Fifth bishop of the ELCM consecrated

The consecration of the fifth Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malaysia (ELCM) was a much-anticipated event. In fact, it had been planned for July 4 since Rev Steven Lawrence was elected as the new Bishop on 9 November 2019. Invitations were printed and sent around the world by ‘snail mail’, emphasising the solemnity of the occasion. Many of us who partner with this church, looked forward to celebrating in Kuala Lumpur with our brothers and sisters. That was, before COVID-19 restrictions.

Like so many of our activities during 2020, the service of consecration had to be re-designed, as the church sought to meet the new requirement of local authorities, in efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19. The congregation attending Zion Cathedral in downtown Kuala Lumpur was reduced to less than a third of capacity and congregants were physically distanced from each other. Presiding officials wore their usual liturgical vestments, together with new accessories, masks and gloves, and the vast majority of attendees to the ceremony joined via a live stream broadcast.

Despite these changes to plan, the service was a great celebration. It recognised the gifts Rev Steven brings to the office of Bishop and focused on the future for the ELCM, a relatively small church, serving in a country of some 35 million people, the vast majority of whom are Muslim.

Bishop-emeritus, Rev Dr Solomon Rajah, encouraged the incoming Bishop with words from the prophet Ezekiel. He reminded Bishop Steven that as he serves as the leader of the church, he will endure suffering as the community suffers. In the face of this, he should take courage in God’s promises and in the manner in which Jesus shares in our suffering. Bishop-emeritus Rev Dr Solomon called on Bishop Steven to be a watchman over his flock, warning against sin and evil, calling to repentance, but most importantly proclaiming forgiveness and life in Jesus’ name. He urged the new Bishop to gather and unify his flock around sound teaching and good order.

Two Anglican Bishops, who have a shared understanding of apostolic succession, joined Bishop-emeritus Rev Dr Solomon in the laying on of hands. The Bishop’s mitre and staff were placed on Bishop Steven’s head and in his hand, making him the fifth Bishop of the ELCM.

Bishop Steven answered the call of God for full-time ministry at the age of 22, and shortly after pursued his theological education in Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM), graduating with a Diploma of Christian Ministry (2001), Bachelor of Theology (SEAGST 2005) and Masters of Ministry (2017). He was commissioned as Candidate to the Holy Ministry on 18 September 2005 by Bishop-emeritus Julius D. Paul and underwent his in-house training under the supervision of Bishop-emeritus Rev Dr Solomon Rajah.

While serving as a commissioned Candidate to the Holy Ministry, he married Susan Ann on 25 February 2006, a union that led to three children – Samantha Ann, Samuel Anbuselvan and Samson Anbunesan.

Bishop Steven was ordained as a pastor of the ELCM on 31 October 2006 at Zion Cathedral by then Bishop Julius D. Paul. Since ordination, he has served a number of congregations and has been heavily committed to the diaconal ministry of the church, holding some of the most senior synodical positions in the ELCM.

From 2014-2017 Bishop Steven served as the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Regional Officer and was responsible for implementing the program of the LWF Area Secretary for Asia, supporting partner churches, hosting conferences and providing opportunities for mutual support and networking. With this experience, Bishop Steven hopes to serve the interests of the ELCM and the community at large, as God Almighty grants him the wisdom, knowledge and understanding that he requires to serve God’s will (John 3: 16).

While I was disappointed not to be present with these dear brothers and sisters, it was a joy to participate from a distance, knowing that the Holy Spirit was working to equip Bishop Steven for the tasks of office. In a message to me later that night, Bishop Steven expressed his deep appreciation for our ‘virtual participation’ in this milestone for his church, and he humbly asked for the prayers of the people of the LCA as he takes up an incredibly challenging vocation.

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