News

Former President of Lutheran Church of Australia passes on to glory

LCA President Emeritus Lance Steicke (Image: Lutheran Church of Australia).

AUSTRALIA – Rev. Dr. Lance Graham Steicke, former president of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA), has passed on to glory at the age of 88.

Dr. Steicke was born in Murray Bridge on February 19, 1933. He studied at Concordia College in Adelaide and Concordia Seminary, leading to his ordination in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia—a predecessor body of the current LCA—in 1955. He spent four years as a pastor in Loxton before moving to New Zealand where he served for the next twenty years, including fifteen years as president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of New Zealand. He further served as director of New Zealand Lutheran Radio and TV before accepting the role of director of Lutheran Radio and TV in Australia.

In 1987, Dr. Steicke was elected president of the Lutheran Church of Australia, a position he held until his retirement in 2000. He received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) in 1990.

In addition to being a regular participant in the gatherings of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) during his tenure, Dr. Steicke and the Lutheran Church of Australia also hosted the 16th Conference of the ILC in Adelaide, Australia in September 1995.

Dr. Steicke is particularly remembered for his work on Aboriginal reconciliation in Australia as well as for his contributions to ecumenical dialogue. Following his service as president of the LCA, Dr. Steicke spent three years (2000-2003) as president of Australia’s National Council of Churches, an organization he had helped found in 1994. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2003 for his service to ecumenism and the Lutheran Church.

Additional information on Dr. Steicke’s life and service to the church is available on the LCA’s website here.

The Lutheran Church of Australia is an Associate Member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Eight dead after flash flood at Ethiopian seminary

Flooding at Mekane Yesus Seminary.

ETHIOPIA – Eight people, including three children, are dead following flash flooding at Mekane Yesus Seminary in Addis Ababa on August 17, 2021.

“We request your prayers in this tragic moment,” the seminary writes. “It is with heavy hearts to lose eight and say goodbye.”

In addition to the tragic loss of life, there is extensive damage to seminary property, including residences. The seminary reports damage to 21 buildings, to roads, and to other infrastructure. Multiple families and students have been displaced, and the seminary was forced to suspend classes in the aftermath. Mekane Yesus Seminary is a theological institute of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), the world’s largest Lutheran church body.

In a letter to leaders of the EECMY and the seminary, General Secretary Timothy Quill of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) expressed condolences and assured the Ethiopian church that Lutherans around the globe are naming them in prayer. “Our shared grief over the loss of life and property is deep,” he wrote. “However, for those who died in the flood, the Apostle Paul reminds us that we do not grieve as others who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus who died and rose again, and at His coming He will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). And as far as the loss of property, that can and will be replaced. We pray that God would open the hearts of His people to support the rebuilding of the seminary, and are confident that with His help, Mekane Yesus will emerge stronger than ever, trusting in Him after whom the seminary is named.”

“Our prayer is that you will find encouragement and strength to meet the challenging days ahead, knowing that it is our Lord’s Church and that He loves His Bride and her seminary,” Dr. Quill continued. “He promised to be with you always to the end of the age. It is our ascended Lord who gives the gifts of pastors for works of service to His Church (Ephesians 4:7-12). The Lord has given the EECMY the gift of a marvelous seminary in which faithful pastors will continue to be trained to preach the Gospel to the lost and give evangelical pastoral care to His faithful baptized children.”

The Stinnets’ home at Mekane Yesus Seminary was completely flooded.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), a member church of the ILC, supports theological education at the Addis Ababa seminary through student scholarships and the provision of missionary professors at the school. One of those missionaries, Rev. Eric Stinnett, barely escaped from the flood with his wife and children. As soon as they realized what was happening, he and his wife sent their eight-year old running for higher ground, while their sixteen year-old carried the three-year-old to safety through waist-high water. Their twelve-year-old was not home at the time and was not endangered. Rev. Stinnet and his wife, meanwhile, got out with a few personal belongings just as the water reached chest height. They lost almost everything else.

“We are truly thankful that our Lord spared our lives,” said Rev. Stinnet. “While we did lose much of our possessions, they can all be eventually replaced. The situation is much more difficult for many of the other families affected by the flood.”

