My story and our story

Rev. Marjaana Toiviainen, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, all smiles at LWF's Global Perspectives and the Reformation, taking place in Namibia.  Photo: LWF/Iris Benesch
Rev. Marjaana Toiviainen, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, all smiles at LWF's "Global Perspectives and the Reformation" in Namibia. Photo: LWF/Iris Benesch

The hymn resonated through my body and onto the walls of the church at Paulinum United Lutheran Theological Seminary. An impressive range of languages surrounded us and the Namibian sky echoed the words with the power of lightning and thunder. It was raining and we thanked God for that.

"Otu li moipafi, yakalunga ketu..."

"God, reveal your presence: gladly we adore you..."

"Jumala on läsnä, Häntä rukoilkaamme..."

"Gott ist gegenwärtig, lasset uns anbeten..."

Here we finally are: dozens and dozens of members of the global Lutheran family, gathered together to reflect how to approach the Reformation anniversary in 2017. We'd not be Lutheran, if we didn't start with a service, full of Word and Sacrament. Only God can help us tackle in a creative manner the interactions between theology, politics and economics - our task for the gathering. When we start with God, not with us, we truly become a community which bows our heads at the same altar, eats exactly the same amount of bread, drinks a tiny cup of wine, and believes that until all are fed, no one really is. As that sort of community we come together and remember: ours is a tradition of creative resistance and reformation of any hurtful structures.

Just before leaving Helsinki, my home city, I had met a Syrian woman with her three children. She had lost her husband in Germany and they were not allowed to be reunited. They were oh so close to one another, but were not allowed to be together. And then I took off for Namibia. The flights had been booked and paid for, the seats arranged, the vaccinations organized and no visa was needed. To get to the other side of the world I had to do nothing but sit still and watch some movies on the plane. When one smiled at me at the security check, I could only think of the Syrian family and their struggle. The world sure is not fair.

During our opening worship I realized once again that the only way we as a community can tackle this unfair reality is through listening to everyone's story: different perspectives, reflections from our contexts, the world and Lutheranism as we see it. We have all been shaped by different issues, insights and events. Let us remember to listen to those stories, for they are where the Reformation of today arises from.

In his sermon, Bishop emeritus Zephania Kameeta reminded us what it is to be liberated by God's grace in that manner. Our faith lets us stand up in a healing community. But this faith does not only help us love and act, but also get lost and dirty. It forces us to take a cross and carry it. So we are not here to write or read theology. We are here to live theology, not hide it in the archives. Theology that is not afraid to be fragile and vulnerable. Theology that is lived, experienced and embodied.

As Rev. Dr Martin Junge put it in his presentation, “Reformation was a catalyst of a change that was in the air, an impulse to reassess the always difficult question of the redistribution of powers... Lutheran Reformation did not only serve as a catalyst to process these important questions: it also became an instrument of these struggles for power.” My prayer is that during this week we all, from Finland or Namibia, Poland or Sweden, Zimbabwe, Japan or India, can help each other see more clearly what that means today and be united in our diversity.

Once I put myself to bed I thought about the Syrian family I'd met a day before in Helsinki. I hope they are sleeping, too. And that once I return, I have the wisdom to listen to their unique story even more and understand profoundly that it is my story, too.


Rev. Marjaana Toiviainen is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, where she works for the urban ministry in Kallio parish, Helsinki. She is a PhD candidate at Lund University, Sweden, where she is focusing on post-colonial theologies, global Christianity and inter-religious relations.


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