KENYA – During the afternoon of September 14, 2022, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held elections for its board of directors, during which time the ILC acclaimed Bishop Juhana Pohjola without opposition as its new chairman.
In remarks after the decision, Chairman Elect Pohjola expressed thanks to the assembly as well as his prayer that the Holy Spirit would work through him despite his weakness. He further gave thanks for the example of Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, his predecessor in office, who announced earlier in the conference that he would not stand for reelection.
“I know that I have big shoes to fill because Bishop Voigt has been such an example,” Chairman Elect Pohjola said. “If I can imitate him in even some respects, I will be happy to do so.”
“Dear brothers, pray for me and for the ILC,” the Chairman Elect continued. “I look forward to working with you all very much.”
Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola has been Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) since 2021. He previously served as the ELMDF’s Diocesan Dean from 2013 until his election, and before that as dean of the Luther Foundation Finland from 2000-2001 and 2012 until his election. He has served as a pastor in Helsinki and as a visiting scholar at Canada’s Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario. He holds a Master of Theology from the University of Helsinki (1997), a Master of Sacred Theology from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (1998), and a Doctor of Theology from the University of Helsinki (2014). He was further awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne) in 2022 in part “for his calm and bold witness in the face of government persecution and pressure.”
Bishop Pohjola was catapulted to worldwide media attention in 2021 after Finland’s Prosecutor General charged him and a Finnish M.P., Dr. Päivi Räsänen, with hate crimes for the 2004 publication of a booklet which articulates historic Christian teaching on human sexuality. In response, the ILC issued “A Protest and Call” signed by the leaders of Lutheran church bodies around the world, expressing deep concern over Finland’s infringement on the freedoms of religion and speech. Bishop Pohjola and Dr. Räsänen were subsequently acquitted in early 2022 by a panel of judges who found they had committed no crimes, but Finland’s Prosecutor General has since appealed, meaning the case is not over.
Bishop Pohjola succeeds Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, who has headed Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church since 2006. He was elected to serve the ILC as Europe Region representative in 2007 and 2009, following which he was named Vice Chairman. When the Chairman’s seat became vacant in 2010 between World Conferences, he was automatically advanced to become interim Chairman. The 2012 World Conference elected him to continue serving as Chairman, and he was subsequently reelected to the position again in 2015 and 2018. In total, he served 12 years as ILC Chairman and 15 years in total on the board.
After Bishop Voigt announced he would not stand for reelection, attendees gave him a standing round of applause in gratitude for his long and faithful service.
Secretary and World Region Representatives
The September 14 afternoon session of the ILC’s 2022 World Conference also saw the election of Bishop John Shadrack Donkoh of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana (ELCG) to serve as Secretary of the ILC. Bishop Donkoh has been head of the ELCG since 2018. He succeeds President Gijsbertus van Hattem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB), who had served in the role since 2004. The assembly recognized President van Hattem for his years of service with a round of applause.
During the afternoon, the ILC also acclaimed world region representatives to the board of directors for the new triennium. Serving as representative for Africa is Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK). Asia will be represented by President Antonio del Rio Reyes of the Lutheran Church in the Philippines (LCP). The European representative is Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). Latin America will be represented by President Alceu Alton Figur of the Lutheran Church of Paraguay. And North America will be represented by President Timothy Teuscher of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC).
The ILC’s board of directors also includes two other members who are appointed under other criteria. Past President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada and President Matthew Harrison of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) remain on the board in this capacity.
An installation service for the new triennium’s Board of Directors will take place on the conference’s final date.
Following the elections, President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) reported on the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, which is a joint project of the LCMS, Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), and the ILC.
Regional meetings followed, after which four World Region reports were given. LCP President Reyes gave the report from Asia. ELCE Chairman Samiec reported on Europe. Finally, LCC President Teuscher, accompanied by LCMS President Harrison, reported on the North America region.
The conference then heard a brief report on Concordia Israel from Bishop Torkild Masvie of the Lutheran Church in Norway and Iceland. Following this, Rev. Roger James, the ILC’s Assistant to the General Secretary, then addressed the conference as well.
The day closed with a service of Vespers. President Geraldo Schüler of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB) preached on the theology of the cross, tying in to the commemoration of Holy Cross Day, while conference chaplain Rev. Charles Froh served as liturgist.