Ukrainian Lutherans elect new bishop

Bishop Aleksandr Yurchenko preaches at his installation service.
Bishop Aleksandr Yurchenko preaches at his installation service.

UKRAINE – The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU), meeting in convention November 17-18, elected Rev. Aleksandr Yurchenko as its new bishop. He succeeds Rev. Dr. Viktor Gräfenstein, who served as bishop for 18 years and had declined to accept nomination for another term.

Bishop Yurchenko graduated from Odessa Theological Seminary in 2002. He currently serves as a missionary to prisoners in the Nikolaev region and as a temporary pastor at the newly organized congregaton in Nova Kachovka. He lives in Odessa.

The convention also elected Rev. Oleg Shewtschenko as Assistant to the Bishop.

Convention sessions were held at Concordia Seminary in Usatovo, a suburb of Odessa, located in the southern part of the country on the Black Sea. Long-time partner church Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) sent representatives to the convention, with President Robert Bugbee (Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council) and Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen (who has long served as Rector of the Ukranian seminary) in attendance. President Bugbee preached for the opening service of the convention, brought greetings from LCC, and was asked for advice periodically throughout the sessions on various business matters coming before the assembly.

President Bugbee (front left) struggles to read a portion of the Russian-language installation of SELCU Bishop Aleksandr Yurchenko (right). Standing between them is outgoing Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein, while Dr. Norman Threinen looks on.
President Bugbee (front left) struggles to read a portion of the Russian-language installation of SELCU Bishop Yurchenko (right). Standing between them is outgoing Bishop  Gräfenstein, while Dr. Norman Threinen looks on.

Among other things, the convention determined to resume instruction at Concordia Seminary in September 2015. The seminary had suspended classes in the past year due to the political instability caused by the Russian invasions. Odessa is fortunately far from the fighting, and so students and teachers should be able to do their work in a secure environment. The convention resolved to ask LCC to extend the appointment of Dr. Threinen to continue serving as Rector of the seminary as preparations are made to begin classes again.

President Bugbee took the opportunity of this visit to accept preaching invitations at local parishes in Nikolayev, Oktyabrskoye and Savran. He was also the featured preacher at an evangelistic service hosted by the congregation in downtown Odessa on a Saturday evening as it sought to invite unchurched people from the area.

“Our brothers and sisters here have gone through a very trying time in recent months,” President Bugbee observed, “but I am impressed with their willingness to carry on and make the best of the crisis besetting their country. They are deeply grateful for the attitude of support on the part of the Canadian government and people, and are glad for the partnership between LCC and their church. They took time during their convention to pray for the work we do in Canada, and I do hope our churches will repeatedly name them and their needs before the Lord in their public prayers. The relationship to this church remains one of our primary partnerships, and there’s still a lot of work to do here!”

Lutheran Church–Canada—a member church of the International Lutheran Council—has long supported SELCU in its outreach work, its social ministries, and its theological education. SELCU is a young church body, with thirteen congregations throughout the region. Five of these congregations are in Crimea. Consequently, the emergence of a new federal border between these congregations and the rest of SELCU’s congregations (in Ukraine) has created significant difficulties for the church.

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Belgian Lutherans celebrate 75th anniversary

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President Emeritus Jean Thiébaut Haessig preaches at the celebration service in Antwerp.

BELGIUM – The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) celebrated its 75th anniversary in late June in conjunction with a 50th anniversary celebration of the Lutheran Church building in Antwerp.

On June 20, the church held a Jubilee Concert, featuring chorals and Bach’s Fantasia, with organ music provided by Masako Honda. These pieces were interspersed with the Aria Schlümmert Ein from Bach’s Cantata 82, sung by Simon Schmidt, and the Aria If God Be For Us from Handel’s Messiah, sung by Nicola Mills. A Minuet of Bach’s was also performed by Sofia van Hattem. The concert ended with the singing of “Dankt, dankt nu allen God” (Now thank we all our God). Halfway through the program, an album on the history of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium was presented. By means of many photographs, the book tells the story of the church in Belgium. The book has a retail price of 25 euros.

The church building in Antwerp.
The church building in Antwerp.

On June 22, an Anniversary Service was held at the church in Antwerp, which was full for the occasion. The liturgy was held by President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the ELKB, and the sermon was given by President Emeritus Jean Thiébaut Haessig of the Evangelical Lutheran Church — Synod of France. President Emeritus Haessig also served as President of the European Lutheran Council until stepping down earlier this year. President van Hattem also serves on the Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council as Secretary.

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The 1748 Bible given to the congregation in Antwerp by Dutch Lutherans in Zierikzee.

The worship service featured a choir as well as guest musicians from Alsace. A celebration banquet followed the service, with a full hall. But before the meal began, the Antwerp church was presented with a special gift from the Lutheran church in Zierikzee, the Netherlands: a 1748 edition of the Bible in the Dutch translation of Adolph Visscher. The Bible was originally used in the Lutheran Church of Middelburg in Zeeland, the Netherlands.

In addition to oral greetings from the Evangelical Lutheran Church — Synod of France, the celebration service received special greetings from churches in Germany, Denmark, England, the Netherlands, Portugal, Japan, South Africa, Canada, Brazil, and Paraguay. Festivities concluded with a service of Evening Prayer/Vespers.

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TAALC elects new Presiding Pastor

Worship at the 2014 General Convention of The American Association of Lutheran Churches.
Worship at the 2014 General Convention of The American Association of Lutheran Churches (via Facebook).

USA – The 24th General Convention of The American Association of Lutheran Churches (TAALC) convened June 24-27 at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota, during which time they elected Rev. Dr. Curtis Leins as their new Presiding Pastor. The convention gathered under the theme “Equipping the Saints”.

Rev. Dr. Dean Nadasdy, District President of the Minnesota South District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, served as Keynote Speaker. He also brought greetings on behalf of President Matthew C. Harrison and the LCMS. In addition to Dr. Nadasdy’s keynote address on equipping the saints, he also preached at the Thursday evening service of installation for the newly elected Presiding Pastor of The AALC, the Rev. Dr. Curtis E. Leins. Also elected at the convention were Rev. Roger Twito as Assistant Presiding Pastor and Rev. Irv Stapf as Secretary of TAALC.

Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (via Facebook).
Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (via Facebook).

Dr. Leins served previously as Assistant Presiding Pastor of TAALC. He had also served the national office full-time as National Home Mission Developer. Dr. Leins was ordained into the Office of Holy Ministry in 1978. He received his Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (Columbia, South Carolina). He also holds a Master of Theology from Duke University, a Master of Arts from Temple University, and a Ph.D. from Temple University.

Among other business at convention, The AALC passed a resolution calling the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to repentance and back to Scripture. The resolution reads “that for the sake of the truth of the gospel and the greater welfare of the body of Christ, The AALC urges the ELCA, on the basis of scripture to repent of their false doctrine, renounce the spirit of the age, and seek forgiveness for their blasphemies through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.” The resolution also directs the Presiding Pastor of The AALC to personally communicate their position to the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA.

The convention opened the evening of June 24 with Divine Service. Dr. Leins preached from Matthew 9 under the theme, “Calling All Sinners.” Worship was at the center of the gathering, with services of Holy Communion every evening and worship every morning. The closing worship service also included a graduation ceremony for students of the American Lutheran Theological Seminary. Two men, Dean Stoner and Jordan Cooper, graduated from the pastoral program, while Brigitte Gassman became the first to graduate from the deaconess studies route.

The AALC formed in 1987 during the lead up to the formation of the ELCA. It emerged mostly from churches of The American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America. It centers itself in the inerrancy of Scripture, the veracity of the Lutheran Confessions (according to a quia subscription), the primacy of world missions and evangelism, and the authority of the local congregation. Currently, The AALC has 65 congregations across the United States, and is seeking to expand nationally and internationally.

At its 2007 convention, the AALC voted to join the International Lutheran Council. The same year it entered into altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS. Residential students of the American Lutheran Theological Seminary have been attending Concordia Theological Seminary—a seminary of the LCMS—in Fort Wayne, Indiana since 2005. The AALC seeks to strengthen its partnership with Lutherans around the world through their partnerships with the LCMS and the ILC.

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LCC meets in convention, reelects President Bugbee

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President Robert Bugbee addresses the convention. (Photo: Gabor Gasztonyi)

VANCOUVER – From June 6-9, Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) held its triennial national convention on the campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. The event saw lay and clergy representatives from across the nation gather together to conduct the business of the church, during which time President Robert Bugbee was acclaimed to another term without opposition.

