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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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January 1998 Worldscan

  • Harald Kalnins, former bishop to the 500 Lutheran congregations scattered throughout the former Soviet Union after the Stalinist era, died Oct. 27 at age 86. The Latvian pastor helped organize the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States during his time as bishop (1988-1994). Before the Soviet era, more than 2.5 million Lutherans existed in the Soviet Union. Under communism most were banished to Siberia and Soviet Asia, and pastors were imprisoned or killed outright. In the 1980s the Lutheran World Federation "discovered" congregations that had worshiped in secret, often with no printed materials. Kalnins and the LWF were instrumental in providing them with worship materials and helping them organize.

  • The Netherlands Reformed Church, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Evangelical Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands moved closer to unification by agreeing on a constitution and name-the United Church in the Netherlands. The combined membership will be about 3 million.

  • Of the 841 congregations and religious groups registered in Latvia by August 1997, the most (282) were Evangelical Lutheran. Roman Catholic congregations were second with 195 registrants and the Orthodox had 101. Roman Catholics had the most new congregations (31), while there were seven new Evangelical Lutheran congregations.

  • About 1,600 opponents of women's ordination gathered at the Cathedral of Linkoping, Sweden, to "countermanifest" the consecration of Christina Odenberg as the bishop of Lund and the regulation preventing women's ordination opponents from becoming head pastors. In most of the Church of Sweden's dioceses, it's already difficult for a male pastor to become the vicar if he's unwilling to work with a female colleague.

  • Action by Churches Together issued an appeal for Somalia of $1.2 million, which the agency said the country will need to survive. Two months of continuous rain in southwestern Somalia washed away all the fertile land, 3,000 families have been displaced and half of the livestock is ill and dying from disease. An estimated 1,265 people have died from the floods in the central and southern parts of the country. The money will be used for items including rice, cooking oil, plastic sheeting, blankets, seeds and agricultural tools.

  • More than 1,000 Lutheran congregations have sites on the World Wide Web, and the number is growing (see page 46). A survey by Norwegian Lutheran pastor and journalist Arne Fjeldstad says about 70 percent of the congregations are in North America and 25 percent are in Europe. Most congregations use the Web to inform the community and to find new members, Fjeldstad said.

  • The General Assembly of the Church of Norway unanimously adopted the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. In its resolution, the synod called the declaration an important ecumenical development and a significant step toward a more committed fellowship between the two churches. And five German Protestant and Roman Catholic theology professors called the Joint Declaration a "mutational leap in the ecumenical dialogue that goes beyond all consensus documents produced so far." They referred to several critical issues raised recently in the German media. The five theologians believe the doctrine of justification doesn't divide the churches, but said, "Ecclesiological problems still remain to be solved."

  • The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States issued a statement asking international groups to monitor implementation of the new Russian religion law that distinguishes between religious groups and organizations. The law says religious groups aren't registered and aren't legal entities while religious organizations are recognized as legal entities and have extensive rights. The Lutheran churches-considered religious organizations-claim the law is ambiguous regarding the rules allowing churches to become organizations.

  • Jerzy Buzek, a Lutheran and former Solidarity union leader from Cieszyn in Polish Silesia, was named Poland's prime minister. There are about 92,000 Lutherans in Poland and about 95 percent of the country's population is Roman Catholic. Buzek is the first Lutheran head of government in Polish history.

  • Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark rejected a proposal to institute a ritual to contract same-sex partnerships in church. The bishops called marriage "God's good plan for the common life between a man and a woman." At the same time, 11 of the 12 bishops agreed on acknowledgment of homosexuality and expressed support for Denmark's decision to register partnerships between people of the same sex. "The registered partnership does not get its motivation or identity from marriage but from the wish of the people concerned and their own responsible decision to live their life joined to a person of the same sex," the bishops said.

  • Medardo Gomez, bishop of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod, advocates the abortion issue be dealt with in holistic terms (see page 22). Nothing promotes abortion more than poverty, ignorance and social injustice, he said. "We are talking about abortion while we allow so many undernourished, sick and homeless children to die," he said. In El Salvador abortion can be punishable by imprisonment, which, Gomez said, is no solution to the real problem.

  • In her first public appearance after winning the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for work on the worldwide elimination of land mines, Jody Williams called for President Clinton to sign the International Landmines Ban treaty. "I understand the president's need to confer with the Pentagon," Williams said. "But if he hears only the voices of generals and not the voices of the poorest of the poor, then he has forgotten that as head statesman he needs to listen to all the people." Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution reiterating their support for the ban and urged the president to comply.

