Witness towards the world, among the people of the world

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

LWF President addresses first online European Church Leadership Consultation

 (LWI) – “There is a ‘prophetic defiance’ in us not letting go of each other because of COVID-19, in us finding ways to be connected, devising paths to continue expressing the relationships into which God is calling us,” said the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) president, Archbishop Dr. Panti Filibus Musa from the The Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria, at the opening of the European Church Leadership Consultation today.

The consultation, which is taking place online for the first time, is “breaking new ground for all of us,” added President Musa. Strengthening communion relations regionally goes hand in hand with being globally connected to the LWF member churches. “If there ever was a time requiring that we truly stand together, it is now,” he said.

Living and working together

Since the LWF’s founding in 1947, Musa recalled, it has had a strong diaconal presence. “Lutheran” has come to mean that “God’s love as incarnated in Christ” is moving a global community of people to serve others, “making no distinction between those they serve.”

We shall never become an exclusive club, enjoying the gift of our relationships, as if our neighbor didn’t exist or does not matter.
LWF President Panti Filibus Musa

“We shall never become an exclusive club, enjoying the gift of our relationships, as if our neighbor didn’t exist or does not matter,” Musa stated. “A communion that has Christ at its center will be a communion centering its witness towards the world, among the people of the world.”

Witnessing in a world with COVID-19

Although COVID-19 is primarily a health issue, it has created significant challenges in almost all realms of life: social, economic, and political. “It also presents us with a deeply existential and spiritual challenge,” Musa said.

He expressed “deep pain over the immense loss of life,” and reminded that behind the high number of deaths reported are individual people. “Every death is a lament,” he said, quoting a pastoral letter from the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil.

The LWF President also expressed deep concern about the “alarming rise of domestic violence affecting primarily children and women,” as well as a “dismaying increase of femicides around the world.” He shared that last week the LWF Communion Office sent a survey about the reception and implementation of the LWF Gender Justice Policy to its member churches. “I could not think of a more relevant time to send out this survey. We have the tools and we share a commitment to fight gender-based violence. We have good practical resources. Now, we shall get even more serious about it.”

Facing the fact that the pandemic was ongoing, Musa warned that “complacency is our biggest enemy.” Worship services in his home country of Nigeria are held “respecting rigorous distancing rules” with fewer people but an increased number of services.

He shared that the LWF’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund has “helped 65 churches respond locally to a variety of challenges they and their communities were facing.”

“The church is endowed with a vitality that is beyond our doing and capacities,” Musa said. “We are not empty-handed, as we face challenging realities, we are God’s children, endowed with the creative and inspiring power of the Holy Spirit to understand, adapt and grow into what I believe will be a new reality for churches in the time to come and also for our global communion and its structures.”

A time of crisis and transformation

The opening worship of the European Church Leadership Consultation was led by Bishop Tor Jørgensen and a pastoral team of The Lutheran Church in Great Britain. The consultation was originally planned to be hosted by that church and to take place in Mansfield College, Oxford.

In his sermon on the watchword of the consultation, “The Holy Spirit gives power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7), Jørgensen said that 2020 will probably “be remembered as a year of crisis” – not only due to COVID-19, but also because of the “ecological crisis and the refugee crisis.”

“Crisis is a time of transformation,” he explicated, "filled with fear and anxiety but also with life and hope.” The church has experienced these many times from the very beginning, the life of the apostle Paul being an “iconic example” of this experience. Under dire circumstances of imprisonment, he sends a message of faith, hope and love to his coworker Timothy and congregations across Europe.

“The Holy Spirit is not limited to physical meetings,” Jørgensen said. Paul had used the means of his days to “open the mind of his readers, to comfort and encourage.” Today, the meeting takes place using modern technology “with the expectation that the Spirit will be here with us, comforting and inspiring us” and trusting that the Spirit “empowers us with love and sound minds in these days of transformation.”

European Church Leadership Consultation takes place in an online format on 22 and 23 September. Participants from the three European regions of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) – Central and Western Europe, Central and Eastern Europe, and the Nordic countries – meet to reflect the theme of the conference “Being church in times of transformation”.