Lutheran assembly highlights ecumenism

Published September 1, 2003

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In a true show of ecumenism, the 10th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation worshipped in non-Lutheran churches for the first time in its 56-year history. The gathering opened and closed with eucharists in Roman Catholic cathedrals and held daily eucharists and healing services in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

The sharing of worship was described by the LWF’s general secretary Rev. Ishmael Noko as “a visible sign of the growing unity of the church.”

It was the first time the LWF met in Canada; the location was chosen after Archbishop Michael Peers, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, extended an invitation in 2000 at a meeting in Finland of the council of the Lutheran World Federation. Anglican and Lutheran churches in many parts of the world – including Canada, the U.S. and Europe – have signed agreements of full communion in recent years, bringing the two denominations closer together. In 2001 in Canada, the Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran churches voted for full communion, or mutual recognition of sacraments and clergy.

The international gathering was marred by the Canadian government’s refusal to grant visas to 53 delegates (out of 433 delegates) from developing nations (see Archbishop Peers’ reaction to the visa problem in his column, Grace Notes). That decision led to a protest by participants, who were led, under police escort, in a silent vigil by Bishop Raymond Schultz, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; Bishop Christian Krause, past president of the LWF; and LWF General Secretary Rev. Ishmael Noko.

About 300 people followed, a mixture of robed clergy and laity. Anglican Bishop Donald Phillips of the host diocese of Rupert’s Land, and Lutheran Bishop Richard Smith carried a large cross at the head of the procession. Participants, including delegates and visitors to the assembly, walked in silence through downtown Winnipeg at dusk. They proceeded from the Winnipeg Convention Centre to the Oodeena (an ancient Ojibway meeting place) at The Forks, located next to the office of the Department of Immigration, which was closed. Once there, torches and a fragrant wood fire lit the liturgy of prayer, interspersed with stories of discrimination and injustice. Worshippers chanted “Shalom” (peace), in round four-part harmony.

The 11-day convention was attended by 700 mostly foreign delegates, observers and volunteers. Although the national office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is located in Winnipeg, Canadian Anglicans far outnumber Lutherans. In the months leading up to the LWF gathering, Anglican volunteers helped with logistics for the meeting and billeted visitors.

Other Anglican involvement included an address by Canon John Peterson, general secretary of the Anglican Communion, who told the gathering that it is scandalous that world churches do not work together in their mission projects around the world, particularly in Africa in the war on AIDS. He called on Lutherans and Anglicans to work together for the healing of the world, which was the theme of the gathering.

Canon Peterson said he hoped for a day when there will be only “one united communion” involving the two churches, referring to the report of the Anglican-Lutheran International Working Group called Growth in Communion. He said the report shows that “Anglicans and Lutherans have made covenantal commitments to share a common life and mission.”

Also addressing the gathering’s theme was keynote speaker Bishop Margot Kaessmann, of Hanover, Germany. In her keynote speech, delivered alternately in German and English, she called on Christians to engage the world in the hope that the human community can live in justice and peace, thereby bringing about the healing of the world.

“Healing will not occur through the globalization of an economy that does not respect cultural differences,” said Bishop Kaessmann. “It will come about through the message of God’s love manifested in justice, peace and the safeguarding of creation.”

The bishop described the eucharist as a concrete sign of healing for the world. The community that takes shape around the Lord’s table, she said, is a healing community, a tangible sign of restoration to health. If the church wants to promote authentic healing in the world, it must acknowledge the centrality of the sacrament as a healing act not only between God and persons, but between persons as well, she said.

“When we share bread and wine with each other, then we can and must leave behind the conflicts and burdens that separated us and experience anew our life together,” she said. “At the Lord’s table, we come together, the poor and the rich, from the highways and byways, the estranged, the disappointed, the lovers, the sick, people from north and from south.”

A major policy statement, following three drafts, was issued at the end of the assembly, outlining a pattern for global growth, embracing the principles urged by Bishop Kaessmann.

Other gathering highlights included a moving presentation by LWF youth delegates, who pushed for open dialogue on the wordwide crisis of HIV/AIDS and the election of Bishop Mark Hanson of the United States as the new six-year president of the Lutheran World Federation, succeeding Bishop Christian Krause of Germany.

The LWF Assembly takes place every six years.


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