Deep Sense of Ownership a Sign of Growth in the LWF Communion

LWF General Secretary Martin Junge presents his report to Council 2014 meeting in Medan, Indonesia, 12-17 June. Photo: LWF/M. Renaux
LWF General Secretary Martin Junge presents his report to Council 2014 meeting in Medan, Indonesia, 12-17 June. Photo: LWF/M. Renaux

Report of General Secretary Junge to the Council

(LWI) – In his report to this year’s Council meeting in Medan, Indonesia, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge highlighted perspectives that indicate growth in the LWF and areas of work that require further attention as the communion prepares for both the Twelfth Assembly and the 500th Reformation anniversary in 2017.

Junge expressed gratitude to the LWF National Committee in Indonesia and the 12 LWF member churches for their generous hospitality in hosting the Council, and providing an opportunity to experience the context in which they live.

The LWF communion is growing, and its 142 member churches represented 72.2 million members in 2013, up from 70.5 million in 2011, Junge said. However growth should not be seen only in numbers, but also in the difference churches make in their respective contexts as they participate in God’s mission of transformation, reconciliation and empowerment.

Relationships, Responsibility and Closer Cooperation

Referring to the overwhelming assistance to people suffering from the impact of devastating drought in Angola and Namibia in 2012/2013, the general secretary said this had shown “the responsiveness of a communion that is bound into relationships that are nurtured by word and sacrament.”

For some churches, growth can also be expressed in making difficult choices in a context of fragmentation, as is the case for the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ukraine (GELCU) and its congregations in Crimea, a region that recently voted to become part of Russia. That the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (ELCROS) has left it to GELCU’s Crimea congregations to decide their possible future affiliation “is a powerful message that regardless the consequent political connotations that such choices may carry, the congregations will still be seen as being part of the same communion,” Junge noted.

In the LWF North American region, the two churches there are exploring closer cooperation with churches in Latin America and the Caribbean, with a perspective of considering structural changes in the future. In Africa, celebrations in 2015 to mark the 60th anniversary of the first regional gathering of the Lutheran communion will focus on how theological education connects the regional and global dimensions of the Reformation.

Through the Department for World Service (DWS), the Lutheran communion was supporting almost 2 million internally displaced persons and refugees by early 2014, compared to 1.5 million in 2013. While the growth sadly reveals that those fleeing conflict, violence, oppression and hunger are increasing by thousands every day, the way the LWF responds “fills my heart with humble gratitude, as it becomes the telling story of a communion that wants to stand together without turning its back on the poor and the suffering at any point,” Junge said.

Strategic Priorities

On the work carried out by Communion Office (CO) in the past year, the general secretary elaborated the ongoing commitment to align programmatic work to the strategic priorities of the LWF Strategy 2012-2017. He said concern about decreasing funding towards some of the departments’ work has been addressed with the goal to reversing such trends, but overall, there has been “continued growth in programs and LWF operations.”

In its committee sessions, the Council will discuss proposals for a refocused Department for Mission and Development (DMD), with a goal to sustaining DMD’s support and accompaniment to member churches in a context of declining financial resources. Junge expressed gratitude for ongoing support from the LWF member churches, related organizations and partners that has strengthened the financial capacity for programmatic work including in the new the Department for Theology and Public Witness.

On the “Emmaus Conversation” about the issues of family, marriage and sexuality, the general secretary noted that the accompaniment approaches recommended by the LWF Council in the recent and previous meetings had provided space for learning. He underlined the need for a sustained, structured and intentional process convened and led by the LWF, “in order to keep prayerful discernment and dialogue going on”.

The general secretary also expressed his appreciation for the reception of the gender justice policy, which the Council adopted in 2013 reporting on the fact that more churches have begun to implement the policy in their respective contexts.

Ecumenical and Interfaith Expressions

The general secretary’s highlights on LWF’s engagements with other Christian World Communions explained some of the tangible expressions of the ecumenical dialogue with Catholics in the life and witness of churches at the grassroots, and for people suffering in conflict situations across the world.

With regard to the 500th Reformation anniversary in 2017, Junge noted that approaches coherent with the principle of an anniversary in a spirit of ecumenical accountability are being developed with the Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, Mennonites and with the World Communion of Reformed Churches as well as the World Council of Churches.

He expressed hope that the communion’s solid theological reflection and engagement with other religions will continue to be an added value for practical interfaith cooperation in LWF’s humanitarian work, supporting churches’ advocacy for peaceful neighborly relations, and helping to transform the negative public perception of religion through religious extremism. The June 2013 United Nations-led “Welcoming the Stranger: Affirmations for Faith Leaders”—document jointly signed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and faith organizations, is one such initiative that has enabled the LWF to start interfaith humanitarian cooperation projects.

Diaconal Vocation

The general secretary’s report also stressed the issue of shrinking space for international humanitarian action in conflict areas such as the  Central African Republic, and South Sudan where some 7 million people are at the risk of famine. He urged additional support as the LWF prepares to scale up its response. “Who is going to take away the soot and hurt in the heart of the South, in the heart of a child who has seen his or her house burned down?” Junge asked.

Looking Forward

At this year’s meeting, the Council will dedicate a “lunch-fasting” on 13 June to the “Fast for the Climate” initiative, spearheaded by LWF’s delegation at the 2013 United Nations climate conference, and continuing on the first day of each month until the December 2015 meeting in Paris. Junge thanked the youth for their leading role in the dynamic process that is being taken up by individuals, churches and gaining regional commitments.  

This year’s agenda includes a decision on the theme and the dates of the Twelfth Assembly. Expressing gratitude to the Council for its continued support to the CO, the general secretary emphasized the need to work closely together to make the next meeting of the highest decision-making body of the LWF a “memorable and energizing event for the entire communion.” He urged collaboration in working towards a “joyful, transformative, forward-looking and outward-looking Assembly.”

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