Reflecting on the election, President Bugbee noted that, when he first entered the ministry years ago, he “never expected to serve as President of Synod, an honor which has been bestowed on me three times by our convention.” “I deeply appreciate your kindness, dear brothers and sisters,” he went on to say. “I cannot say that I understand it exactly, and I’m not even sure I agree with the action you’ve taken in re-electing me, but I do deeply appreciate it. And I am willing once again to embrace it.”

The opening worship service, held at Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver.
The opening worship service, held at Holy Rosary Cathedral in Vancouver. (Photo: Gabor Gasztonyi)

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee was first elected President of Lutheran Church–Canada in 2008. He was acclaimed without opposition to a second term in 2011. Since 2010, President Bugbee has also served as Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies of which LCC is a member.

“In some small way, I hope that the task God is entrusting to me for the coming three years will help our pastors and our people see the glory in the Gospel, and in the work you share in Alfalfa Junction, or whatever your town happens to be called,” he continued. “Thanks again for the honour you have done me with this election. God in Christ pour out on you all His joy and grace and blessing!”

Rev. Nolan Astley was reelected to serve as Vice President for the East District and Rev. Thomas Kruesel was reelected to serve as Vice President for the ABC District. Rev. Mark L. Smith was newly elected as Vice President for the Central District, succeeding Rev. Rudy Pastucha. Rev. Astley will serve as First Vice President, Rev. Kruesel as Second Vice President, and Rev. Smith as Third Vice President.

2014-logo-bannerThe convention gathered around the theme “Come to Him who answers prayer” (Psalm 65:2). Rev. Kurt Reinhardt of Kurtzville, Ontario served as one of the convention’s essayists, giving a presentation over two days entitled “As Dear Children Ask Their Dear Father.”

Also serving as an essayist for the convention was Deacon Jennifer Shack, who presented on the history and biblical foundation of the diaconate in Lutheran Church–Canada. The topic was particularly relevant, as a number of resolutions adopted by the convention focused on the diaconate. The convention voted June 7 to make provision for deacons to serve on Synod’s boards, commissions and committees. On June 8, the convention adopted a resolution “to study and provide for diaconal voting at Synod and District convention.” Currently LCC’s voting structure allows for equal pastoral/lay representation at convention, but does not make allowance for deacons to vote.

LCC was pleased to receive a number of international guests during the convention, including President Chul-Hwan Kim of the Lutheran Church in Korea, President Vannarith Chhim of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia, Bishop David Altus of the Lutheran Church of Australia, President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, and Rev. Dr. David Wendel of the North American Lutheran Church. The convention also welcomed letters of greeting from the Anglican Network in Canada, as well as Lutheran church bodies from India, Japan, Chile, England, Germany, and Ukraine.

Lutheran Church–Canada has 65,000 members in more than 300 congregations across the nation, served by approximately 250 active pastors and 95 deacons.

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ELC releases guidance document on “Living in an Ecumenical World”

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GERMANY – At the conclusion of the European Lutheran Conference’s (ELC) conference, members and guest-churches released a document entitled “Living in an Ecumenical World.” The document is meant to provide guidance and advice to ELC congregations and friendly churches throughout Europe.

“Our world is an ecumenical one as God has given his church—placed his people—throughout it,” the preamble to the document begins. “As Lutherans we recognize this in the use of the ecumenical creeds, and see our Lutheran Confessions—particularly the Augsburg Confession—as a testament to this truth. We also note the existence of the ecumenical movement of the past hundred years which has sought to minimise the fractures and divisions in the church as it works toward a visible unity. Nevertheless the church continues to fracture.”

ELC-2014-letter-webThe document goes on to consider the issue from a broad perspective down to a narrow one. It begins by considering the place of the ‘holy, Christian, and apostolic Church’ in an ecumenical world, before considering the subject from the vantage point of church bodies, then congregations, and finally Christians.

“We live at the time God has placed us,” the document notes in its conclusion. “His church is one. We also live as pilgrims in a fractured church where the confession of God’s Word is significantly different and at a time when our society increasingly marginalises us. Our understanding of Church means that we will be scrupulous about the truth of God’s Word (what it says and doesn’t say) and aware of our own history as church bodies. Confident of our confession, we are confident in our mission—not arrogantly but always in love—and eager to maintain the unity in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).”

