‘At All Times and in All Places’

Representatives from 34 of the LCMS’ partner churches gather for two days of discussion and fellowship in Kenya.

In mid-September in a conference room in Kenya, several dozen Lutherans sat together, many of them with headsets over their ears. In the back of the room were translators with microphones. As the presenter at the front of the room spoke, the attendees in headphones waited, reacting a moment later — hearing good messages about the work of the church translated into a language familiar to them.

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) two-day Church Relations Conference, held Sept. 17–18, 2022, in Kisumu, Kenya, gathered together representatives from 34 partner churches of the LCMS to discuss the work of the confessional Lutheran church around the world. One of these church bodies, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Sudan/Sudan (ELCSS/S), became an LCMS partner church during the conference with a celebration of altar and pulpit fellowship during the concluding Divine Service.

The group had journeyed from countries around the globe. Yet despite their geographical diversity, these attendees were remarkably united in one central thing: their affirmation of the truth of the Gospel in Jesus Christ and its articulation in the Lutheran Confessions.

One in Word and Action

The LCMS currently has relationships of varying degrees with 98 Lutheran church bodies in 76 countries. These relationships involve theological conversation, theological education and mercy work. Of these, 40 are official partner churches of the LCMS.

The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Shaw (right), director of LCMS Church Relations, engages with the Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, during the 2022 LCMS Church Relations Conference in Kenya. Below, left to right: Archbishop Joseph Ochola Omolo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya; the Rev. André Luiz Müller, president of the Lutheran Church of Uruguay; Bishop Aleksander Burtsev of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Almaty (Kazakhstan); and President Antonio del Rio Reyes of The Lutheran Church in the Philippines engage in discussion.

A “partner church” is a church body with which the LCMS has full altar and pulpit fellowship. The Lutheran Confessions lay out the standard for such fellowship: agreement “in the doctrine and all its articles” (FC SD X 31). LCMS partner churches preach the Gospel according to a pure understanding and administer the Sacraments rightly in conformity with the divine Word (AC VII 2–3).

LCMS Church Relations (under the LCMS Office of the President) works with the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) to ensure unity in confession, in worship and in the daily life of the church body seeking partner status with the LCMS. “Unity in daily life” includes raising up and training pastors, promoting true doctrine and practice, protecting against false doctrine and practice, and sharing God’s diverse gifts for the common good — from mission and mercy to stewardship and vocation.

Formal recognition of such a partnership is taken up by the Synod in convention every three years; however, when fellowship is requested between conventions, especially by a small and emerging church body, the LCMS president can declare such recognition, with the approval of the CTCR — which was given regarding the ELCSS/S prior to the conference. This summer, when the LCMS convenes in Milwaukee, delegates will be asked officially to recognize this partnership with the Sudanese Lutherans.

‘Profound Unity and Purpose’

During the two days of the conference, participants joined together in devotion and prayer, listened to presentations and panel discussions, and enjoyed meals and fellowship together.

“It was a tremendous event. COVID had prevented international interaction, and all of our friends were delighted to be with each other. We are enjoying profound unity and purpose in confessing Christ,” said LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison.

Harrison spoke to the group on oversight and visitation as the tasks of presidents and bishops. The Rev. Geraldo Walmir Schüler, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Brazil, presented on recruiting and training pastors. The Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland and newly acclaimed chairman of the International Lutheran Council, discussed the threats that various contemporary ideologies pose to Christian teaching on ordination, fellowship, ethics and more. A panel on church planting was held among leaders from South Africa, Kenya, India, Canada, Argentina, Norway and Iceland.

“What a joyous occasion to meet with our sister church body representatives at Kisumu,” said the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Shaw, director of LCMS Church Relations. “Engagement was robust and positive on all of these topics.”

With great joy, these Lutherans gathered on Sunday morning to celebrate that which is at the heart of their fellowship: God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament.

Harrison led the Divine Service, preaching on the account of Christ’s healing of the 10 lepers in Luke 17.

The Rev. Peter Anibati Abia, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Sudan/Sudan (ELCSS/S), distributes the Sacrament with the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the LCMS, to partner church body leaders and LCMS missionaries during the Divine Service for the Partner Churches of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, with celebration of fellowship between the ELCSS/S and the LCMS at the closing of the conference. Below, left to right: Attendees sign the bulletin, and the Rev. Ignacio Juan Chan Cux, president of the Lutheran Church in Guatemala, greets the Rev. Peter Anibati Abia after the service.

“The one Samaritan came back to give thanks,” said Harrison. “Just the one. The church is few, the little folk, the one man that is lost then found. So Jesus has foreseen it. So Jesus has planned it.”

During the service, Harrison and the Rev. Peter Anibati Abia, bishop of the ELCSS/S, read their letters of fellowship. The Rev. Joseph Ochola Omolo, archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya — the church body in the area where the conference was hosted — led prayers of blessing for the church bodies. Then the assembly gathered together at the Lord’s table.

“Bishop Abia served as celebrant for the service of Holy Communion with church partners from around the world communing. It was a glimpse of heaven,” said Shaw.

“We see the Gospel abiding in Finland, in Norway, in Portugal, in Canada,” said Harrison in his sermon. “We see the church growing in Africa. We thank God for you, brothers in South Sudan. … As we say in the liturgy, ‘It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who on this day overcame death and the grave and by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life. Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name, evermore praising You.’”

At the conference’s conclusion, Lutherans began their journeys home — to Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Paraguay, the Philippines, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, South Sudan/Sudan, Togo, Uruguay, Venezuela and the United States. Although their time of worship and fellowship together was ended, they returned united in a confession with one another and in praise of God in whom they are united evermore.

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Pray with Us

Lord Jesus Christ, You prayed that Your church would be one. We rejoice in the fellowship and unity of the confession of Your saving Gospel. Strengthen the church throughout the world to believe, teach and confess Your Word in truth and purity and to administer Your Sacraments according to Your will. May Your church find encouragement and strength as You continue to send Your Spirit to keep us in the one true faith, for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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Stacey Egger 

Staff editor and writer for LCMS Communications.

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