European Lutheran Conference meets in Belgium, celebrates 450th anniversary of first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp

Delegates to the 2016 meeting of the European Lutheran Conference.
Delegates to the 2016 meeting of the European Lutheran Conference.

BELGIUM – From June 1-5, 2016 Lutherans from several European Lutheran churches assembled in Antwerp, Belgium, for the 24th European Lutheran Conference (ELC), under the theme ‘Reformation then … and now.’

The conference was attended by ELC member churches representatives from Belgium, Denmark, England, France, and Germany, as well as by guests from the Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States of America.

A keynote address on the conference’s theme was delivered by Dr. Werner Klän of Germany. An opening service, morning devotions with Bible studies, and evening prayers shaped the spiritual frame of the conference. Several of the guest churches in attendance have expressed their intention to apply for membership in the coming years.

A special focus of this year’s conference was the commemoration of the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp, which was founded in 1566. From June 2-3, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (ELKB) hosted an international conference highlighting this event, organized by ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem in cooperation with the University of Antwerp, and held at the Rubenianum.

Participants in the International Conference recognizing the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp.
Participants in the International Conference recognizing the 450th anniversary of the establishment of the first Lutheran congregation in Antwerp.

The conference was opened with two keynote lectures: “The International Dimensions of the Wittenberg Reformation” by Dr. Robert Kolb (Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri), and “Reformation Movements and the Wonderyear: the Antwerp Context” by Dr. Guido Marnef (University of Antwerp). The second day of the conference featured six additional lectures:  “The Role of Antwerp’s Reformed Augustinians in the Early Reformation” by Dr. Robert Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa);  “Humanists on the Move: The Transfer of Ideas Between Wittenberg and Antwerp” by Dr. Victoria Christman (Luther College, Decorah, Iowa); “The First Lutheran Congregation 1566–1585 and Beyond” by Rev. Gijsbertus van Hattem (Lutheran Church of Antwerp, Belgium); “Polemics, Church Order and Confession: Matthias Flacius Illyricus in Antwerp during the ‘Wonderjaar’ 1566/67” by Dr.  Luka Ilic (Leibniz Institute, Mainz, Germany); “Christopher Plantin, Printing for the Reformation” by  Dirk Imhof (Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp, Belgium); and “The Image Debates in the Low Countries: an Art Historical Review” by Dr.  Koenraad Jonckheere (Ghent University, Belgium).

President Leif Jensen (left) preached for the ELC's closing service while ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem served as liturgist.
President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark (left) preached for the ELC’s closing service while ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem served as liturgist.

The conference concluded with a walking tour through 16th Century Antwerp, ending with a reception at the Town Hall, where Antwerp’s mayor Bart De Wever welcomed the participants.

The European Lutheran Conference concluded with Divine Service on June 5. ELKB President and local pastor Gijsbertus van Hattem led the liturgy, while President Leif Jensen of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark preached.

The next conference of the European Lutheran Conference will be held in England in 2018.

All of the member churches of the ELC are also member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

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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 Council elects new president

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President Klaus Pahlen and President Emeritus Jean Thiébaut Haessig.

GERMANY – The European Lutheran Conference (ELC) elected Rev. Klaus Pahlen as its new president on May 24, 2014. The election came on the final day of the ELC’s 2014 conference held in Bleckmar, Germany.

President Klaus Pahlen has served as Dean of the Western District of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church since 2010. He was first elected to the committee of the ELC in 2012 when he became Vice-President. President Klaus continues to serve as a pastor of the Lutheran Church in Essen, Germany. From 1987-2003, he worked in Botswana translating the Bible into the Kalanga language.

President Pahlen succeeds President Jean Thiébaut Haessig, who served as ELC President from 2002-2014. President Haessig had earlier announced that he would not be seeking reelection. In addition to serving as President, Rev. Haessig served the ELC as Vice-President (1990-1993) and Secretary (1993-2002). He had served in these positions while President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church – Synod of France (EELSF), from which he retired in 2012. In total, President Emeritus Haessig had served 36 years on the EELSF’s Synodical Board, twelve of those years as President.

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The newly elected ELC Comittee: Vice-President Leif Jensen, President Klaus Pahlen, and Secretary George Samiec.

Also elected to serve on the ELC’s Committee was Rev. Leif Jensen as Vice-President and Rev. George Samiec was reelected to serve as Secretary. Rev. Jensen is President of the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Denmark. He previously served as Secretary of the ELC during the 1980s. Rev. Samiec is Vice-Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England. He has served the last eight years as Secretary for the ELC and also served a term as Vice-President.

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ELC: Living in an ecumenical world

ELC President Jean Thiébaut Haessig takes part in group-discussions on "living in an ecumenical world." In the back, ELC Secretary George Samiec listens in.
ELC President Jean Thiébaut Haessig takes part in group-discussions on “living in an ecumenical world.” In the back, ELC Secretary George Samiec listens in.

GERMANY – The European Lutheran Conference (ELC) continued into its second day of meetings May 23 in Bleckmar, Germany.

Discussion of this year’s theme—“Living in an Ecumenical World”—continued Friday, with Chairman Jon Ehlers of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England (ELCE) giving the event’s third major presentation. Chairman Ehlers, who also serves the International Lutheran Council as its European world region representative, spoke on the practical challenges confessional Lutheran churches face today, using the experiences of the ELCE to illustrate. Among the topics he discussed were who can serve as baptismal sponsors, visitors attending worship services at which Holy Communion is being served, participation in local ecumenical events, and more.

Conference participants then broke into small groups where they discussed Chairman Ehler’s presentation, before reporting their thoughts back to the larger conference. A day earlier the same groups discussed two additional topics: the nature of the church, and how confessional Lutherans should relate to other denominations. The conclusions drawn by the ELC in these discussions will be used in the formation of a guidance document on “Living in an Ecumenical World”—a series of recommendations on the subject for confessional Lutheran congregations in Europe.

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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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