Strengthening ties with our British partner church

October 18, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee 

I write these lines on Monday morning (October 18) from Cambridge, England, where I attended the 56th Annual Synod (Convention) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE). 

There are few Lutheran Christians in Great Britain. German-speaking Lutherans organized two congregations more than 100 years ago, and were long-served by the Missouri Synod until they organized their own self-governing church body in the 1950s.  The number of congregations now stands at 14. Like many western European countries, a real “post-Christian” mindset has overtaken Britain. To be sure, there are many impressive and monumental churches, cathedrals and chapels, but worship attendance is quite weak, and the number of practicing Christians is low.

Rev. Reg Quirk, former president of ELCE; Rev. Jon Ehlers, newly-elected president; and Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, LCC president.

Our friends in the ELCE wisely founded Westfield House as a theological college (seminary) many years ago. Although small, this institution has not only trained pastors for the ELCE, but also welcomes students from English-speaking partner churches (like LCC!), and is increasingly devoted to providing theological training for students from the third world, notably African countries.

Since the ELCE is small, the convention was a simple and rather intimate gathering compared to the more formalized gatherings we conduct in North America. In addition to the business discussed and decided upon, the convention takes time to receive a verbal report from every congregation. One can see how delegates, especially from far-flung regions of Great Britain, regard this convention as a reunion. Everybody knows everybody, it seems! And, in addition to native-born English pastors, the ELCE includes quite an array of servants:  pastors originally from Australia, Brazil, Canada and Finland! 

The ELCE Chairman (Synod President), Dr. Reginald Quirk, completed nine years of service in this office at this convention. He will continue as pastor of Resurrection, Cambridge, and as the seminary president at Westfield House next door to the church. At the convention’s closing service, I was asked to preach, and the Rite of Installation brought the new chairman, Pastor Jon Ehlers of Christ Lutheran Church, Petts Wood (a southern suburb of London) into office.

On Sunday, Dr. Quirk requested I preach again for the morning service at Resurrection Lutheran Church, which I was happy to do. Conducting the service was “our own” Pastor Joel Humann, originally from Canada, who has served as an ELCE parish pastor, and now seminary professor, for roughly a decade. 

Difficult as the work is, and despite setbacks, the ELCE has launched a number of mission starts in British cities in recent years. I am deeply impressed by the consecration of pastors, some of whom supplement their incomes from small congregations with outside work as teachers, for example. And I ask you to pray especially for congregations now vacant in northern England (St. Timothy’s in Sunderland) and Scotland (St. Columba in East Kilbride), where interim pastors living many hours away in the south of the country now serve.

I have treasured the warm welcome offered to me by this partner church of ours, and by Reg and Yvonne Quirk, who opened their home to Gail and me during our visit. God keep us strong and faithful for the work He’s given us to do, and open our eyes to the lessons we can learn from the struggles … and the devotion … of others near and far!

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is president of Lutheran Church–Canada

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Be prepared to share the hope within you!

October 5, 2010


Never one to miss an opportunity, Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel, Lutheran Church–Canada’s mission executive discusses the Gospel on the streets of Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He is currently there as a member of a review team assessing the ongoing relief work to which Lutherans in Canada contributed $1.2 million.


From Ukraine to Canada via Germany to visit a partner church

August 29, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee

After five memorable days in Ukraine attending the dedication of the new “Concordia” Seminary at Usatovo near Odessa, I paused for a few days in Germany to connect with some of our partners there from the Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK, Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church), with whom LCC is in full pulpit-and-altar fellowship.

The centrepiece of this visit was two days in the northern German city of Hannover, where the SELK has its synodical headquarters. Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt and his wife, Christiane, graciously hosted me at their house, which is actually their synod’s “parsonage” for its bishops and their families. Bishop Voigt has led this church since 2006. A native of the former East Germany, he also served a congregation there for 13 years before his election to the synod’s top leadership post.

The SELK, like Germany in general, has worked hard to bring the two parts of the country closer together since reunification 20 years ago. In addition, Germany struggles with a growing secularism, indifference toward the Gospel, and the tensions that arise as the number of Muslim immigrants in the country continues to increase.

On September 1, Bishop Voigt becomes the new chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), succeeding LCMS President Gerald B. Kieschnick, who was not re-elected this past summer to another term as his church’s president. Voigt and I serve together on the ILC’s Executive Council, in which Lutheran Church–Canada is the representative for the ILC’s North America world area. We conferred about how best to prepare for a number of changes coming to the ILC, not only in the area of leadership, but also as Lutheran churches in Africa, Asia and eastern Europe are attracted to the ILC’s strong commitment to Holy Scripture and its rejection of the same-gender blessings now causing so much turmoil within Lutheran churches in North America and Europe.

During a stop in Hermannsburg. (l-r) Rev. Hans-Heinrich Heine; Rev. Axel Wittenberg; President Robert Bugbee; SELK Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt; Rev. Markus Nietzke.

On one of my days in Germany, Bishop Voigt drove me out to the country north of Hannover to visit the SELK’s mission headquarters in the village of Bleckmar. There I met the executive secretary of the Bleckmar Mission Society, Pastor Martin Benhöfer, and toured of their mission centre. The Bleckmar Mission Society historically works in South Africa and Botswana, but is now also active in Europe and southeast Asia, where it has come into contact with LCC’s missionary ties in Thailand.

Just a few miles away from Bleckmar lies the historic town of Hermannsburg, where a spiritual revival movement in the mid-1800s caused many people to leave the liberal Lutheran state churches and to found very robust biblical Lutheran congregations which flourish to this day. Pastor Hans-Heinrich Heine (of the so-called “Big” Holy Cross Church in Hermannsburg) provided a walking tour of the town and told stories of the congregation’s intense commitment to missionary work both past and present. During our walking tour we also stopped off at the “Little” Holy Cross Church nearby, where we were welcomed by Pastor Markus Nietzke.

Though radically different from life in Ukraine, this brief stop in Germany was a great encouragement. Faithful German Christians, like their brothers and sisters in Canada, don’t have it easy confessing and serving Jesus in a society that seems to have lost its way. But their dedication to the Lord’s work is a reminder to us that it can be done! God give us the grace and the heart to keep busy, since He knows what He’s doing placing us in the time and place where we are!

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee is president of Lutheran Church–Canada


A weekend full of blessing in Ukraine

August 24, 2010

Bishop Viktor Graefenstein, SELCU; Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, pastor of SELCU's Odessa congregation and LCC president, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee

by Robert Bugbee

Treasured friends,

It is Tuesday morning as I write these lines from “my” dormitory room in the new Concordia Seminary at Usatovo, Ukraine, a suburb of the great city of Odessa on the Black Sea. International guests are gradually drifting away to Norway, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Germany and Canada after the dedication festivities this past weekend.

Saturday was the big day. There is no room in the new seminary building large enough to accomodate the number of worshipers expected, so the congregation of almost 175 met on the plaza facing the main portal of the building. The front steps served as chancel and preaching platform. A lengthy morning service (over 2 hours) began at 10 a.m., at which the building and its contents were dedicated to the service of the Triune God.

I had the honour of serving as the first preacher on the text from Genesis 28, “This is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Later LCC missionary to Ukraine, Rev. Alexey Navrotskiy, preached a second sermon. A ceremonial key was delivered to Bishop Viktor Graefenstein, who conducted the Rite of Dedication. Greetings were brought by international guests in attendance.

In the early afternoon the many guests sat down at picnic tables on the grounds and ate dinner consisting of meat balls, potatoes, cold salads, Ukrainian bread, and sweets.

A second service commenced at 5 p.m., at which seminary president Dr. Norman Threinen was formally installed into office and also served as the primary preacher. Bishop Graefenstein followed this up again with an additional sermon. This service was the formal opening of the seminary session, where classes will start September 1. The young men who will constitute the incoming class presented themselves at the stage and were accepted into the school by Word and prayer. Among the congratulatory messages read in the evening service were letters from longtime LCC missionary to Ukraine, Rev. Roland Syens of Kitchener, Ontario, from Terry Goerz, president of the Concordia Lutheran Mission Society, and from LCC President Emeritus Edwin Lehman. Bishop Graefenstein concluded by telling the very strange and wondrous way in which President Lehman had established the first contacts between the Canadian and Ukrainian churches back in the mid- 1990s.

