Friday, July 30, 2010

LWF Unity is in Christ

Unity in Christ, by Robin J. Steinke, LWF Council member and dean, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg

I just finished my first meeting on the new council for LWF. It is such a privilege to serve the church and the mission of Christ in this capacity. I wish that each member of the ELCA could experience the genuine love of Christ experienced here across the cultural, social, economic and denominational traditions. There are clear and longstanding differences on a whole range of theological and social issues. Yet the unity of the Lutheran World Federation, a communion of churches, bears steadfast witness that our unity comes as a gift in Christ. We need not be of the same mind on any of these issues as long as we together confess Christ. I give thanks for my brothers and sisters across the communion of the LWF that we stand together as a public sign of unity in Christ in the midst of difference.

One final note, I also wish that each member of the ELCA could witness the faithful, pastoral and wise leadership exercised by Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson as he so ably served as president of LWF and presided at this assembly. There was great appreciation expressed throughout the communion of churches at this assembly for his Christ centered, biblically rooted, and confessionally sound and pastorally sensitive witness in preaching, teaching and presiding. His leadership was a powerful witness which pointed to Christ as the Center of life, faith and ministry.

Two Vignettes from Stuttgart

LWF Vignettes, worship setting moments
by Robin J. Steinke

A Living Ikon

I have been singing in the LWF Assembly Choir throughout the week. It has been a wonderful way to engage in the public witness of LWF as we pray together “give us this day our daily bread. On Thursday we experienced the moving service of forgiveness with the Mennonite/Anabaptist tradition. Bishop Younan carried olive oil from the Middle East which was distributed in small bowls throughout the assembly hall for use later in the service.

The entire assembly processed together from the assembly hall, where the formal action to ask for forgiveness was adopted, to the Chapel space singing Veni Sanctu Spiritus-a kind of physical journey to repentance-. This hymn reverberated throughout the tunnel as we sang from deep in our hearts. When we slowly and solemnly gathered in the “Reithalle” for worship, nearly every seat was filled and many were standing in the back of the hall. The Very Rev. Protopresbyter Constantin Miron (which means oil), Ecumenical Patriarch of Germany was crowded into a seat right next to me and the choir. He did not have the green assembly worship book so I stood next to him and said something like, “When you are sitting this close to the choir-you are in the choir so please join the choir and sing with us.” So I shared the worship book and he joined with the choir. He had a wonderful deep bass voice. There we were, an ordained Lutheran woman in a clerical collar and the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch singing praise to God with the whole communion of saints.

At the appointed time in the worship service we were to dip our finger in the small bowl of oil and turn to the person next to us and mark the sign of the cross on the top of their hand and say “God gives you a new heart and a new spirit” and the response was “Thanks be to God”. This was from the Ezekiel text for the day. Several of us were to start this with the choir. I went to begin this rite with the Mennonite choir and gave and received the sign of the cross with oil.

When I returned to my place in the choir, Bishop Miron reached for my hand and took his own oil crossed hand and placed the top of his oil marked hand on the top of my hand and said “with this I seal it”. It was a gift of blessing from this Orthodox Bishop. I received this blessing from one who did not need to do this. I was stunned at his public respect and gift of blessing. It may be that the public act of confession and forgiveness with the Mennonites bore witness to God’s reconciling and redeeming project for the world in a way that this Orthodox brother in Christ extended to me an ecumenical blessing. I continue to reflect on the powerful time of shared blessing and rejoice in the glimpse of God’s promised future of wholeness in the body of Christ.

Stiftskirche Marks History with Bell

I was in the “Stiftskirche” or college church on Sunday morning, July 25th singing in the choir again. The bishop of Baden W├╝rttemberg, Bishop July preached with the Bishop of Lund and Dr. Ishmael Noko presiding. This was again a deeply moving service, broadcast across all of Germany.

The pastor invited all assembly participants to climb the bell tower following the service. Housed in this towed is an enormous bell which is only rung twice a year. Once at the beginning of lent and again on the commemoration of the bombing of the church and its nearly total destruction in 1944. The day of commemoration just happened to be July 25th. Many of us were in the bell tower as it was rung to remember the devastation of another era.

As one who also lives on another battlefield where we too commemorate the end to violence unleashed on our seminary campus, it was a powerful reminder of the need to for ongoing attention to our call to bear witness to God’s promise of peace for the world.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Steinke Elected To LWF Council


Stuttgart, Germany (July 26, 2010) The Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, Dean of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, was elected to serve on the 48 member Council of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The election took place here during the Eleventh Assembly of the LWF, which meets every seven years.

