LWF Council Meeting in Medan, Indonesia Opened With Traditional Worship

A Batak group performs a traditional dance showing the confession of sins. Photo: LWF/M. Renaux
A Batak group performs a traditional dance showing the confession of sins. Photo: LWF/M. Renaux

Deforestation and freedom of religion in the world were themes in the opening worship of the LWF 2014 council meeting in Medan, Indonesia. The service took place in Jalan Sudirman church in Medan, belonging to the Christian Batak Protestant Church (HKBP), one of the 12 Indonesian LWF member churches.

Bishop Willem T.P. Simarmata of HKBP held the opening sermon about the council motto “Like a tree planted by streams of water” (Jeremiah 17, 7-8), linking the council theme to the destruction of forests in Indonesia by commercial plantations. “Can we still maintain to have this imagery of a tree planted by a river, of a tree planted by streams of water in our time?” he asked. “Is the imagery not threatened by a constant destruction of the jungle and forest in our world, which has caused the disappearance of streams of water from many lands?” Simarmata called on Christians to take action against environmental destruction and climate change. “The strengths of the members of the Lutheran World Federation are gifts from the Lord. Using them will not oppose the principle of trusting in the Lord.”

The service which was attended by about 700 guests, council members, LWF staff and local parishioners, gave a very lively impression of Indonesian worship life. Many visitors had come from neighboring towns to welcome the international guests. The majority of the 5.8 million Indonesian LWF members live on Sumatra, home to different groups of the Batak people who were Christianized through Dutch and German mission. Worship therefore is being held in different local dialects. Some churches even have their own Bible translations. Among them, HKBP with 4.1 million Lutherans has the most members with congregations all over Indonesia and also abroad.

The opening service which was held mainly in English had many elements of these traditional roots, most visible in a traditional Batak dancing group which led the opening procession and performed a Tortor Batak, a contextual dance which in this case told about the confession and the forgiveness of sins. Together with the contribution of three church choirs and a music group, they made the opening worship a very warm welcome to Indonesia.

After the service, LWF president bishop Munib A. Younan opened the council, affirming the LWF support to Indonesian member churches. “Keep the power of unity among you, keep the power of the holy spirit in you,” he said. For their mission “to carry the spirit of love in a multicultural society”, Younan strongly emphasized the right to practice “the freedom to build churches, the freedom to pray and worship”.

This freedom was also emphasized by the Mayor of Medan, Mr. Dzulmi Eldin. Mr. Eldin, who is a Moslem, joined the opening in the church after the service to greet the LWF council meeting. “Let me start with a thanksgiving to God Almighty for this gathering of the churches of the world in Medan” he said. “Each religion has the right to practice its rituals so once more welcome to the Lutheran churches”. Mr. Dzulmi explained about the different ethnicities and religions who “represented a vital aspect of our lives” and “have strengthened the city”. He expressed his hope “that the churches grow even more and that pastors guide their flock according to their religious teaching”. According to Mr. Dzulmi, there are 635 Christian churches in Medan.

Greetings were also conveyed by Rev. Mori Sihombing, HKBP General Secretary and chairman of the local council preparations’ committee, and Bishop Dr. Langsung Sitorius, chairman of the LWF National Committee in Indonesia. The national committee has invited to and is hosting the LWF council meeting in Indonesia. It represents the 12 Indonesian member churches.

Council 2014 Documents

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author, and not necessarily representative of Lutheran World Federation policy.