“Nurture mutual trust and confidence”

Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus, president of the Lutheran World Federation. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert
Archbishop Musa Panti Filibus, president of the Lutheran World Federation. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

Interview with Archbishop Dr. Musa Panti Filibus, newly elected President of The Lutheran World Federation

Delegates to the Twelfth Assembly of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) elected Archbishop Dr. Musa Panti Filibus President on 13 May 2017. He is the 13th LWF President and brings with him eleven years of prior experience in the LWF communion office. In this interview, he shares key priorities he hopes to address, and how they are impacted by his context.

How does it feel to be elected as President of the LWF?

There is a sense of gratitude but also a sense of surprise. I’m coming back to serve in the communion that I have grown to know very well. The LWF is a part of me.

What does it mean to have worked in the LWF office for 11 years, be called as bishop and then Archbishop in a member church, and now return as president of the LWF?

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to serve the communion, starting the position of Area Secretary of Africa for the Department for Mission and Development (DMD), to becoming the Director of DMD, and then appointed as Deputy General Secretary. This brought me into relationship with all regions of the LWF.

To be called from the global communion to the grassroots as Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria Mayo Belwa Diocese, being called within a short time to provide leadership in the national level as Archbishop, and now coming back to the LWF - I feel greatly honored. God is so gracious to be calling me to this position.

You have said that “Communion is a gift” and that communion building must be nurtured. Can you elaborate on that?

An important task ahead of us will be how to continue journeying together as a communion. There is no LWF if we cannot walk together, if we cannot mutually respect one another. Whatever we envision we can do together, it all depends on how we are able to hold each other together.

We need to be reminded that the Reformation that took place 500 years ago was an opportunity for the church to discover anew the Gospel message and the mission of the church at that moment. I think this is an opportunity to ask as we move forward, “what is God calling the church to do today?”

Being communion beyond the 500 is to be conscious of this sense of being people liberated by God’s grace. We remain with it in a dynamic way, seeking the presence of the Holy Spirit to refresh us in our daily lives but together as churches.

Nigeria, where you are from, has experienced great conflict. Does this influence your priorities as President of the LWF?

My reflections certainly have been informed by my context in Nigeria but not in isolation. I am also looking at the global trends and my journey.

Nigeria has changed so much. There are many moments we don’t feel we belong together anymore. Too many people feel they are not considered, understood or respected as citizens. Human life is not respected. Religious insurgence is just one thing. In the southern parts of Nigeria there are movements fighting over concerns related to control of the resources.

In the midst of this instability there are always signs of hope that cuts across religion, politics and government. Recently, I sense some voices rising here and there; this gives me hope that the violence we see doesn’t have the last word. There is always possibility for renewal and for change.

It is not going to be easy but we have to persist, we have to continue the journey. This informs my passion for being part of the LWF today and asking, how can we be supportive to one another in these difficult and challenging times that we find ourselves in locally and globally.

No church should be left to feel alone. We have to continue to nurture the mutual trust and confidence we have developed over the years.
LWF President, Archbishop Dr Musa Filibus

The landscape of the LWF is globally complex. How will the LWF continue to support member churches with such varied and diverse contexts?

No church should be left to feel alone. We have to continue to nurture the mutual trust and confidence we have developed over the years. With mutual trust and confidence we will always be open to sharing our successes and challenges, and hold one another in prayer and love. We should widen the table to allow space for mutual sharing in a respectful way.

In your previous work with the LWF, you participated in the implementation of the Gender Justice Policy. What do you see as next steps in its implementation?

I am very committed to providing leadership and finding ways to really bring this document to implementation, together with the LWF Council. We need to develop mechanisms so this document doesn’t only remain at church leadership levels. We need to promote processes that allows for discussions of this document in seminaries, in institutions, and in consultation with the member churches.

What is the role of diakonia for the LWF in the future?

Diakonia is to be church and to be church is to be diaconal. My dream would be that the LWF remains a relevant and key international diaconal player in addressing human tragedy. We have World Service as an international diaconal arm of the LWF. It is doing such a marvelous job. And we have the member churches who are also doing a lot of diaconal work. It is critical that these two diaconal arms of the LWF and its member churches are held together. Therefore I see an LWF that remains committed to stronger support of the World Service and at the same time empowering and accompanying member churches to be prophetic diaconal actors in their contexts.