The number twelve keeps coming up in the Bible: twelve tribes of Israel, twelve disciples, and so on. It came up again this June 6-9 in Sofia, Bulgaria, when representatives from twelve nations gathered for the Europe Regional Conference of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC). The European church bodies have made a habit of meeting in both of the “off years” when the full group does not hold its triennial meeting. The twelve nations these saints came from were Albania, Bulgaria, Finland, Czech Republic, Germany, Latvia, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, and the USA. There were 32 officially registered participants.
The Bulgarian Lutheran Church served as hosts for the event and secured excellent accommodations at the National Training Center for the Bulgarian Red Cross in the foothills of the Balkan Mountains. Professor John Vogt, who has been serving the ELS and WELS in various capacities, and his wife Sandy expertly handled many of the transportation and social aspects.
The Conference theme was the Sixth Petition, “Lead us not into temptation.” Russian seminary student Arkady Sedlnikov wrote the first paper on the topic “What does it mean to be tempted?” Since he could not attend the meeting, WELS Missionary Luke Wolfgramm read it. Pastor Todor Ganchovski of Bulgaria provided the response.
Day Two brought the group another paper without its presenter present. Visa problems prevented Ukrainian Pastor Serhiy Romaniuk from attending, so CELC Chairman Artur Villares of Portugal read this paper and Sweden’s Dr. Seth Erlandsson gave the formal response.
Both presenter and reactor were present on Day Three when Pastor Ugis Sildegs of Latvia read his paper on defending the Word against our enemies and Pastor Holger Weiss of Germany reacted to it. The final paper came from the Lutheran Confessional Church in Finland’s Jesper Hansen as he spoke on “God’s Rescue from Temptation.” Chairman Villares gave the formal response. All the papers were followed by helpful informal discussion and clarifications.
A highlight of each of these gatherings is the report on the work in each church body. We commiserate together over setbacks and rejoice together in whatever victories God graciously gives to his “little flock.” The whole group also enjoyed a short walking tour of downtown Sofia, viewing ruins of the ancient city of “Sardica” and touring cathedrals, including one whose oldest walls date back to the fourth century.
In the eyes of this observer, the CELC Europe meeting wonderfully provided exactly what these events are supposed to: a chance to grow in Christian faith and friendship as confessional Lutheran brothers and sisters gather around the Word of truth. A striking example of the power of the Word was seen in the life of one attendee. This young Bulgarian symphony conductor had not known or believed the Gospel until a professor urged his students to read the Bible so they could better interpret the great Bible-themed compositions. What started as an academic exercise has now become a joyful confidence in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Pastor Jonathan Balge,
WELS Commission on Inter-Church Relations (CICR)
Pastor, St. Matthew Evangelical Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA