COVID-19 and ILC churches in India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom

President S. Suviseshamuthu brings a video Easter greeting to the India Evangelical Lutheran Church.

WORLD – Members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) continue to respond to the coronavirus pandemic currently gripping the world.

In this second post in our series, we highlight the situation of ILC member churches in India, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

India

A nationwide lockdown in India was implemented on March 23, and will continue at least through the end of April. So far, India has reported more than 12,700 cases of COVID-19 and 423 deaths.

The situation has proven challenging for the India Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC). Worship services are banned, which was particularly difficult during Holy Week and Easter. Some pastors and congregations are able to broadcast services online, and some members are able to watch from their homes. The church, however, is unable to administer Holy Communion during the lockdown.

Movement from one place to another is also restricted. And while some pastors are allowed to visit nearby homes to pray with members, in other places this is not allowed.

On the eve of Easter, IELC President S. Suviseshamuthu sent a message of encouragement to the church on YouTube and WhatsApp, likening the situation facing them to that described in the first chapter of Joel. Joel describes a crisis that had “never happened during the time of old men, the inhabitants of the land,” President Suviseshamuthu writes. “The priests, the Lord’s ministers, mourn. The field is wasted. The land mourns. Joy is withered away from the sons of men. The meat offering and the drink offering are withheld form the house of your God.”

“But in the very next chapter, Joel speaks of the day of the Lord,” President Suviseshamuthu continues. If we “rend our hearts and turn unto the Lord our God,” we will find “He is slow to anger, and of great kindness, if we repent from evil.”

“This makes us to realize that Jesus is the only way,” President Suviseshamuthu explains. “He loves us profoundly. That is the only reason He laid down His life on the cross. Jesus loves each one of us without discrimination. Let us separate ourselves from the world to be united only with our Saviour. Let us confess daily. May the Lord protect us and lead us through the wilderness.”

South Africa

In South Africa, more than 2,500 cases of COVID-19 have been reported, with 34 deaths. On March 23, the country enacted a nationwide lockdown, which will be in effect at least until the end of April.

This has led to major challenges for the St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Church of South Africa (CLCSA). Churches are not allowed to gather in groups of more than ten, funerals are limited to just family, and no weddings are allowed. Easter services were cancelled in South Africa, as in many nations.

Online preaching from the St. Peter Confessional Lutheran Church of South Africa.

Many churches around the world have turned to electronic means of ministering to members during the current crisis, and the CLCSA is no different, reaching out via social media. But many of the CLCSA’s members are elderly and not familiar with this sort of technology. Many are also rural, living in remote areas which do not have easy access to the internet.

“Our church is in a learning curve as to how to serve our membership,” explains CLCSA bishop Mandla Khumalo. “We have learned and are learning even more the importance of households becoming the church, with fathers effectively being encouraged to go back to using Luther’s Small Catechism to minister to their families.” Bishop Khumalo notes especially the value of the daily services in the catechism. “This is leading us to understand more fully what fellowship means on the family level—how the church begins at home, and how the worship building is only a place of fellowship.”

The CLCSA is facing other difficulties as a result of the coronavirus too. Holy communion and visitations, including to shut-ins, have been suspended, and pastors can only attend to members in extreme cases after receiving permission from the authorities. Some international staff have also been repatriated, further affecting the ability of church and its agencies to minister to its members.

The church is also facing financial difficulties since many of its members are unfamiliar with telephone or online banking, and are unable to give in person. And this has a cascading effect on the church’s education and social ministry work. The church receives no government funding, and with schools closed, there are challenges paying staff and covering overhead costs. What is more, many of the students depend on the church’s food program and now face food insecurity as a result of the lockdown.

Despite these challenges, Bishop Khumalo also sees an opportunity to reach people anew with the good news of the Gospel during this crisis. Some people who normally “would not attend church in any way” are nevertheless deciding to tune-in to the CLCSA’s online outreach “because of the curiosity created by this pandemic.” The church is proclaiming the message of Jesus to those newly willing to listen.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has so far reported more than 103,000 cases of COVID-19 and 13,729 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. On March 20, the government initiated a lockdown which resulted in churches being closed for public worship and which strictly limited the public’s ability to leave their homes.  While clergy have been categorized as key workers, and can thus leave the home to work, congregants are not allowed to attend churches.

ELCE Chairman George Samiec livestreams his sermon for Easter Sunday.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England has reacted quickly to the situation to ensure continued pastoral care for members. By March 29, all congregations had begun offering alternate worship arrangements, including online video conferencing, live online worship services, pre-recorded worship services, and written material emailed or posted every week for members to read on Sunday.

“The absence of the Divine Service in the life of the Church is painful,” notes ELCE Chairman George Samiec. “We look forward to the time when we can worship together and receive from the Lord of the Church all His blessings.”

In the meantime, congregations continue to use alternate means to continue ministry. Some congregations are also now broadcasting Matins and Compline during the week, while Bible Studies and confirmation are being conducted via video conferencing. Congregational WhatsApp groups have been formed. And pastors are regularly phoning members to provide care.

The ELCE’s theological institute, Westfield House, has moved to provide classes online. And Lutheran Radio UK has amended the Daily Offices on Sundays to include sermons and prayers.

The ELCE ministerium is also using video conferencing to consult with one another, Chairman Samiec noted, to “learn from each other in terms of technology, to think collectively about how to go forward and what to do to minimise any ‘digital divides’, and how best to resume public worship if COVID-19 fears still exist.”

The situation also puts a strain on the fiscal well-being of congregations. To that end, the ELCE Executive Council has established a ‘hardship fund’ to help congregations deal with financial stresses.

———————

For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

ILC World Representatives for Latin America and Europe announced

WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has announced updates to the representatives for the Latin American and European World Regions.

Appointed to serve as the World Region Representative for Latin America is President Eugenio Wentzel of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Paraguay (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana del Paraguay – IELP). President Wentzel had previously served as the Latin American representative until the spring of 2018, but was ineligible for reappointment because he had announced he wouldn’t seek reelection as President of the Paraguayan church. In the end, he consented to stand for reelection of the IELP and was elected, making him eligible for reappointment to as the ILC’s regional representative.

Appointed to serve as the World Region Representative for Europe is Chairman Georg Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). This seat was previously held by the ELCE’s Chairman Jon Ehlers, but Chairman Ehlers had announced he would not seek reelection. Chairman Samiec was subsequently elected, and consented to serve as the ILC’s regional representative for Europe.

In total, five World Regional Representatives serve on the ILC’s Board of Directors (formerly known as the Executive Committee), along with the ILC Chairman, Secretary, two appointed members, and the ILC’s General Secretary (as a non-voting, ex-officio member).

———————

Chairmen of ILC and GAFCON meet in Wittenberg

Participants in the latest round of ACNA-LCC-LCMS talks meet in Wittenberg, Germany. Representatives of the Anglican Church in North America during these meetings included: ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach; the Rev. Peter Frank, ACNA pastor; the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Riches, Reformed Episcopal Seminary rector and professor; and Reformed Episcopal Church (REC) Presiding Bishop Ray Sutton, ACNA Dean of Ecumenical Affairs. Representing the Lutherans were LCC Past President Robert Bugbee; the Rev. Joel Kuhl, Chairman of LCC’s Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR); the Rev. Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, Executive Director of the LCMS’ CTCR; and the Rev. Larry Vogel, Associate Executive Director of the LCMS’ CTCR. International guests included: the Rev. Dr. Christoph Barnbrock, Rector and Professor at SELK’s seminary Lutherische Theologische Hochschule; outgoing Evangelical Lutheran Church in England (ELCE) Chairman Jon Ehlers; Free Church of England (FCE) Bishop John Fenwick; Reformed Episcopal Church in Germany (Anglikanische Kirche in Deutschland – AKD) Bishop Gerhard Meyer; Reformed Episcopal Church in Croatia (Protestantska Reformirana Kršćanska Crkva – PRKC) Bishop Jasmin Milić; SELK Bishop Emeritus Jobst Schöne; SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, and the Rev. Dr. Vatroslav Župančić of the United Methodist Church in Germany (Evangelisch-methodistische Kirche – EMK.

GERMANY – The respective chairmen of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, and of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), Archbishop Foley Beach, met in Wittenberg on October 30 during the latest round of dialogue between confessional Lutherans and Anglicans from North America.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt and GAFCON Chairman Foley Beach meet at the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany.

Bishop Voigt is the spiritual leader of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) of Germany, and has served as ILC Chairman since 2010.  Archbishop Beach is Primate of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and is currently Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council. The ILC is a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies committed to the authority of Holy Scripture as God’s written Word, and to the biblical Gospel of Jesus Christ as the heart of the Church’s faith and mission. GAFCON was born out of the realignment of world Anglicanism, as those who uphold the authority of Scripture banded together to respond to theological and spiritual decay within the Anglican communion. The churches associated with GAFCON now represent around 50 million of the 70 million Anglicans around the world.

