LCMS Greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church

NOTE: The Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM) recently voted to pursue fellowship with The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) during an assembly of the FLM’s Committee of the Highest Leaders. Rev. Dr. Al Collver (Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council and Director of Church Relations for the LCMS) was present for the event, and brought the following greetings.

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Rev. Dr. Al Collver brings greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church on behalf of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.

Salama tompoko!

It is a great honor to be here with you today to celebrate your church’s jubilee. I bring you greetings in the name of Jesus, from President Matthew Harrison and from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Congratulations on 150 years as witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ to Madagascar and to the entire world. The Lord has blessed you greatly. The Missouri Synod will celebrate its 175th birthday in 2022. In advance, I would like to invite you to celebrate our jubilee. Our churches are sisters separated by the ocean, but now is the time to reach out our hands to help one another.

Greetings to the Malagasy Lutheran Church in Jesus’ name and to President David Rakotonirina, who I had the honor of seeing a week ago at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he received a Doctorate of Divinity. We also celebrate Rev. Denis Rakotozafy on receiving his PhD in Missiology. Theological education is important to both of our churches. In the future, we will be offering more scholarships to study and the opportunity to participate in the Lutheran Leadership Development Program. Such cooperation is an opportunity to learn from each other and to share experiences.

Our churches are sisters, in the same family, but separated while we were both young. Now, however, we have found each other as we celebrate important jubilees. We are confessional Lutherans who are faithful to the Bible with a strong Lutheran identity. The Missouri Synod and our partner churches around the world are eager to walk with the Malagasy Lutheran Church. We hope to come closer to you and partner together to bear witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world. We give thanks to the Lord for the Malagasy Lutheran Church and to President Rakotonirina for your friendship and desire to partner with us. As you will hear in a few moments, we in the Missouri Synod and in Europe and North America need you to be witnesses to us.

Let me share this Scripture verse and some brief words of greetings with you: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” — Ecclesiastes 3:1

The Preacher says there is a season for everything. One hundred and fifty years ago, there was a season in Madagascar. It was a season when faithful missionaries from Norway travelled by ship to Madagascar to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The forgiveness of sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was preached, people were baptized in the name of the Triune Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the body and blood of Jesus were given to eat and to drink. Men were trained to be pastors. The Lutheran church in Madagascar grew and was blessed. Today, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (FLM is not only one of the largest Lutheran churches in Africa but in the entire world.

It is true that in the West there are a few Lutheran churches that boast more members than the Malagasy Lutheran Church. But the difference becomes clear when you count by people who come to worship. In Europe, many cathedrals and churches are almost entirely empty on Sunday morning. This increasingly is happening in North America too. But when you come to Madagascar, the churches are full. On my previous visit to Madagascar, the congregation I attended had Holy Communion for more than 7,500 people that Sunday. This is completely unknown in Europe and North America today.

The season has changed in world Lutheranism. Almost 500 years ago, Martin Luther almost said the Gospel is a passing rain shower. He wrote: “Let us remember our former misery, and the darkness in which we dwelt. Germany, I am sure, has never before heard so much of God’s word as it is hearing today; certainly we read nothing of it in history. If we let it just slip by without thanks and honor, I fear we shall suffer a still more dreadful darkness and plague. O my beloved Germans, buy while the market is at your door; gather in the harvest while there is sunshine and fair weather; make use of God’s grace and word while it is there! For you should know that God’s word and grace is like a passing shower of rain which does not return where it has once been… And you Germans need not think that you will have it forever, for ingratitude and contempt will not make it stay. Therefore, seize it and hold it fast, whoever can; for lazy hands are bound to have a lean year” (AE 45:352).

Unfortunately for the West—for Europe and North America—the Gospel of Jesus, specifically the preaching that sins are forgiven, has been like a passing rain shower. Instead of forgiveness of sins in Jesus, many preach human rights, same sex marriage (LBGT), and saving the environment instead of saving people with the Gospel of Jesus. In the West, the Bible is not preached as true and without error. Instead, the Bible is said to contain the Word of God, and is contextualized so that anything you wish to do or say is permitted. As a result, people no longer come to church. This is why the world needs the Malagasy Lutheran Church to remain faithful to the Bible and to proclaim Jesus.

The Malagasy Lutheran Church believes in Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again on the third day. You teach that the Bible is God’s holy Word. You teach the forgiveness of sin that is found in Jesus, in Baptism, and in the Lord’s body and blood. You have Luther’s Small Catechism. Your church has the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To paraphrase Martin Luther, it is raining in Madagascar like it once did in Europe and North America. Now is the season of growth of the church in Madagascar. Now is the season for evangelism. As it is written in the Book of Acts 1:12, “you shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem and to the distant parts of the earth.” You, the Malagasy Lutheran Church, are Jesus’ witnesses to the end of the earth—even to Europe and North America. You will send missionaries throughout Madagascar and to the farthest parts of the earth—even to Europe and North America. Come bring us the rain of the true Gospel of Jesus, which brings us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

One example of the Spirit of God at work is the Fifohazana, which is usually translated as “spiritual revival” in English. I would like you to understand something about my context. When an American Lutheran hears the word “revival,” he thinks of Baptist or Pentecostal worship. It doesn’t sound Lutheran to an American Lutheran. It is important that you understand this context. However, the Missouri Synod has learned and come to understand that Fifohazana is not a “revival” as understood in the American context. We understand that Fifohazana is instead a spiritual way of life. This reminds us of Martin Luther’s first these of the 95 Theses, “That the entire life of the Christian should be one of repentance.” It is a way of life. We respect your church and your ways. In fact. we have much to learn from you, including learning how to live a spiritual life filled with repentance.

I say it again: congratulations to the Malagasy Lutheran Church for 150 years of Jesus’ blessing and 150 years of bearing witness to Madagascar and to the world. Perhaps the most important time to bear witness is upon you now. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, your slightly older sister, is happy to walk with you and to partner with you as witnesses to Jesus. Thank you for desiring to partner with us. We both walk together in the Scriptures. We can share with each other and both become stronger. Be witnesses to the world and send missionaries to Europe and North America. As missionaries came to you 150 years ago, you now will go out into the world for the next 150 years. Remain faithful in the Word of God. The Reformation lives on here in Madagascar. As the Preacher says, “To everything there is a season…” and now is the season for the Malagasy Lutheran Church. May Jesus richly bless you and bring about the season of our joint partnership. Thank you.

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Malagasy Lutherans to seek fellowship with the LCMS

FLM Bishop David Rakotonirina addresses the assembly on the opportunity of closer relations with The LCMS.

MADAGASCAR – On May 25, 2018, the Malagasy Lutheran Church (Fiangonana Loterana MalagasFLM) voted to “more fully realize our unity as Lutheran Christians” between itself and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), with hopes that a closer relationship between the two churches will lead to the recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship in the future. The decision came during a gathering of the Committee of Highest Synod Leaders (KMSL), the highest decision making body in the Malagasy church, as they met in Antananarivo.

“We give thanks to our Lord who leads His church. I am very pleased to announce that FLM has decided to seek fellowship with the LCMS,” said FLM’s President, Bishop David Rakotonirina. “This is the first step to open the door by working together in the areas of development. We pray for the next steps. We desire to keep FLM a confessional Lutheran church. Praise the Lord.”

LCMS President Matthew Harrison greeted news of the vote with joy, calling it “one of the most significant days in the history of The LCMS and world confessional Lutheranism.”

“We are deeply humbled and deeply thankful,” he continued. “This is the result of growing love and partnership, recognizing a unity of confession of Christ, the gospel, and the truth of the inerrant scriptures, and of the Lutheran confessions,” President Harrison continued. “We have grown together through LCMS World Relief and Human Care medical mercy work, aids projects, graduate education for Malagasy leaders at our Fort Wayne seminary, the work of our Africa region missionaries, of our church relations division, the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, and more. The Malagasy have taught us much about zeal for outreach, and care for the most needy. And we have much more to learn. Thanks be to God.”

The Malagasy Lutheran Church was founded in 1867 by Norwegian missionaries and is currently celebrating its 150th anniversary. Today, FLM is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world, with approximately 4 million members in 8,500 congregations. It counts 1,500 pastors, and has more than 1,000 schools for Christian education. The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has 2 million members, and is a member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran churches.

Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations and Executive Secretary for the ILC, brought greetings to the KMSL on behalf of the Missouri Synod. In remarks to the assembly, he encouraged them to maintain their faithful witness in the Gospel. “Our churches are sisters, in the same family, but separated while we were both young but now we have found each other as we celebrate important jubilees,” he noted. “We are confessional Lutherans who are faithful to the Bible with a strong Lutheran identity. The Missouri Synod and our partner churches around the world are eager to walk with the Malagasy Lutheran Church. We hope to come closer to you and partner together to bear witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world.”

“This marks a historic moment in world Lutheranism, where a Lutheran church in the Global South seeks a true partnership to mutually strengthen and encourage one another,” he said of the vote. “Today, the LCMS has the ability to help build capacity, while tomorrow the Malagasy Lutheran Church will send pastors and missionaries both to Europe and to North America. In fact, they already are doing this.”

The Malagasy Lutheran Church and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod will now turn their attention to planning next steps for their growing partnership.

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Reading the Word of God: LCC, LCMS, and NALC partner together to encourage Bible reading

ONLINE – The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) have partnered together to develop a Bible reading plan entitled Reading the Word of God.

“In order to encourage the people of our church bodies in the daily reading of Holy Scripture, we have compiled a three-year plan of daily Bible readings and a year-long series of weekly readings on Martin Luther’s approach to the Scriptures,” an introduction to the reading plan explains. “The suggested readings are offered for one reason only—to enhance devotional life as an individual or a family daily examines, and is examined by, the Word of God, and then responds in prayer to the heavenly Father.”

Each day features a reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm (or portion of a Psalm), and a reading from the New Testament. The guide will take readers through the entire Old Testament one time in three years, with the exception of Psalms, which are read twice each year. The New Testament will be read twice in the three years. Certain church festivals—Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and so forth—have special readings appointed for the specific occasions.

A selection of brief weekly readings on Martin Luther are also included as a companion in helping Christians better understand the value of reading God’s Word regularly. “While we in no way intend for these to replace or be understood as equal to the value of daily Bible reading, we do believe they will be helpful, especially for Lutherans,” the introduction notes. The selections, which come from Johann Michael Reu’s classic work Luther on the Scriptures, “speak to us of the clarity, simplicity, trustworthiness, and infallibility of Scripture,” the introduction goes on to say. “It is our hope and prayer that each member, household, and congregation will turn daily to the biblical readings with renewed desire for the Word which is a ‘lamp to our feet and a light to our path’’ (Ps. 119:105).”

Download the Introduction to the Bible reading guide, as well as the selection on Luther’s understanding of Scripture, in pdf form here. The daily Bible reading calendar is available to download in three parts, one for each year of the plan: 2018, 2019, and 2020.

The three-year Bible reading guide arose out of ongoing LCC/LCMS/NALC dialogues, which resulted in 2016 in the publication of a document recognizing the three church’s common understanding of the nature and authority of the Holy Scriptures. The newly released reading plan builds on that work, effectively saying “We don’t just affirm Scripture as God’s Word; we want to see it actively used.”

The LCMS and LCC are both members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Lutherans bring relief and hope following Hurricane Harvey

Volunteers from Memorial Lutheran Church in Katy, Texas, clear debris September 1 at a home damaged by Hurricane Harvey. (LCMS/Erik M. Lunsford)

USA – While the United States continues to struggle under severe flooding in the state of Texas, Lutherans are present bringing relief to those affected.

Hurricane Harvey has been declared the most expensive rainfall disaster in American history, outstripping previous hurricanes that hit New Orleans in 2005 and New York City in 2012. The Category 4 storm hit landfall in Texas, quickly making its way to Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, striking numerous other communities along the way. At least fifty people have been killed, with flooding displacing more than one million people and damaging an estimated 200,000 homes. Recovery is expected to cost anywhere from $150 billion to $180 billion USD. In the end, Houston received more than 1.3 meters of rain (more than fifty inches) in just a few days.

As floodwaters slowly recede, disaster relief and recovery projects are well underway. At the front of many of these efforts are members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), as local congregations, district leaders, and the church’s national LCMS department of World Relief and Human Care reach out with relief and support to victims of the storm.

A major source of that support comes in the form of pastoral care. In a recent news story, the LCMS notes that “as more and more [people] return to their houses and as more people express their needs, the efforts of those who work to give them aid increase.” That situation provides Lutherans the opportunity to provide renewed pastoral care. “The love and the promises of God remain stronger than any disaster or occurrence that befall His people,” the report explains. “In the midst of catastrophe, pastors share the comfort and hope of the Gospel.”

Pastoral care is complemented by material care as well. Trinity Klein Lutheran Church in Spring, Texas, for example, has served as an evacuation centre for those displaced due to flooding. Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, meanwhile, began providing three hot meals a day to a local shelter. Members of Memorial Lutheran Church in Katy were likewise active immediately, helping members of the wider community recover from damage, helping remove ruined drywall and baseboards from flooded homes, among other work as necessary. Countless other LCMS congregations and members have been actively caring for the physical needs of those impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

The national church’s World Relief and Human Care department has likewise been on the ground, determining the best opportunity for service. An LCMS assessment team led by the church’s Director for Disaster Response Ross Johnson left August 30 for Texas. The team carried with them emergency supplies for distribution, including diapers, wipers, work gloves, face masks, batteries, flashlights, and cases of water. In addition to helping with immediate needs, the team was tasked with determining how the LCMS could best serve recovery efforts now and in the long term.

“The Missouri Synod has tremendous disaster capacity,” noted LCMS President Matthew C. Harrison. “The great thing we have is local people…. We recognize that locals understand the situation, and solutions must be local. We come alongside them and assist them in their particular challenges.”

He encouraged people to pray, to volunteer, and to give. “This effort is going to take years to bring people back into their homes, and care for them in many and various ways. Especially pray for our pastors and teachers. They are suffering mightily and they are serving greatly right now.”

LCMS headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri meanwhile became a centre and for the collection and shipping of supplies for flood-stricken Texas. On September 2, volunteers of all ages loaded a semi-truck with generators, power washers, and other supplies to aid in hurricane relief efforts among the local populace.

The LCMS writes that the primary need right now is donations to fund relief efforts. The church notes that there are several giving options. These include:

There are several giving options:

OnlineHarvey donation form.

Text — Type LCMSHarvey into the text message field and send it to 41444. You’ll receive a text back with a link to a phone-friendly, secure donation form.

Phone — Call 888-930-4438 to make a credit-card donation. Calling hours (Central time) begin at 8 a.m. and have been extended this weekend to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Labor Day Monday.

Mail — Make check payable to “The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod” or “LCMS.” On the memo line, please write “Disaster Response/Relief” or “Hurricane Harvey.” Mail your donation to: The LCMS, P.O. Box 66861, St. Louis, MO 63166-6861.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is a member of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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LCMS-NALC Dialogue Produces new book on Law and Gospel

USA – When representatives of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) started meeting together more than five years ago, it was decided that the group would sponsor a book of essays on the proper distinction of God’s Law from His Gospel. That book will be available from Concordia Publishing House in August 2017.

Edited by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver III (LCMS), Rev. Dr. James Arne Nestingen (NALC), and Prof. John T. Pless (LCMS), The Necessary Distinction: A Continuing Conversation on Law & Gospel contains thirteen essays on the relationship of the law/gospel distinction to preaching, pastoral care, missions, ethics, and the Christian life. Essayists include Mark Seifrid, William Cwirla, Peter Brock, Larry Vogel, Mark C. Mattes, Naomichi Masaki, James Arne Nestingen, Stephen Hultgren, John T. Pless, Steven Paulson, Albert Collver III, and Roland F. Ziegler.

“I’m pleased that we have brought together a variety of confessional Lutheran scholars from North America and Australia to provide our churches with vigorous and fresh discussion of a theme at the heart of Lutheran theology,” said the work’s editor John T. Pless. “It is our hope that this book will be used in pastoral gatherings throughout the NALC, LCC, and LCMS to challenge and better equip pastors to engage the fine art of distinguishing Law and Gospel in all that they do.”

The book’s forthcoming publication has garnered praise from a number of theologians and church leaders. “These authors take Christ, the Scriptures, and our confessions seriously,” President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church–Canada noted. “They are not carbon copies of each other. They put you through your paces, even if you wrestle with certain details of their views. Pastors as well as informed lay theologians will profit from them. What a welcome contribution to the 500th Reformation anniversary year!” In addition to serving the Canadian church, President Bugbee also serves as Vice Chairman of the International Lutheran Council.

“When participants of the LCMS, LCC, NALC consultation first discussed the need for a book on the distinction between Law and Gospel, we couldn’t have conceived this collection of essays would be so practical, direct, helpful and accessible!” explained Rev. Dr. David M. Wendel, NALC’s Assistant to the Bishop for Ministry and Ecumenism. “In our day, when many Lutherans seem to have lost their way biblically, this book is much needed. It is for those who preach the Word and those who hear the Word, for pastors and laity, for the theologically trained and those who aren’t. It is a gift to our churches and to all who are committed to the ‘necessary distinction.’”

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Lutheran Church–Canada are both members of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Norwegian Lutherans consecrate bishop

NORWAY – On May 25, 2017, The Lutheran Church in Norway (Den lutherske kirke i NorgeLKN) consecrated Rev. Torkild Masvie as its Bishop.

Bishop Masvie was installed into his office by Archbishop Jānis Vanags of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), assisted by Bishop Arri Kugappi of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), Bishop Hanss Jensons of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, , and President Dan Gilbert of the Northern Illinois District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The LKN’s Deputy Bishop Rev. Alf Danbolt led the Norwegian part of the consecration.

Bishop Masvie is installed. (Photo: Sondre Masvie.)

Prior to his consecration, Bishop Masvie had previously served the LKN as provisional bishop. The LKN is a young church with five congregations and 90 baptized members. It dates back to the 2005 founding of the Church of the Messiah. The church has four pastors in active duty and one retired pastor. It was accepted into membership in the International Lutheran Council during the 2015 World Conference in Argentina.

The LCMS and the ELCIR are fellow members of the International Lutheran Council with the Lutheran Church in Norway. The ELCL is a member church of the Lutheran World Federation, but is in fellowship with the LCMS.

Istanbul Lutheran Church develops connections with German Lutherans

Rev. Mikko Tiira and Rev. Ville Typpö of the Istanbul Lutheran Church during meetings with SELK in Germany.

HANOVER, Germany – From May 1-2, 2017, Rev. Ville Typpö and Rev. Mikko Tiira of the Istanbul Lutheran Church (İstanbul Luteryen Kilisesi – ILK) visited the national office of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) in Hanover. Rev. Typpö oversees the young Lutheran church body in Turkey. Meanwhile, Rev. Tiira is stationed in Izmir, the Biblical city of Smyrna.

The Istanbul Lutheran Church numbers 200 members in four congregations: two in Turkey (in Istanbul and Izmir) and two in Bulgaria (Peshtera and Krusevo). Some ILK members from Bulgaria have emigrated to Germany in recent years. ILK pastors seek to help the transition of these people to German Lutheran congregations. The SELK’s pastoral leader, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, pledged the spiritual support of his church.

In addition there was discussion about possible cooperation between the Lutheran Theological Seminary of the SELK in Oberursel, Germany and the Evangelical Lutheran Institute of Religion (ELRIM) in Istanbul. The visitors from Turkey emphasized that students from Germany are always welcome at ELRIM. There one can learn of Islam as practiced in Turkey, while cultivating contacts with the Orthodox and other Eastern churches. Lectures by visiting German professors would be very much encouraged.

Following the Hanover consultations, Revs. Typpö and Tiira traveled on to Luther’s Wittenberg to participate in a conference at the Old Latin School, a joint project of the SELK and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). Bishop Voigt remarked to the SELK News Service that the Lutheran work in Turkey impresses him deeply. Along the way there was also discussion on political issues. The conversation with the visiting pastors confirmed his impression that one cannot ignore the ideologizing taking place in Turkish society.

The Istanbul Lutheran Church is a Turkish-speaking confessional Lutheran church body officially established in 2004. It carries on the tradition of the first Lutheran congregation in Turkey established in Constantinople in 1709. In addition to SELK, it has developed closer relations with the LCMS in recent years, signing a Working Agreement with them in 2015. (You can find out more about the history and work of the ILK by reading this 2013 interview between The Canadian Lutheran and Rev. Typpö).

SELK and the LCMS are member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies. Bishop Voigt of the SELK serves the ILC as its chairman.

