Representatives from the ELCL and the LCMS

On New Years Eve (31 December 2011), representatives from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Liberia and The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod met on the grounds of the UHP Evangelical Lutheran Church and School for fellowship discussions. Before fellowship discussions began, children from the UHP Evangelical Lutheran School greeted the LCMS visitation team.

The UHP Evangelical Lutheran School Class President

Notice that the school uniforms are yellow and green. In Liberia, the color of the school uniform identifies the church confession. All Lutherans in Liberia use yellow and green. Even the buildings are painted yellow and green. The Methodists use blue and white for their uniforms.

UHP Evangelical Lutheran School

The construction of the UHP Evangelical Lutheran School building was a partnership between the LCMS Concordia Missouri Circuit and the UHP Evangelical Lutheran Church. Africa Regional Director, Dr. Michael Rodewald’s father was instrumental in forging this partnership.

A School Girl Sits Near the Wisdom Board

The “wisdom board” reads in part, “If I had a formula for by passing trouble, I would not pass it round. Trouble creates a capacity to handle it. I don’t embrace trouble. That is bad as treating it as an enemy. But I do say meet it as a friend, for you’ll see a lot of it and had better be on speaking terms with it. Men of character find a special attractiveness in difficulties. For it is only through difficulties they discover their real potential.”

Naomi Erber Poses with some Children

The ELCL has 16 Lutheran schools.

Dr. Collver with Bishop Amos Bolay in his WMLT Shirt

In October 2011, Bishop Amos Bolay travelled to Saint Louis, MO, both to attend the LCMS International Disaster Conference, where he received his Witness, Mercy, Life Together shirt, and to request for formal fellowship discussions from President Harrison between the LCMS and the ELCL. In December 2011, the LCMS responded by sending Drs. Albert Collver, David Erber, Joel Lehenbauer, and Michael Rodewald to Liberia for fellowship discussions.

At the 31 December 2011 meeting, Bishop Bolay addressed the LCMS and the ELCL’s executive committee and church council:

“We in Liberia feel we are a LCMS church. You ask why? You are the church that started us. You started Bible translation in Liberia. When the Liberian civil war broke out in 1989, many of our people fled to the surrounding nations for safety. There as refugees LCMS missionaries ministered to us. After the war ended and our people were able to return to Liberia, we formed congregations in Monrovia. A few years ago, we asked LCMS missionaries to ordain some of our pastoral candidates. We were told that LCMS missionaries could not conduct the ordinations because we were not LCMS. This hit us hard because we thought we were LCMS. It was an awakening for us and made us desire even more to join the LCMS in partnership. We later learned that the LCMS missionaries referred to us as “Liberian Lutheran groups.” It is true that we were once four separate Lutheran groups but now we are one, united in the teaching of the Bible. We believe that the LCMS teaches the Bible correctly and holds to the Confessions. We want to have fellowship with the LCMS because we believe the same. If our teaching is not the same as the LCMS’, we want it to be. If we aren’t doing it well, it is because we need better teaching. Powerful nations come to Liberia and promote agendas that destroy families and do not hold to the morals of the Bible. The LCMS is in a position to help us bear witness to our nation. We desire fellowship with the LCMS and await your response.”

After Bishop Bolay finished his address, the entire room broke into applause. The moderator turned and addressed the LCMS delegation saying, “We await your response to our request for fellowship.” This led to a several hour conversation about Lutheran doctrine, fellowship, and the LCMS’ policies and procedures related to fellowship. There also was a period of Q&A where people from each church body could ask questions. The meeting ended with hope for the New Year.

Dr. David Erber, West Africa Area Facilitator

Fellowship is not made or created by the church, but recognized as a gift that the Lord bestows upon his church. Fellowship is recognized between church bodies. Drs. Collver and Lehenbauer will prepare a visitation report for the CTCR at its next meeting in April 2012. 

The procedure for fellowship is explained in Bylaw 3.9.5.2.2c in the 2010 Handbook:

“When a small, formative, emerging confessional Lutheran church body (identified as such by the President of the Synod as chief ecumenical officer) requests recognition of altar and pulpit fellowship with the Synod, and after consultation with the Praesidium and approval by the commission, such recognition may be declared by the President of the Synod subject to the endorsement of the subsequent Synod convention.”

The remaining days of the visitation teams time in Liberia will be spent observing worship, becoming more acquainted with the people of the ELCL, and engaging in more conversation. As I write this, it is the wee hours of the New Year, 1 January 2012. Below are a few pictures from Liberia.

The signs of businesses always are interesting in Africa. The sign above reads, “Divine Glory Electronic Workshop.”

Along the road in Monrovia.

Great beauty on the coast.
– Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations.
Posted 1 January 2012 from Monrovia, Liberia.