COVID-19 and ILC churches in Argentina, Belgium, and South Sudan

Choir members of Santa Cruz Lutheran Church in Bahía Blanca (Buenos Aires, Argentina) sing “Yo sé que vive el Salvador” (I know that my Redeemer Lives) for online Easter celebrations in this YouTube video.

WORLD – Member churches of the International Lutheran Council continue to reach out with the good news of the Gospel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this article, we highlight the situation facing ILC member churches in Argentina, Belgium, and South Sudan.

Argentina

Argentina has reported 2,669 cases of COVID-19 so far, with 123 deaths. The country has been in lockdown since March 20, with the general public allowed to leave their homes only to buy food or medicine.

As church services are currently prohibited, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Argentina – IELA) has responded by equipping members for home devotions. Pastors are offering resources ranging from written liturgy and sermon, to audio, to video. Many churches are livestreaming services for members, or uploading them to YouTube. During the week, several churches are also hosting Bible studies on Facebook or other platforms.

“We emphasize communication among our members as a way to care for and sustain ourselves in this difficult time,” explains IELA Pastor President Arturo E. Truenow. Pastors are using phone and video calls to provide spiritual support. In cases of dire need, pastors are currently allowed to visit a member’s home.

The IELA is providing various resources for members through its website. There members can find brief devotionals, Bible studies, and free access to the church’s national magazine El Nuevo Luterano. The church has also issued an internal document to pastors and parishes reporting IELA board decisions regarding the COVID-19 crisis

The church’s seminary has moved education online, as have the IELA’s ten schools. The church schools, however, are facing financial hardship as a result of the pandemic and are struggling to pay wages for teachers and administrative staff.

The many challenges in this situation should lead us back to God in prayer, says Pastor President Truenow. “We continue to pray that God will soon free us from this pandemic, and, in the meantime, keep us firm in the faith, take care of us, and assist us in caring for others.”

 

Belgium

Belgium has been particularly hit hard with COVID-19, with one of the highest reported death rates for the disease in the world. More than 36,138 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the country, with 5,163 deaths. Belgium has been in lockdown since March 18, and containment measures are scheduled to last at least until the beginning of May.

ELKB President van Hattem brings Easter greetings to members of the church online.

In the midst of the crisis, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Belgium (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in België – ELKB) continues to reach out with the good news of the Gospel, making devotions, liturgy, and video of worship services available online.

In a letter to the church, ELKB President Gijsbertus van Hattem reflected on the meaning of the word “quarantine.” The word, he explains, originally refered to a 40-day period of isolation following the arrival of ships in Venice around the 15th century. “The number forty plays a major role in the Bible” too, President van Hattem notes: forty days and nights of rain during the Flood; forty years in the desert for the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land; forty days of temptation for Jesus in the garden; forty days of post-resurrection appearances by Jesus before His ascension into heaven. And Lent, drawn from these biblical examples, is likewise a season forty days in length.

“In the Bible, the number forty represents a change, a preparation time for something else or something new, something better,” President van Hattem writes. “In the current quarantine, we naturally hope that afterwards the COVID-19 virus will be manageable.” But there may be other changes too, he says: challenges like economic stagnation, yes, but also environmental healing, air-quality improvements, and reduced crime.

President van Hattem encourages the members of the ELKB to also use the figurative “forty days” of the COVID-19 quarantine for spiritual change as well. “In these forty days of Lent, an additional time to reflect is given to us,” he writes, “to reflect on the future of our earth, on our relationship with God and with those around us. By spending more time at home, we all of a sudden have more time to read God’s Word.”

“The churches are still closed for the time being—we are in the desert,” he says. “But the churches will open again—the promised land lays ahead. And then we will thank and praise God with renewed courage and faith, and again receive His Word and Sacrament.”

 

South Sudan

The country of South Sudan currently reports four cases of COVID-19. But the nation has limited medical resources, and so there are concerns that an outbreak in the region could be particularly deadly. To curb the spread of disease, South Sudan enacted containment measures even before confirmation of the virus in the country.

SSELC Bishop Nathaniel Bol Nyok

The South Sudan Evangelical Lutheran Church (SSELC) is facing substantial difficulties in ministering to its members as a result of the crisis. “Technology is still a nightmare in most areas,” notes SSELC Bishop Nathaniel Bol Nyok. “Lack of technology has made it impossible for the church to provide online worship services as is being done in countries with better internet.”

Pastors continue to minister to parishioners as they are able, while observing social distancing. Those with cellphones are also being ministered to in this way.

“Despite all this, Christ is risen and He is alive, and there is nothing that can separate us from the love and care of the risen Lord Jesus Christ,” encourages Bishop Nyok. “He is a conqueror who, through His death and resurrection, has conquered everything—including COVID-19. Christ has liberated us from fear because we live and die in Him.”