“The theological and historical background of GAFCON deeply impressed me,” noted Bishop Voigt. “Their understanding of Holy Scripture is very close to that of ILC churches,” he continued, while acknowledging there remain differences of theology between the two organizations which would benefit from further dialogue.

For nearly a decade, representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC) and the ACNA have carried out semi-annual dialogue meetings, rejoicing in their discovery of substantial biblical teaching held in common. The decision was made to hold this fall’s round of talks at Wittenberg’s Old Latin School, an agency of the LCMS, SELK and ILC, to afford the regular participants an opportunity to be introduced to each other’s European partners and mark the 502nd anniversary of the Reformation together. In that context Bishop Voigt traveled to Wittenberg and had opportunity to speak with Archbishop Beach, who was present for the regular dialogue meetings. The head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England was also present, as were Anglican bishops from the United Kingdom, Germany, and Croatia.

Much of the week’s discussions provided an opportunity for those present to introduce the churches they serve. In addition, there was significant attention given to the possibilities for cooperation in theological education in Europe. Participants also toured historical Luther sites throughout Wittenberg, and in the town of Eisleben, where Luther was born and also died. On the early morning of Reformation Day, the group walked to the famous Thesentür (“theses door”) of Wittenberg’s Castle Church to offer prayers to the Lord and to acknowledge His grace in uncovering the truth of the Gospel at the time of the Reformation 502 years ago.

For more information on the dialogue meetings held in Wittenberg, see this release from the Anglican Church in North America, Lutheran Church–Canada, and the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.

———————

New Chairman for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England

At the installation of Rev. George Samiec (third front left) as Chairman of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England.

United Kingdom – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) elected a new Chairman during its 65th Synod, held September 27-28, 2019 at Christ Church (Petts Wood).

Rev. George Samiec, who formerly served as Vice Chairman, was elected Chairman of the church after Rev. John Ehlers announced he would not seek reelection. Rev. Ehlers had served three terms as Chairman of the ELCE.

While not standing for reelection as Chairman, Rev. Ehlers allowed his name to stand for Vice Chairman of the ELCE, and was elected to that position for one year.

Rev. George Samiec, arrived in the UK in 2002, seconded from the Lutheran Church of Australia at the request of the ELCE. He has served on the ELCE Executive Council since 2003 and as ELCE Vice Chairman since 2010. He also served on the executive of the European Lutheran Conference from 2004-2018. The ELCE Chairman duties are in addition to congregational ministries in the ELCE. Rev. Samiec serves congregations in Brandon, Coventry, and Harlow and teaches in the practical theology area at Westfield House, the ELCE’s theological house of studies in Cambridge.

Assisting at the installation of the Chairman were the pastors of the ELCE ministerium together with the Rt. Rev. Risto Soramies, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF); the Very Rev. Dr Juhana Pohjola, Dean of the ELMDF; and Rev. Gary Heintz, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church—Synod of France.

During its 65th Synod, the ELCE also declared fellowship with the ELMDF and the Evangelical Lutheran-Diocese of Norway.

———————

Evangelical Lutheran Church of England declares fellowship with Finnish and Norwegian churches

ELMDF Bishop Risto Soramies and ELCE Chairman Jon Ehlers sign documents recognizing fellowship between their two churches.

United Kingdom – The 65th Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) was held September 27-28 at Christ Church (Petts Wood), during which time the ELCE recognised church fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF) and the Evangelical Lutheran-Diocese in Norway (DELSiN). These church fellowship recognitions are the culmination of five years of discussion, together with the Mission Province of Sweden and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.

Attending the ELCE Synod was Bishop Risto Soramies of the ELMDF and together with ELCE Chairman, Rev. Jon Ehlers, they signed documents and extended the right hand of fellowship. Bishop Soramies spoke about the situation in Finland, the history of his church, and their priorities in establishing worship places so that folk only have to travel up to one hour to attend worship. He also mentioned that the ELMDF was prioritising investing in personnel rather than buildings.

Bishop Thor Henrik With of the DELSiN at the last minute was unable to attend the Synod. Nevertheless the ELCE delegates also resolved recognition of church fellowship with the DELSiN.

The ELCE, ELMDF, DELSiN are all members of the International Lutheran Council.

