Learning from others in the LWF communion
The LWF member church delegates expressed appreciation for the Address of the President Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan and General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge, and reflected on some of the issues raised in the 16 June presentations.
In his address Bishop Younan challenged LWF’s member churches to engage in critical conversation about the communion’s foundations and leadership, mutual relationships between the churches and their shared responsibility.
Rev. Dr Suneel Bhanu Busi, Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (India) said he welcomed the proposal to discuss further questions on ecclesiology including the role and power of episcopal bishops or presidents. He said autocratic leadership was a reality in many churches.
Oberlandeskirchenrat Rainer Kiefer, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hanover (Germany) said many congregations in Germany have initiated dialogues with Muslims in an attempt to get to know each other better and have some understanding about each other’s faiths.
“There is a lot of curiosity on both sides. Muslims are proud to present their congregations we are happy to share about ourselves. But in the process we realize we are only beginners who are trying to get organized. How could we learn from others in the LWF communion? And how can the LWF’s study processes help us to use intercultural practices we have in our communities?” he asked.
Rev. Dr Endor Modeste Rakoto, Malagasy Lutheran Church, said Christians and Muslims in Madagascar have co-existed since the 16th century, with Muslims even helping to build churches. But there have been attempts in recent years to create division between the two groups. He said he was encouraged to learn that the Confessio Augustana (Augsuburg Confession) in Arabic was well known in the Middle East. “How can we make it (CA) better known so that all the people in the Lutheran church are familiar with it?”
Ministry of service
Rev. Dr Rafael Malpica-Padilla, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, thanked the LWF president for emphasizing the need to speak critically about issues on mutual relationships. “I hope this principle will guide our conversations.
Responding, Younan said theological education plays a critical role in the formation of church leaders, with a clear understanding of what it means to be a church leader or a bishop. “It is about being ready to serve, and not to be served. If the bishopry loses the evangelical ministry of service, then it has lost its purpose,” he added.
The LWF president reiterated the need for robust moderation against a growing wave of religious extremism across the world. He cited effective interfaith initiatives in the Middle East from which other countries could learn.
“The interreligious work of our Lutheran communion is growing and we need to encourage our churches to get engaged. We should not hide the work we are doing,” Younan said. He added the need to “be allies with moderate Islam,” in order to change the wave of extremism in the world.
“The issues that are hurting in our Lutheran communion have to be addressed,” the president said. They relate to issues that touch on LWF’s values, and “if we lose these values, we have lost the communion.”
Accompanying each other
Response to the general secretary’s report was organized in small group discussions on what needed to be affirmed; outstanding concerns and questions. Council members expressed appreciation for LWF’s accompaniment to churches with regard to women’s ordination, and for the growing number of churches that are ordaining women and discussing the issue. Concern was also raised about how to accompany churches which make policy decisions that undermine resolutions agreed upon by all LWF member churches.
The recent decision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia to not ordain women was discussed. In that respect General Secretary Junge emphasized that nothing has changed for the LWF in view of its stated goal, which has been reiterated in five Assemblies: “we envision and journey towards women’s ordination.”
On the future of LWF’s ecumenical dialogue with the Roman Catholics, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, thanked the general secretary for stating how “we can move towards deeper fellowship around the table [Holy Communion].” These are tangible issues for families consisting of Lutheran and Catholic members, she noted.
Council members commended the LWF for commitment to youth participation, especially in LWF’s advocacy for climate justice. “We have pride in the youth,” said Michael Ram, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana. He also sought to know how churches can be supported in setting up platforms at the congregational level that enable them to engage with other churches. “We need a more prophetic voice,“ he said.
“A quota makes a difference, and we are grateful for the growing inclusion of youth in the communion’s life in many different ways,” the general secretary stressed in his response. “If youth is included in a space that recognizes and affirms their dignity, there is a huge contribution we can make, and we would like to see that happening more in the future.” He thanked Mami Brunah Aro Sandaniaina, Madagascar, for reminding us that decisions about an LWF that will be strong and sustainable in 2030 are decisions that need to be taken now.