On the 126th anniversary of the founding of our Synod – 13th September 2018 – 42 delegates and numerous guests gathered for the 61st Synodical Convention of the Free Evangelical Lutheran Synod in South Africa.
Following the tradition of our church, we commemorated this anniversary with an evening service of confession and absolution, bringing our sin, brokenness and disunity before our Lord and receiving His forgiveness, healing and unity. Resident pastor Martin Paul led the liturgy, Pastor Heinz Hiestermann (Greytown) preached on the theme of the Synod: “For me to live is Christ” [Phil. 1:21] and Bishop Dieter Reinstorf (Pietermaritzburg) led the delegates in their pledge to keep to the Holy Scriptures and the Confessions of Faith of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and consequently to abstain from all personal or hurtful pronouncements and to present opposing opinions in a composed and factual manner.
On Friday morning Pastor Marlon Hiestermann (Uelzen) opened proceedings with a scripture reading (Romans 12), prayer and a hymn. Delegates and guests were welcomed by Bishop Reinstorf who also thanked the Pretoria congregation for their hospitality in hosting the synod. Pastor Helmut Straeuli (Westville) was designated as recorder of the minutes. The Bishop proceeded to introduce the keynote speaker, Prof. Dr Piet Meiring of the Dutch Reformed Church. Prof. Meiring had gathered valuable experience through his work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, on which he drew frequently as he spoke about “constructive responses from the faith community to the present social and political challenges in South Africa.” He took a biblical perspective on a situation where many of our members feel like exiles in their own country by revisiting Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Babylon (esp. Jeremiah 29): “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” On account of their sin, the exiles had lost many of the securities they had long taken for granted (land, temple, political power etc.), but rather than withdrawing from a society in which they felt foreign, they should invest in it and help grow it with the resources and talents God gave them. The exile then proved to be a very challenging, but also fruitful and creative time for God’s people. Lively discussions followed the presentations as delegates grappled with the many points raised and the practicalities of the way forward.
Prof. Meiring’s address was followed by reports, messages of greetings, and proposals. Bishop Reinstorf was first in line with his synodical report based on the theme of the Synod: “For me to live is Christ” [Phil. 1:21]. Points were raised by delegates and guests from the floor on various parts of the report and discussions followed. Next up Bishop Maragelo spoke words of greetings from our sister church the LCSA. He reminded the delegates of the story of the rich young ruler (Mk. 10/Mt.19) and encouraged them not to become despondent like the young man because of Christ’s challenge. He was encouraged in our partnership by the LCSA/FELSISA co-workers meeting held in Wartburg earlier in 2018. Bishop Horst Müller of the ELKSA-NT reiterated the importance he and his council attach to the relationship between our churches which he described as twins that have often gone separate ways, while also acknowledging that theological differences do not simply disappear by being ignored.
Missionary Christoph Weber as the representative of the FELSISA’s Mission Organization – the Mission of Lutheran Churches [MLC] – reported on the various projects the MLC is involved in. Various letters of greeting are presented: Prof. Dr. Detlev Schulz reads a word of greeting from the president of the LCMS, Dr Matthew Harrison and greets the Synod as a professor of the seminary in Ft. Wayne and personally as a child of the Synod. Pastor Kurt Schnackenberg (Shelley Beach) reads greetings from the SELK (Germany) and IELB (Brazil).
Greetings are followed by reports: Pastor Michael Ahlers (Kirchdorf) reports on the work of the Youth League, Pastor Roland Johannes (Wartburg) on the work with teenagers, Pastor Kurt Schnackenberg (Shelley Beach) on the Children’s Ministry and Mr Walter Stallmann (Rustenburg) on the Student Ministry. All those involved in these ministries are thanked by the representative of the Bishop Rüdiger Gevers (Vryheid). Reports are followed by proposals. Two proposals by the Synodical Council – Admission of the Diepkloof Evangelical Lutheran
Church as an associate member of Synod and the establishment of a Synodical solidarity fund – are discussed and accepted before the delegates break for lunch.