“It is my prayer that the risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, by His grace, mercy, and love for His Church and for the whole human race, will bring this pandemic to an end quickly,” he says.

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

German Lutherans declare fellowship with six new church bodies

SELK Bishop Voigt (far right) greets (front l-r) DELSin Bishop With, ELMDF Bishop Soramies, and AALC Presiding Pastor Leins following the vote to recognize fellowship. (Photo: Dörte Pape via DELSiN.)

GERMANY – The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche) held its 14th National Church Synod from May 21-26, 2019 in Balhorn, Germany, during which time the church declared fellowship with six church bodies from Europe, North America, and South America.

The SELK’s new fellowship partners include the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN), the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway (DELSiN), and the Mission Province in Sweden. (The Mission Province still needs to ratify the agreement with SELK before fellowship between the two churches will take effect.)

SELK also declared fellowship with Concordia Fellowship, an Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Celle, Germany.

“It’s a joy to recognize fellowship with our brothers and sisters around the world,” noted SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt. “We look forward to nurturing the growing relationships between our various church bodies, and looking for new opportunities for cooperation and partnership in our proclamation of the Gospel.”

The resolution to declare fellowship was followed by a standing ovation and a hymn of thanksgiving. The heads of three of the new partner church bodies—Bishop Thor Henrik With (DELSiN), Bishop Risto Soramies (ELMDF), and Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (AALC)—were all on hand for the event.

SELK’s 2019 Synod met under the theme: “Good News in a Fake News World. Speakers for the event were Professor Dr. Christian Neddens (Oberursel, Germany) and Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb (St. Louis, Missouri). Among other business, the church accepted a new document from SELK’s Theological Commission on “The Lutheran Church and Judaism,” discussed the role of women in the church, and conducted elections for various boards and commissions.

SELK, the AALC, IELA, ELMDF, ILSN, DELSiN, and the Mission Province are all members of the International Lutheran Council, a growing association of confessional Lutheran churches around the world.

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ILC joins local Argentines for worship, pledges support for Buenos Aires seminary

A choir performs during worship at St. Peter church in Buenos Aires.
A choir performs during worship at St. Peter church in Buenos Aires.

ARGENTINA – In the final days of the 2015 World Conference of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), participants joined local Argentine Lutherans for worship and fellowship. On the final day, the ILC also pledged a financial gift to support the work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina’s (IELA) Concordia Seminario (Concordia Seminary) in Buenos Aires.

IELA President Carlos Nagel preaches at St. Peter church in Buenos Aires.
IELA President Carlos Nagel preaches.

On the evening of September 26, the conference joined Peace Church and School in San Justo, Buenos Aires for Vespers. After worship, the congregation and school hosted ILC participants for a traditional picada meal of sliced meats, cheeses, bread, and drinks. On the next morning, participants joined St. Peter Church in Villa Ballester, Buenos Aires for Sunday morning worship. IELA President Carlos Nagel preached on the work of angels, noting the festival of St. Michael and All Angels, and a choir performed special music for the event.

Following the service, the International Lutheran Council’s newly elected Executive Council was officially installed. At this time, ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt also took the opportunity to officially thank the Argentine church for their hospitality, presenting small gifts of thanks to President Nagel and others.

ILC participants visit the IELA's Seminario Concordia (Concordia Seminary) in Buenos Aires.
ILC participants visit the IELA’s Seminario Concordia (Concordia Seminary) in Buenos Aires.

After worship, ILC participants were welcomed to the IELA’s Seminario Concordia, where they toured the facility and learned about its history and present work. The seminary is 73 years old, and was founded by the Argentine church as a means to provide local theological training for pastoral candidates.

ILC participants enjoy a traditional Argentine barbeque.
ILC participants enjoy a traditional Argentine barbeque.

A traditional asado barbecue with seminary students, faculty, and the wider community followed, as did a program including greetings, special music, traditional dance, and closing worship.

Many of the ILC’s Latin American churches send pastoral candidates to the Buenos Aires seminary for theological education. During the program, the heads of six of these church bodies took the stage, flanked by their church’s students at the Buenos Aires seminary, to thank the Argentine church. They spoke of the valuable service Seminario Concordia provides not only to the Argentine church but to Lutherans across Latin America, and expressed their thanks and support for their faithful work.

ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver announces a $12,000 gift to Concordia Seminario in Buenos Aires.
ILC Executive Secretary Al Collver announces a $12,000 gift to Concordia Seminario in Buenos Aires.

Rev. Dr. Al Collver, Executive Secretary of the ILC, also addressed the crowd to thank the Argentine church for their hospitality and to highlight the work of the seminary in Buenos Aires. He further announced a gift of $12,000 USD to the seminary on behalf of the International Lutheran Council, in recognition of the service it provides to confessional Lutherans across Latin America.

The official program of the ILC’s 2015 World Conference came to a conclusion following the seminary barbecue.

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