Asia: Elected church leaders take office during pandemic, LWF offers online support

2016 LWF Asia Pre-Assembly, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: LWF/Arni Danielsson.
2016 LWF Asia Pre-Assembly, Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: LWF/Arni Danielsson.

Twenty-one church leaders in nine countries elected in LWF member churches in Asia

(LWI) - Despite the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches in the Asia region elected and installed 21 new leaders for churches in 9 countries in 2020 and 2021.

Some leadership transitions were due to the pandemic - leaders who succumbed to COVID-19, for instance. Some changes were expected such as retirement, but most of the changes reflected churches continuing to be churches in the face of the pandemic.

“The determination to proceed with core ministries of the church like assemblies and worship in the midst of the pandemic indicates resilience among the member churches, said LWF Regional Secretary for Asia Rev. Dr Philip Lok. “Leadership transition in churches is an important part of church life.”

“I pray that the pandemic will be brought under control soon so that we may meet each other physically in the near future,” said newly installed Bishop Rt. Rev. Lu Guan Hoe of the Lutheran Church in Singapore.

Traditionally, to create a community, new church leaders were immediately brought into the life of the LWF via workshops, visits to Geneva, and within the region. These methods of incorporating new leaders were helpful for communion building among the churches and provide support for new leaders in their roles as bishops, presidents, and general secretaries.

However, the pandemic meant that new leaders did not have the usual opportunities to meet other church leaders, or physically attend LWF activities, Lok added.

“Without the opportunities to meet face-to-face with other leaders and staff of the LWF Communion Office, there was the risk of the member churches losing connection to the LWF,” Lok said.

To reduce these risks Lok held online fellowship gatherings at the height of the pandemic. These were designed “to keep the leaders in contact with each other, offer relationship building and a safe space to share personal difficulties.”

Intentionally coming together online for a “less formal” purpose - with no lectures or sermons - put the bishops at “ease,” said Lok in an October 2020 LWF article. “This was an important space because the leaders seldom find spaces like this to speak to peers,” he emphasized. “They could relax.”

Lok stressed, however, that for true communion to happen, the leaders will need to “meet, talk, pray and worship together in person” as soon as possible.

If COVID-19 regulations permit, a retreat for newly elected leaders from all seven LWF regions is planned. An in-person regional leadership conference is scheduled for Asia and the other LWF regions later this year.

LWF/A.Gray