On Sunday at Noon, the local Odessa congregation began a communion service which included the installation of Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, known to many LCC people from his three-year stay at Concordia Seminary in St. Catharines. Pastor Navrotskiy, Bishop Graefenstein and I all served as preachers for the occasion. After the installation rite, a very poised Pastor Schewtschenko presided over the communion service for the 90 worshippers. We did not leave the chapel until almost 3 p.m.

At long last, the building is done (well, except for a few “touches” here and there). It has been a long wait. Now the real building will begin. As the farm fields around Odessa are yielding mountains of tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelons right now, we trust the Lord to bring forth a rich harvest of faith and love from the Word seed which will be planted in the classrooms of this wonderful new facility. What a joy to be here!

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, is president of Lutheran Church—Canada


Pastor Oleg Schewtschenko reflects on celebrations in Ukraine

August 21, 2010

Grace of our Lord and the Love of God be with you all!

It was long way, it took us long time, we had some difficulties and we had so much support!!! But the day of dedications has come! What a JOY! I hope you are part of this joy with us.

Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko

We are so thankful for everything what God is doing in our lives, we are thankful for you your prayers, concern and support! Yes there are still so much that has to be finished on the building, the big kitchen, some lights and some other small but important things… but very soon this all will be done and we will be able t use our new Mission Centre to the glory of God!

Even though it is very early in the morning… but when I am looking out of my window I can see more and more people coming to share my joy with me. People are staying outside and talking to each other, there is a smell of fresh coffee and bread, and some other wonderful things that we will enjoy for the breakfast. I see some people reading their Bibles and some other talking to the guests. David writes: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” I think today we can truly be all in unity and rejoice in our Lord and Saviour!

It would be so good if you would be able to be here and to share this Joy with me and my Ukrainians friends. But even thought you are not here you continuing to be in my prayers and my heart even today!

Only in bit more that 24 hours will come the day for me to be installed as the pastor in Odessa congregation. I thank the Lord every time I remember you about the time I could be with you and be part of your family. Tears comes to my eyes when I am thinking about all that time, I see your faces and smiles… So you will be with me even that moment!

I continue to treasure your friendship, love, encouragements and prayers…

In Him, who is Our Lord, Saviour and Brother

Pastor and friend Oleg


Last minute preparations for celebrations in Ukraine

August 17, 2010

by Norman Threinen

Having suffered through many hot Ukrainian summers in cramped quarters, I was looking forward to teaching in the spacious new seminary and mission centre as I left home August 2. The new facility is in Usatowa, a suburb of Odessa. 

Concordia Seminary, Odessa, Ukraine will be dedicated August 21, 2010

On my arrival, I noted that a great deal of work was still needed in preparation for the dedication. The three paid workers from Western Ukraine were busy painting walls and doing cement work.  About a dozen volunteers from various congregations of the church were installing door frames and generally readying the grounds. We expect about 200 guests and visitors from Canada, Germany and Ukraine will attend the building’s dedication and the opening of the seminary August 21.

Although classes will not begin until September 1, my early arrival give me the opportunity to become acclimated and to interview and orient prospective students, develop budgets and buy a few books for the library. A week after my arrival, I moved into the two-room suite for instructors which, thankfully, is air-conditioned.  I was happy to have my wife Muriel join me August 13 to give a woman’s touch to make the suite more hospitable for future instructors. 

It was helpful that Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko preceded me by a few days and occupied an unused student room in the building. He will be installed as a co-pastor with Bishop Graefenstein of the Odessa congregation on August 22.  He has also consented to serve as my interpreter for the first round of courses when classes begin. 

There is a strong indication that the long-expected gas hook-up for the building will become a reality in September. The neighbour from whom the gas connection needs to come is now anxious to proceed and the political barriers have also been overcome.  We still don’t know the cost since much of the work to bring the gas line to the building must be done manually. Since finances have been stretched to the limit to finish the interior of the building and to equip it to a basic level for use, completion of this aspect of the project will be a great relief. 

Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen, is rektor of Concordia Seminary, Odessa and professor emeritus of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.