———————

 

Latvian and English Lutherans seek closer ties

Representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia meet London for talks.

UNITED KINGDOM – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) hosted a delegation from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) for meetings June 12, 2019 at Luther-Tyndale Memorial Church in Kentish Town, London.

ELCE Chairman Jon Ehlers and ELCL Archbishop Jānis Vanags.

Attending the meetings were four ELCE clergy, including Chairman Jon Ehlers, and twelve ELCL clergy, including Archbishop Jānis Vanags. A major point of discussion was how the two churches might work more closely together to minister to the large Latvian population living in the UK. As of 2011, the United Kingdom counted more than 61,000 Latvian-born residents throughout the UK.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England has one Latvian pastor serving in the church. The Latvian church currently has one pastor serving in the English Midlands and another pastor serving in Ireland.

“It was a pleasure to welcome Archbishop Vanags and the other pastors of the Latvian church,” said ELCE Chairman Ehlers. “Our two churches are both grounded in the authority of Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, which gives us a solid foundation for cooperation. It’s a joy to consider the ways in which we might partner more closely together for the good of the Gospel.”

As a result of the meetings, the Latvian church plans to connect their members living in the United Kingdom with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England. The ELCE, meanwhile, has pledged to provide assistance to the two Latvian pastors working in the region, and to invite them to participate in ELCE pastors’ study conferences and other opportunities for theological development.

During the meetings, the two churches took time to explain their history and church structure, as well as their respective understandings of altar and pulpit fellowship. “We spent a lot of time explaining the history of our churches and our polities, to help us better understand each other,” noted ELCE Chairman Ehlers. “We also agreed to continue talks on these matters to help us work more closely together in the future.”

Another topic under discussion was the possibility of future cooperation between the two churches’ seminaries: Westfield House in England and Luther Academy in Latvia.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has grown increasingly close to the ILC in recent years. In 2018, for example, the Latvian church invited the ILC to present at the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference. Archbishop Vanags has also participated in a number of ILC events, most recently the ILC’s 2018 World Conference.

———————

Swedish Lutherans consecrate new bishop

Bishop Bengt Ådahl (centre right holding a crosier) of the Mission Province of Sweden, along with church leaders who participated in his consecration.
Bishop Bengt Ådahl.

SWEDEN – On April 27, 2019 Rev. Bengt Ådahl was consecrated as bishop of the Mission Province in Sweden at a festive service in Gothenburg.

Bishop Ådahl was installed by Bishop Roland Gustafsson, who has retired after nine years of service leading the Mission Province. Assisting Bishop Gustafsson were Bishops Göran Beijer and Lars Artman, as well as the Mission Province’s first Bishop Arne Olsson.

Also participating in the service were Bishop Thor Henrik With of the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway, Bishop Risto Soramies of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, and Bishop Hans Jönsson bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.

Bishop Ådahl introduced his personal episcopal mission with the encouragement to “Look to Jesus,” drawing on Hebrews 12:2. “In all true Christianity, Jesus Christ is at the centre,” he explained. For this reason, Jesus must remain the centre of all Christian faith and practice. He must remain central in our individual lives. He must remain central in our understanding of Scripture. And He must remain central in the life of the Church.

“It is tempting,” he acknowledged, to follow “what is politically correct, what is liked in media coverage, to feel out which way the wind is blowing right now.”

Bishop Ådahl is consecrated.

“But it is fatal,” he warned. Instead, he said, “we must look to Jesus, search into His Word. We shall be faithful to and adhere to everything that He has shown and made clear to us in His Word. This is precisely what the Lord expects of us: to remain faithful to Himself, to His Word, faithful to the doctrines and confessions of the Church.”

This challenging call to stand firm on Christ and His Word is one the Mission Province in Sweden knows only too well. The Mission was founded first as a reform group within the Church of Sweden in 2003 by those attempting to remain faithful to the Scriptures while the state church increasingly secularized. Their first bishop, Arne Olsson, was installed in 2005. The Church of Sweden responded by defrocking Bishop Olsson.

The state church has continued to punish those holding confessional views, barring confessional candidates from ordination. One of those barred from ordination by the state Church of Sweden was in attendance at the consecration of Bishop Ådahl—Bishop Hans Jönsson, who was subsequently welcomed into the Latvian church and made a bishop there in 2016.