The Council serves as the global Lutheran Communion’s governing body between assemblies, and meets once every 12 to 18 months. It consists of the President, who is elected by the Assembly, the Treasurer, who can be elected from among the membership or from outside, and 48 persons elected by the Assembly.

Steinke is one of five persons elected to the Council from North America. The Rev. Donald McCoid, Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, said that Steinke was the right nominee for this role. “The LWF had identified the need for a female theologian to serve on the Council,” he said. “Dr. Steinke has the right combination of theological gifts and global knowledge for the work of this Council.”

The Council meets every 18 months to consider the important work of ministry of care, world service, ecumenical dialogues, interfaith relationships, theology, and to address concerns and issues in the world. An executive committee meets between meetings of the Council.

This year marks significant changes for the LWF. By action of the Assembly, the LWF Council will be face a new structure, some challenging ongoing planning, and new leadership. As of the conclusion of the assembly, the newly elected Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land will fill the post of the LWF president. In October, a new General Secretary will lead overall operations for the Geneva based organization.

An advisor to the LWF also said that with diversity of opinions on moral and ethical decisions and maintaining unity within the LWF Communion of Churches, the Council will tend to relationships as well as issues. Among the issues that are a priority include: global warming, gender justice, peace, hunger, poverty, disease -- malaria and HIV/AIDS, illegitimate debt, disaster response, and concerns and needs that develop.

McCoid cited Steinke for “her commitment to the LWF as a communion of churches, and her passion to work for unity in Christ in the world and for the sake of all people especially for those who live on the margins of society.” Steinke, who was present for the assembly, attends her first meeting at the conclusion of the LWF Assembly on July 27, 2010.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

LWF Assembly Short Video Spots

You can see an array of 1-5 minute video clips that give a feel for the more than 1000 persons assembling at Liederhalle in Stuttgart, Germany

Youtube LWFweb section

LWF President-elects First Press Conference: Hardest questions first

Press Conference with Munib Younan
Reported by John Spangler

Right out of the box, the questions came hard and fast for President-elect Munib Younan following his election. The first question was offered by secular press and it was clear that they wanted the Bishop to stake out the lines in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict: “Are the Jews God’s chosen people?”

The bishop affirmed all three times he was pressed on the Israeli/Palestinian questions that he believes that as complex as the issue is, justice for Palestinians and justice for Israeli’s is the only way to achieve a suitable peace in the seemingly intractable conflict in the Middle East. He thought that his election might bring greater strength of spirit to Arabic Christians, who are such a profound minority in the territory now. Younan navigated the thorny questions on conflict Palestinian politics carefully and thoughtfully.

Secondly, on the first question’s heals was another line of difficulty: this one on the culturally specific hot button issue in the Christian world these days: “Do you believe in the ordination of women? Homosexuals?

Reporters got aggressive here and followed up trying to find out how he might deal with an issue of disagreement among some groups in the communion. Younan said quite clearly that “My church 10 years ago decided to allow women to be ordained and now is preparing a woman for ordination. Now we must continue to encourage the evangelical churches to be open to women, for it is an integral part of the Lutheran tradition.” Once more the follow up came whether he himself believes in the ordination of homosexual persons, he finally said “it would be wrong to state my opinion now. And he said flatly to a third follow up on the question of “We are committed to this process of study until 2012. Please be patient. Because the churches in Africa and Asia in the next two years are studying marriage, family and hosmosexuality and will come to the council at that appointed time.”

"When God created us in his image, it is male and female, when he saved us from the cross, it was for all. He calls us as human beings."  And his last statement on the issue was it is his desire to focus on “what unites us more than what divides us.”

The bishop also received other kinds of questions, equally offering potential pitfalls: are you prepared for this role? What is your vision for the Lutheran World Federation? Will his role change in his present setting due to this new global recognition?

“I took the nomination as a call from Christ.” Said the president-elect. “I believe that the lord calls me to this job to be the servant of this communion, that he would qualify me. In essence, he expects that God is telling him “don’t worry my brother, we will succeed.” 

Even though these seemed particularly "hard ball" questions for the newly elected leader, there is no reason to expect that they will get easier as time goes on.

Palestinian Bishop Elected President of the Lutheran World Federation

LWF News Service
Bishop Munib A. Younan is a Passionate Campaigner for Peace and Inter-Faith Dialogue in the Middle East

STUTTGART, Germany, 24 July 2010 – Bishop Munib A. Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) has been elected President of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) by the Eleventh Assembly here, a gathering of 418 delegates and others from the LWF member churches.

Three hundred and sixty registered delegates voted, representing 145 member churches from 79 countries. Rt Rev. Dr Younan received 300 votes affirming his election, 23 against; there were 37 abstentions. There were no other nominees.
Younan   photo LWF/Erik Coll

Younan, 59, succeeds Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who has been President of the LWF since the organization’s last Assembly in Winnipeg, Canada, in 2003.

Ordained in 1976 after study in Palestine and gaining a degree from Helsinki [Finland] University, Younan was a youth pastor and teacher in his homeland. From 1976 to 1979 he was pastor of the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem and he has also served parishes in Beit Jala and Ramallah. He studied at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and he holds an honorary doctorate, granted by Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.

The president-elect has headed his church body since 1998 and was the third Palestinian bishop of the church founded by Germans in the nineteenth century and previously led by clergy from Germany. A member of the LWF since 1974, the ELCJHL has about 3,000 members.
The bishop was the first to translate the Augsburg Confession, a key document of the Lutheran Church, into Arabic.
Younan is a former vice-president of the LWF, is president of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches and serves with three Jerusalem patriarchs and nine other bishops on the International Christian Committee of Jerusalem. He is also a co-founder of the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land, made up of the two chief rabbis of Israel, heads of the local churches, the Chief Judge of the Islamic Court in Palestine and other Muslim leaders.
He is the author of Witnessing for Peace, a book about the search for peace in his homeland and numerous articles on churches and the search for peace in the Holy Land.

His wife, Suad, is Director of the Helen Keller School in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Hanina, which educates visually-impaired children. She is also the chair of the women’s committee of the ELCJHL.
The couple has three children and one grandchild.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Singing in the Tunnel

Singing Veni Spiritus in the Tunnel, Marking Reconciliation

By Maria Erling
ELCA Delegate to the LWF Assembly

The procession underground went through the modern, granite surfaced tunnel between the plenary hall and the worship room. Were there a thousand of us? Hard to tell from the front, where the Mennonite and Lutheran choirs sang their way through. We sang a version of “Come Holy Spirit,” and it carried us into a service of confession. The tunnel gave our song a rich welcome. The prayer echoed ahead of us and behind.

photo by Arni Svanur Danielsson
Then began a service of testimony and song that recited the stories of persecution. We heard stories of the Anabaptist martyrs and learned how another community was formed. We listened as our Mennonite sisters and brothers acknowledged that a dark history told by victims can also do a kind of damage, and prevent a people from becoming all they can be. So, both of our communities will be transformed by this, and in that work made more fully alive in Christ.

But the other healing thing that happened through this honest recital was that we Lutherans, that is all of us – African, Asian, Latin American, European, Nordic, and North American - accepted that the harm done in the 16th century and continued through five centuries is a history that would not be buried or forgotten by us.

So we sang our way through to a new day.

Follow the Questions

The Questioners’ Questions
by John Spangler, From Stuttgart

How does the world view Lutherans in this kind of a global gathering? To answer that, I followed the questions that people have been asking. In this case, mostly press and media questions.

From the pre assembly news conference and subsequent conferences taking place within the assembly time frame, the world and its media representatives press their questions to LWF leaders. In the pre assembly event, all questions were related to human sexuality in one way or another. The ELCA’s decision, joining the Church of Sweden in formal openness to the ordination and recognition of persons in faithful same gender relationships, elicited questions about whether disagreements among the LWF member churches, particularly Africa, would surface. A second focus, still centered on sexuality, was the abrupt resignation of German Bishop Maria Jepsen over the weekend before the assembly. (Jepsen resigned in response to clergy sexual abuse cases within her jurisdiction that did not receive proper intervention in a timely way.) One German newspaper noted that it was the third German bishop to resign (2 Lutherans, one Roman Catholic) with in a year’s time. Jepsen is listed as a delegate to the assembly but has not attended to date.

In a later conference, the questions from media shifted slightly toward the search for conflict, signs of what they believe to be potentially underlying clashes among the Lutheran churches around sexuality. This shift was triggered by questions raised by delegates in a plenary session in response to Bishop Hanson’s report on Wednesday, wondering why the U.S. church, and by implication, the church of Sweden, moved ahead on sexuality questions when the LWF is calling for a five year period of study and conversation. A second delegate from Africa wanted to know what the nature of the communion of churches is in which this kind of decision might be made by some churches. But the secular media members’ other questions also picked up on disagreements over the ordination of women among the churches, a kind of extension of the tensions around sexuality. Bishop Hanson clarified that membership in the LWF does not require the ordination of women, but that the LWF is on record within its membership to supporting those churches that do (which is a very strong majority) and encouraging those that do not to consider adoption of the practice.

