The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania dedicated on July 14 a new church in Palanga, Lithuania, with ties to The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod.
The new church, the Palanga Evangelical Lutheran Church, took seven years to build and its construction was made possible with funding from the LCMS Iowa District East, in partnership with LCMS World Relief and Human Care. It is the first Lutheran church building in Palanga since 1938, when its predecessor burned down during the years the country was under communist rule.
Lutherans there did not begin worshiping publicly again until the mid-1990s, after the fall of communism, and they did so in a private home, according to the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, director of LCMS Church Relations, who attended the dedication. That house on Maironis Street in Palanga was where the dedication began, and after a brief prayer service there more than 20 pastors — from Lithuania, Latvia, Germany and the United States — and dozens of congregation members processed about a mile to the newly built church, where several hundred more people joined the service.
“Bishop Mingdaugas Sabutis opened the church doors and gave the keys of the church to Pastor Dr. Darius Petkunis,” Collver wrote in his blog and the two Lithuanian churchmen then conducted the divine service and consecrated the church building.
“In his sermon based upon the encounter of the Samaritan woman with Jesus in John 4:19-26, Bishop Sabutis said that the Lutherans in Lithuania know what it means to be a ‘little flock,’ ” Collver wrote. “[Sabutis] noted that the Lutheran church returned to Palanga just 15 years ago, after the Lutheran church had been persecuted, deported and exterminated in Lithuania. During the time of communism, only six Lutheran pastors remained in Lithuania.
“Sabitus gave thanks to the Lord who is merciful and to all the people both in Lithuania and in the United States who made it possible for the construction of the church in Palanga,” Collver reported. “He gave special thanks to the people of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, especially to the Iowa East District.”
In brief remarks after the service, the Rev. Dr. Gary Arp, president emeritus of the Iowa District East, recalled that he and his wife took part in the groundbreaking for the new church in 2005, and said “it is a tremendous joy for us now to see this project completed.”
Arp said the church “would not be here today if … not for the efforts of [LCMS] President Harrison,” who had visited Palanga in 2002 and afterwards asked Arp if the Iowa District East would be interested in taking on the project in partnership with LCMS World Relief and Human Care.
Arp also credited Petkunas, pastor of the Lithuanian congregation, who “shepherded this project” to its completion. He added that working with Petkunas on the project was “one of the greatest joys of my ministry,” and he presented two plaques (one in English, one in Lithuanian) carrying the sentiment “From the Cedar River to the Baltic Sea” and a quotation from Scripture: “In Him the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit,” from Eph. 2:21-22.
In his greetings on behalf of Harrison, Collver referenced the seven years it took to build the church. “Some may have thought the promise to build the church would not come true. Some may have even thought the Lord failed His promises,” he said, and he shared a Scripture verse relating to when Solomon finished building the temple: “Blessed be the Lord who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. Not one word has failed of all His good promises” (1 Kings 8:56).
“Indeed, today the Lord has given rest to His people as He has promised,” Collver said. “Today He has given you rest in His promises. Not one word of the Lord has failed you. The Lord has given you His precious Gospel and His forgiving gifts. He has given you this sanctuary to worship Him.
“Today, we celebrate and rejoice with you at the completion of the Lutheran Church in Palanga. We pray that it will be a blessing to you and to the people here. Remember that the Lord is faithful to His promise. He will never fail you. It is our duty to give Him thanks and praise, for His Gospel and for this place of worship.”
Also taking part in the dedication were the Rev. Dr. Brian Saunders, president of the LCMS Iowa District East, and the Rev. Dr. Charles Evanson, an LCMS theological educator in Lithuania who played a “significant role” in the development of the country’s Lutheran hymnal and liturgy, according to Collver.
Saunders told Reporter via email that he was “honored to be a participant in the dedication service,” which he called “a marvelous exercise of the ancient liturgy.” Saunders added that he prays the Lithuanian Lutherans “remain faithful to the Word and the Lutheran Confessions.
“The Lutheran Church of Lithuania suffered persecution and oppression for many years,” he said. “They know what it is like to go through struggle for the sake of the historic Church and her liturgy. They have shown me what being steadfast in the faith looks like. I am humbled in their presence and hopeful in their faithfulness.”
To watch a YouTube video about the Palanga congregation and the dedication, click here.
Posted July 19, 2012