Repairs to Latvian church continue following fire

St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (Pinki, Latvia) during the 2018 fire, repairs, and now.
Repairs to the roof of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church.

LATVIA – Repairs to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pinki, Latvia continue, thanks in part to a gift from the International Lutheran Council (ILC). St. John’s Church is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL).

On September 25, 2018 a fire caused significant damage to the historic church’s towers and roof. News of the fire emerged while the International Lutheran Council (ILC) was holding its 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. ELCL Archbishop Jānis Vanags was at the ILC World Conference at the time.

The conference paused while ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt led prayers for the affected congregation. In response to the fire, the ILC offered a small gift of $5,000 USD to assist in repairs to the damaged building.

Repairs to the tower and roof completed.

Since then, the church has completed some of the renovations to the tower and roof, but renovations to the church exterior and the installation of thermal insulation in the tower continue.

Other entities which have provided funds for repairs include Latvia’s government, the European Union, and individual donations. Additional funds are currently being sought to cover remaining expenses for the repairs.

———–

ILC works with Nigerian Lutherans to plant churches

LCN missionary pastor, Rev. Barile Kagbor, and the mission congregation in Ugep in southern Nigeria.

NIGERIA – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is working with the Lutheran Church of Nigeria (LCN) to support mission outreach in cities and urban areas across the country.

While well-established in rural areas, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria has identified greater emphasis on urban outreach as a growing mission need. Responding to a request for assistance from the LCN, the International Lutheran Council agreed in 2018 to partner with the LCN, providing financial support for Nigerian pastors as they establish new mission plants in urban centres throughout Nigeria, including in Yenegoa, Warri, Asaba, Ekiti, Alagbole, Ugep, Bonny, and Akpet Central.

“One of the biggest challenges to the growth of the church in Nigeria is a lack of missionary pastors,” noted LCN Archbishop Christian Ekong. “Through the assistance of the International Lutheran Council, we are pleased to be able to send more workers into the mission field, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout our country.”

Accomodations for Rev. Kagbor and his family in Ugep.

Grants from the International Lutheran Council will supplement LCN mission funds in order to pay rent for worship space in mission sites, as well as to pay the salaries of missionary pastors. Through this project, the LCN hopes to establish ten new congregations in urban centres over the next five years.

“It is a joy to be able to support the Lutheran Church of Nigeria as its mission field expands to include new urban centres across Nigeria,” said Darin Storkson, Interim General Secretary of the ILC. “May God bless the work of the LCN’s missionary pastors, and open hearts to receive the message of salvation with joy.”

The Lutheran Church of Nigeria is a member church of the International Lutheran Council, a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies around the world.

You can support missionary pastors in Nigeria by making a donation online. Simply designate “Missionary support in Nigeria” as you make your gift.

You can also make donations by mail to the following address:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

———————

ILC commends Dr. Collver for faithful service, names Interim General Secretary

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver speaks at the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has named Darin Storkson as Interim General Secretary, taking over for Rev. Dr. Albert Collver who announced his resignation as General Secretary earlier this month.

In a farewell letter to members of the ILC Executive Committee, Dr. Collver cited a desire to pursue other opportunities. “I appreciate your service on the Executive Committee,” he wrote to his colleagues, “and believe that the ILC is important for worldwide Lutheranism. I wish you all well.” Dr. Collver first joined the ILC as its Executive Secretary in October 2012.

The Executive Committee received his resignation with great regret. “Dr. Collver’s service to the International Lutheran Council and world Lutheranism has been extraordinary, with far reaching results and accomplishments,” noted Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the ILC. “We thank him for his invaluable work, and we pray every blessing upon him as the Lord places him in his next field of service to the church.”

Dr. Collver’s tenure as General Secretary saw the International Lutheran Council dramatically increase its presence on the world stage. During his service, the ILC entered into an international informal dialogue with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; officially incorporated, and adopted new bylaws; welcomed 20 new church bodies into membership over two successive world conferences; and launched the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, among other accomplishments.

