Last Saturday (16 March 2013), The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland was formed in Lahti, Finland. At the same time, the gathered delegates (pastors and lay delegates from the founding congregations) elected Rev. Risto Soramies, as the first bishop of the Diocese.
Pastor Soramies, a veteran missionary to the Turks in Germany and Turkey (and a founding pastor of the Lutheran Church of Istanbul), will be consecrated on 4 May 2013 in Helsinki by Rt. Rev. Matti Väisänen. The Rev. Dr. Matti Väisänen, who had served these pastors and congregations as bishop in the Mission Province of Sweden and Finland, will then retire.
Here is an outline of what this new diocese is. The text is from the official website. Some form of this summary will probably appear there in English in due course.
The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland
In 1999, a group of Finnish Lutherans, spiritually homeless amidst the increasingly liberal established church of Finland, founded Luther Foundation Finland with the purpose of building, strengthening and developing Lutheran congregations in Finland. It was soon realized that such work could not be done within the structures of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF). Thus, the Luther Foundation became a supporting member of the Mission Province in Sweden when it was founded in 2005 (later renamed Mission Province in Sweden and Finland). What began as just one congregation and a part-time pastor in Helsinki has now grown into a nationwide network of 30 congregations and missions tended by a College of 37 pastors.
The joint ordinations of pastors and bishops, taking place in Sweden, were a concrete example of the fruitful partnership between confessional Lutherans both in Finland and Sweden. In 2010 in Helsinki, Rev. Dr. Matti Väisänen was consecrated as the first Finnish Bishop of the Mission Province, underlining the natural need for an independent ecclesial structure in Finland and being the first step to that end.
An independent confessional Lutheran diocese, The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland, was officially founded on 16 March 2013. At the same time, Pastor Risto Soramies was elected as bishop.
The Mission Diocese is an independent ecclesial structure under episcopal oversight, formed by congregations. It is part of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church” confessed in the Creeds. As such, the responsibilities and promises God gives in His word apply to the Diocese, and it is truly a church in accordance with the definition of the Augsburg Confession, Article VII, on account, and by the power, of the means of grace administered within it.
The Mission Diocese has been born within the ELCF, and it continues in the Lutheran faith and congregational life that has prevailed in Finland, without being part of its current administrative structures.
The Mission Diocese is part of the Nordic and world-wide community of confessional Lutherans, and on that basis it will make connections with all who hold to the same confession, both in Finland and abroad. The Mission Diocese will work together in many ways with different Lutheran churches and movements overseas, such as the Mission Province in Sweden and Valmenighetene i Norge (Independent Congregations in Norway).
As the name indicates, The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland builds its teaching and its activity wholly on the foundation of the Lutheran heritage of faith. The Mission Diocese confesses the biblical faith and doctrine that is grounded in the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and which is proclaimed in the Lutheran Book of Concord (Liber Concordiae, 1580). The Mission Diocese holds as its highest norm and rule the principle that all doctrine, practice and life must be examined, carried out and directed on the basis of God’s word.
The aim of the Mission Diocese is to nourish hearers with the proclamation of the Gospel, to deepen the knowledge of the Christian faith, and to revitalize and support the devotional life of the home through hymns and prayers.
The basis of the activity of the Mission Diocese are its member congregations. The pastors of the congregations and elected lay delegates together form the Diocesan Assembly. The Diocesan Council, elected by the Diocesan Assembly, plans and executes the administration of the Diocese and the practical matters of its work.
The Bishop bears pastoral responsibility for spiritual and theological matters in the Diocese. The Bishop’s task is to be the overseer of the congregations and the clergy. He will be assisted in this work of oversight with a Consistory, consisting of six members. The Consistory will be responsible for such tasks as the examination of candidates for ordination, and the reconciliation of conflicts in the congregations. In administrative matters in particular, the Bishop is supported by the Dean of the Diocese. The Bishop and the pastors together form the College of Pastors.
The pastors and congregations of the Diocese are served in matters of administration, communication and various other tasks by the Diocesan Office. The work of the Office is directed by the Dean.
The basis of the work of the Mission Diocese are its member congregations. The congregations share the one Lutheran faith. They gather regularly in liturgical worship around the Word and the Sacraments. Each congregation has its own called pastor. To a large extent, their practical life rests on the work of lay volunteers.
The congregations are formed in such a way that they have a name, a membership and a constitution. Whereas the ELCF has a strict parochial form of membership, membership of our congregations is elective and personal, such that membership based on personal choice rather than a member’s geographical place of abode. Both those who are members of the ELCF and those who are not may be members of the congregations.
The supporting organizations are independent associations or foundations, which function as employers for congregational employees and are responsible for the financial administration of the congregations.
The work of the Mission Diocese is based on voluntary support. Unlike the established church and its officially recognized service organizations, it does not receive support for its work from the State or the ELCF. The work of the Diocese is made possible through the supporting organizations of the congregations by means of offerings and voluntary donations.