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Palanga Lutheran Church
 
On 14 July 2012, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania dedicated the recently completed church in Palanga, Lithuania. Nearly seven years ago, on 30 July 2005, the corner stone for the Palanga Lutheran church was laid, after the Iowa East District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod formed a partnership with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania. The Lutheran Church in Palanga burned down in 1938, and during Soviet times the congregation disbanded with her members relocating to other cities.
 
 
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The service began at a private house on Maironis street, where the congregation had gathered since the fall of communism in 1993. After the gathering of the cross and altar ware the home was deconsecrated with the brief service and singing of hymns. From the former prayer house, the pastors and congregation processed down the street about a mile to the location of the new church.
 
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The procession had police escort from the prayer house to the new location of Palanga Lutheran Church. Along the way people gathered in these street to watch the procession. Some people stood from their apartment balconies and took photographs of the procession.
 
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Upon arriving at the church, approximately 350 people waited outside the church for the bishop to arrive and open the doors of the church.
 
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Bishop Mingdaugas Sabutis opened the church doors and gave the keys of the church to Pastor Dr. Darius Petkūnis. More than twenty pastors, from Lithuania, Latvia, Germany, and the United States, filed into the church along with the rest of the congregation.
 
 
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Bishop Sabutis and Pastor Dr. Darius Petkūnis conduct the divine service and consecrate the church building. In his sermon based upon the encounter of the Samaritan woman with Jesus in John 4:19 – 26, Bishop Sabutis said that the Lutherans in Lithuania know what it means to be a “little flock.” He noted that the Lutheran church returned to Palanga just 15 years ago, after the Lutheran church had been persecuted, deported, and exterminated in Lithuania. During the time of communism, only 6 Lutheran pastors remained in Lithuania. Sabitus gave thanks to the Lord who is merciful and to all the people both in Lithuania and in the United States who made it possible for the construction of the church in Palanga. He gave special thanks to the people of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, especially to the Iowa East District.
 
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Bishop Sabutis and the pastors assisting with Holy Communion practice the ancient custom of kneeling before the consecrated hosts on the altar. Although this custom is not commonly practiced by Lutherans in the United States, its practice goes back to the days of Dr. Martin Luther and comes to the Lithuanian Lutheran Church from the Saxon Church Agenda (the ones used by the congregations near Wittenberg in the time of Martin Luther).
 
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After the service, honored guests presented to the congregation. Bishop Sabutis retorted that he knew the congregation would appreciate a five minute speech from each of the twenty plus pastors, but he would have to disappoint them by limiting the remarks to a few honored guests. The first to present was Rev. Dr. Gary Arp, President Emertius of the Iowa East District of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. He spoke how President Matthew Harrison, then Executive Director for LCMS World Relief and Human Care, approached him in 2003 to see if his district would be interested in helping the Lithuanian Lutheran Church build a church and mercy center. President Arp indicated that he and his district were interested. In 2005, President Arp participated in the laying of the corner stone of Palanga Lutheran Church. President Arp also brought official greetings from President Harrison to the assembled congregation.
 
Dedication Plaques
President Arp presented two plaques (one in Lithuanian and the other in English) to the congregation. The plaque read, “From the Cedar River to the Baltic Sea, The Palanga Evangelical Lutheran Parish. This facility was made possible by the generous support of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod World Relief & Human Care, St. Louis, Missouri, USA and The members of Iowa District East, Marion, Iowa USA, Mr. Kurtas Velius, and other distinguished benefactors, dedicated to the Glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit 14 July 2012. In Him the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. Ephesians 2:21-22.”
 
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After President Arp presented the plaques, Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, LCMS Director of Church Relations – Assistant to the President, brought additional greetings.
 
“Bishop Sabutis, Pastor Petkūnas, honored clergy and brothers and sisters in Christ.

Last evening, President Matthew C. Harrison asked me to bring additional greetings to you here in Palanga and to the Lutherans in Lithuania on his behalf and on that of the people of the Missouri Synod in the Name of Jesus! It is a great privilege and honor to be here among you today. It is a joy to see this church completed and ready to be used in worship.

For as long as I have served with President Harrison (both as President and when he worked as the director of Diakonia for the LCMS), he has spoken of the need to help our brothers and sisters in Christ who suffered under communism. He said we need to help them, to show mercy to them. Today, we heard Bishop Sabutis say, “This is a house of mercy.” Indeed it is. It is the place the Lord comes and shows mercy.

It is a privilege and honor that the Lord allowed the people of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, in particular the Iowa East District, to participate in the building of this church in Palanga. It brings us joy to see this day.

We also heard how after the corner stone was laid in July 2005 how plans were made to dedicate this church in 2007. Yet those plans were delayed and now 5 years later we celebrate the opening of this church. Some may have thought the promise to build the church would not come true. Some may have even thought the Lord failed his promises. Hear this word of Scripture after Solomon finished building the temple, he “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he promised. Not one word has failed of all his good promise.” (1 Kings 8:56)

Indeed, today the Lord has given rest to his people as he has promised. Today he has given you rest in his promises. Not one word of the Lord has failed you. The Lord has given you his precious Gospel and his forgiving gifts. He has given you this sanctuary to worship him.

Today, we celebrate and rejoice with you at the completion of the Lutheran Church in Palanga. We pray that it will be blessing to you and to the people here. Remember that the Lord is faithful to his promise. He will never fail you. It is our duty to given him thanks and praise, for his Gospel and for this place of worship.

The Blessing of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you. Amen.”

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Rev. Dr. Brian Saunders, District President of Iowa East District, brought greetings to the congregation in Palanga. President Saunders also preached on Sunday morning (15 July 2012).
 
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Rev. Dr. Charles Evangson (pictured above) has played a significant role in the Lutheran church of Lithuania for the past 14 years. He was sent to Kaipedia, Lithuania, by Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, in the late 1990s to assist in the instruction of pastors. He along with Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnis, pastor of the Palanga Lutheran Church, have played a significant role in the development of the Lithuanian hymnal and agenda, primarily working to restore the liturgy that existed pre-communism. Dr. Evanson participated in the dedication service, reading the Epistle lesson in Lithuanian and English and assisted in Holy Communion. He also regularly assists in Lutheran congregations in Lithuania. Bishop Sabutis honored Dr. Evanson by counting him among the members of the Lithuanian clergy. Currently, Dr. Evanson serves in Lithuania under the aspics of the LCMS Office of International Mission.
 
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All of the pastors gather outside of the church after the dedication for a photo.
 
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Rev. Dr. Albert Collver speaks with Rev. Dr. Darius Petkūnis during the reception held after the dedication.
 
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— Posted by Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Director of Church Relations in Vilnius, Lithuania on 15 July 2012.