COVID-19 and ILC churches in Chile, Japan, and the United States

Pastors, vicars, and seminarians of the the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile are offering a daily devotional study online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WORLD – As the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact people across the globe, member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) are stepping forward to provide physical and spiritual care to the people in their nations.

The ILC is launching a new series to highlight the response of our churches to COVID-19. Despite challenges, the proclamation of the Gospel continues. Despite difficulties, the needy are still provided for in body and soul. Please, remember the churches of the International Lutheran Council in prayer as they minister to their flocks around the world.

In this first post, we consider the response of three member church bodies in Chile, Japan, and the United States.

Chile

The first case of COVID-19 in Chile was reported on March 1, 2020. Since then, the country has reported nearly 8,000 cases of COVID-19, with 92 deaths. In response to the crisis, the government has closed borders and imposed quarantines or lockdowns on several regions.

As the situation began to unfold, the Confessional Lutheran Church of Chile—Iglesia Luterana Confesional de Chile (ILC-Chile)—moved to offer devotional resources online. The church offers daily devotional videos to “assist our members with the comfort of the Holy Word,” notes ILC-Chile Bishop Omar Kinas. The series features pastors, vicars, and seminary students, as a way of involving all members in the church response. The church is also offering group Bible Studies and live-streams of the Divine Service of the Word online, as well as sending activities for children.

“We understand that this is not the ideal way,” Bishop Kinas says of the online outreach. “However, we have taken advantage of technology in order to continue proclaiming the Holy Gospel.” Pastors also continue to offer private communion to members while following necessary safeguards and social-distancing measures.

The church is ministering to others in physical ways too. Donations through the churches’ Mercy Boxes have helped the CLCC to provide material support to those who have lost their jobs or are unable to leave their homes for work.

Local health authorities were also invited to use the chapel office in Cerror la Cruz, Valparaiso for a flu vaccination campaign to protect the elderly. And the local pastor’s wife, Jessica, has made and donated hundreds of masks to protect people during the pandemic.

“Although this pandemic has brought several changes and challenges, it is undoubtedly a great opportunity for our church to share with others the Crucified and Risen One, who has carried all our illnesses and bought us everlasting life,” notes Bishop Kinas. “We pray for the whole Church of Christ, that we may set our sights on the one has already destroyed the evil one, sin, and death, and has given us eternal salvation.”

Japan

Good Friday service at St. Paul Lutheran in Asahikawa, Japan.

Japan has reported more than 7,600 cases of COVID-19 and 143 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. The country declared a month-long state of emergency on April 7 for Tokyo and six other prefectures.

The emergency has forced the Japan Lutheran Church (JLC) to find alternate means of reaching its members. “Due to the declaration of a state of emergency, many churches have cancelled all gatherings, including Sunday worship,” notes JLC President Shin Shimizu. “However, some churches are distributing written sermons and handouts to church members regularly. Others are posting worship services on their websites.”

The situation is a challenge, President Shimizu explains, but we find comfort in the words of Scripture. He quotes from 2 Chronicles 7:14—“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

United States of America

The United States has recorded more than 600,000 cases of COVID-19 so far, with more than 25,000 deaths. The country has closed borders, while different states have imposed different measures, including shelter-in-place orders and quarantines.

The American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) reports that nearly every aspect of their ministry has been affected by the pandemics. “We have adapted our routines to tend to the sheep of Jesus Christ and do the work of an evangelist based on national, state, and local regulations,” says AALC President Pastor Curtis Leins.

AALC Pastor Jamie Strickler leads worship on Easter Sunday at a Drive-In Service at St. Timothy Lutheran in Charlestone, West Virginia.

He notes that some pastors live in jurisdictions that allow for “drive-in” services, with pastors leading worship and preaching to parishioners in their cars, with the help of sound systems. Many pastors are also recording worship services (either the full liturgy or scaled-down orders of worship) which are then shared online. Some are leading Bible studies through live-streaming, pre-recorded messages, podcats, video-blogs, and virtual classrooms.

“This is not to say that this time is free of frustration for our pastors,” President Pastor Leins explains. In particular, he says, “it is difficult and sometimes impossible to offer pastoral care to the dying and to those who mourn in these times of extreme limits.”

“We have continued to remind our pastors that the virtual experience is no substitute for direct pastoral contact, such as a phone call or a visit with proper precautions,” President Pastor Leins continues. The church has also issued a letter to its ministerium discouraging virtual celebration of the Sacrament of the Altar.

The AALC published an electronic copy of its national periodical, The Evangel, before Holy Week to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while also offering the sure and certain hope of the resurrection.

In addition to spiritual support, local churches are offering practical care where possible as well. One congregation, for example, has lent its church van to transport meals for home-bound school children.

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

The AALC seeks fellowship with German, Norwegian Lutherans

Participants in the AALC-SELK fellowship talks.

