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

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