The work after lunch starts with a proposal from the Pastor’s Convention to repeal a decision of Synod in 1932 to “not recognize any person of colour as a member of our synod,” and to apologize for any harm this decision caused to the body of Christ. The proposal is accepted unanimously. Three proposals from congregations (Kirchdorf, Wittenberg and Pretoria) on the synod’s ecumenical guidelines are discussed together. The congregations feel that the guidelines lack clarity on important points and the theological commission and pastor’s conference are tasked with revisiting them to provide clarity to the congregations. Mr Wolfgang Beier (Durban) reports on the pension fund of the FELSISA and Mr Ralf Schulz (Kirchdorf) on ideas around a Lutheran Cooperative Bank before the Synod’s accountant Mr Edmund Böhmer (Wittenberg) presents the financial statements and budgets. Bishop Reinstorf thanks him and all other volunteers involved in managing the synod’s finances.
Two proposals by the St Thomas Congregation (Cape Town) – assistance with Pastor’s relocation costs during the call process and for representatives of diaspora congregations attending synodical events – are accepted with adaptations. Dr Gunter Rencken (Fairlands) reports on the work of the Lutheran Theological Seminary (Tshwane/Pretoria), notes the huge challenges experienced in the last year, while Rector Dr Walter Winterle thanks the FELSISA for many generous contributions and encourages them to continue with their support. Two proposals by the St Peter’s Congregation (Durban) on the language used in the Lord’s prayer and wording of the apostolic creed are referred to the Pastor’s Convention. Two proposals by the Congregation of Christ (Kirchdorf) – Closed Sessions at Synod and the appointment of a committee to probe the salaries of pastors, especially with regards to retirement and school fees – are discussed. The first proposal is accepted with amendments encouraging congregations who want their proposals to be discussed in a closed session to write this into their proposals. The second proposal is discussed and accepted together with a proposal from the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation (Newcastle) that a voluntary contribution school-fees bursary fund be established to which pastor’s families can apply for assistance in situations of need. Two proposals from the St John’s Congregation (Shelley Beach) – Age amendment to the FELSISA Levy System and a central administration of Pastor’s Salaries – are noted, but not accepted. Alternative arrangements are suggested for the second proposal. Representative of the Bishop, Pastor Rüdiger Gevers (Vryheid), indicates that he is not available for re-election. Pastor Michael Ahlers closes the formal proceedings with a devotion before the delegates and guests join their hosts around the braai-fires for a wonderful evening of fellowship.
Saturday morning starts again with Pastor Marlon Hiestermann leading us in a devotion before Prof. Meiring jumps into the second part of his presentation. He walks us through various aspects and stories from the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and formulates five prerequisites for reconciliation: (i.) We need a common definition of reconciliation. (ii.) We need truthful discussions on the past – the books can only be closed after they have been opened fully. (iii.) We should be willing to apply restorative justice in word and deed. (iv.) We need the courage for deep and heartfelt confessions of sin and willingness to forgive which both make us vulnerable and are therefore risky. (v.) Reconciliation needs a firm commitment, as it is never cheap and always associated with sacrifice. He encourages us to study the writings and life of the German church father Dietrich Bonhoeffer as we walk the road of reconciliation willing to listen, to sacrifice and to take risks: God gave us two ears and one mouth. If you want to be a bridge you have to be prepared for people to walk over you. Jump at opportunities God puts into your path! Harald Niebuhr (Pietermaritzburg) of the Synodical council thanks Prof. Meiring for his sincere message.
Before breaking for tea announcements are made: The Evangelical Lutheran Congregation (Wittenberg) has extended an invitation for the next Synod in two years. Bishop Reinstorf bids farewell to Pastor Michael Ahlers and his family who has taken a call to serve in Wiesbaden (Germany) and wishes them God’s guidance and blessing. He also thanks Pastor Rüdiger Gevers for the work as his representative.
After tea, the delegates meet in the church for the elections. Bishop Reinstorf is re-elected for another term. Pastor Helmut Paul is elected as his representative. Pastor Kurt Schnackenberg is re-elected as the third pastor on the Synodical Council. Harald Niebuhr is re-elected for another term and Lutz Böhmer (Newcastle) is elected as the fifth member of the Synodical Council. Following the elections Bishop Reinstorf thanks outgoing member Mr Eckhardt Paul (Panbult) who made himself unavailable for re-election after his son, Helmut, was elected.
The delegates return to the hall for the reading and adoption of the minutes before they gather in the church for the final service. Resident pastor Kurt Böhmer conducts the service, Pastor Roland Johannes preaches and Bishop Reinstorf inducts the new members of the Synodical council into their offices. A final meal is served by the generous hosts, before everyone heads back home.
We thank God for His manifold blessings.
Pastor Thomas Beneke, Newcastle