AUSTRALIA – Bishop John Henderson of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has announced that he will not be seeking reelection at the church’s Convention of General Synod later this year.
Bishop Henderson was first elected to head the LCA in April 2013. He was also the first leader of the Australian church to hold the title of bishop, as the same convention which elected him also voted to change the title of synodical head from president to bishop. He was reelected to a second term in October 2018.
Bishop Henderson formerly served as Vice President of the LCA from 2006-2011, and as a member of the General Church Council from 2003-2011. He also served as Principal of Australian Lutheran Council from 2009 until his election as bishop. He was first ordained in 1982.
In addition to not seeking reelection, Bishop Henderson has announced his intention to retire from active pastoral ministry.
The next steps in the search for a new bishop will take place in July 2021, when delegates to the General Pastors Conference will nominate candidates for the position of bishop. Nominees with at least 25 percent of the vote at the Pastors Conference will be added to the slate for election at the Convention of General Synod, which is scheduled for September 28 – October 3 in Melbourne. Candidates may also be nominated from the floor under a special provision.
The Lutheran Church of Australia is an Associate Member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.
CANADA – Member churches of the International Lutheran Council around the world are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic with practical and spiritual care.
Today we highlight the ministry of three member churches in Australia and New Zealand, in Sweden, and in the United States.
Australia and New Zealand
To date Australia has reported 6,645 cases of COVID-19 and 71 deaths, while New Zealand has reported 1,445 cases of COVID-19 and 13 deaths. Like many nations, both Australia and New Zealand have instituted numerous containment measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, including border restrictions and a prohibition on gatherings. New Zealand instituted a nationwide lockdown on March 25.
Directions from governments have required the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA), including the Lutheran Church of New Zealand (LCNZ), to suspend weekly worship services and public gatherings. On the local level, individual congregations are providing regular pastoral and spiritual care through recordings of Services of the Word, and care teams make regular phone contact with members.
“This enforced physical isolation seems to be increasing our hunger and drive for our church community,” notes LCA Bishop John Henderson in a letter to the church. “Maybe we are feeling just a little like the first believers in the early church, when they could not get enough of the Gospel.”
The LCA/NZ has published a dedicated COVID-19 Response webpage providing comprehensive information and support for the church, including links to government information and support. The site also has messages from the national bishop, regular news updates, devotional materials, pastoral guidance on matters related to sacramental practice, and Church@Home (a dedicated landing page providing resources to keep faith alive at home, connect with the community, and stay safe during this time of physical isolation). The LCA website and social media also includes additional devotional and prayer resources.
The LCA is further negotiating with community television stations in each state to show regular church services, including specific indigenous services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Lutheran Media continues to share “Messages of Hope” across several radio networks in Australia and New Zealand.
In this time, Bishop Henderson says, “We experience a sense of loss, of sadness, and uncertainty. We can be tempted to clutch at straws and seek comfort elsewhere than trusting in God.” But, he stresses, we must take those cares and concerns to God. “I encourage each of us to take all that to the throne of grace, and let it land at the feet of our Saviour…. You are not alone. You help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Sweden has reported 15,322 cases of COVID-19, and 1,765 deaths. The country has closed schools and universities, banned visits to nursing homes, and limited public gatherings to fifty people or less.
The Mission Province (Missionsprovinsen) in Sweden is offering pastoral care in the midst of the pandemic. “It has had a great impact on our daily lives,” says Bishop Bengt Ädahl. “Persons over the age of 70 are recommended not to come to church, and pastors over the age of 70 are recommended not to conduct services.”
Most, but not all, congregations are still holding services. Some congregations are broadcasting services online via social media and YouTube. Pastors are also providing pastoral care through home-visits, where they offer communion to those unable to attend church.
Bishop Ädahl has sent letters to clergy with recommendations about pastoral care as well as a prayer for use during the coronavirus outbreak. At the same time, the Mission Province is holding many of its board meetings by conference call and video-calls.
“It is important in this time that the Gospel of our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, is preached to people and that He is worshipped,” said Bishop Ädahl. “It is also important that church members pray at home, and read the Word of God and other good Christian literature. We encourage people to do this in their daily life.”
United States of America
The total number of reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States has risen to 794,347, with 43,115 deaths. Different states have different regulations in effect to slow the spread of the coronavirus, with many limiting the total number of people allowed to participate in public events while others have banned public events altogether.
The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) reports that the coronavirus has had a dramatic impact on its ministry. While the church does not have authority to direct congregations to close, LCMS President Matthew Harrison has encouraged all members to obey the 4th and 5th Commandments.