Darin Storkson at the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

On March 19, the ILC Executive Committee appointed Darin Storkson to serve as Interim General Secretary. Prior to this, Storkson served as ILC Deputy General Secretary. He began working with the ILC in 2017.

“Darin Storkson brings great knowledge of the work of the International Lutheran Council, having served with Dr. Collver for some time,” noted ILC Chairman Voigt. “He will ensure the important work begun in recent years not only continues but thrives. May God bless him in this new role, and through him the witness of confessional Lutherans worldwide.

Storkson has a strong background in international affairs, formerly serving as a diplomat with the International Committee of the Red Cross, a foreign direct investment consultant, and a director in various international roles for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod for fourteen years.

———————

Classes begin for Lutheran Leadership Development Program

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, ILC General Secretary, teaches LLDP students in Wittenberg.

GERMANY – Students from across the world have converged on Wittenberg, Germany for the inaugural classes of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program (LLDP).

Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, LLDP Director, teaches in Wittenberg.

“It’s a joy to welcome our first cohort of students, our dear colleagues and brothers in the ministry” said Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, Director of the LLDP and a professor with Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW). “We pray for God’s richest blessing on each of them as they begin their studies. May the Lord make fruitful use of what they learn over the next two years as well as the time they spend with each other and teaching faculty, to encourage solid confessional Lutheran witness in their respective churches.”

In total, eight students are currently in Germany, with four other LLLDP students unable to attend this set of classes due to visa difficulties. The initial class of twelve includes pastors, bishops, and other church leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana, the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa, the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, the Lutheran Church of Nigeria, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus, and the Malagasy Lutheran Church.

Dr. Masaki (second from right) joins LLDP students for a meal.

The current round of studies in Wittenberg runs from February 18-March 1, 2019. Dr. Masaki is teaching a course on the “Theology of the Lutheran Confessions,” while Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), will teach “World Lutheranism and the Ecumenical Movement.”

Birthplace of the Reformation

“Wittenberg is a natural place to hold the first round of classes in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, given the city’s history as the birthplace of the Reformation” explained Dr. Collver. “Here in Wittenberg, students will have the opportunity to study Lutheran history up close.” During their studies, students will visit nearby Reformation sites, including Martin Luther House, Melanchthon House, St. Mary’s Church, and the Castle Church. Excursions to other Reformation sites, such as the Wartburg, Eisleben, Erfurt, and Torgauis also planned.

The International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg.

Classes in Wittenberg will be held at the International Lutheran Center at the Old Latin School. The building was first constructed in 1564 as a school for boys, and is situated just across from the City Church—St. Mary’s—where Luther preached regularly. After an extended period sitting derelict, the building was purchased in 2006 and underwent extensive renovations over several years under the care of the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg—a joint project of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany (SELK), and Concordia Publishing House (CPH).

Today the International Lutheran Center provides a welcoming space for visitors and locals in Wittenberg to learn, grow, study, meet, retreat, and hear the Gospel.

The LLDP

The Lutheran Leadership Development Program is a two-year certificate program which aims to provide Lutheran church bodies around the world an opportunity to develop leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology as well as practical skills in leadership and resource management. The program is a project of the International Lutheran Council, working in cooperation with the LCMS, CPH, and CTSFW.

Students in the LLDP meet three times a year over a two year period for a total of twelve courses. Additional course work, writings, and examinations take place at a distance.

The next round of classes will take place at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana from July 8-19, 2019.

You can support the Lutheran Leadership Development Program by making a donation online. You can also make a by cheque to:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

———————

A Knife, a Sheepskin, Sandals, and a Flute: Shepherds at Work in the Fields of Bethlehem

The following article was written by Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt for the 2018 Christmas issue of The Canadian Lutheran magazine, and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. Voigt is Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.

———————

Jules Bastien Lepage’s “Annunciation to the Shepherds.”

