1960 graduate of Concordia Seminary at Porto Alegre, Dr. Heimann served as a pastor in congregations in Ponta Grossa and Porto Alegre from 1960 until 1973, when he became editor of the IELB’s publications. He became President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil – IELB) in 1990, a position he held through 1998.

Dr. Heimann was elected chairman of the ILC at the 16th Conference of the International Lutheran Council, held in Adelaide, Australia in 1995. He was reelected chairman at the following conference in 1997, held in St. Louis, Missouri, and served until 1998 when he completed his tenure as President of the IELB.

He received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana) in 1996. After leaving the presidency of the IELB, Dr. Heimann served as a professor and Director of the Faculty of Theology at the Lutheran University in Canoas.

He was married to Marie Luize Rotmann and had three children. A funeral service took place on April 6, 2017 in São Leopoldo.

“Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them’”  – (Revelation 14:13).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Republished from The Canadian Lutheran.

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

Royal Palace in Oslo, Norway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9 November 2016
Antananarivo and Mahajanga, Madagascar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dialogue between Confessional Lutherans and Roman Catholics continues

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

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

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

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

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

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