  • The Vatican expressed concern regarding the aging clergy and slow growth in priestly vocations in the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II, in a statement on pastoral activity, said an increasing number of duties performed by laity in the church is causing negative consequences. "Lay faithful of both sexes have innumerable opportunities to be actively involved" in the church's life, he said. But such involvement must not usurp the duties of the ordained ministry.

  • Staff of the Seventh-Day Adventist General Council hosted a Lutheran-Adventist meeting to prepare for the fourth and final Lutheran-Seventh Day Adventist Conversations near Lausanne, Switzerland, in April. The SDA general council and the Lutheran World Federation sponsor the conversations. The staff also made plans to publish a report and background materials once the current round of international talks between the two traditions are completed.

  • Germantown Mennonite Church, a congregation dating back to 1683 and the oldest continuous Mennonite church in the country, was thrown out of its regional conference for its policy of accepting homosexuals. "This is the church of my birth, my church of choice," said Richard Lichty, Germantown's pastor, who was stripped of his clergy credentials. "But the church for a long time has been a follower of the general culture's fear of sexuality and this just plays into it."

  • The Texas law allowing people to carry concealed handguns was revised. It now says churches that don't want guns on their property must post a sign in English and Spanish alerting worshipers to not enter the property with a concealed handgun.

  • The Episcopal Church apologized in a reconciliation ceremony for atrocities English colonists committed against American Indians. In an address at Jamestown Island, Va., the site of the first permanent English settlement in America, Bishop Edmond Browning asked American Indians to forgive English colonists who referred to natives as infidels and savages. "It is painful to read the language in which the first Jamestown Charter was rendered in 1606," Browning said. "It is not surprising that Christians who know this history are outraged by it." Browning was joined by Chief Webster Custalow of the Mattaponi tribe to sign the "New Jamestown Covenant."

  • An ecumenical institute to research the theology and church practices of Christian communities in the mainly Muslim countries of Asia and Africa will be established under the sponsorship of Bethlehem's Christmas Evangelical Lutheran Church, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan. The institute, to be called Dar Al-Kalima, will be housed in temporary facilities near the church until Christmas 1999 when specially designed quarters will be dedicated.

  • Katakshama Paul Raj, the first woman to serve as bishop of a Lutheran church in Asia, died Oct. 11 while visiting Germany. She was 61. Raj was ordained as the Good Samaritan Evangelical Lutheran Church's first woman pastor in 1995 and elected its president in January 1996. She was installed as bishop Oct. 27, 1996.

  • Members of the Lutheran-Orthodox Joint Commission will receive a draft paper on "Grace, Justification and Synergy" before meeting again in Sweden this August. The paper is considered a significant contribution to the continuation of the international dialogue that began in 1981 sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation and Orthodox church in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch.

  • "After a state of isolation and mere acceptance, we have reached a deep mutual understanding that we are brothers and sisters of the one Lord Jesus Christ and that, as members of his community, we are a true communion," Edward Cardinal Cassidy, president of the Pontifical Council for Promotion of Christian Unity, told the Lutheran congregation in Rome as it celebrated the 75th anniversary of the inauguration of its church building.

  • From Papua New Guinea to the Andes in Latin America, El Nino is being blamed for weather changes that are threatening economies worldwide, Action by Churches Together reports. Papua New Guinea is suffering its most severe and prolonged drought in more than 100 years. In a country known as one of the wettest, it hasn't rained since last January and the typical November rain was nowhere in sight. Basic crops such as sweet potato have failed or been ruined by El Nino, and about 500,000 rural Papua New Guineans don't have enough food to survive.

  • The China Christian Council, which represents 10 million Protestants in the People's Republic of China, is threatening to cut off relations with the Southern Baptist Convention, USA, accusing it of planning to infiltrate China through clandestine missionary work. The council said the International Mission Board of the Baptist church has decided, without consulting the council, to secretly send workers to China for mission work without making their identities known. The council is concerned that the presence of foreign missionaries not sanctioned by the government will endanger the relationship the council has built with the government. The mission board of the Baptist church said it was "stunned" by the accusations and expressed surprise at the council's insistence that the mission board channel all its China operations through the council, as Baptist officials said this has never been the practice in the past.

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