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With files from a SELK News story as translated by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, Lutheran Church–Canada.

 

Ethiopian Lutherans elect new president

Rev. Yonas Yigezu (right) addresses the assembly following his election as President of the Ethiopian Evangelical Lutheran Church Mekane Yesus, while outgoing President Idosa stands at right. (Photo: EECMY).

ETHIOPIA – The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) held its 20th General Assembly January 22-28, 2017 in Addis Ababa, during which time the church elected a new president, Rev. Yonas Yigezu.

“God is calling me into a challenge but for enormous blessings ahead,” President Elect Yigezu said follow the election. “I am a team builder and prayer warrior: I see my success in this.”

Prior to his election as president, Rev. Yigezu served the EECMY as Director for Mission and Theology. He was first ordained in 2006, and is currently pursuing a doctorate through Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana), a seminary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

The theme for this year’s assembly was “I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” taken from Romans 1:18. Also elected during the assembly were Rev. Dr. Kiros Lakew (President of the Addis Ababa Synod) as EECMY Vice President and Bacha Ginaas as Treasurer.

President Elect Yigezu succeeds Rev. Dr. Wakseyoum Idosa who served two terms as EECMY President, having first been elected in January 2009. “I am very happy that the unity of the church has been maintained and growth has been recorded during the last eight years,” President Idosa said.” The participation of the EECMY in spreading the Gospel nationally and internationally has increased. I will continue to serve the church in all my capacity.” Dr. Idosa is also president of the Lutheran Communion in Central and Eastern Africa (LUCCEA), of which the EECMY is a member church.

With 8.3 million members, the EECMY is the world’s largest Lutheran church body, and is still experiencing rapid growth. The church is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, though it has broken fellowship with several LWF churches in recent years over issues of sexuality and the authority of Scripture.

The EECMY has also been moving to strengthen ties with the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and its member churches—especially the LCMS—over the past number of years, participating in the ILC’s 2015 World Conference in Argentina, for example, as well as in 2016’s World Seminary Conference in Wittenberg, Germany.

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Eastern European Lutheran bishops meet in Ukraine

Caption: Back: Bishop Alexander Yurchenko (SELCU), Vice President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU), Rev. Daniel S. Johnson (LCMS-SELC), Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis (LELB), Rev. Olav Panchu (ELCIR), Valera Partizan (DELKU). Front: President Matthew C. Harrison (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Rev. Andris Kraulin (ELCL), Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (SELC).

UKRAINE – The heads of several Lutheran churches in the former Soviet Union recently met together in Ukraine for the Eastern European Bishops Conference, along with the heads of their North American partner churches.

The conference, held in Odessa in late February, was hosted by the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) and its Bishop Sergey Maschewski. DELKU, long associated with the state (territorial) Lutheran churches of Germany, has in recent years begun aligning itself with more conservative bodies like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC). In addition to the presidents of LCC and LCMS, DELKU also hosted the bishops (or their representatives) from several other Lutheran church bodies in eastern Europe, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania (ELCL), the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU), and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The conference also welcomed a number of ecumenical guests.

Ecumenical guests at the Eastern European Lutheran Bishops Conference. (Photo: Facebook page of the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul).

During the conference, the bishops reported on their respective churches and the challenges they face. A number of these churches have to do their work over long distances: SELC, for example, is stretched out over a vast territory spanning 7,000 kilometers. DELKU, as another example, struggles with a severe clergy shortage, currently operating 28 congregations with only nine pastors. Many of these congregations are distant from the nearest neighbouring pastor or parish.

The bishops also discussed opportunities for future cooperation between their churches. “United by much of our common history and—what is of more relevance today—by similar theological outlook, we felt that there was a need for closer cooperation in the future,” explained Rev. Alexey Strelstov, rector of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia. Rev. Strelstov presented on education in a confessional Lutheran context on the final day of the conference.

Part of that future cooperation may well take place on theological education. One evening of the conference, the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine invited participants to visit their seminary in Usatovo, a suburb of Odessa. Representatives of the Siberian church expressed interest in forging closer ties with SELCU on seminary education. There were discussions on assisting the Ukrainian seminary in procuring more Russian-language theological books for its library, as well as the possibility of SELC seminary professors coming to teach short-term courses in Usatovo. “The interaction between these Russian speakers, all keenly interested in the faithful biblical training of pastors, was a real joy to watch,” noted LCC President Robert Bugbee. LCC has long-supported SELCU’s seminary education program.