Those shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem were tough guys. Any decent person of the time would have considered them outcasts—on par with thieves and robbers. Nobody wanted to have anything to do with them. So, of course, it is to these people in the fields that the angels first appear. Luther’s words here are most fitting: “This is the first sermon about the newborn little child, our Lord Jesus, that was brought by the angels from heaven to us here on earth.”

What kind of people were those shepherds? I am reminded of four objects that such shepherds may have carried on their person; and they say a lot about those people. And what they tell us is that these shepherds were very much like you and I today.

The Knife

No doubt the shepherds carried a good knife on their belts. After all, a shepherd has to trim the hoofs of the sheep and he has to cut the sticks that close the gate at night. The Evangelist St. Luke writes: “They kept watch over their flock by night” (2:8). Back then, there were still some lions in the region around Bethlehem. And to protect the herd from the attack of lions that raided during the night, you needed at least a knife.

The shepherds were therefore tough guys. They were people who knew how to use knives and clubs well, often even frightening other people. He who is afraid often seeks to frighten others.

What are you afraid of? What makes your jackknife flip open? And how do you frighten others? Somebody once told me that we Germans are often considered to be quite anxious. Was it perhaps this “German angst” that so often caused Germans throughout history to break out their long “knives”? Is there such a thing as “Canadian angst”?

When the angel came to the shepherds, they were very much afraid. Yet the angel proclaims to them the opposite of fear and anxiety; he brings joy and peace. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day a Saviour…. Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace” (Luke 2:10-11, 14).

The child in the manger, Jesus Christ, brings joy and peace despite the fear and anxiety so prevalent in our time.

A few weeks ago, we marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. It was the most horrendous war that the world had seen until then. Canadians and Germans opposed each other on the battlefields of Europe as bitter enemies. I am filled with gratitude that this last November the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel shook hands right there among the war graves.

In 1914, something unusual happened in France. The war was raging in its fifth month; more than a million casualties were already mourned. But on Christmas Eve, the soldiers on both sides simply stopped shooting. For this day, at least, they wanted peace. And the Germans began to sing: “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht.” On the other side the English called out: “Well done, Fritzen!” and then they began to sing: “O holy night… it is the night of our dear Saviour’s birth.” Then they showed each other their little Christmas trees, and, when nobody was shooting, they dared to come out of their trenches. They exchanged gifts and put up their little Christmas trees for all to see. Later on, in No-Man’s-Land, they played soccer—unbelievable!

The birth of Christ works peace! God Himself makes peace for us by forgiving our sins. In the war this divine peace, for just a brief moment, became visible right there among the knives, the bayonets, and the machine guns. This story—it has become known as the “Christmas Peace of 1914”—is not recorded in many documents. The army commands on both sides tried to hush up the event, and they had some difficulty trying to restart the war in January. The units were re-assigned, because many of the men didn’t want to shoot anymore.

For a brief moment in history, the “knives” were put away and peace became a reality.

The Sheepskin

When I think of the shepherds, I also think of sheepskins. For me it’s hard to imagine that the shepherds did not present a soft, warm sheepskin to the Christ child. St. Luke writes: “And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (Luke 2:16). It seems likely that the shepherds brought a sheepskin with them, but we can’t know for certain.

But what we do know is the following: Christmas is not about us presenting a gift to the Christ child; instead, the Child presents us with a white, pure sheepskin. For this purpose, Jesus Christ, God’s Son, became man: to give us the gift of the sheepskin of His love and forgiveness. His love for us men is warmer than any sheepskin. His love is so warm that it covers up all your guilt and takes away all your anxiety.

If you are sad during these Christmas holidays—perhaps because you’re alone, or because the festival is not turning out as joyful as you had hoped—then just think of the warm sheepskin of Jesus’ love for you. When others have offended you and you are angry, think of the warm sheepskin of Jesus’ love.

The Sandals

In those days, shepherds wore sandals that consisted of a leather sole tied to the feet by strings. These sandals have some significance for us. After they had witnessed the scene, the shepherds used these sandals to go out to various people to tell them of that wonderful child in the manger. St. Luke reports: “And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child” (2:17).

The sandals are a reminder for us that at some time in the past, somebody did for us what the shepherds did in their day. Somebody brought that same message about the Child in the manger to Germany and to Canada. Let’s hope that these shepherds—the Greek word for shepherd is “pastor”—who first brought this Christmas message to Canada were wearing winter boots and not sandals! But we really should be grateful for the shepherds’ sandals; they brought us the Christmas message of the wonderful Child in the manger.

St. Mary shows us what we should do with the words of these shepherds: “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Yes, the sandals of the shepherds are truly important. Speaking of these “sandals,” our Confessions say this: “So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted” (Augsburg Confession, Article 5).

The Flute

No doubt about it: a real shepherd has a real flute. St. Luke the Evangelist proclaims: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Yes, I can easily imagine how the shepherds went through the night and played their flutes.

It brings to mind Luther’s words from one of his Christmas sermons: “Having heard a good sermon, sing a joyful hymn.” Why? Because the child in the manger, Christ Jesus our Lord, takes away our “knives” and grants us eternal peace. Because Jesus Christ grants us His forgiving love, which is white, soft, and warm like a sheepskin. Because He sends shepherds in their sandals to proclaim Christ’s love to this day.

For this reason, we sing and play the flute, we use drums along with violins, trumpets, organs, pianos and our voices to the best of our ability, whether that be in “old Germany” or among “God’s frozen people” in Canada.

———————

Support Confessional Lutheran outreach around the world

ONLINE – The International Lutheran Council is a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies around the world, and operates a number of programs that support confessional Lutheran mission and ministry across the globe. Want to support that work? Now you can through online giving on the ILC’s website.

You can make a one-time gift or set-up recurrent giving. You can also designate your donation for specific ILC programming, including:

  • Outreach in Wittenberg, Germany (supporting confessional Lutheran outreach in the birthplace of the Reformation)
  • The Lutheran Leadership Development  Program (helping to train confessional Lutheran leaders from around the world)
  • Concordia Israel (supporting confessional Lutheran ministry in Israel)
  • Seminary education in Nigeria (supporting theological education in Nigeria)
  • Missionary support in Nigeria (supporting the missionary work of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria)

You can also designate your funds to assist the work of the ILC where needed most.

To make a donation, click here.

You can also make donations by mail to the following address:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 18775
St. Louis, MO 63118

———————

Darin Storkson named Deputy General Secretary of the ILC

ILC Deputy General Secretary Darin Storkson at the 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium.

ANTWERP – The newly inducted and installed Executive Committee of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) has named Darin Storkson as the ILC’s Deputy General Secretary, filling a post created following the ratification of the ILC’s new bylaws during the 2018 World Conference in Belgium. Storkson had already been unofficially functioning in the role for more than a year.

As a former diplomat with the International Committee of the Red Cross, a former foreign direct investment consultant, and a director in various international roles for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) for thirteen years, Storkson brings significant international experience and capacity to the ILC to engage and build partnerships with international church bodies.

“It’s a pleasure to officially welcome Darin as Deputy General,” said Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the ILC. “I’ve worked directly with Darin for several years and look forward to serving with him in this new capacity. His expertise will be an invaluable asset to the International Lutheran Council as it faces ever-expanding opportunities to assist confessional Lutherans around the world in their proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

For the last thirteen years, Storkson has served the LCMS in various capacities. From 2005-2011, Storkson served as a regional director for LCMS World Relief and Human Care. He then served as the Office of International Mission (OIM) Regional Director for Southern Asia and Oceania from 2011-2014, as Senior Regional Director for Asia from 2014-2016, and finally as Assistant Director of Church Relations in the Office of the President from 2016 to the present.

