Messages of hope: ecumenical leaders address Assembly

20 Sep 2023

Leaders of Christian World Communions and other church organizations shared ecumenical greetings with participants in the LWF Thirteenth LWF Assembly.  

LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Anne Burghardt, speaks on an ecumenical panel with representatives from the Roman Catholic Church alongside a variety of different Christian traditions on the last day of the LWF Thirteenth Assembly. Photo: LWF/Marie Renaux

LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Anne Burghardt, speaks on an ecumenical panel with representatives from the Roman Catholic Church alongside a variety of different Christian traditions on the last day of the LWF Thirteenth Assembly. Photo: LWF/Marie Renaux

Ecumenical guests at Thirteenth LWF Assembly share common message of unity and hope for a divided world 

(LWI) – Greetings from leaders of Christian World Communions and other church organizations to The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Thirteenth Assembly, lifted up the importance of ecumenical dialogue which is “paramount” to peace, unity and fruitful collaboration. The ecumenical guests emphasized the need for healing and hope in a fractured and divided world. 

Delegates, advisors, special guests and visitors met in Kraków, Poland from 13 to 19 September 2023 for the Thirteenth LWF Assembly, reflecting on the theme “One Body, One Spirit, One Hope.” 

United through hope 

Kurt Cardinal Koch, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity at the Vatican delivered the Roman Catholic Church greeting at the Assembly final plenary, after Morning Prayer that commemorated a Remembrance of Baptism. 

“This morning we remembered together our Holy Baptism and, in so doing, were assured anew of our God-given salvation and of our divinely endowed ecumenical bonds,” he said. The Cardinal also noted that he did not want to overlook “distressing memories” engraved on our confessional memories. “We have to face them but also hold them in the healing and reconciling presence of God. This is because we are united through hope.”

In the preceding days, other global church leaders highlighted their shared endeavor for unity and service to people in need. The chosen theme could not be timelier or more significant, said Rev. Dr Hanns Lessing, Acting General Secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. In a world where “the disintegration of unity processes” is widespread, it is the task of the church to give witness that “our faith in the oneness of body, spirit and hope can still transform the world,” 

Our witness is critical, said Lessing. “We need a sense of oneness that allows us to overcome divisions even if there is no common ground on which our conflicts could be solved.”

A mutual journey 

Rev. César García, General Secretary of the Mennonite World Conference spoke of the more than 40 years of ecumenical conversations with the LWF, first at a regional level and then international, global dialogues. “They changed the trajectory of our shared history,” he said, noting the fruit that the relationship between Mennonites and Lutherans has “produced.” 

“Our mutual journey has helped us better understand each other and grow in faithfulness to Jesus Christ. It has enabled us to experience reconciliation as one Body, in the power of the Spirit, bringing hope to the world.” 

Ecumenical dialogue of paramount significance 

Metropolitan Kyrillos of Krini, Patriarchal Exarch of Malta, brought the greeting from His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch. The Ecumenical Patriarch noted that ecumenical dialogue is of “paramount significance, underpinning the quest for peace, unity, and fruitful collaboration.” Engagement with the LWF, he said, has kindled hope for a brighter and more united future. “In an age of religious fragmentation, this spirit of collaboration and mutual respect emerges as a luminous guiding light of hope.” Dialogue and unity are a continual process, “where the Holy Spirit relentlessly endeavors to create, reconcile, and rejuvenate.” 

Bishop Dr Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, Moderator of the World Council of Churches brought shared greetings as Moderator and from the General Secretary Jerry Pillay. He said the theme of the gathering reflected, “the very essence of our shared journey and our ecumenical goal.”

The global communion yearns, “for a world reconciled, just, and united,” he said. He spoke of a world that needs a spiritual and moral renewal, and for Christians to speak “prophetically and with one voice to the challenges of our times and we can succeed by constantly allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us and with us to transform the world.”

“How can we as churches, you as Lutherans, in the best possible way, in a dividing world promote 'One Body, One Spirit, One Hope' as the only way forward towards peace,” asked Dr Jørgen Skov Sørensen, General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches.  

“We are blessed by God as one body,” he continued, sharing from his own ecumenical journey how “the church is a worldwide fellowship of mutual encouragement.” 

Peaceful cooperation 

Also bringing greetings was Bishop Ivan M. Abrahams, General Secretary, World Methodist Council. He reflected on how the LWF assembly was taking place in a country, “with a rich tradition of unity fostering peaceful coexistence and cooperation between different faiths initiating steps toward unification between different Reformation denominations as early as the 16th Century.”

Unity and peaceful cooperation are needed now more than ever, said Abrahams. He reflected with thanks on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) signed by Lutherans and Catholics on 31 October 1999 in Augsburg, Germany. “We celebrate this step towards unity and are committed to the goal of full communion in faith, mission and sacramental life.” 

Rev. Dr Neil Vigers, reading a message from the Anglican Communion Secretary General Bishop Anthony Poggo, also reflected on the impact of the historic JDDJ. He shared his hope that the vision of the agreement would inspire Lutherans and Anglicans, “to common mission and also to renewed theological commitment to study and to teach the principles that must underpin all the work we do as churches.” 

Dr William Wilson, chair, Pentecostal World Fellowship noted that in ten years, Christianity will celebrate the 2,000-year anniversary, “of the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, along with His giving of the Great Commission and the birth of the Church at Pentecost.” Across Christianity, he said, there is new impetus and call “to pursue the fulfillment of the Great Commission together.”  

Celebrating diversity in unity 

Rev. Dr Casely Essamuah, Secretary, Global Christian Forum, spoke of their upcoming 2024 gathering theme, “That the world may know.” “It is our prayer that our gathering in Ghana, just like this gathering here in Poland, will encourage one another through a greater awareness of the healing of our brokenness through Christ and we will be sent forth into the world by the power of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to Christ’s love.” 

Referring to unity as “reconciled diversity,” Rev. Dr Mario Fischer General Secretary of the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe highlighted how the differences among churches should be, “perceived as richness, as diversity in our unity.”  

He called the gathered churches to, “find ways in [their] respective contexts” as churches of the Reformation to “dare communion” and preserve their own unique identities while also bearing, “witness together to the one how which we are called.” 

Champions of justice, unity and humanitarian efforts 

ACT Alliance General Secretary Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, described the LWF assembly theme as profoundly significant. “It underscores the imperative of unity and collaboration among diverse churches, individuals, and communities. It also underscores the pressing need to work collectively in addressing global challenges such as social injustice, climate change, and conflict.” LWF is a founding member of the faith-based coalition of organizations that provide humanitarian assistance.  

Our oneness can transform the world 

Alister Dutton, Secretary General of Caritas Internationalis, emphasized the importance of ecumenical relations, “in our service of the poorest and most marginalized, and our quest to build a just world where everyone experiences and knows the love of God in the practical realities of their daily lives.” LWF World Service and the network of Catholic aid and development agencies collaborate under a 2016 Declaration of Intent.  

We are Easter people, he said. “We are people of faith, and in that faith we find an unquenchable hope that a better world is possible.” Through working together, “we can contribute more effectively to making this world better and more effective.”