Japan church leaders meet for online fellowship

Churches support each other through prayer. Photo: LWF/Johanan Celine P. Valeriano
Churches support each other through prayer. Photo: LWF/Johanan Celine P. Valeriano

Providing a digital space for sharing and praise

(LWI) - The three Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member church leaders in Japan expressed gratitude for the invitation to meet online in June saying how it is “important” to support each other and to share with the LWF Communion Office in Geneva.

The leaders from the Japan Evangelical Lutheran Church (JELC), Japan Lutheran Church (JLC) and the Kinki Evangelical Lutheran Church (KELC), who normally care for others and manage large churches, accepted an invitation from the LWF Regional Secretary for Asia, Rev. Dr Philip Lok to share current concerns and updates from Japan.

The online gathering gave each leader time to share whatever they wanted, and the realities on the ground in their context. Recognizing that each church is handling COVID-19 restrictions differently, the Japanese leaders were able to share ideas, challenges and some good news, as well.

The intent was to come together online for a “less formal purpose – with no lectures or sermons,” said Lok. “It is important to offer a digital space for sharing and praise.”

The informal online fellowship opened with prayer led by Rev. George Oshiba President of the JELC.

“To protect life and keep life safe”

Even though the churches are not far apart geographically, and the overall pandemic situation is similar in Japan, “we are still isolated from each other, and rarely have the chance to meet in person,” said Rev. Naoki Sugioka from KELC, who also served as an interpreter.

Rev. Shigeo Sueoka President of KELC said that COVID-19 has greatly impacted the financial health of the church and asked his fellow leaders to “pray for a solution for them.”

The church leaders welcomed and congratulated Rev. Tatsuomi Yoshida who was elected President of the JLC during the church Assembly in April. Yoshida was happy to share the JLC Assembly decision to allow women's ordination.

Forced to close its doors numerous times due to pandemic restrictions, stating that the Osaka church of the JELC faced the most closures, Rev. Oshiba was happy to announce that in-person Sunday worship resumed in Osaka on the last Sunday in June. JELC has not held an Assembly since the pandemic but plans to meet face-to-face in May 2022 in Tokyo.

Through the YouTube worship service, we accessed those who are not church members.
JELC President Tatsuomi Yoshida

All the churches spoke of finding new ways to reach congregations during the pandemic. Yoshida said that the JLC discovered that the online platforms make the church accessible to people other than just its members.

“Through the YouTube worship service, we accessed those who are not church members."

The other leaders praised Yoshida for also using traditional methods of letter writing to reach the congregation. Each week, Yoshida sent his sermon and a Sunday bulletin to congregation members without internet access.

Oshiba also used letters to inform JELC members of COVID-19 guidelines and the church’s focus during the pandemic, “to protect life and to keep life safe.”

“We cannot have one strategy for all of our congregations, but Oshiba gives us the basic principle of our message and that is to protect lives, to keep us alive,” Rev. Naoki Asano of the JLC who provided interpretation, applauded Oshiba.

LWF/A. Gray