Obituary for Dr. Arne Sovik, September 2014

Dr. Arne Sovik during a visit to the LWF Geneva office in 1999. Photo: LWF/C. Rothenbühler
Dr. Arne Sovik during a visit to the LWF Geneva office in 1999. Photo: LWF/C. Rothenbühler

Dr. Arne Sovik died in Minneapolis, USA on 16 September at the age 96. In a condolence letter to the family, LWF General Secretary Martin Junge gave thanks for Dr. Sovik’s “long, distinguished, and visionary service. Arne Sovik played a major role in the life and ministry of the Lutheran World Federation.”

Born and raised in China of Norwegian-born American missionaries, Sovik went on himself to become a pastor and missionary in China. In the closing years of World War II, displaced as a result of Japanese war action, he worked with the National Student Relief Committee, an ecumenical organization serving students who had fled to West China. He left China in 1947, at the time of the Communist takeover.  After studying for a Ph.D. from Yale University he helped establish the indigenously-led Taiwan Lutheran Church.  

Dr. Sovik first joined the LWF in 1955 as Assistant Director of the Department of World Mission, and then served for a decade as the Director of that department, from 1957 to 1967. This was a time of growth in the membership of the LWF, when many “mission churches” became self-governing and assumed their places as full members of the LWF.  “Dr. Sovik helped encourage and facilitate that process,” noted Junge, “recognizing as he did the equal worth and dignity of each child of God and the vital role that each member plays in the Body of Christ.” During that time LWF set up Radio Voice of the Gospel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which soon became the largest Christian radio station serving Africa and Asia. 

Following four years’ service as executive secretary of the Board of World Missions of the Lutheran Church in America, Dr. Sovik returned to Geneva in 1971, serving until his retirement in 1984 with the LWF Department for Studies.  There he did ground-breaking work on the relationship between Christians and people of other faiths and ideologies.  Junge commented, “We think particularly of the Lutheran-Jewish relationships, the Christian-Marxist dialogues, and the China studies. When I visited China last year, church leaders there still spoke about the valuable contributions made by LWF, under Dr. Sovik’s leadership.”

Dr. Sovik’s late first wife, Ruth, was a leader in her own right, including service as General Secretary of the World Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) and Deputy General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. The Soviks were an important part of the Geneva ecumenical family. Dr. Sovik is believed to be the last surviving founding member of the English-Speaking Congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva.

Dr. Sovik is survived by his second wife, Ellen Clark Sovik, and by three adult children, Nord, Liv, and Nathan. He was preceded in death by his daughter Ann Brandenberg and by Ruth, his wife of 50 years who died in 2000.

Rev. Martin Junge

General Secretary