The Mission Province in Sweden is a member of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses, together with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway. In 2018, the Mission Province and the other members of the Communion of Nordic Dioceses became members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. During that time, Bishop Emeritus Roland Gustafsson announced his intention to retire as head of Mission Province, having successfully brought the church into membership with the ILC.

———————

British Lutherans commemorate Reformation, release free translation of Small Catechism

ENGLAND – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) held its 63rd synodical convention September 29-30, 2017 in Cambridge, during which time delegates commemorated the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.

That focus complemented a number of other Reformation projects the ELCE has undertaken in 2017, including the publication of a new translation of Luther’s Small Catechism, available for free use by anyone. See the translation, and further information about using it under its Creative Commons Licence, at www.thesmallcatechism.org.

Rev. Dr. Robert Rosin, Professor Emeritus of Historical Theology at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis, Missouri) served as guest speaker for the September synodical convention, speaking on the ongoing relevance of the Reformation. Delegates also enjoyed a series of sermons reflecting on key teachings of the Reformation, including Jesus Alone; Scripture Alone; Grace Alone; and Through Faith Alone. Other Reformation projects from the ELCE in 2017 include the creation of a Reformation Bible, Luther Reading Roadshows, numerous Reformation events, and the publication of a book on early Lutheran martyrs in the United Kingdom.

Participants in the closing worship service of the ELCE’s 2017 synodical convention.

A key topic of discussion during the synodical convention was the need to review the church’s current organisational structure. Other important business included several elections for open positions on the Executive Council, as well as various boards and committees.

The 64th synodical convention of the ELCE will take place in Fareham, England in September, 2018.

The ELCE has congregations throughout England, Scotland, and Wales, and is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. In addition to increased participation in inter-Lutheran discussions in Europe in recent years, the ELCE has also become increasingly active in ecumenical discussions throughout the United Kingdom, bringing a clear Lutheran witness to these events.

———————

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.

———————-

 

Nordic Lutheran Dioceses enter fellowship talks with German and English Lutherans

Representatives to the Church Fellowship talks in Finland.
Representatives to the Church Fellowship talks in Finland.

FINLAND – Representatives of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses began church fellowship talks with the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in England (ELCE) during meetings April 13-14, 2016 in Helsinki, Finland. The Nordic Lutheran Dioceses officially formed in 2015, and is composed of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, the Mission Province of Sweden, and the Evangelical Lutheran Diocese of Norway.

These three churches have attempted to operate within the confines of their respective national church bodies, but have increasingly come into conflict with them as the national churches have become increasingly liberal. The bishops and almost all clergy associated with the Dioceses have been defrocked by their national church bodies for their confessional stance.

Planning for these talks has taken three years and was first only envisioned to include the ELCE and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. But as discussions progressed, it was considered prudent to include the other two Nordic Dioceses as well as the SELK so that the scope and breadth of these talks could be increased.

The discussions were held at the Finnish Diocese’s Koinonia Centre in Helsinki.

Meetings began with worship and discussion soon followed on the nature and identity of the Church. Each church body presented their constitution and spoke about how the Lutheran Confessions shape their self-understanding and ecclesiastical identities. Despite the influence of national and historic influences on the wording and structures of their constitutions, it was agreed that a clear and common understanding, founded upon the Lutheran Confessions, existed between the Nordic Missions Dioceses, the SELK, and the ELCE. The definition of “free” and “independent” churches were discussed and clarified, and the Nordic Dioceses made it clear that they were independent of all national church structures, governance, and practices.

The two day conference discussed twelve other topics as well, including the doctrine of Holy Scripture, the Holy Trinity, the person and work of the Son of God, the person and work of the holy Spirit, justification and sanctification, the end times, and ecumenical relations with other churches, both inside and outside Lutheranism. It was agreed these discussions were very helpful and that there was substantial agreement on these doctrines among all five churches.

The area that garnered most discussion was on the subject of the church and church structure. The Nordic Mission Dioceses and the SELK are episcopal, meaning they have bishops and a more centralised church structure. The ELCE, meanwhile, is more congregational and does not have a bishop. Dialogue here led to further discussions on the Office of the Holy Ministry. All participants agreed that while the particular form and structure of a church is important, what is ultimately important is how that structure assists the church to proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments as she carries out Christ’s mission in the world.

The participants have agreed upon a joint statement summarising the discussions, which will be taken back to their churches for consideration and consultation.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in England and the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany are both member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. The churches of the Communion of Nordic Lutheran Dioceses recently began official discussions about becoming members of the ILC.
—————————————————–