“I’m very proud of our pastors, church workers, and congregations,” says President Harrison. “Far and away, they have been engaged, working as hard as possible to offer online options to parishioners, offering the Sacrament where possible to many small groups.” While the LCMS has encouraged its congregations as they offer Gospel-outreach in new ways given the situation, President Harrison, the church’s Commission for Theology and Church Relations, and the systematics departments of the LCMS’ two seminaries have all advised against the novel practice of in-home consecration of communion elements while watching online services.
“Pastors are hurting because they can’t be at the deathbed to comfort the faithful, or even have funeral services,” laments President Harrison. “But they know that the Lord Christ most often and most dramatically blesses through the cross. It will be a joyous day when we are back together in church to receive the gifts of Christ.”
The LCMS’ seminaries and universities have all switched to online classes, and staff at the LCMS’ International Centre are working from home. The LCMS has also temporarily pulled many of its mission personnel and their families from world areas.
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod has made available a wide variety of resources related to the pandemic, including devotional resources for families and individuals, as well as care for pastors and church workers. Record numbers of members are engaging with the LCMS’ social media accounts and websites. Among other resources, the LCMS is providing daily Bible studies on Facebook.
Almost all resources of the LCMS Office of National Mission have been focused towards the COVID-19 crisis. Mercy agencies are doing important work under very challenging situations, caring for thousands upon thousands. And the church is also partnering with the Lutheran Church Extension Fund to provide funding for Soldiers of the Cross, a longstanding program which assists church workers. Requests for that funding have been increasing.
“We also think of and pray for in these days our millions of Lutheran partners and friends around the globe,” notes President Harrison. “Christ is risen!”
For more news and information from the International Lutheran Council about the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.
United Kingdom – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE) elected a new Chairman during its 65th Synod, held September 27-28, 2019 at Christ Church (Petts Wood).
Rev. George Samiec, who formerly served as Vice Chairman, was elected Chairman of the church after Rev. John Ehlers announced he would not seek reelection. Rev. Ehlers had served three terms as Chairman of the ELCE.
While not standing for reelection as Chairman, Rev. Ehlers allowed his name to stand for Vice Chairman of the ELCE, and was elected to that position for one year.
Rev. George Samiec, arrived in the UK in 2002, seconded from the Lutheran Church of Australia at the request of the ELCE. He has served on the ELCE Executive Council since 2003 and as ELCE Vice Chairman since 2010. He also served on the executive of the European Lutheran Conference from 2004-2018. The ELCE Chairman duties are in addition to congregational ministries in the ELCE. Rev. Samiec serves congregations in Brandon, Coventry, and Harlow and teaches in the practical theology area at Westfield House, the ELCE’s theological house of studies in Cambridge.
Assisting at the installation of the Chairman were the pastors of the ELCE ministerium together with the Rt. Rev. Risto Soramies, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF); the Very Rev. Dr Juhana Pohjola, Dean of the ELMDF; and Rev. Gary Heintz, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church—Synod of France.
During its 65th Synod, the ELCE also declared fellowship with the ELMDF and the Evangelical Lutheran-Diocese of Norway.
AUSTRALIA – The Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has reelected Bishop John Henderson during its 2018 General Convention of Synod October 2-7 in Rosehill, New South Wales. The convention also saw the church decline a resolution calling for the ordination of women.
Bishop Henderson was reelected to a second term on October 4. He was first elected in 2013 (the first term for LCA bishops is six years, with three-year terms thereafter). ‘I thank you for your support’, Bishop Henderson said upon his election. ‘I pray that I am worthy of serving you—well, I’m not worthy of serving you—but I pray that I will be given by God the strength to serve you for another term.’
Rev. Dr. Andrew Pfeiffer was also reelected as the LCA’s Assistant Bishop.
A major subject of discussion during the 2018 General Synod was the ordination of women, with the LCA again declining a resolution calling for the ordination of women. This was the fourth time the LCA has voted on this subject since 2000.
LCA Bishop John Henderson declared the results of the secret ballot on October 5: 161 against and 240 in favour. That meant the resolution failed to receive the 2/3 majority required by the LCA’s constitution to make changes in matters of a theological or confessional nature.
The International Lutheran Council, of which the LCA is an Associate Member, had pledged prayer for the Australian church in advance of the vote. Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, General Secretary of the ILC, also brought greetings to the General Synod on October 4, encouraging the LCA in his remarks to remain faithful to the historic teaching of the church on ordination.
The morning following the vote, Bishop David Altus of the LCA’s South Australia/Northern Territory reflected on its results and strained relations in the church. “If I could put it into my own words, I would say that the LCA is hurting, and hurting very badly,” he said. “She’s a broken woman, hurting in all parts of the body.”
The synod later adopted a motion “that Synod acknowledges the deep hurt and harm to individuals and groups that has been occasioned over the past years in the course of the debate regarding ordination; repents of the hurt, and seeks forgiveness and reconciliation with one another.”
AUSTRALIA – On October 4, Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), brought greetings to the 19th General Convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA), meeting in Rosehill, New South Wales.
The text of Dr. Collver’s greetings appears below. Additional news from the LCA’s General Convention of Synod is available through the convention website here.
ILC Greetings to Lutheran Church of Australia at the 19th General Convention of the Synod
I bring you greetings in the Name of Jesus on behalf of the International Lutheran Council and her member churches on the occasion of the LCA’s 19th General Convention of the Synod. It is an honor and privilege to be here with you today.
First, I would like to share a little about the ILC with you. The people who formed the ILC first met after the July 1952 Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Assembly which was held in Hanover. The concern for the churches that first formed the ILC was de facto fellowship within the LWF. An Australian, transplanted from Germany, Dr. Hermann Sasse, played a small role in the formation of what would become the International Lutheran Council. In a letter dated June 6, 1952 from Dr. Sasse to the Missouri Synod President, Dr. Behnken, Sasee writes, “As to Uelzen Dr. Hoopmann [of Australia] asked for my opinion, and I have given him some material for a constitution.” Sasse contributed to the ILC’s first constitution. The founding churches of the ILC, including Australia, met in Uelzen, Germany, after the LWF meeting in Hannover. The Lutheran Church of Australia has had connections to the ILC from its very beginning.
As of last week, the International Lutheran Council has 54 member church bodies representing a total of 7.15 million Lutherans worldwide. You can find out more about the ILC on its webpage http://www.ilcouncil.org, including the prayers the ILC posted for the Lutheran Church of Australia, and on the ILC’s Facebook page.
I know some of you may find this hard to believe, but other ILC member church bodies have had difficult and potentially divisive conventions in the past. In 1959, seven years before the Lutheran Church of Australia was formed, the Missouri Synod was at the beginning of a long period of tension that eventually resulted in a division of the LCMS and the formation of the Association of Evangelical Churches (AELC—now in the ELCA). Already in 1959, a professor at the St. Louis seminary said that the Book of God’s Truth contains errors. The Missouri Synod seemed poised for conflict and possible division. At the Missouri Synod’s 1959 convention in San Francisco, Dr. Hermann Sasse was asked by Dr. Behnken to give a lecture on “The Ecumenical Movement and the Lutheran Church.” Ultimately, Dr. Sasse stated that the ecumenical movement needs to be a quest for the truth. I would like to quote a portion of Dr. Sasse’s address:
“For it was the quest for the true Church that caused our fathers to leave their country, their people, their earthly possessions, after they had come to the conviction that the territorial churches of the Old World, which comprised all people irrespective of their actual faith, could no longer be what they claimed to be: churches confessing before God and the world the truth of the Gospel as it was testified to in the Book of Concord. Some people call that separatism. You know from the history of your church how seriously your fathers searched their own conscience, asking themselves in the sight of God whether they were guilty of the sin of schism. Thank God for these consciences! Thank God for holy separatism! The blessing of their faithful confession is still a very great reality in your church. And it is generally admitted that the faithful witness of the true confessors of that time has saved what has remained of the Lutheran Church in the old country.”
In this passage, Sasse called for the Missouri Synod to remember its past and why it was formed. The Missouri Synod, along with the free churches in Germany, and yes, the Lutheran Church of Australia, established themselves to be “churches confessing before God and the world the truth of the Gospel as it was testified to in the Book of Concord.” Such a confession is the lonely way; it is the narrow path that Christ has called us to walk. It is the way that does not bind people’s consciences but allows the Word of God free course. At the 19th convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia, know that the churches of the International Lutheran Council are praying, as 2 Thessalonians 3:1 says, “that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you.”
Just as the Missouri Synod faced challenges and possible division in 1959, I hope we can provide you with some encouragement as Hermann Sasse did to us almost 60 years ago. You face the decision regarding women’s ordination at your convention. No one can dictate to you what you should do, but we can encourage you to hear the Word of Scripture. The position of the ILC is no secret regarding the ordination of women. The ILC holds what we believe to be the Scriptural and Confessional position of the Lutheran church. The ILC holds to the historic tradition which the church from the time of the apostles has held with other historic churches such as Rome and the Orthodox. As St. Paul handed down what he had received (paradosis), we pass to you what we have received from the apostles, the historic catholic church, and the Lutheran Confessors. May Christ grant you wisdom and guidance as you deliberate.
In closing, please hear the report of Dr. Hoopman from Australia at what would be the first meeting of the ILC in 1952:
“We are in the minority. We stand alone; but as the men who after mature deliberation signed the Formula of Concord did so as men who desired to appear before the judgment seat of Christ with intrepid hearts, thus we are also mindful of our responsibility to God and all Christendom and of the fact that we have vowed ‘that we will neither privately nor publicly speak or write anything contrary to our Confessions, but by the help of God’s grace we intend to abide thereby.'”
I believe that these words are as true and valid today, perhaps even more so today, as when they were spoken 66 years ago. Thank you and may the Lord guide and bless you this week.
AUSTRALIA – The Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has invited the International Lutheran Council (ILC) to keep the Australian church in prayer as it holds its General Convention of Synod October 2-7 in Rosehill, New South Wales. The LCA is an Associate Member of the ILC.
The LCA’s invitation to prayer was renewed recently during the ILC’s 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium, when Bishop Mark Lieschke brought greetings to the conference on behalf of the LCA and Bishop John Henderson. In his response, ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt offered his prayers that God would bless the LCA and send His Holy Spirit to guide the church during its convention.
The ILC is inviting its member churches to join in praying for the Australian church.
Prayer for the General Convention of the Lutheran Church of Australia
Merciful God, we humbly implore You to cast the bright beams of Your light upon the Lutheran Church of Australia as she gathers for her General Convention. During these troubling days of cultural, political, and religious unrest across the globe, when divisiveness and animosity infest church and society, give the delegates the wisdom and understanding that comes from a faithful and courageous commitment to Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions. May their clear and faithful confession unite the church in the bond of peace, love, and unity, and encourage sister Lutheran churches throughout the world to retain this God-given bond of peace and unity. Being instructed by the doctrine of the blessed apostles, may we all walk together in the light of Your truth and finally attain to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Churches may also wish to use the following prayer as well, reflecting especially on the LCA and its current convention. The prayer was composed to thank God on the 25th anniversary of the ILC in its current form, and asks for God to bless the relationship between the member churches of the ILC.
Prayer for the 25th Anniversary of the International Lutheran Council
Almighty God, You have promised to be with Your Church forever. We praise You for Your presence in the churches of the International Lutheran Council and ask Your ongoing blessing upon those who gather around the altars and pulpits of our congregations throughout the world. Dwell continually among us with Your holy Word and Sacraments, strengthen our fellowship in the bonds of love and peace, increase our faithful witness to Your salvation; through Jesus Christ, Your Son our Lord.
AUSTRALIA – The General Pastor’s Conference of the Lutheran Church of Australia (LCA) has rejected a draft doctrinal statement calling for the ordination of women by a vote of 119 to 96 (and one informal vote). Despite disagreement on the subject, debate was reportedly marked by a spirit of calm and gentleness. The conference was held July 10-12, 2018 in Hahndorf, South Australia,
The draft document—entitled “A Theological Basis for the Ordination of Women and Men”—was created in response to a resolution of the LCA’s 2015 General Convention of Synod. That resolution called on the church’s Commission on Theology and Inter-Church Relations to develop draft doctrinal statements for the church’s 2018 convention providing a theological basis for the ordination of women, as well as a theological basis for why the ordination of women need not be church divisive. The resolution came after an earlier vote to approve women’s ordination at the 2015 convention narrowly failed to receive the 2/3 majority it required to pass.
The decision of the 2018 General Pastor’s Conference to reject the draft doctrinal statement may impact the LCA’s upcoming General Convention of Synod, which is expected to vote again on the ordination of women when it meets October 2-7, 2018 in Rosehill Gardens, New South Wales. The LCA’s bylaws note that the pastor’s conference is tasked with giving “guidance in matters of doctrine and confession” to the wider church. To that end, the General Pastor’s Conference is called specifically to “consider those questions, issues and statements of a theological and confessional nature which appear on the agenda of the Convention of the General Synod,” and “voice its opinion with regard to the advisability or non-advisability of dealing with any such question or issue or of adopting a particular statement.”
The question of women’s ordination has been a longstanding subject of disagreement in the LCA. In addition to considering the matter at its 2015 General Convention of Synod, the church also addressed the subject in 2000 and 2006.
The LCA is an associate member of the International Lutheran Council (ILC). The ILC does not accept the ordination of women, but it has pledged in the past to remember the Lutheran Church of Australia in prayer as it wrestles with this difficult subject—a pledge that continues to remain true.