COVID-19 and ILC Churches in Australia and New Zealand, Sweden, and the USA

LCA Bishop John Henderson records a Holy Week message.

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

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.

Easter service broadcast live from the Mission Province’s Immanuel Parish in Göteborg, Sweden.

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.

LCMS President Matthew Harrison provides a word of comfort in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

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!”

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

German Lutherans declare fellowship with six new church bodies

SELK Bishop Voigt (far right) greets (front l-r) DELSin Bishop With, ELMDF Bishop Soramies, and AALC Presiding Pastor Leins following the vote to recognize fellowship. (Photo: Dörte Pape via DELSiN.)

GERMANY – The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche) held its 14th National Church Synod from May 21-26, 2019 in Balhorn, Germany, during which time the church declared fellowship with six church bodies from Europe, North America, and South America.

The SELK’s new fellowship partners include the American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA), the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), the Lutheran Church Synod of Nicaragua (ILSN), the Evangelical-Lutheran Diocese in Norway (DELSiN), and the Mission Province in Sweden. (The Mission Province still needs to ratify the agreement with SELK before fellowship between the two churches will take effect.)

SELK also declared fellowship with Concordia Fellowship, an Evangelical Lutheran Free Church in Celle, Germany.

“It’s a joy to recognize fellowship with our brothers and sisters around the world,” noted SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt. “We look forward to nurturing the growing relationships between our various church bodies, and looking for new opportunities for cooperation and partnership in our proclamation of the Gospel.”

The resolution to declare fellowship was followed by a standing ovation and a hymn of thanksgiving. The heads of three of the new partner church bodies—Bishop Thor Henrik With (DELSiN), Bishop Risto Soramies (ELMDF), and Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (AALC)—were all on hand for the event.

SELK’s 2019 Synod met under the theme: “Good News in a Fake News World. Speakers for the event were Professor Dr. Christian Neddens (Oberursel, Germany) and Rev. Dr. Robert Kolb (St. Louis, Missouri). Among other business, the church accepted a new document from SELK’s Theological Commission on “The Lutheran Church and Judaism,” discussed the role of women in the church, and conducted elections for various boards and commissions.

SELK, the AALC, IELA, ELMDF, ILSN, DELSiN, and the Mission Province are all members of the International Lutheran Council, a growing association of confessional Lutheran churches around the world.

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ILC issues invitation to Scandinavian Mission Provinces; Chairman Voigt visits Finland

Participants in the 2014 meeting in Helsinki.
Participants in the 2014 meeting in Helsinki.

FINLAND – Following an invitation from the Bishops’ Conferences of the Mission Provinces of Sweden, Finland, and Norway, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt visited Helsinki as chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and as presiding bishop of the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) in Germany.

During the meeting, Bishop Voigt made two introductory presentations. In the morning he reported on the history and the purpose of the ILC. He pointed to the fact that many member churches of the ILC were founded as a result of the Lutheran confessional renewal in the 19th century; others resulted as a gathering of Lutheran refugees and settlers in the 19th and 20th century as Mission Churches.

In the course of the discussion, Bishop Voigt issued an invitation to the Scandinavian Mission Provinces to begin discussions with the Executive Committee of the ILC about the possibility and the modalities of membership in this global organization. At the same time, he expressed his understanding of the pastoral practice of the mission dioceses in not urging individual members of their parishes to leave their respective Lutheran state churches, but rather to bear those tensions that a struggle for the true unity of the church imposes.

In a further presentation during the afternoon session, Bishop Voigt spoke on developments and special challenges currently facing SELK. In the subsequent discussion he indicated his pleasant surprise to discover parallels between the Old Lutheran revival movements in Germany in the 19th century and the present-day developments in the Scandinavian mission provinces.

Bishop Risto Soramies of the hosting Evangelical Lutheran Mission Province of Finland thanked the participants for the meeting. He expressed his hope that contacts with the ILC and the member churches can be developed and intensified in the future.

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SELK-News Service