Malagasy Lutherans elect new president

FLM President Elect Denis Rakotozafy. (Photo: FLM social media).

MADAGASCAR – On November 5, 2020, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy – FLM) elected Rev. Dr. Denis Rakotozafy to serve as its new president. The vote came during the church’s 23rd Synodical Conference held November 4-8 in Mahajanga, which gathered under the theme: “And increase the harvest of your righteousness…” (2 Corinthians 9:10b).

“I send my warmest greetings and congratulations to Dr. Rakotozafy on his election.” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “I’ve known Denis for several years, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the years to come, as the relationship between the Malagasy Lutheran Church and the ILC continues to strengthen and deepen. May God bless the Malagasy church as it moves forward.”

Dr. Rakotozafy was elected after four rounds of voting, in a 312-163 vote. He had already secured more than fifty percent of the vote beginning with the first ballot, but the FLM requires the president of the church to be elected by a 2/3 majority vote, leading to subsequent votes as other candidates dropped from the ballot.

Dr. Rakotozafy succeeds the late Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, who passed away in July 2020 after contracting COVID-19.

Prior to his election, Dr. Rakotozafy was Vice President of the FLM’s Antananarivo Regional Synod, serving one term from 2012-2014 and beginning another in February 2020. He also began serving as District President of the Anosibe District in February 2020, having previously served as Vice President of the District from 2018-2020. He formerly served as President of the Mangalaza District from 1999-2000. He was ordained in 1999.

Dr. Rakotozafy has also served in various positions for the Federation of the Protestant Churches of Madagascar and the Council of Christian Churches in Madagascar.

In 2018, Dr. Rakotozafy earned a PhD in missiology from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His dissertation was entitled “Missional Ecclesiology: The Mission of God and the Sending of the Church through the Fifohazana (Revival Movement) in the Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy (Malagasy Lutheran Church).” The Fifohazana revival movement has seen the FLM become one of the largest and fastest growing Lutheran churches in the world.

Since completing his PhD, Dr. Rakotozafy has gone on to teach missiology at the FLM’s Graduate School of Theology (SALT) in Ivory Avaratra, as well as at Ambatoroka’s theological institute.

The ongoing synodical gathering has also seen the election of several other officers to the FLM’s governing board, including the election of Rev. Velomahatombo as Vice President of the FLM. Prior to the election, Rev. Velomahatombo was serving as President of the FLM’s Menabe Regional Synod.

“Grace and peace to all the newly elected leaders,” said Dr. Quill. “The Lord bless you with wisdom and courage to faithfully meet the serious challenges facing the Lord’s Church, as well as the incredible opportunities to proclaim Jesus Christ and His saving Word. It all depends on the Word.”

The FLM became a member of the International Lutheran Council in 2018.

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President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church passes on to glory

FLM President David Rakotonirina following his election in 2016.

MADAGASCAR – Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy – FLM) passed on to glory suddenly on July 11, 2020 from COVID-19 after a brief stay in hospital.

A funeral service for President Rakotonirina was held on July 12, 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a funeral open to the public was not possible, but the service was streamed online.

“President David Rakotonirina was a respected and committed confessional Lutheran churchman, and a good friend,” said Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). “Oh, how blest are they whose toils are ended,” Dr. Quill said, quoting the hymn by Simon Dach. He further asked Lutherans around the world to keep David’s wife and family, as well as the Malagasy church, in their prayers.

FLM media marking the passing of President David Rakotonirina.

In addition to serving as President of the FLM, President Rakotonirina had assumed the presidency of the Council of Christian Churches in Madagascar (FFKM) in January 2020. In that position, he had encouraged the government to take greater steps to control the spread of the deadly coronavirus, and urged churchgoers to follow government health directives. The Malagasy Lutheran Church itself had distributed food, medicine, and prevention kits through its hospitals and health centres to various areas of the country.

Dr. Rakotonirina received his Master of Theology degree from the Graduate School of Theology in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar in 1997. He served in congregational ministry from 1997-2006. From 2006-2010, he served as president of the seminary Sekoly Teolojikam-Paritany Loterana Atsimoniavoko, while also pursuing graduate studies through Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW).

President Rakotonirina speaks during the 2018 ILC World Conference in Belgium.

Dr. Rakotonirina became President of the FLM’s Antananarivo Synod in 2012. On September 13, 2016, Dr. Rakotonirina was elected President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church. CTSFW awarded him an honourary doctorate of divinity in May 2018. He was also the recipient of several national awards from the nation of Madagascar.