“Darin joined LCMS World Relief after the great Asian tsunami,” noted LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison. “His decades of experience living and working overseas with NGOs and churches have been an invaluable blessing. He has especially insisted on integrity and accountability in the use of funding, and he has been tireless in assisting partners with the building of administrative capacity.”

“This is a watershed moment for global Lutheranism,” says Storkson. “The solidly biblical and confessional theology of the ILC is attracting new Lutheran partners right and left, and we are embracing these exciting opportunities for new partnerships in the Gospel. The expansion of our international relationships has been a hallmark of the ILC in the last several years, and it is a tremendously exciting opportunity and blessed privilege to be part of such a great organization and contribute to the historic growth of confessional Lutheranism around the world.”

In his new position, Storkson will assist the ILC General Secretary Dr. Collver with the day-to-day management of the expanding work of the International Lutheran Council.

———————

Fourth (and Fifth) meeting of the ILC and the PCPCU dialogue group

The dialogue group of the International Lutheran Council and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity at their 2018 meetings in Bleckmar, Germany.

GERMANY – The fourth (and fifth) meeting of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) – Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) dialogue group took place September 17-21, 2018 at the facilities of Lutherische Kirchenmission in Bleckmar, Germany. The goal of this “informal dialogue is to find out whether an official dialogue between ILC and PCPCU on the world level is possible and might be fruitful.”

Four working groups submitted papers for plenary discussion; they were are established as follows: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen (Paderborn, Germany) and Prof. Dr. John Stephenson (St. Catharines, Canada) worked on the topic of Justification; PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann (Paderborn) and Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler (Fort Wayne, USA) on Synérgeia and Sacrifice; Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag (Lantershofen, Germany) and Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden (São Leopoldo, Brazil) on Ministry and Ordination; Father Augustinus Sander (Erfurt, Germany) and Prof. Dr. Werner Klän (Lübeck, Germany) on Eucharist and the Sacrifice of the Mass (ApolCA XXIV).

The Lutheran team invited Dr. Pavel Butakov from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia to deliver a paper on “The Eucharistic Conquest of Time” (printed in: Faith and Philosophy Vol. 34 No 3 July 2017), pointing out to the difficulties of certain theories to explain the presence of the sacrifice of Christ in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

Those papers already submitted were discussed in detail. Criticisms were debated and additional suggestions were noted. It occurred that some commonalities between the Roman-Catholic and Concordia-Lutheran traditions are to be found whereas some points still need further explanation and consideration on both sides and in plenary. Several issues however still remain controversial and obviously cannot be resolved in this informal dialogue but will have to be dealt with in future conversations.

The workings now have been appointed to rewrite their respective drafts and send them around for further discussion. Additionally text modules shall be sketched that will form part and parcel of the final report. On the grounds of these text modules a first draft of this final report is meant to be conceptualized. This task has been assigned to Dr. Klän. Over and above this, a preamble was seen as helpful to explain about the hermeneutical approaches to the dialogue and its various topics including an accurate description of the Lutheran “set of norms”, or standards that define the Church’s doctrine.

The final meeting of the dialogue group has been scheduled for September 2019 in either Canada (St. Catharines, Ontario) or the United States (St. Louis, Missouri). In that meeting, the final report is meant to be adopted. Then it will be submitted to the ILC Executive Committee and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity respectively. Those will have to decide whether or not the results presented by the dialogue group are seen as sufficiently satisfactory as to start an “official dialogue”.

———————

Participants in the ILC-PCPCU dialogue group include, on the ILC side, Rev. Dr. Albert Colver III, Prof. Dr. Werner Klän, Prof. Dr. Roland Ziegler, Prof. Dr. Gerson Linden, and Prof. Dr. John Stephenson. On the Roman Catholic side are Prof. Dr. Josef Freitag, PD Dr. Burkhard Neumann, Father Dr. Augustinus Sander, and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen.