COVID-19 and ILC churches in Canada, Rwanda, and South Africa

LCC President Timothy Teuscher brings Easter greetings online.

WORLD – As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, member churches of the International Lutheran Council continue to respond with practical and spiritual support. Today, we look at the response of ILC member churches in Canada, Rwanda, and South Africa.

Canada

Canada has reported 35,708 total cases of COVID-19, and 1,618 deaths. Different provinces have set different regulations to curb the spread of the disease, including required quarantine periods for those travelling out of province, closing national borders, and limiting the number of people allowed to gather in public. There is no deadline yet indicated for lifting of these measures.

Lutheran Church–Canada has been proactive in responding to the changing situation, providing guidance for members across the country. In a letter on March 19, LCC recommended all congregations temporarily suspend services and other group events for the time being. The letter highlights four of the Ten Commandments especially applicable to the current crisis: the Fourth, the Fifth, the Second, and the Third Commandments.

“The latter one was the primary challenge facing us,” notes LCC President Timothy Teuscher. It was important, he says, to assist churches in “providing new and various ways for our people to hear God’s Word and so receive the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation which Christ offers and bestows upon us apart from the normal and ordinary Divine Service.” Many congregations are now offering services, sermons, Bible Studies, and more online.

LCC has also gathered a number of resources for pastors and people on the synodical website, which continue to be augmented with new material. They include devotional and congregational resources developed by LCC, along with links to various resources made available by The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Concordia Publishing House. Among other materials, LCC has also provided written sermons, and video services and devotions prepared by President Teuscher and LCC’s Mission Executive. These resources are intended to supplement material offered pastors to congregants on the local level.

Lutheran Church–Canada also revamped the latest issue of its national magazine, The Canadian Lutheran, to focus entirely on providing spiritual resources for church members during the COVID-19 pandemic. The issue includes devotional articles, a guide to home devotions, prayers, and links to more resources. Pastors have been encouraged to drop the magazine off at the homes of members, but you can also see the magazine for free online.

Meanwhile, LCC is continuing to find ways to serve its congregations. “Our administrator, office manager, and financial people continue to provide assistance to our congregations and pastors who are or may be experiencing financial hardships,” says President Teuscher. To that end, LCC has revamped its national website to accept online donations for individual congregations, and is providing up-to-date information from the government concerning its wage-subsidy program. Currently LCC continues to be financially able to meet its commitments for international and national missions.

President Teuscher notes that he continues to meet via conference call weekly with the Vice-President, Regional Pastors, the Communications Director, and Executive Staff “to receive updates, information, and above all to pray for and with one another in these uncertain and difficult times.” In particular, he points to this prayerful hymn composed by Martin Rinckart, who served during the famine and epidemic that broke out during the Thirty Years’ War and who wrote these words following the death of his wife:

Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, In whom His world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms Has blest us on our way
With countless gifts of love And still is ours today.

Oh, may this bounteous God Through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts And blessed peace to cheer us
And keep us in His grace And guide us when perplexed
And free us from all ills In this world and the next! – LSB 895:1-2

Rwanda

The country of Rwanda has reported 147 total cases of COVID-19, with no deaths so far. Residents are not allowed to travel between cities, and all but essential workers are required to stay home, except for necessary movements like purchasing food or medicine. These measures have been extended at least until the end of April.

The local LMA-STH pastor in Sovu, Rwanda holds a small Easter celebration in his home.

The Lutheran Mission in Africa–Synod of a Thousand Hills (LMA-STH) is facing severe difficulties as a result of the crisis. The church body is small and very young; its ability to operate is dependent on regular offerings. As people cannot gather in churches at this time, there are no offerings. What is more, many members of the church are poor and are facing economic suffering as a result of work closures. “We have nothing with which to support them,” laments Bishop Selestine Seburikoko.

Pastors are still able to provide limited services to some members, including Bible Studies, but very few are now able to offer Holy Communion. They share messages of hope through phone calls to those members who have phones. They also offer, as they are able, limited sanitary support and food to neighbouring homes.

“Our confident hope is in God, who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead,” says Bishop Seburikoko. He offers us the following passage from Romans 8:28 for our comfort and consolation: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”

South Africa (FELSISA)

At present, the nation of South Africa has reported 3,158 cases of COVID-19. A total of 54 people have died so far. A nationwide lockdown continues in effect at least until the end of April.

Rev. Kurt Schnackenberg, a FELSISA pastor serving St. John’s Lutheran Parish in Shelly Beach, South Africa, preaches online for Easter Sunday.

The lockdown has had a major impact on the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA). “With all gatherings being banned, no church services could be held in a period that included Holy Week, culminating in the Easter celebrations,” notes FELSISA Bishop Deiter Reinstorf. “Realizing that the temporary measures introduced by the president had the sole purpose of stemming the tide of the virus, and was not directed against the church, FELSISA’s leadership suspended all services.”

In the absence of regular services, the pastors of FELSISA have responded by using online media to reach members of their congregations: through livestreamed services and sermons; through video recordings; and through WhapsApp audio recordings. “The joyful realization soon dawned that this was a divine opportunity to reach far more people than before,” says Bishop Reinstorf. “Recordings are being forwarded to friends and family members who do not always gather in church, and we hope that the comforting message of the Gospel might lead to greater church attendance after the lockdown.”

Economic challenges arising from the lockdown threaten both individual members and smaller churches. “Despite the call to show generosity in difficult times and to continue with joyful thanksgiving by electronic fund transfers, the continued existence of some smaller congregations is threatened, as the future—in particular for small business owners—is bleak,” notes Bishop Reinstorf. In order to assist poorer communities, the FELSISA has introduced a “Solidarity Fund” in support of struggling congregations.

“This is a time to have faith, and for the Church of Christ to be a light to the world,” encourages Bishop Reinstorf. “This can only happen through the Word of God and His Spirit. We therefore humble ourselves before God, acknowledge our dependency on Him, call for mercy, rejoice in our salvation in Jesus Christ, and pray that God may use even the COVID-19 pandemic to our benefit to the salvation of mankind.”

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

North American Lutherans continue interchurch discussions

USA – The end of 2019 saw two regular interchurch meetings between North American Lutheran church bodies.

From November 11-12, 2019, representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC), and the North American Lutheran Church (NALC) held their latest round of dialogue in Columbus, Ohio. Newly elected NALC Bishop Daniel Selbo was present for the dialogue for the first time.

The dialogue featured presentations by LCMS and NALC representatives, discussing First Peter as a pillar letter of the New Testament. The dialogue between the LCMS, LCC, and NALC first began in 2011. The next meeting will take place May 20-21, 2020 in St. Louis, Missouri.

In December, representatives of the LCMS, the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) met together in Jacksonville, Florida for annual informal discussions. These discussions have helped the three church bodies more clearly define areas of theological agreement as well as areas where differences remain.

During this meeting, discussions focused on the doctrine of justification, particularly objective justification—an area in which the churches find full agreement. This was the eighth regular meeting between the three churches. When representatives of the LCMS, WELS, and the ELS come together again in 2020, discussion will focus on the topics of prayer fellowship and the ministry, as well as a discussion of the WELS statement “Male and Female in God’s World.”

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

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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.

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Call to prayer for Nicaragua

NICARAGUA – As Nicaragua continues to face unrest, the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (Iglesia Luterana Sínodo de Nicaragua – ILSN) and its mother church Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) are calling for prayer.

Civil unrest in Nicaragua broke out in April 2018, and the situation has increasingly deteriorated over the past few months. More than 180 people have died over the crisis, and recent talks for peace—mediated by Nicaragua’s Roman Catholic church—collapsed earlier this week. Several governments, including Canada and the United States of America, have advised citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the Central American country. The ILSN has likewise advised LCC that it no longer considers it safe to receive short team mission teams or international church representatives in the present situation.

LCC and the ILSN are working in close cooperation as they respond to the current crisis. LCC has sent the ILSN emergency funds to help with food costs during the ongoing crisis, and stands ready to provide further assistance as necessary.

Lutheran Church–Canada’s Committee for Missions and Social Ministry Services has issued the following prayers for the use of LCC congregations as they keep the situation in Nicaragua in prayer:

Heavenly Father, God of all concord, it is Your will that harmony prevail in every land, in order that the daily bread You provide may be received in peace. Give Your wisdom to guide the leaders in the government, businesses, churches, and movements in the nation of Nicaragua, that violence and strife may be ended, life spared, and order be restored, only for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, the Wisdom from on High, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God forever. Amen.

God of grace and Lord of all power and might, You rule the nations through the authorities established by your gracious will. We earnestly pray for the government, the police forces, and the people of Nicaragua, that by the working of Your generous and strong hand, peace will be restored among them. Protect all who are in danger, direct those in power to serve the cause of justice and equity, grant honesty to prevail. Guide Your church, that in the midst of every uncertainty, she will boldly proclaim Your faithfulness and the forgiveness that heals all wounds in Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever. Amen.

Lutheran Church–Canada and the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua are both members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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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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Lutheran Church-Canada elects new president during 2017 convention

LCC President Elect Timothy Teuscher addresses the convention.

CANADA – Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) held its 2017 synodical convention October 13-16, 2017 in Kitchener, Ontario, during which time they elected a new president: Rev. Timothy Teuscher. The convention also elected Rev. Thomas Kruesel to serve as LCC’s Vice President.

“I humbly bow to the will and decision of the convention and accept my election to serve as president of our synod,” said President Elect Teuscher in remarks to convention delegates the day after his election. “I ask for your patience and prayers, your understanding, your support, your counsel, and your advice.”

Rev. Teuscher currently serves as First Vice President of the East District of Lutheran Church–Canada and pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Stratford, Ontario. He succeeds Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, who had announced in early 2017 that he would not be standing for reelection. Dr. Bugbee was elected President of LCC in 2008, and was acclaimed to second and third terms without opposition in 2011 and 2014. He further served the International Lutheran Council as its Vice Chairman for several terms.

Delegates to the 2017 convention voted to restructure the Canadian church body, accepting changes to the church’s statutory bylaws, constitution, and synodical bylaws (changes to the constitution now go to congregations for ratification). Under the new structure, congregations will relate directly to synod (rather than through the previous Districts), with congregations to be grouped in at least three regions. Other changes include the move to a four-year convention cycle.

Saints of the Reformation

The 2017 convention also took time to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The opening worship service saw President Bugbee preach on the convention’s theme: Christ Alone, Christ Forever. Bible studies focused on texts prominent during the Reformation. Delegates took in a special Reformation concert featuring J.S. Bach’s Cantata 199 and Felix Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony as performed by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Orchestra. And all delegates received a free copy of Saints of the Reformation, a book published by LCC to recognize the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The book is available as an e-book for free or in hard copy for less than $5 CAD.

Delegates to the 2017 convention also voted to enter fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, which has in recent years begun discussions about entering into membership in the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Chairman of the International Lutheran Council and Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) brought greetings to the convention: “It is my prayer for Lutheran Church–Canada that our Heavenly Father will always look kindly on your church,” he said, “and that He will answer our prayers for the well-being and extension of confessional Lutheranism worldwide.”

Numerous other international guests representing ILC churches were present for the event, including representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, The American Association of Lutheran Churches, the Lutheran Church in Peru, the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua, and the Lutheran Ministerium and Synod-USA. The convention also received written greetings from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, Japan Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina, the Free Evangelical-Lutheran Synod in South Africa, the Lutheran Church of Australia, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia.

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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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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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Lutheran churches sign agreement in Ukraine

Signatories of the Ukraine agreement: Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Vice-President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU).
Signatories of the Ukraine agreement: Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Vice-President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU).

Ukraine – Representatives of four Lutheran church bodies signed an agreement in Odessa, Ukraine on August 12, pledging closer collaboration with one another and setting the stage for possible deeper cooperation in the future.

The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) was represented by Bishop Serge Maschewski. Representing the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU) were Bishop Emeritus Viktor Graefenstein and Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, SELCU Vice-President for Church Relations. Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver represented The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), while President Robert Bugbee attended on behalf of Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC). The protocol signing followed two days of meetings at SELCU’s Concordia Seminary in Usatovo, an Odessa suburb.

LCC has worked in Ukraine for more than 20 years, providing theological education for the SELCU since 1998. SELCU is a church body which began after a separation from the DELKU in the mid-1990s. Though the two Ukrainian churches have had occasional contacts since that time, the stage for stronger relations was set more recently when DELKU began expressing a desire to firm up its commitment to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.

DELKU Bishop Maschewski had been an early student in the “Russian Project” of Concordia Theological Seminary at Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW), as the LCMS began working with developing Lutheran churches after the breakup of the Soviet Union. “It is such a joy to see to see these long term relationships grow and blossom,” noted CTSFW President Lawrence Rast. “It shows us how the gospel is ‘in the whole world’ and ‘is bearing fruit and increasing’ (Colossians 1:6), just as the Scriptures promise.” The Fort Wayne Seminary provided several continuing education seminars for DELKU pastors in the past year.

Since LCMS and LCC have a long-standing practice of cooperation in world mission areas, the recent discussions sought to foster cooperation and avoid misunderstandings in Ukraine, which has historically been an LCC mission field. President Bugbee observed, “When these talks began, the participants did not expect that we would end up signing an agreement to keep each other thoroughly informed of the work we’re doing, and to consider stronger joint efforts in the future. The discussions were marked by a great brotherly spirit. I thank God for that!”

DELKU includes congregations with history reaching back to the Lutheran Church in the Russian empire, which was extensive and well developed until the communist revolution of 1917 ushered in decades of repression. After dissolution of the USSR and Ukrainian independence, DELKU worked extensively with the Lutheran (State) Church of Bavaria in Germany, but recently began cultivating ties with the LCMS and its partners, like LCC.

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

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Rapid Growth for Mozambique’s Lutherans

Mozambican women sing during a worship service.
Mozambican women sing during a worship service.

MOZAMBIQUE – Missions in Mozambique continue to bear fruit as the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique (Igreja Luterana da Concórdia em Moçambique – ILCM) shares the good news of Jesus Christ.

In August 2015, the ILCM celebrated the ordination of its first graduating class of pastors—eight pastors to serve the young church body’s then ten churches. The celebration saw approximately 1,000 members converge on Villa de Sena, an event which drew considerable local and even national attention.

Amambo and Maviga

Among those discussing the event were Christians in Amambo, who heard the story from a local woman, who herself heard it from a truck driver. The Christian community in Amambo had been left on their own five years earlier, when the priest serving them left the village. Without pastoral care, the congregation remained isolated and alone, slowly dwindling as members fell away. The news of the ILCM ordination celebration encouraged the remaining congregation members to try to make contact with the Lutherans they had just learned of.

Two members travelled twenty kilometers by bike to a nearby town, where they found transportation by truck to Villa de Sena. In total, their trip took two days along rough roads in territory known to be frequented by lions. When they finally arrive in Villa de Sena, they were directed to Rev. Manuel Jambo, President of the ILCM, who welcomed them into his home. After a night of conversation they joined President Jambo and Rev. Mateus Sifa at the local church for worship. They returned to Amambo with the good news that the Lutherans had agreed to visit them to begin a course of instruction.

Rev. Winterle and pastors of the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique visit the congregation in Amambo.
Rev. Winterle and pastors of the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique visit the congregation in Amambo.

Within a few weeks, the newly ordained pastors from the ILCM did indeed visit. And on September 6, 2015, members, pastors, and visitors dedicated the Lutheran Church of Amambo. Just three weeks later, they dedicated another congregation fifty kilometers away in Maviga, as the members of Amambo shared the clear Gospel message they were now receiving.

Nine months later, international partners had the opportunity to visit the Amambo congregation. Rev. Carlos Winterle, a Brazilian pastor serving the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA) with long-time involvement in the mission in Mozambique, and Rev. Shauen Trump, Area Director for Eastern and Southern Africa for The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), joined eight local pastors in visiting the community. 110 members were on hand to welcome them. Knowing that the guests would be unable to visit Maviga on the same trip, the congregation there also sent a delegation to welcome them as well—twenty-one representatives who travelled the fourteen-hour journey by foot.

Cado

Women and children in Cado sing.
Women and children in Cado sing.

The village of Cado similarly found themselves interested in learning more about Lutherans—though their reasons for doing so are somewhat different. The Christians of Cado paid dearly for pastoral services, struggling under the tyranny of a pastor who mandated a substantial cash payment for each visit. It was not until villagers started going to town, some forty-five kilometers away, to find a market for their goods that they realized not all churches operate in the same way.

When the possibility of life together under a different model came to light, the congregation took action to learn more. They sent out two youth by bicycle to Villa de Sena to make inquiries of the churches there—and once they arrived they met President Jambo and Rev. Sifa. President Jambo hosted the two Cado villagers in his home, where they discussed the theology of stewardship, offerings, and matters of financial administration in the church. Through these discussions, President Jambo was able to clearly share the Gospel, and explain the church’s focus on Word and Sacraments.

That Sunday, the two villagers attended São Paulo Lutheran Church in Villa de Sena, and got to see these focuses in practice. By the end of the service, their path was clear. They explained to the church members in Villa de Sena that they were sent out to find a parent church body for their congregation, and that they had been convicted that the Lutheran church was the one they had come to find. The Cado villagers requested the blessing of the São Paulo congregation to send a pastor to support a Lutheran church in Cado.

A few weeks later, three Lutheran pastors traveled to visit the people of Cado. The first Lutheran service was attended by fifty villagers meeting under a tree. Within a year, the congregation had grown to eighty.

Cado-Nhachiva

The congregation in Nhachiva assembles.
The congregation in Nhachiva assembles.

It was in ministering to the community of Cado that another mission opportunity presented itself. Rev. Sifa was traveling the forty-five kilometer trip home from Cado—a trip that would be taxing in the best of circumstances, and even more so on one of Africa’s typical heavy one-speed bicycles on rough dirt roads. About ten kilometers into the trip, Rev. Sifa stopped at a trading centre for rest and a refreshment. While there, a teacher noted his clerical collar and asked if he were a priest. Rev. Sifa explained he was a pastor of the Lutheran Church, and they began to discuss the history and doctrine of Lutheranism. Interested in what the pastor had to say, the teacher asked him to consider starting a church in his village of Cado-Nhachiva.

Several weeks later, Rev. Sifa was on his way to Cado again. On the way he found the teacher and several other villagers waiting for him in Cado-Nhachiva. Rev. Sifa spoke with them and invited to travel with him to the church in Cado. They went. Not much later, Cado-Nhachiva held its first worship service, with 80 people attending. Today 150 members regularly attend services where the Gospel is clearly proclaimed.

Suero

The clarity of the Gospel preaching done by Lutherans is making an impact elsewhere in Mozambique too. In Chemba, a local community radio station host learned that firsthand. In Chemba, as in communities across Mozambique, the radio station gives regular airtime to local pastors. But when Lutheran pastor Rev. Julio Castomo had his first moment on air, the host was taken aback by his message. It was so different from the other preachers who came for their five-minute radio time.

After the broadcast, the host spoke extensively with Rev. Castomo about his message and about the church. The next day, he came to visit the pastor in his home. And that Sunday, he came to church to learn more. Immediately afterwards, he travelled to his home village of Suero to tell his extended family about the love of Christ. They asked him to go back to Chemba, collect Rev. Castomo, and bring him to tell them himself. After a few evangelistic visits, the people of Suero organized a church and invited Rev. Castomo to come. The first week 60 people attended. The next week there were 80.

And Others

Preaching in one of the new congregations near Kapasseni.
Preaching in one of the new congregations near Kapasseni.

The ILCM has welcomed other churches too. Rev. Rui Jalene Souza of Kapasseni has seen his evangelistic visits to nearby villages bear fruit, with four new congregations planted in the area. And an independent congregation in Mutarara, hearing of the ILCM’s work, recently sent two representatives forty kilometers to Villa de Sena looking for a church body with substance. The dedication of a Lutheran congregation in Mutarara is expected in the near future. Work continues in other areas as well.

There is a burning desire in Mozambique for clear Gospel preaching, both among the unchurched and those lacking pastoral care. The Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique is meeting that need, and they are supported in that work by faithful international partners. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil (IELB); the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa (FELSISA); The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS); The Mission of the Lutheran Churches (Bleckmarer Mission) of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK); and Redeemer Lutheran Church (Victoria, B.C., Canada) have all signed a memorandum of understanding with the pastors of the Lutheran Church of Concord in Mozambique to provide guidance to ongoing mission work in the country.

Lutheran missions in Mozambique grew out of the work of now retired Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) pastor Rev. Joseph Alfazema and his wife Perpetua. Their work resulted in the creation of the Kapasseni Project, a Canadian organization that helped lead to the creation of a Mozambican Lutheran church body.

IELB, FELSISA, LCC, SELK, and the LCMS are all member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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The above article incorporates reporting by Rev. Shauen Trump based on translation by Rev. Winterle. Photos are by them, Carlotta C. Thies, Rony Marquardt, and Mateus Sifa.