“Even though, as Christians, our mourning is not hopeless, we still do mourn,” Rev. Stinnet continued. “The loss of life is still very painful. The families who lost loved ones need our prayers and the continued comfort of the Gospel. The Good News of salvation in Christ is the only thing that can make sense of this kind of loss.”

Under the blessing of God, the EECMY and the International Lutheran Council have drawn increasingly close in recent years, with EECMY guests regularly in attendance at ILC events. The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions.

Prayer: Almighty God, merciful Father, Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Your ways are not our ways. In Your wisdom, You have permitted this tragic flooding to befall the people of Ethiopia. We implore You, let not the hearts of Your people despair nor their faith in You fail, but sustain and comfort them. Console the bereaved. Bring hope and healing. And guide the restoration work still to come, that Mekane Yesus Seminary would be equipped to continue to raise up faithful pastors to care for the Church in Ethiopia and proclaim the mercy of Christ. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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A Call to Prayer for Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is encouraging prayer for the people of Afghanistan following the Taliban’s return to rule.

The recent withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan has been followed by the rapid collapse of the nation’s democratic government as the Taliban takes control of the country. There have been multiple reports of revenge killings. Many who wish to flee have been unable to do so.

There is widespread international concern that the freedoms of women, Christians, and other minority groups will be wiped out as the country reverts to the brutal form of government which characterized the Taliban’s previous rule of Afghanistan.

In light of these events, we encourage Christians around the world to remember the people of Afghanistan in prayer.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you know the fear which has gripped the nation of Afghanistan. Grant peace to a troubled region. Lead those in power to respect the rights of the people. Protect those who are unable to protect themselves. And comfort the small community of Christians in the country who, like many others, are fearful for the future. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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Haiti Earthquake: A Call for Prayer and Support

Map Image: WikiCommons, CC-BY-SA 2.0.

WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is encouraging prayer and support for the people of Haiti following a devastating 7.2 earthquake.

The quake has destroyed or damaged more than 84,000 homes, and hotels, schools, churches, medical facilities, and other infrastructure have also collapsed. So far, more than 1,400 people are confirmed dead with hundreds still missing. Adding to the danger, a tropical storm in the area is bringing expected rainfall of up to 38 centimetres (14 inches) in some areas.

“The people of Haiti need our support,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the ILC. “Responding to this disaster is made all the more difficult by the economic challenges, security issues, and political instability at work in this country. May God be merciful to our Haitian sisters and brothers in this difficult time, and may He move Christians around the world to remember them in prayer and acts of mercy.”

Prayer: Almighty God, merciful Father, Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Your ways are not our ways. In Your wisdom, You have permitted this disastrous earthquake to befall the people of Haiti. We implore You, let not the hearts of Your people despair nor their faith in You fail, but sustain and comfort them. Direct the efforts to attend to the injured, console the bereaved, and protect the helpless. Bring hope and healing that the people may find relief and restoration. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

The impact of the disaster on the members and congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti (Église Évangélique Luthérienne d’Haiti – ELCH) will take days to become clear.

The tragedy comes eleven years after another major earthquake killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure. A hurricane in 2016 further devastated Haiti. The country, which is considered the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, already faced widespread poverty even before the latest earthquake. That need has been exacerbated in the latest earthquake zone, with some areas already going days without food or safe drinking water, let alone medical care.

The International Lutheran Council is coordinating with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Disaster Response team, which has previous experience organizing effective relief work in Haiti alongside the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti. Individuals and member churches of the ILC wishing to assist with relief efforts may give online. In the message section, please indicate your donation is for “Haiti Disaster Relief.”

You may also send a cheque by mail to:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 10149
Fort Wayne, IN  46850

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Haiti and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod are member churches of the ILC. The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions.

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Latvian Lutherans vote to seek membership in the ILC

LELB Archbishop Jānis Vanags (centre) during worship at the Latvian church’s 2021 synod. (Image: Screenshot).

LATVIA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas evaņģēliski luteriskā Baznīca – LELB) held its 28th synod on August 6, 2021, during which time the church voted to seek membership in the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

“We are delighted to learn that the Latvian church has voted to seek membership in the International Lutheran Council,” said ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill. “The LELB has a long, fruitful, and harmonious relationship with many of the churches who are members of the ILC. We know each other well and are of like mind and heart in Lutheran doctrine and practice.”

