Friday, May 25, 2018
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Toledo native to lead Canadian Lutherans


The Rev. Robert Bugbee has been elected president of the Lutheran Church- Canada.


The Rev. Robert Bugbee, a 52-year-old Toledo native and graduate of Whitmer High School, has been elected president of the Lutheran Church-Canada.

The election was both "heartwarming" and "a little frightening," Mr. Bugbee said in his acceptance speech.

In a phone interview from his church office in Kitchener, Ontario, Mr. Bugbee said he did not seek out the presidency of the denomination, but was willing to serve if elected.

"I was open to it if that's what God wanted," he said. "It wouldn't have bothered me if one of the other guys were elected. In fact, the guy who came in second is a very good friend of mine and I told him I would have been happy had the election gone the other way."

A 1973 graduate of Whitmer High, Mr. Bugbee earned degrees from Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, and Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

He moved to Canada in the fall of 1981, to serve as pastor of a church in London, Ontario.

"When I finished seminary in 1981, at that time the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was set up so it encompassed the United States and Canada," he said. "It was all one church, so it was not unusual for American [pastoral] candidates to come to Canada."

In 1988, the Canadian districts of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod decided to form an autonomous church and separate from the American denomination.

"They didn't disagree over faith or practice, it was an administrative change," Mr. Bugbee said.

He served as vice president of the LCC's first board of directors, from 1988-89, and was vice president of its East District from 1994 to 2000.

In addition to serving at a church in London, Ontario, Mr. Bugbee has been pastor of churches in Niagara Falls and Albertville, Minn., before coming to Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Kitchener in 1994.

He said one of the challenges facing the LCC is that Canada has one-tenth the population of the United States in an area slightly larger than the U.S.

"We have a huge country with too few people in it," Mr. Bugbee said. "Trying to maintain our seminaries in this country, for example, with fairly small constituencies - that is always going to be a struggle."

He said Canada is more secularized than the United States and getting even more so.

"There is a stronger Christian consciousness in the United States. There are many more larger churches, a much larger system of Christian schools," Mr. Bugbee said.

"In recent years, Canada has had a lot of immigrants from many, many parts of the world, including countries where the Christian faith would not be part of their background. And there has been strong immigration from Europe, and of course Europeans are almost post-Christian in their approach to things.

"It would be very unusual for a Canadian prime minister to speak about faith in God in the way it's being talked about in the American campaign for president. That's a much less public and front-burner kind of thing than it would be here," he said.

Unlike many American Protestant churches, there is no debate within the Lutheran Church-Canada over the ordination of homosexuals or the blessings of same-sex unions, Mr. Bugbee said.

"We're not rocked by the kinds of controversies that seem to be tearing at the Episcopal Church," he said. "These are not divisive issues at this point, probably because we would take a more conservative view of the Bible."

Mr. Bugbee grew up in Toledo's Wernerts Corner neighborhood, and his mother, Violet Whaley, and 97-year-old grandmother, Olive Stratton, still live in the Toledo area.

He and his wife, Gail, have four children.

When Mr. Bugbee takes office in September, he will become the third president in the denomination's 20-year history. The election is for a three-year term with no limit on the number of times he can be elected.

The LCC is headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and has 319 congregations with 76,000 members across the country.

- David Yonke

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