An English translation of the document is available online here. German and French translations are forthcoming. Signatories of the document represent confessional Lutheran communities in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Finland, the Kyrgyz Republic, Siberia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States of America.

The European Lutheran Conference met together in Bleckmar, Germany from May 22-24, 2014.

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European Lutheran Conference meets in Germany

Participants at the ELC's 2014 conference in Germany.
Participants at the ELC’s 2014 conference in Germany. (Photo: Rick Steenbock)

GERMANY – From May 22-25, the European Lutheran Conference (ELC) is meeting in Bleckmar, Germany for its 23rd conference. The conference follows on the heels of the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) European world region conference, also held in Bleckmar, on May 21.

The ELC has six-full member churches, all of which are also members of the ILC. The ELC’s full-member churches include the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Denmark, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Synod of France, the Portuguese Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB), and Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). In addition to church leaders and lay representatives from these churches, this year’s conference includes guest participants from Spain, Switzerland, Russia, Kirghistan, Finland, and Sweden.

“Member churches need such meetings to realize that other churches know similar joys and problems,” ELC President Jean Thiébaut Haessig explains, “and to discover new ideas for their own church life, even if they live and work in different cultures, languages, and situations. Contacts are built between lay people of different churches which are necessary complements to the contacts between the church leaders.”

On the first day of the conference, presentations centered on two major topics. The first—what makes a Church a Church—was led by President Gisjbertus van Hattem of the ELKB. President van Hattem also serves as Secretary on the Executive Council of the ILC. The second focus of discussion—how confessional Lutheran churches ought to regard and relate to other denominations—was led by Rev. Roger Zieger, Director of SELK’s mission agency, the Lutheran Church Mission.

The origins of the ELC date back to just after the Second World War, when Confessional Lutheran churches from across Europe began meeting together in regular Mission Conferences. In 1986, these meetings transitioned to become the European Lutheran Conference. The purpose of the ELC according to its Guiding Principles is to “promote unity, fellowship, and cooperation between the member churches.”

The ELC’s conferences are currently held biannually, with the 2012 convention having taken place in Mulhouse, France.

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IELB celebrates 110th anniversary

BRAZIL – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil—IELB) celebrated their 110th anniversary as a church in Brazil at its national convention May 1-4. President Egon Kopereck was re-elected May 2 to serve the IELB for another term. See the convention in photos below:

President Matthew Harrison (left) of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod gives the keynote presentation at the IELB’s 61st convention. His presentation was titled “The Challenge to Preserve Confessional Identity,” and was based upon Martin Luther’s On Counsels and the Church. Rev. Gerson Lindon (right) translates for President Harrison.
International Lutheran Council (ILC) Vice Chairman Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada) greets the convention. ILC members and other international guests stand in the background.
President Egon Kopereck (left) of the IELB signs a protocol document for altar and pulpit fellowship with St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Congregation (Congregacion Evangélica Luterana San Pablo) of Montevideo, Uruguay. At the convention, the IELB also committed to church planting in Mozambique.
In between sessions of the IELB convention, the ILC conducted strategic planning. A significant part of the time was spent planning for next year’s World Conference in South America. ILC Executive Secretary Albert Collver is featured in this photo.
Over 7,000 people arrived by the bus load for the worship service commemorating the 110th anniversary of the IELB. The choir alone numbered in the thousands.
Some of the international guests at the IELB convention. LCMS President Matthew Harrison, ILC Secretary Gijsbertus van Hattem (President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium), ILC Executive Secretary Albert Collver, and ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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ILC Meeting in Brazil

BRAZIL – On the first weekend of May, the International Lutheran Council’s (ILC) Executive Council held meetings together in Acracuz, Brazil, where they had gathered for the 61st convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil—IELB). A visual snapshot of their meetings appear below:

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church) talks to Rev. Ted Krey (Latin American Regional Director for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) about the situation of the church in Latin America.
The ILC Executive Committee is interviewed by press for the IELB. Pictured in top frame: ILC Executive Secretary Albert Collver and ILC Vice Chairman Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada).
A look at the agenda for the ILC’s meetings.

In addition to regular business, the ILC Executive Committee worked on strategic planning centered around the ILC’s core objectives.