“At a time when many church bodies worldwide have rejected historic Christian teaching, the ILC has become a welcoming and loving home to those faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions,” he continued. “Many of our dear Latvian friends have already experienced this firsthand. The peace, concord, and love shared among ILC churches is indeed a beautiful thing.”

Participants in the LELB’s 2021 synod. (Image: Screenshot.)

Delegates to the LELB’s synod met under the theme “We Will Serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15), gathering in an open-air facility in Roja. This was the first time a synod of the LELB has been held outside Riga. The synod had previously been scheduled to take place in June 2020 but was postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among other business during the synod, the LELB also voted to withdraw from membership in the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), formerly known as the Leuenberg Church Fellowship. “When LELB joined the CPCE in 1975, we were behind the Iron Curtain,” noted Rev. Andris Kraulins (Riga), head of the LELB’s department for international affairs. “There was no discussion about it in the church; it was a decision of the archbishop at that time. The reason for joining was also not so much that we agreed with the content of the Leuenberg Agreement, but rather an attempt to protect the church from the arbitrariness of the Soviet state.” The first moves towards exiting the agreement began in the 1990s.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia is the largest church body in Latvia, with approximately 700,000 members. The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions. The ILC exists to encourage, strengthen, and promote confessional Lutheran theology and practice centered in Jesus Christ both among its members and throughout the world.

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LCMS President greets WELS and ELS Lutherans

LCMS President Matthew Harrison and WELS President Mark Schroeder. (Image: Screenshot).

USA – The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) recently held their 2021 national conventions, and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) was present at both to bring greetings—the first LCMS President to do so in more than sixty years.

For almost a century, the LCMS enjoyed fellowship with both WELS and the ELS through the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference. The middle of the twentieth century, however, saw the LCMS undergo a period of doctrinal controversy, leading the ELS to end fellowship in 1955 and WELS to do the same in 1961. WELS and ELS remain in fellowship together.

LCMS President Harrison addresses the ELS convention. (Image: Screenshot).

In his greetings to the two church bodies, President Harrison acknowledged the reasons why the ELS and WELS broke fellowship with the LCMS in 1955 and 1961. “It had to be done to avoid the tragic events which would play out in the history of the Missouri Synod in the next decades,” he said to the WELS convention. “Thankfully,” President Harrison noted in his remarks to the ESL convention, “the Lord granted us a new day,” with God leading the synod through the doctrinal challenges of the mid-twentieth century to reaffirm its allegiance to the authority of Scripture.

While the reestablishment of fellowship between the LCMS and the ELS and WELS is not currently on the horizon, President Harrison said he is grateful for renewed contact between the church bodies in recent years. Since 2012, the LCMS, WELS, and ELS have held annual informal discussions which have fostered greater understanding and goodwill between the churches. A 2015 report on these meetings highlighted the discovery of significant doctrinal agreement. Each church body has also adopted synodical resolutions encouraging continued discussions between the churches.

During his greetings, President Harrison also expressed condolences to the ELS on the sudden death of President John Moldstad, who went to be with the Lord on January 29, 2021. He gave thanks to God also for continued friendship and discussion with WELS President Mark Schroeder as well as new ELS President Glenn Obenberger.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member church of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. The WELS and ELS are both members of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). Member churches of the CELC, including WELS and ELS, recently joined the ILC, LCMS, and other Lutheran churches worldwide as signatories to a joint letter expressing concern over religious freedom concerns in Finland.

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New Bishop Consecrated for Finnish Lutherans

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola and those who participated in his consecration.

FINLAND – Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola was consecrated as bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (Suomen evankelisluterilainen Lähetyshiippakunta – ELMDF) on August 1, 2021 at the conclusion of the church’s three-day summer festival in Loimaa.

Bishop Pohjola, who formerly served the ELMDF as Diocesan Dean, was elected to serve as bishop earlier this year. Rev. Dr. Risto Soramies, outgoing bishop of the ELMDF, preached for the service and led the consecration of his successor. Bishop Soramies reminded Bishop Elect Pohjola to remember the words of Jesus: “Take care of My sheep” (John 21:16).

Bishop Risto Soramies questions Bishop Elect Pohjola.

