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.
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