LWF hosts second retreat for Lutheran church leaders

Eleven leaders from LWF member churches are meeting in Geneva 12-18 September, to share and learn about vocation in their respective churches and in the global LWF communion. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay
Eleven leaders from LWF member churches are meeting in Geneva 12-18 September, to share and learn about vocation in their respective churches and in the global LWF communion. Photo: LWF/S. Gallay

Junge addresses shared identity as churches in communion

(LWI) – How do The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member churches around the world relate to fundamental principles that shape the identity and work of the global communion of 145 churches?

A group of 11 leaders from LWF member churches in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America, meeting at the Communion Office shared some of their concerns and heard General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge explain LWF’s early beginnings in 1947 and its vision for a just peaceful and reconciled world.

Addressing the 12-18 September retreat, the general secretary elaborated how LWF’s vocation of serving people in need, engaging in theological discourse, and working with other Christian churches influence the organization’s collaboration with its member churches. He also talked about LWF’s growth into a communion that values and supports youth and women’s leadership and works for gender justice.

Sustaining vibrant churches

Commenting on LWF’s policy requiring churches to meet a quota representation of 40 per cent each for women and men, and 20 percent for youth in leadership, Malaysian Bishop James Chong Leong Wong said this expectation helps churches to focus on how to sustain a church that is vibrant today and in the future.

He said many youth today are abandoning their churches because work with young people mainly puts emphasis on their role in the future instead of the present time. “We are losing a lot of young people because we focus on working with them as leaders of tomorrow instead of leaders of today. The result is that many congregations are left with an ageing population,” said the head of the Basel Christian Church of Malaysia.

Archbishop Urmas Viilma, Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, agreed churches need more young people. He said it was important to keep a balance between men, women and youth in church leadership, while at the same time ensuring that the system does not become discriminating to any of the groups in the future.

Guided from the ground

Presiding Bishop Chemist Faindi of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe noted that the suffering experienced by many ordinary people was often due to decisions by those in leadership. He wanted to know how the LWF advocates on behalf of churches and communities in their respective settings.

“We want to be guided from the ground, to address the situation together with you,” Junge explained. He affirmed LWF’s commitment to support churches in their holistic mission of proclamation, diaconal service and advocacy.

He encouraged the church leaders to study the LWF document The Church in the Public Space, which offers theological reflections on how and why churches should be actively and openly involved in community-based action for peace, justice and human rights advocacy.

The general secretary’s presentation highlighted preparations to commemorate 500 years of the Reformation and the LWF Twelfth Assembly in 2017, under the theme “Liberated by God’s Grace” and three sub-themes on why salvation, human beings and creation are “not for sale.” Bishop Jensen Seyenkulo, Lutheran Church in Liberia, said the focus on human beings - not for sale, relates to situations in his country, where “young girls are exposed to the injustice of sexual violence in our own communities. We have a lot of work to do in raising awareness about these issues,” he said.

Bishop Atahualpa Hernández from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Colombia said being part of the global communion offered several opportunities for churches in minority situations to learn and also share their challenges.

“We need to think of ’32 October’ 2017, and what we will do to continue nurturing and deepening communion relationships. The LWF is ready for further steps.”
LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge

Altar and pulpit fellowship

Bishop Patricia Lull, Saint Paul Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, expressed appreciation that churches in the Lutheran communion work together to respond to human need in the world, including LWF’s support to 2.3 million refugees. She said it was also important to remember what it means to be a communion of churches in altar and pulpit fellowship—churches that mutually welcome and recognize each other’s ministry.

Responding to her remark, Junge said the member churches “need to go deeper in our shared identity as churches in communion in the LWF.” Conflict in such a global church body “will always be there, as it was there already in biblical times, but we need to learn and know how to deal with our differences.”

The 1990 Assembly decision to change the LWF from a loose federation to a communion of churches was “not without controversy, as many churches struggled with the question of what this would mean for their individual autonomy,” he said. “Since then, an impressive journey has been done by LWF member churches to live out and express the gift of communion”, he added. Alluding to the time after the Reformation anniversary he continued: “We need to think of ’32 October’ 2017, and what we will do to continue nurturing and deepening communion relationships. The LWF is ready for further steps.”

The LWF program for newly elected church leaders—bishops and presidents—started in September 2015. Coordinated by the Department for Mission and Development, it offers space where those in leadership come together, strengthen relationships, and share and learn about vocation in their respective churches and in the global LWF communion.