Also participating in the consecration were Bishop Thor Henrik With (Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway), Bishop Bengt Ådahl (Mission Province in Sweden), President Matthew Harrison (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod), and Bishop Hanns Jensons (Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia). As the choir sang, Bishop Soramies placed the pectoral cross on Dr. Pohjola, Bishops With and Adahl assisted him into his robe, President Harrison presented him with the crosier, and—following the prayer of consecration—Bishop Jensons placed the mitre upon his head.

Bishop Matti Väisänen (the former bishop of Luther Foundation, the ELMDF’s predecessor organization) and two ELMDF pastors also participated in the consecration service.

Additional information on the consecration of Bishop Pohjola can be read at the ELMDF’s website here.

Bishop Pohjola’s consecration comes at a challenging time: he faces criminal charges for his role in publishing a 2004 document which articulates the historic Christian understanding of human sexuality. The International Lutheran Council (ILC), joined by the heads of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide, has condemned the decision of Finland’s Prosecutor General to charge Dr. Pohjola and the booklet’s author.

ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill was present for the ELMDF’s summer festival and Dr. Pohjola’s consecration, bringing greetings and encouragement on behalf of Lutherans across the globe. As part of his involvement, he sat down for an interview with Studio Krypta, the church’s media channel, to discuss the ILC’s work and its support for Bishop Pohjola in this difficult situation. “When your brother and sister are being persecuted for merely confessing the words of our Lord, the words of Holy Scripture, the church has to say something,” Dr. Quill explained. “Why would we be quiet? That just isn’t an option.”

ELMDF Bishop Juhana Pohjola

“It has been overwhelming to receive support and encouragement not only across church boundaries but also from many who are not even Christians,” noted Dr. Pohjola in a speech during the ELMDF’s summer festival. “The continuity of the Church does not only include faith in Christ; it also involves battles and suffering. That is why Martin Luther, our great mentor, adopted the bearing of the Holy Cross as the seventh mark of the Church.”

“I am not standing here before you trying to gather sacrificial points for my victimhood,” he continued. “I am not at all in danger. Even if I should be sentenced by the court, we will manage just fine. First, my anxiety is that many of the people who are struggling with questions of, for example, same-sex attraction will feel that there is no room for them in our congregations. My concern is that those people who disagree with us may think that Christians are filled with hate, that Christians do not believe that all humans are of equal worth. Second, I share an anxiety that fear and self-censorship may fill even the hearts of Christians. Finally, I feel anxious that our fatherland will become more ideologically narrow-minded.”

Dr. Pohjola continued: “It is our calling to speak the truth in love in all peace, to invite people to be partakers of grace, to pray for everyone, and without any bitterness endure in patience whatever resistance may come our way. Amidst all of this, I claim this hope and prayer that the Apostle Paul, who was filled with joy, wrote about while in prison: ‘I want you to know, brothers, that whatever has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel’ (Philippians 1:12). Lord, use all of this to the glory of Your Name!”

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A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland

A Global Lutheran Response to the Unjust Prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola and Member of Parliament Päivi Räsänen


June 29, 2021
 – The bishops and presidents of dozens of Lutheran church bodies worldwide are joining the International Lutheran Council (ILC) in issuing “A Protest and Call for Free Religious Speech in Finland.” The letter—signed by 48 ecclesiastical leaders representing 45 Lutheran church bodies and associations across the globe—condemns the ongoing criminal prosecution of Bishop Elect Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and Finnish M.P. Päivi Räsänen for expressing biblical views on human sexuality.

Bishop Elect Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen have been charged by Finland’s Prosecutor General with incitement against a group of people as a result of the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. “The actions of the Finnish State in prosecuting Christians for holding to the clear teaching of the very words of Jesus regarding marriage and sex (Matthew 19:4-6) are egregious,” the Lutheran leaders write in their letter. “And this particularly so since the accused clearly affirm the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.”

“We Lutherans make this strong confession along with Drs. Pohjola and Räsänen,” the letter continues. “The vast majority of Christians in all nations, including Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, share these convictions. Would the Finnish Prosecutor General condemn us all? Moreover, shall the Finnish State risk governmental sanctions from other states based on the abuse of foundational human rights?”

The signatories write that they “condemn the unjustifiable criminal prosecution of the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola and Dr. Päivi Räsänen M.P. for their public expressions of faith” and “call on the Finnish authorities to immediately discontinue their efforts to punish Rev. Dr. Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen, to cease the prosecution of persons for the public expression of their faith, and to recommit to protecting the freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Finland.”

