A Rich and Joyful Thanksgiving

March 29, 2007

Gifts at the Alter from LWF Member Churches

It was quite a scene in the chancel of the cathedral. In the front row of the choir seats there were several women pastors and bishops, all dressed in their various liturgical finery, and including the retiring Bishop Christina of Lund, whose successor is also a woman.

cardinal-kasper.jpgThere were also some men in the front row, of course, but, while this would be normal protocol, it made for a potent image that in the back row, behind the women pastors and bishops, there sat the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Walter Cardinal Kasper. At the appropriate time during the service, he made his way through the women to come forward to the microphone and greet the congregation. His greeting was warm and dignified, and he read also a congratulatory letter from the Pope, Benedict XVI, on this occasion of the LWF 60th Anniversary, which was graciously received by the congregation.

The service as a whole was a rich and joyful thanksgiving (Eucharist) for the gift of the Communion we call LWF, our life together as Lutherans in the world, and our deep commitment to being part of the whole household of Christ which we call the church. The highpoint, naturally, was our sharing in the meal at our Lord’s Table, invited there by him. With all our differences, all our disagreements, some of them quite strong, we gathered to receive the body and the blood of our Lord and Saviour, who alones makes us one, whose gift and invitation it is that we share in his body, not just at the table of the meal, but in the daily life of his church in the world as we work together in mission for others, in North America, in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, in Europe, and in the whole world for which Christ died and which God loves so very much.

– Rev. Paul Johnson, Assistant to the Bishop for Ecumenical Relations, attending the LWF Council meetings and 60th Anniversary celebrations as an observer


Lessons from Lund

March 29, 2007

In a presentation to the North American Regional Consultation at the LWF 60th Anniversary meeting, Dr. Kjell Nordstokke, challenged the North American churches to begin to share our “colonial” mission experience with the African churches. They were colonized with European expansion and have had to move to more self sustainability when the colonizers left or were removed.

Dr. Nordstokke suggested that those in rural north American communities can probably relate to the African churches today. Missionaries came to the continent and built mission outposts. These outposts were managed by colonial structures. Then liberation left the mission centres in the hands of the African people. Now they must find ways to sustain these centres, in a world where maintenance structures were not in place for the long term, where jobs were few and most migrated to the urban centres in order to sustain a livelihood

Small rural Canadian parishes experience the same. With immigration, small parishes arose all over the prairie. But as depopulation continues in the rural areas, self sustainability is increasingly becoming the focus. It is becoming harder and harder to maintain so many small parishes.

What can we learn from the African churches? What could we teach them about transformation? What is it that both contexts could be doing to revitalize the rural churches?

-Bishop Elaine Sauer, Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod of the ELCIC

Bringing Back the Experiences of Lund to Canada

March 28, 2007

Today saw the close of the 60th anniversary celebrations for the LWF. After a very impressive and international Eucharist service at the Lund Cathedral, we were off to the main hall at the Lund University for the final celebration and closing ceremonies.

As the youth representative for the ELCIC I was asked to take part in a symbolic transfer of items important to the LWF during the last sixty years. A youth from each of the seven regions (North America, Latin America, Central-West Europe, Central-East Europe, Nordic Countries, Asia and Africa) was presented with a gift from an elder of each of the same. I was presented with “Dialogue” from Bishop Maria Jepsen of Germany. The other items were the Bible, Luther’s Catechism, olive oil, water, a key and a collection box.

Each of the elders presented the gift to the respective youth, and the youth responded with a short statement they had written themselves. My own statement called for the tolerance, understanding and acceptance of all people through a respectful sharing of ideas, no matter how diverse our opinions were. I am told by the people attending that the entire presentation was a rather poignant moment – like a passing on of the traditions from those who have the wisdom of experience to those who will continue the work. In addition, each of the seven youth representatives lit a candle during the closing prayers for their region, led by Bishop and President Mark Hanson.

It was an awesome experience – to be there with people from each of the regions of the world, sharing a common purpose and praying together for the future.

The most awesome experience of the whole trip has to be when we pray the Lord’s Prayer together. Every person prays in their native language, and each time we do I get a little choked up. The sound of all the voices speaking the same words of prayer in so many languages, all at once…it can only be described as awe-inspiring.