The ILC Executive Committee meets in Brazil (left to right): ILC Executive Secretary Albert Collver; ILC Africa Region representative Christian Ekong (Archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria); ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church); ILC Latin America Region representative Egon Kopereck (President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil); President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (guest at the meetings); ILC Vice Chairman Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada and ILC North America Region representative); ILC representative for the European region Jon Ehlers (Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England; ILC Secretary Gijsbertus van Hattem (President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium); and ILC Asia Region representative James Cerdinõla (President of the Lutheran Church of the Philippines.

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Brazilian Church holds 61st National Convention

IELBwebBRAZIL – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (Igreja Evangelica Luterana do Brasil—IELB) is holding its 61st National Convention from May 1-4 in the city of Aracruz in the province of Espírito Santo. More than 1,100 people are registered to take part in the convention, with more than 7,000 people expected to attend the convention’s closing worship service.

The convention begins the morning of May 1 with an opening worship service. President Egon Kopereck of the IELB will preach that day. The convention will include a presidential election, with President Kopereck having indicated his willingness to stand for a second term. He first came to office in 2010.

On May 2, Brazilian pastor Rev. Mario R. Yude Fukue will take the stage as the convention’s first lecturer, speaking on “The Challenge of Being a Confessional Church in Missions Today.” The day following, Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison (President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) will lecture on “The Challenge of Preserving Confessional Identity.”

A number of dignitaries will be present for the event in addition to President Harrison. Partner churches from various countries are sending representatives, including International Lutheran Council (ILC) Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church), ILC Vice-Chairman Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada), President Gijsbertus van Hattem (Belgium), Chairman Jon Ehlers (United Kingdom), Archbishop Christian Ekong (Nigeria), and President James Cerdeñola (Philippines).  Local Brazilian government officials, including Espírito Santo’s Governor, José Renato Casagrande, and Deputy Governor, Givaldo Vieira, have also confirmed their attendance at the convention’s closing service.

Among other business, the convention will see the signing of a cooperation protocol document between the IELB and St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Congregation (Congregacion Evangélica Luterana San Pablo) in Montevideo, Uruguay.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil grew out of missionary work by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in the early 1900s. It became self-governing in 1980. Today, the IELB has approximately 240,000 baptized members.

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Ukraine’s bishop asks for prayer

SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).
SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).

UKRAINE – The situation in Ukraine continues to be tense, following the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Russian military and pro-Russian militia. And things are only getting worse, according to Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU).

“The situation is deteriorating every day,” Bishop Gräfenstein reports in a March 4 letter. “Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. One of our brothers from Odessa, who is currently serving in the armed forces, reported that all soldiers are armed and constantly in a state of readiness for war.”

“Of course the Crimean Peninsula is the primary focus,” the letter continues. “Crimea formerly belonged to Russia, but was transferred to Ukraine in the Soviet period. Now, while Ukraine grapples with the question of whether to line up with Russia or with the European Union (EU), Russia threatens Ukraine with war, especially if Ukraine goes with the EU. Most Crimean residents are Russians who wish to be part of Russia. So now Russia uses this sentiment to hold the Crimea back from the EU.”

SELCU has five congregations on the Crimean peninsula, but Bishop Gräfenstein notes that, while the situation is tense, the people are still safe. “Our brothers and sisters are not doing badly at this moment,” he writes. “People in general are rushing to stockpile groceries, and nearly all the store shelves are empty. Everyone is concerned that, if it comes to war, a famine will break out.”

Bishop Gräfenstein ends his letter with a request for prayer: “We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace,” he writes. “Thank you for your prayer support.”

We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace.

SELCU is a young church body, with thirteen congregations throughout Ukraine. It has strong ties to Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) which has long supported its ministry, especially with theological education and missions. Late last week, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council) called on the wider church to hold up Ukraine in prayer.

“We ask the Lord to comfort the sorrowing who have lost loved ones,” President Bugbee wrote. “We ask Him to meet the legitimate needs of the Ukrainian people, regardless of their preferred languages and political orientation. We implore him that the work of our mission partners in the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine may not be disrupted by the trouble.”

“Above all,” he continued, “we ask God to give courage to our pastors and people there in the mist of turmoil to point their neighbours to Jesus Christ, the great Prince of Peace.”

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Published concurrently at The Canadian Lutheran.