FORT WAYNE, Indiana – The American Association of Lutheran Churches (AALC) recently held talks with representatives of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK) on October 10-11, 2017 to discuss entering into altar and pulpit fellowship, as well as to consider potential opportunities for partnership.

Representing the SELK at the meetings were Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt and Rev. Dr. Werner Klän. Representing the AALC were Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins, Rev. Richard Shields, and Rev. Joseph Dapelo.

The meetings began the morning of October 10 on the campus of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the AALC has its national headquarters. Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins of the AALC led opening devotions. Discussions the first day focused on confessional basis and ecclesial identity, as well as the doctrines of Holy Scripture, God, sin, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, justification and sanctification, the Church, and the office of the Holy Ministry, with general agreement on the issues discussed.

Leading the SELK’s delegation was Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, who also serves as Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a growing association of confessional Lutheran church bodies worldwide. Both SELK and the AALC are member churches of the ILC. The second day of meetings between SELK and the AALC began with devotions led by Bishop Voigt, followed by discussions on the sacraments, worship, ethics, and eschatology, with the two sides finding consensus in these areas.

Each group plans to encourage their respective church bodies to vote on entering into fellowship at coming conventions (SELK at their pastoral convention in November 2017 and the AALC at their general convention in June 2018).

Participants in the AALC-LKN fellowship talks.

Earlier in 2017, the AALC also entered into fellowship talks with Lutheran Church in Norway (Den Lutherske Kirke i Norge – LKN). March saw talks between the AALC’s President Pastor Leins, Rev. Dapelo, and Rev. Jordan Cooper and the LKN’s Bishop Torkild Msavie and Rev. Eirik-Kornelius Garnes-Lunde. On the basis of those talks, the LKN decided to enter into fellowship with the AALC. The AALC will bring the matter forward for a vote at the AALC’s general convention in June 2018. The LKN, like SELK and the AALC, is a member church of the International Lutheran Council.

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TAALC elects new Presiding Pastor

Worship at the 2014 General Convention of The American Association of Lutheran Churches.
Worship at the 2014 General Convention of The American Association of Lutheran Churches (via Facebook).

USA – The 24th General Convention of The American Association of Lutheran Churches (TAALC) convened June 24-27 at the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, Minnesota, during which time they elected Rev. Dr. Curtis Leins as their new Presiding Pastor. The convention gathered under the theme “Equipping the Saints”.

Rev. Dr. Dean Nadasdy, District President of the Minnesota South District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, served as Keynote Speaker. He also brought greetings on behalf of President Matthew C. Harrison and the LCMS. In addition to Dr. Nadasdy’s keynote address on equipping the saints, he also preached at the Thursday evening service of installation for the newly elected Presiding Pastor of The AALC, the Rev. Dr. Curtis E. Leins. Also elected at the convention were Rev. Roger Twito as Assistant Presiding Pastor and Rev. Irv Stapf as Secretary of TAALC.

Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (via Facebook).
Presiding Pastor Curtis Leins (via Facebook).

Dr. Leins served previously as Assistant Presiding Pastor of TAALC. He had also served the national office full-time as National Home Mission Developer. Dr. Leins was ordained into the Office of Holy Ministry in 1978. He received his Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary (Columbia, South Carolina). He also holds a Master of Theology from Duke University, a Master of Arts from Temple University, and a Ph.D. from Temple University.

Among other business at convention, The AALC passed a resolution calling the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to repentance and back to Scripture. The resolution reads “that for the sake of the truth of the gospel and the greater welfare of the body of Christ, The AALC urges the ELCA, on the basis of scripture to repent of their false doctrine, renounce the spirit of the age, and seek forgiveness for their blasphemies through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.” The resolution also directs the Presiding Pastor of The AALC to personally communicate their position to the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA.

The convention opened the evening of June 24 with Divine Service. Dr. Leins preached from Matthew 9 under the theme, “Calling All Sinners.” Worship was at the center of the gathering, with services of Holy Communion every evening and worship every morning. The closing worship service also included a graduation ceremony for students of the American Lutheran Theological Seminary. Two men, Dean Stoner and Jordan Cooper, graduated from the pastoral program, while Brigitte Gassman became the first to graduate from the deaconess studies route.

The AALC formed in 1987 during the lead up to the formation of the ELCA. It emerged mostly from churches of The American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America. It centers itself in the inerrancy of Scripture, the veracity of the Lutheran Confessions (according to a quia subscription), the primacy of world missions and evangelism, and the authority of the local congregation. Currently, The AALC has 65 congregations across the United States, and is seeking to expand nationally and internationally.

At its 2007 convention, the AALC voted to join the International Lutheran Council. The same year it entered into altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS. Residential students of the American Lutheran Theological Seminary have been attending Concordia Theological Seminary—a seminary of the LCMS—in Fort Wayne, Indiana since 2005. The AALC seeks to strengthen its partnership with Lutherans around the world through their partnerships with the LCMS and the ILC.

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