I only have one full day left here, and I know I will be very sad to leave. The people I have met and the friendships I have made – well, it is really rather sad to think that it will be a long time before I see anyone again…and maybe I won’t see them again at all. I have made friends with people from Cameroon, Tanzania, the Congo, Japan, the Philippines, Columbia, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Guyana, Hungary, Poland, Australia and many other places. In a setting like this, bonds are made very quickly. When you know you only have 10 days with people that you have begun to like very much, everything is that much more intense. I fear I am going to bawl like a baby when I have to say goodbye to everyone tomorrow night.

I came to Sweden not knowing what to expect, but with a sense of my own ideas on how everything would work. I leave with a wealth of knowledge that can only come from experiencing so many diverse cultures, ways of thinking, and a more developed sense of world service. I hope I can bring this experience back to everyone in Canada, share what I have learnt and really convey the significance of the work that the LWF does. It will be a big job.

– Amber Kendel, Liaison to the LWF Youth Desk

Amber’s Blog can be viewed at: http://community.livejournal.com/elcic_lwf_youth/

Hesitance, Urgency and Joy

March 28, 2007

In his message to the LWF Council, President Mark Hanson, Bishop of the Evangelical LutheranChurch in America, used three words to express what it might have been like to attend the first LWF assembly in Lund 60 years ago. He mentioned hesitance, urgency and joy. Hesitancy due to the post war environment, especially for those on opposing sides during WW2. Urgency because the world needed healing in the midst of a human crisis. Joy because they had an opportunity to combine common service work and common theological efforts.

Today we rarely pay attention to the work of the LWF or even notice its place in the world. In fact most of us probably don’t know that some of our benevolence dollars go to LWF efforts (from congregation to synod to national church to LWF). This week I have met people and heard stories of the impact LWF has on their lives. This week I am reminded of the horrors of the HIV/Aids pandemic in Africa and some of the people who are working to make the lives of orphaned children much better, or how water (something we flush, drink and spill at will in Canada) is rationed in refugee camps.

This week I am reminded that I am a part of something greater- a movement that changed the world 60 years ago and still could change the world even more today. But even as our world has shrunk in terms of communications and the internet, making our neighbour as close as an email away, we have become more insular and more internally focused to meet our own needs and not to see beyond ourselves and our small corner of the world.

We often hijack the world’s concerns to talk about our own. It was very evident in the North American regional meetings held over two days while in Lund. Did we talk about the world issues around terrorism, the rising “empire” south of our own borders, the growing climate change issues? No. We spent a great deal of our time analyzing the governance model of the LWF. What concerned us was how process was followed and how it might be improved.

The best links to what is happening in the world happened at the dinner table, where “family” sat down together over a meal and told stories, where I learned about schools in Africa that are educating young people to build a new world, where theological education made a difference in the life of the women in Peru and where urgency, hesitancy and joy were three words that spelled LWF today, with me in the middle of the ACTION.

– Bishop Elaine Sauer of the Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod of the ELCIC

Recognizing the Gifts God has Given Us

March 27, 2007

Church leaders (bishops, presidents) from many (most?) of the LWF’s 140 member churches gathered with the LWF Council, its advisors and many consultants to share insights and listen to concerns and hopes from across the world. The plenary sessions are interesting to be sure, but even more stimulating are the side conversations.

A staff person from the Church of Sweden shared insights with me about stewardship — this from a national church that until 2000 received its funding through church taxes only. She said that congregations need to share their offerings with the synod and national church as a sign of their commitment to belong. Hmm.

The General Secretary of United Evangelical Mission, a Communion of Churches on Three Continents (Europe, Asia, Africa), talked with me about the need to say who we are and what we do as we define our mission. I shared with him our hope in Saskatchewan Synod that all congregations will do the same – ask themselves what gifts God has given them to discover how mission has for that congregation in that particular community.

The Bishop of Iceland shares a concern about how congregations might grow in their passion for mission and outreach in their own communities. The church president in Peru sought me out to tell me that Katharine Bergbusch told many good and encouraging stories about the church in Canada while training local people in Peru to be pastors and deacons.