Morning and afternoon devotions at the bishops’ conference were held in DELKU’s Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul in downtown Odessa, restored in recent years after having been destroyed by the Soviet regime decades ago. “Although this church was rebuilt on a somewhat smaller scale, it once seated 1,200 worshippers and was the centre for spiritual life of the entire German community before the communist repression,” noted LCC President Bugbee. Lutheran churches were severely persecuted during the soviet era.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church are both members of the International Lutheran Council, as are Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine is a partner church of LCC, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania are partner churches of the LCMS. The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, meanwhile, has been seeking closer relations to the LCMS in recent years.

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Wittenberg’s “Old Latin School” installs new managing director

Present and former directors of the Wittenberg Project: Rev. David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, and Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson.
Present and former directors of the Wittenberg Project: Rev. David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, and Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson.

Germany – The International Lutheran Study and Visitors’ Center in Wittenberg (also known as the “Old Latin School”) bid a formal farewell to its retiring Managing Director and installed his successor in a festival service on Sunday, August 14.

The service, held at the Town Church of St. Mary, the “mother church of the Reformation,” marked the retirement of Rev. David Mahsman, a missionary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), who served seven years in the position. During Rev. Mahsman’s tenure, the rebuilding of the “Old Latin School” (originally built in 1567) was completed, and the new center dedicated in May 2015. Rev. Mahsman and his wife, Lois, return to the United States around September 1 to live in St. Louis, their former home before moving to Germany.

The sign at the Old Latin School, noting the center's relationship with the International Lutheran Council.
The sign at the Old Latin School, noting the center’s relationship with the International Lutheran Council.

The service included the formal induction of Kristin Lange as the new Managing Director for the Center. Lange, who hails from Kansas, studied at the Humboldt University in Berlin and works effectively in both English and German. Conducting the formal farewell and induction ceremony was Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, the LCMS Assistant to the President for Church Relations. “The focus of the Managing Director’s work will obviously change now,” commented Dr. Collver, “since the building is complete. Now comes the task of shaping the Old Latin School into an active gathering point for confessional Lutherans to meet, study, and get to know church partners from around the world.” Dr. Collver went on to note that the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a worldwide association of confessional Lutheran churches, is working to intensify its ties with the Old Latin School—a relationship indicated clearly on the building’s signage.

Participants in the in the induction service. (Back row: Markus Fischer, Armin Wenz, Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, Thomas Junker, Bishop Emeritus Dr. Jobst Schöne. Front row: Bishop Voigt, David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, Dr. Albert Collver, President Bugbee
Participants in the in the induction service. Back row: Markus Fischer, Armin Wenz, Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, Thomas Junker, and Bishop Emeritus Dr. Jobst Schöne. Front row: Bishop Voigt, David Mahsman, Kristin Lange, Dr. Albert Collver, and President Robert Bugbee.
The “mother church of the Reformation” in Luther’s Wittenberg glows in the afternoon sunshine on the day of the ILSW induction festival
The “mother church of the Reformation” in Luther’s Wittenberg glows in the afternoon sunshine on the day of the ILSW induction festival

Serving as officiant for the service was Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK) and Chairman of the ILC. The SELK and LCMS have been sponsoring churches for the Old Latin School project since its inception. Bishop Voigt was assisted at the worship by SELK pastors from parishes near Wittenberg, as well as by Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Torgerson, who served as the original project director prior to Mahsman’s arrival. Preacher for the service was President Robert Bugbee of Lutheran Church-Canada. In his German-language sermon, President Bugbee emphasized the heartbeat of the Old Latin School’s mission: to introduce needy people to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Luther’s old Town Church reverberated with festive organ music provided by Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman, an LCMS missionary.

The Old Latin School’s prime location at Jüdenstrasse 38 is just steps away from the Town Church’s main portal. The center includes offices, hotel accommodations, a lecture hall, kitchen facilities, and a chapel. In addition, Concordia Publishing House has many materials for sale in the center’s bookstore. The new director, Kristin Lange, also has her residence in the building, which has a busy calendar going into the Reformation 500th Anniversary year in 2017.

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