A new perspective on conventions from LCMS

July 16, 2010

After planning and managing six LCC synod conventions, I took the opportunity to travel to Houston, Texas to see how our sister synod, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod put theirs together.

First, it’s about ten times the size of ours. We have about 125 voting delegates, LCMS about 1200. With all the various advisory delegates, board members etc, we top out at about 230. In Houston, the count was around 2000.

As I thought about it, the logistics of putting together such an event are the same. People must be housed, fed, transported, and meet in the right rooms at the right times, however the number of volunteers and staff to make that happen is significantly larger.

With a church population bordering on 2.3 million, the paperwork for the LCMS takes a forest of trees. The Convention Workbook runs 327 pages; Today’s Business containing such things as resolutions, devotional orders of service, ongoing agenda items, minutes and announcements was already at page 544 by Wednesday with two-and-a-half days to go.

Keeping procedure orderly and on schedule is no easy task, especially when discussing and voting on major structural changes to the church body, but President Gerald Kieschnick is a skilled and efficient chairman. Having electronic voting available is also an asset. I wondered how long it took to count results when everything was done on paper with so many and often complicated ballots!

Debate on issues was very passionate, but rarely uncivil. When someone transgressed, the theme of the convention, One People-Forgiven came into play with confession and forgiveness.

Often from the floor delegates would talk of division within the synod. No one denied the reality, however, through the words of Bible study leader Ted Kober of Ambassadors of Reconciliation, devotion speakers and video vignettes by district presidents speaking about life experiences with forgiveness and reconciliation, delegates are aware of the need to offer forgiveness and seek reconciliation within the church. On Friday, the convention will hold a Service of Reconciliation preceded by opportunities for personal confession and absolution.

The convention agreed to a major restructuring of LCMS at this convention. Discussion reminded me of our LCC convention in 2002 when we went through a similar process. A lot of the discussion in Houston was very detailed. One delegate I spoke with on the shuttle bus who hadn’t attended a convention since 1995 was surprised by the what looks like “micro-management.” It may boil down to what a delegate speaker during debate indicated was a “lack of trust.”

Delegates have so far adopted restructuring and governance resolutions by slim margins: usually around 51 percent for; 49 percent against. Other resolutions have healthier majorities so it looks like not everyone is convinced about the need for restructuring, despite the words of the treasurer who said the LCMS is in a “financial crisis” and can not continue with business as usual. Upon adoption of the major restructuring resolution, an online viewer commented via Twitter that because of the change, he would have to start looking for a new church! I guess some people take their church structure more seriously than its confession and theology!

One facet of the election process is completely foreign (as far as I know) to what happens in LCC. What are essentially lobby groups publish lists of their preferred candidates. The goal is to sway the elections to their particular polity. Keep in mind, the elections here comprise a fair number of people as opposed to the 18 currently needed to fill positions in LCC!

What is really magnificent, however, is worshipping and singing hymns with such a large number of people. The congregational song is hearty in this cavernous convention space which was transformed creatively for the opening worship service. That service included examples of each “style” of music used in LCMS congregations. Styles ranged from pipe organ to jazz piano—all in one closing hymn. Unfortunately, rather than giving everyone something to which they could relate, comments indicated many found something to dislike!

This is the first real “social media” convention for LCMS, so I’ve been monitoring Twitter and Facebook for comments. At the same time, the results of elections and adoption of resolutions is communicated immediately. The convention adopted rules that regulate the use of electronics by delegates. They agreed to turn off cell phones or at least put them on vibrate, and not text message or use laptop communications in the voting section. Guests, visitors and news media were exempt. This is something we will need to discuss for our convention next year.

In some areas, some of the issues discussed at this convention could be a precursor for our own future conventions. There is great concern over last year’s decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) to ordain those in same-sex relationships and how the general direction of ELCA impacts cooperative relationships with LCMS in such things as world relief and social services. Another LCMS resolution dealt with how the church body should relate to some of the conservative groups formed by those who have left ELCA. The LCMS response may be instructive for LCC should we find ourselves in a similar situation.

Being here has given me some ideas for our LCC convention and affirmed some things we are already doing. I’m looking forward to working with our own volunteers in Hamilton over the next year as we plan our 2011 convention


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