During Dr. Rakotonirina’s presidency, the FLM pursued greater relationship with confessional Lutherans worldwide. In May 2018, the church voted to pursue altar and pulpit fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Later the same year, the Malagasy Lutheran Church was accepted into full membership of the International Lutheran Council on September 26, 2018, during the ILC’s World Conference meeting in Antwerp, Belgium.

The Malagasy Lutheran Church is one of the largest and fastest growing Lutheran church bodies in the world. The International Lutheran Council, of which the FLM is a member, is a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran church bodies and groups which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to the Holy Scriptures as the inspired and infallible Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions contained in the Book of Concord as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God.

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Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) Installs New President and Seeks Partnerships

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Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, President of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM)

9 November 2016
Antananarivo and Mahajanga, Madagascar

On 6 November 2016, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (in Malagasy it is known as FLM: Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy), a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), installed newly elected church officers including the president, Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina in Antananarivo. Rakotonirina succeeds the Rev. Dr. Endor Modeste as president of the approximately 4-million-member church body. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) is one of the fastest growing Lutheran churches in the world, adding approximately 100 congregations each year. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) began through the efforts of the Norwegian Mission Society (NMS) with the establishment of a preaching station in Betafo in 1867. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) will celebrate its 150th year jubilee in May 2017. Approximately 12,000 people attended, the installation of President Rakotonirina and the other officers.

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver with President David Rakotonirina and Saholy Rakotonirina Displaying Government Award
Rev. Dr. Albert Collver with President David Rakotonirina and Saholy Rakotonirina Displaying Government Award

Immediately following the installation service, government officials presented President Rakotonirina with the “Odre National” award for his service to the country through his work in the church. Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations and Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council, and Rev. Jeffrey Kuddes from the LCMS Office of International Mission, attended the installation service. After the installation service, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) held a reception where approximately 1,000 people attended to welcome and greet the new church officers. Dr. Collver presented greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church from President Matthew C. Harrison of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and from the International Lutheran Council based upon Isaiah 42:10 & 12, particularly to “declare his praise in the islands.” He expressed the desire of the Missouri Synod and the International Lutheran Council to seek a partnership based upon Holy Scriptures and commitment to the Lutheran Confessions.

Location of the 136th KMSL Meeting in Mahajanga
Location of the 136th KMSL Meeting in Mahajanga

After the installation festivities were completed, the church leaders of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) gathered in Mahajanga, at the northeast corner of Madagascar, for the Executive Committee for the General Synod (KMSL). This “committee” is composed of over 100 people, including four people (2 clergy and 2 lay people) from each of the 25 synods (district in LCMS parlance) of the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM). The KMSL is the highest decision making body after the general assembly and it meets twice a year. It met from 8-15 November 2016. President Rakotonirina preached the opening sermon based on Isaiah 49:12 – 17, which was the theme of the 136th KMSL meeting.

On 8-9 November 2016, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) and Dr. Albert Collver met to discuss partnership possibilities with the Missouri Synod and the International Lutheran Council (ILC). As a result of these discussions, the Executive Committee for the General Synod (KMSL) issued a proclamation stating that it would seek partnership with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and the International Lutheran Council. President Rakotonirina and the various synod presidents issued the proclamation for partnership on November 9th. Further discussions are planned for January and May 2017 with the hope that a partnership / working agreement can be forged.

Malagasy Lutheran Church elects new Presiding Bishop

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Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina, Presiding Bishop Elect.

MADAGASCAR – On 13 September 13, 2016, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana Malagasy – FLM) elected Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina as the Presiding Bishop / President of the church body. Dr. Rakotonirina was elected on the fourth ballot receiving 242 votes, while Rev. Lotera  Fabien, Dean of the Higher Institute of Lutheran Theology (SALT) in Fianarantsoa received 223 votes. The Malagasy Lutheran Church’s General Assembly began on 5 September 5, 2016 and concluded on September 14, 2016.

Prior to the election on, Rev. Dr. David Rakotonirina served since 2012 as the bishop/president of the Antananarivo Synod in the Malagasy Lutheran Church. Before that, from 2006-2010, Dr. Rakotonirina served as the director of Seminary Teolojikam-Paritany Luterana Atsimoniavoko. In February 2016, Dr. Rakotonirina received a Doctorate of Divinity (D.D.) from Niagara Lutheran Theological Institute (NLTI). Dr. Rakotonirina is also studying at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) where he expects to receive a doctorate upon the completion of his dissertation.

The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) has between 3-4 million members. It was founded by Norwegian Missionaries in 1866. The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) is a member of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

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