Edmonton seminary to honour German bishop

(From the Canadian Lutheran)

The Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany.

EDMONTON – The Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK), will receive the honourary Doctor of Divinity degree at Concordia Lutheran Seminary’s Sacred Convocation in late May. News of the seminary faculty’s action in granting this honour was recently announced by Rev. Dr. James Gimbel, CLS president.

Bishop Voigt, a native of the former communist East Germany, served as a parish pastor for 13 years before his election as SELK leader in 2006. In 2010 he became chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), an association of confessional churches around the world. Despite the modest size of his church body, he has become prominent – especially in the past year – for his very courageous witness in support of historic Christian teaching on marriage, and in opposition to abortion on demand. His 2013 Pastoral Letter “Discovering Marriage and Family as Gifts of God” and other public actions won him recognition as “2013 Bishop of the Year” by an interdenominational Christian news service in his country, and more recently a “Declaration of Respect” by the Association of Christian Publicists.

”Concordia Lutheran Seminary is grateful for the opportunity to publicly acknowledge the courageous leadership and ministry of Bishop Voigt,” noted President Gimbel, in announcing this recognition. “In our global age, partnerships are critically important for a faithful adherence to and proclamation of God’s Word for our world. The presence of the Missionary Study Centre at our seminary, and the extensive work done by our faculty in delivering theological education to Ukraine, southeast Asia, and elsewhere testifies to our love of Christ’s mission, not only in Canada, but throughout the world. We hope to form a new generation of pastors as courageous servants of Christ in season and out of season, wherever God has placed us. We thank God for partners and models like Bishop Voigt, and appreciate this chance to highlight his leadership and witness.”

The Sacred Convocation, at which Bishop Voigt is to be honoured, begins at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, May 30 at the Tegler Centre of Concordia University College of Alberta, directly next door to the seminary. This annual event marks the close of the academic year, and is highlighted by the conferral of academic degrees, as well as the distribution of vicarages and candidate calls. It is a public event, to which pastors, deacons and lay people from LCC congregations are invited.

Concordia Lutheran Seminary, one of the two theological schools maintained by Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), was founded in 1984 and has taken a leading role in the academic and spiritual preparation of pastors, especially in the two western districts of LCC.


Ukraine’s bishop asks for prayer

SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).
SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).

UKRAINE – The situation in Ukraine continues to be tense, following the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Russian military and pro-Russian militia. And things are only getting worse, according to Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU).

“The situation is deteriorating every day,” Bishop Gräfenstein reports in a March 4 letter. “Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. One of our brothers from Odessa, who is currently serving in the armed forces, reported that all soldiers are armed and constantly in a state of readiness for war.”

“Of course the Crimean Peninsula is the primary focus,” the letter continues. “Crimea formerly belonged to Russia, but was transferred to Ukraine in the Soviet period. Now, while Ukraine grapples with the question of whether to line up with Russia or with the European Union (EU), Russia threatens Ukraine with war, especially if Ukraine goes with the EU. Most Crimean residents are Russians who wish to be part of Russia. So now Russia uses this sentiment to hold the Crimea back from the EU.”

SELCU has five congregations on the Crimean peninsula, but Bishop Gräfenstein notes that, while the situation is tense, the people are still safe. “Our brothers and sisters are not doing badly at this moment,” he writes. “People in general are rushing to stockpile groceries, and nearly all the store shelves are empty. Everyone is concerned that, if it comes to war, a famine will break out.”

Bishop Gräfenstein ends his letter with a request for prayer: “We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace,” he writes. “Thank you for your prayer support.”

We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace.

SELCU is a young church body, with thirteen congregations throughout Ukraine. It has strong ties to Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) which has long supported its ministry, especially with theological education and missions. Late last week, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council) called on the wider church to hold up Ukraine in prayer.

“We ask the Lord to comfort the sorrowing who have lost loved ones,” President Bugbee wrote. “We ask Him to meet the legitimate needs of the Ukrainian people, regardless of their preferred languages and political orientation. We implore him that the work of our mission partners in the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine may not be disrupted by the trouble.”

“Above all,” he continued, “we ask God to give courage to our pastors and people there in the mist of turmoil to point their neighbours to Jesus Christ, the great Prince of Peace.”


Published concurrently at The Canadian Lutheran.

Nicaraguan Church meets in convention

LCC President Robert Bugbee, ILSN President Marvin Donaire, and SELK pastor Rev. Joerge Kallensee

NICARAGUA – The Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN), under the direction of its President Marvin Donaire, held its fourth convention January 9-10, taking as its theme “Let Us Walk Together in Proclaiming the Gospel.”

The ILSN is a self-governing church body which arose from the mission efforts of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), a member church of the International Lutheran Council. LCC began work in Nicaragua in 1997. Since then, the church has grown to approximately 1,700 members in 23 congregations. The ILSN has even established mission stations of its own in Costa Rica and Honduras.

LCC President Robert Bugbee brought greetings on the first day of the convention, highlighting the strong ties between the Canadian and Nicaraguan churches. He expressed joy that the Church in Nicaragua is maturing, as evidenced by its own self-governing structure and its assuming responsibility for its own governance and the spread of the Gospel in the region.

Also present for the convention were special guests from Canadian Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Hour Ministries, as well as individual members of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK).

A few weeks after the convention, the ILSN celebrated the graduation of a new class of church workers. In total, 17 deaconesses and 12 pastoral students received their diplomas. The deaconesses will now begin a one-year apprenticeship teaching with the ILSN’s Children’s Education Program. The pastoral students will enter their one-year vicarage, following which they will be ordained and receive their first calls.


Discussions continue between NALC, LCMS, and LCC

NALC Executive Director Rev. Mark Chavez (NALC), Rev. Larry Vogel (LCMS), Bishop John Bradosky (NALC), Dr. David Wendel (NALC), Dr. James Nestingen (NALC), President Matthew Harrison (LCMS), First Vice-President Herbert Mueller (LCMS), Dr. Joel Lehenbauer (LCMS), Professor John Pless (LCMS), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Dr. Robert Benne (NALC).
NALC Executive Director Rev. Mark Chavez (NALC), Rev. Larry Vogel (LCMS), Bishop John Bradosky (NALC), Dr. David Wendel (NALC), Dr. James Nestingen (NALC), President Matthew Harrison (LCMS), First Vice-President Herbert Mueller (LCMS), Dr. Joel Lehenbauer (LCMS), Professor John Pless (LCMS), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Dr. Robert Benne (NALC).

ST. LOUIS, Missouri – From December 16-17, representatives of the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) met for their latest round of semi-annual discussions. The meetings were held at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and had as its theme “The Church in the Public Square.” Rev. Dr. Robert Benne of Roanoke College, a NALC theologian, served as guest lecturer for the event.

The participating churches reported on events since the last meeting in May 2013. “The relationships within this group are brotherly and cordial,” noted LCC President Robert Bugbee, “though we all recognize that we still have serious homework to do on matters where we are not in agreement.”

Since a number of the NALC participants had not visited Concordia Seminary before, its president, Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer, hosted a morning tour on the first day of meetings. President Bugbee served as chapel preacher for the seminary community that day, with a sermon entitled “The Coming Lord Kindles Patience” (based on James 5:7-11). Participants in the inter-Lutheran discussions also received an update during the meeting on a theological volume being prepared by LCMS and NALC theologians on Law and Gospel, a project coordinated by Rev Dr. James Nestingen (NALC) and Rev. Prof. John Pless (LCMS).

The NALC, comprised mostly of pastors and congregations who left the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) over issues of human sexuality, biblical authority, and the nature of the Gospel, has now grown to some 140,000 members in 340 local congregations.

The first official discussion between LCMS and LCC—both members of the International Lutheran Council—and NALC began in December 2011. The next round of discussions is set for June 24-25, 2014 and will take place at LCC’s synodical headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba.


Ukranian Lutherans meet in convention

Meetings at SELCU's 2013 convention.
Meetings at SELCU’s 2013 convention.

UKRAINE – The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU) held its annual convention November 25-26, 2013 in Odessa, Ukraine. The convention opened in worship, with Bishop Viktor Graefenstein delivering a sermon on 1 Peter 4:10.

SELCU is a young church, having been founded in 1996. It has thirteen congregations, nine pastors, four vicars, and about 300 members. At the convention, each congregation was represented by its pastor and a lay delegate. Three vicars also attended, as did guests from other church bodies.

Among these guests was Bishop Serge Maschewski of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine (GELCU). Bishop Maschewski was elected a month earlier at GELCU’s October 21-23 convention, also held in Odessa. GELCU has twelve pastors and approximately 3,000 members. It is a member church of the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and the Other States (which is affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation).

SELCU is supported in part thanks to the work of mission societies in Germany and Poland. It has also long been supported by Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), a member church of the International Lutheran Council. In particular, LCC has been instrumental in offering theological training in the Ukraine, having founded Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Odessa in 1998. This past summer, the seminary celebrated its third graduating class: six students who have completed their three-year education program and are now beginning two years of vicarage in SELCU congregations. In total, more than 20 students have graduated from the seminary, with many now serving as pastors in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. A new group of students is scheduled to begin classes in September 2014.

Delegates to SELCU’s convention heard positive reports on the synod’s prison ministry, care for the elderly, and ministry to orphans—programs also supported by LCC. One such report concerned ministry at a large prison near Nikolaev where 1,500 prisoners are housed. SELCU pastors lead services on a regular basis there to groups of about 20 people, rotating between cells to avoid large concentrations. One pastor noted that, in addition to the opportunity to preach the Gospel, “There is always great time for fellowship, dialogue, and tea with the inmates.” The outreach is making a difference in the inmates’ lives, with one pastor noting that “inmates who are released from prison continue faithful to Christ and to the fellowship of a local church.”

Lutheran Church–Canada’s Executive for Missions and Social Ministry, Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel, was present at SELCU’s convention. “We pray that the Lord continue to strengthen our partnership and fellowship in the Gospel,” he said, noting that “through the proclamation and acts of mercy by our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, many are hearing the Gospel of Jesus.”

Additional information on SELCU’s convention is available from The Canadian Lutheran.