Bishop Medardo Gomez thanked me for my speech encouraging the LWF to honor its commitment to ensure meaningful participation by women in all staff and program areas, but especially when the LWF is in dialogue with other church denominations. The Orthodox Metropolitan from Finland spoke with me about the role of women in the early church and acknowledged that even today the Orthodox refer to Mary Magdalene as “equal to the apostles” because of her witness about the empty tomb to the disciples.

There’s nothing like face-to-face conversation with faithful leaders from around the world to recognize the gifts God has given us in the ELCIC and Saskatchewan Synod – gifts enough to overcome all challenges with hope and courage.

– Bishop Cindy Halmarson, Saskatchewan Synod ELCIC

Women Bishops, Presidents and Leaders in the LWF

March 27, 2007

In June of 2005, the Women Bishops and Presidents affirmed that they would like regular meetings held for the purpose of support, networking and educational awareness. The group message to the LWF Council also affirmed a request to have the LWF Secretariat hold to the policy of 40% representation of women in all areas of ministry in the LWF. The message also requested that women bishops and presidents be recognized in Full Communion relationships. While the message was to be sent to the LWF Council, it never received full status nor was given a communication link to member churches. It was essentially written but not communicated to the wider church.  

The Women bishops and presidents learned from this experience. They investigated the political process of the LWF council and at the 2007 meeting worked towards communicating a message that would reach individual council members who then would bring recommendations to the council on behalf of the Women’s Consultation. It takes time and patience to work in this kind of process. But the women were persistent and they had allies on the council. 

While this was a frustrating experience for those of us in the northern hemisphere who have access to a communication and political system that supports women and women’s issues, those in the south found it quite amazing to actually find support. This caused me to reflect on the gains of women in the northern hemisphere compared to my sisters in the south. In fact, I was quite surprised that almost 40 countries of the LWF still do not ordain women as pastors.  

There are churches where women outnumber men in theological studies programs, knowing full well they may not be ordained once they have completed their studies. There are churches where women participate in the life of the church, except in the presidency at the Eucharist.  

I asked several of the women in the southern hemisphere (South America and
Africa) what motivates the women in these areas of the world to continue to serve in the church? What motivates them to try harder and be more persistent in their goal of leadership in the church? One said she was motivated by attending events such as the Women’s Consultation. Another said it was seeing those of us in the north. We were an inspiration to them. Our accomplishments as leaders gave them hope.

In fact, as much as I am uncomfortable wearing my clerics, they are inspired by this visible reminder of women’s leadership in the church. Their reflections reminded me that while we in Canada are miles ahead of women’s leadership in other areas of the world, we are to continue to work for the good of others so that others will be given hope. 

Through the consultation, God is working hope for us all- hope for a different world, hope for healing, hope for a renewed transformation of the gospel. Thanks be to God who challenges us to be for others.

– Bishop Elaine Sauer, Manitoba/Northwestern Ontario Synod of the ELCIC

Sixty Years Later – Our Global, Ecumenical, Multifaith Challenge

March 25, 2007

logo2.gifSixty year ago leaders from the churches gathered when Europe was in a shambles, the world had entered the age of nuclear weapons and the world was horrified by the Holocaust.  They gathered to assess what was happening, to heal the wounds of war and build the peace. They like other leaders of their time knew that war was a failure and that with the new nuclear weapons of war, the consequences of another war were inconceivable.  Along with other leaders they set about to create an international systems of institutions, laws, and other meeting places that would build the peace.

Now some sixty years later, the world is a very different place.  The post war system with all its problems and failings – and there have been many – has helped build a way to resolve conflicts without having to resort to the use of violence.  Yet sadly today, too many governments and leaders have come to see the use of force as acceptable and the post war system as optional.  The increasing militarization of diplomacy, aid, and international relations is a challenge to the vision and commitment of Lund in 1947.  This will be the global-ecumenical-multifaith challenge that we take from Lund in 2007.

– Rev Dr David Pfrimmer, Principle Dean of Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, is an LWF Council Member.