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Signatories of the letter (which is available in English, Spanish, and Finnish) include not only leaders of the ILC and its member churches, but also several Lutheran church bodies unaffiliated with the ILC, including church bodies associated with the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference.

Copies of the letter have been sent to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Finland, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Religion or Belief, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

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Download the full document here in English, Spanish, and Finnish.

 

SELK responds to flooding in Germany

Flooding in Kordel, Germany. (Image: Chz, CC BY-SA 4.0)

GERMANY – Catastrophic flooding in Europe in mid-July destroyed homes and infrastructure in several countries, and led to the deaths of more than 200 people. Germany was particularly hit hard, with at least 170 people dead, many more currently unaccounted for, and widespread damage in the western part of the country.

Infrastructure damage at Königssee following widespread flooding in West Germany. (Image: TheGlobetrotter, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) reports that while some members of their church body have been affected by the flooding, none of their church buildings were damaged by the water. One family from the St. Johannes congregation in Cologne, for example, has had to relocate to a hotel due to damage at their home. At a parishioner’s home in Wuppertal, meanwhile, the basement has flooded with rainwater and sewage, though the situation there may be repairable. The full extent of damages incurred by members of SELK congregations is not fully clear at this time, however, as a result of partial communications interruptions.

SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt—who is also Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC)—has expressed gratitude for the several inquiries he has received from SELK’s partner churches and ILC members. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, for example, offered assistance from their disaster relief fund, but Bishop Voigt explained there did not seem to be a need for interchurch aid at present.

Speaking to selk_news, Bishop Voigt said he was impressed by this expression of worldwide solidarity in prayer for those affected by the flooding and willingness to help. He said this was just as moving and a sign of hope as the people who came to help from neighboring towns in the affected communities with rubber boots and shovels.

Church leadership and the diaconal work of the SELK has invited its congregations and parishioners to support internal relief efforts through an appeal for donations for the victims of the flood disaster.

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With files from selk_news.

European Lutheran Conference: Sharing Hope in Times of Fear

Some of the participants in the 2021 European Lutheran Conference.

EUROPE – The 26th European Lutheran Conference (ELC) was held online from June 2-4, 2021, following a year’s delay due to the pandemic. Participants gathered under the theme “Sharing Hope in Times of Fear.”

The conference featured three keynote presentations: Rev. Sebastian Gruenbaum of Finland presented on “Living in My Generation: Hopes and Threats of Our Time in the Light of Christ’s Word;” Rev. Dr. Christian Neddens of Germany spoke on “Living with Hope in Daily Life: How the Christian Faith Shapes Our Actions and Witnessing to Our Generation;” and Rev. Dr. Asger Christian Hoejlund of Denmark lectured on “Hope as Drawn from Martin Luther’s Writings of 1520.”

“The presentations stimulated lots of discussion,” noted Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), who participated in the event. In addition to the pandemic, he said, topics of discussion included personalities, the Last Judgement, looking to the future with fear or love, and the question of whether society is becoming increasingly intolerant. “It occurred to me that our conference theme is applicable all the time and not just in a pandemic,” Chairman Samiec continued, “because our world is full of mishap and mayhem, sudden death and chronic conditions where injustice and the grave seem to have the last word. Jesus has a message for all time because His love can cast out fear (1 John 4:18).”

The conference also featured morning and evening devotions, reports from member churches, group discussions of presentations, and the writing of a paper on the conference theme.

The next conference is set to take place in 2023 in Aarhus, Denmark. The Executive Committee members for that event are the same as for 2021’s: Rev. Klaus Pahlen of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch—Lutherische Kirche – SELK) will serve as ELC President; President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark (Den evangelisk-lutherske Frikirke i Danmark – ELFD) will serve as ELC Vice President; and Rev. Claudio Flor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England will serve as ELC Secretary.

The ELC is an association of Confessional Lutheran church bodies in Europe. Delegates at this year’s conference included representatives of member churches in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, all of whom are also members of the International Lutheran Council. The event also saw guests from churches in the Czech Republic, Finland, Spain, and Switzerland.

Additional information on the European Lutheran Conference is available on their website at: euluthconf.org.

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