More pointed questions from secular and ecumenical outlets searched for possible rifts in the LWF’s unity. Here LWF leaders responded with frustration around the belief that some non-LWF member entities in the Lutheran tradition may be trying to use either scripture or the Lutheran confessions to define who is and who is not Lutheran, or who is and who is not confessionally pure. There appeared to be a frustration among some leaders that there are thinly veiled attempts to fragment the Lutheran world and use issues of women’s ordination or human sexuality as a wedge.

Other questions included one about the hopes the leaders might have for the 2017 anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, is there ecumenical work going on around the prospect of common communion for couples who belong to ecumenically diverse traditions, such as Lutheran and Roman Catholic spouses, and one about the fragility of family and church life in the North, the isolation and scarcity of young people in church life.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lutheran Reconciliation with Mennonites Intense, Emotional, and Moving Action

Lutheran and Mennonite Reconciliation today, Thursday the 22nd

Mennonite gift to LWF

In response to the Lutheran and Mennonite reconciliation, today Larry Miller, whoserves as General Secretary of the Mennonite World Conference presented a gift of a footwashing bucket to the Lutheran World Federation today,

The gift followed an intense and heartfelt introduction to action, and included a vote with many delegates voting on their knees in repentence before God and in request of forgiveness from the Mennonites.

The gift is a pine well bucket, a varnished wooden pail, roughly 20 by 20 inches, with narrow steel rings around the outside, a steel handle. Essentially it looks like a well bucket.

The bucket is engraved with the following: “Given to the Lutheran world federation by Mennonite world conference with deepest gratitude on this day of repentance and forgiveness. From this day forth let us serve one another as our Lord and Teacher served us. (John 13:1-17)” and dated 22 July Stuttgart

The “Footwashing Pail” was made by the Anabaptist community in the Nickle Mines area. “in the Nickle Mines area” is due to the fact that they are a “modest community” and Larry Miller, out of respect for their reticence about being in the media spotlight.  It is from one of the Anabaptist communities in Eastern Pennsylvania that still practices foot washing. Footwashing is done prior to the Lord’s Supper as a sign of service and reconciliation.

The Old Order Amish community at Nickel Mines in Lancaster County, PA, came into a tragic spotlight on October 2, 2006 when a gunman took ten girls hostage in the one room school house, killed five and committed suicide in the school. The response of reconciliation and forgiveness and the resistance in the Amish community to express anger or bitterness was widely discussed in both churches and wider public across the country.

Hail and Farewell and ‘The Dialogue Must Continue’ -- Day 2

by John Spangler, from Stuttgart

Thanksgivings mingled with the undercurrent of farewells on day two of the assembly. The greetings of Walter Cardinal Kasper were received with affection by the assembly, even as they highlighted the unfinished work of ecumenism, the dialogues, and the greater common work of Christian unity. Kasper, who came “home” to Stuttgart for the greeting (he was bishop of Stuttgart) has been in a farewell tour mode, it seems, and cited the significant friendships that have been forged through long history of ecumenical contact with the Lutherans. If Kasper were the only key figure to retire, that wind may not have prevailed, but with the retirement of General Secretary Noko and the conclusion of the LWF President’s term (Bishop Hanson), the text of the song was thank you, carry on in faith the work of unity, and farewell.

As one would expect, Kasper cited the Joint Declaration on the doctrine of Justification as the highlight of his four decades of dialogue. He said that this work doesn’t belong to any person or tradition, but that “the ecumenical movement is God’s own movement… to bring us together to reconcile ourselves to him.” Whether Catholic or Lutheran, “as Christians,” he said, “we can no longer afford our differences. The dialog must continue. Where there is no communion there is no peace.”

Dialogues are still an unfinished agenda, said Kasper, and “the Catholic church is determined to continue.” Here I suspect an unspoken context is that some among Lutherans who have been arguing against the ELCA’s 2009 decision to permit the ordination of homosexual persons in monogamous, lifelong committed relationships would bring an end to such commitments and common work. Ecumenical partners appear to remain in their commitments, even where there might be significant disagreement on this issue.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

News alert -- Global Lutheran Communion and Mennonites to Mark Reconciliation

Luherans to Ask Forgiveness for Past Persecutions of Anabaptists -- Mennonite response to include gift from Nickle Mine Community

An Action toward Reconciliation with Anabaptists

The most prominent ecumenical action at the July 2010Lutheran World Federation Assembly will be the request for forgiveness—first from God, and then from Mennonite brothers and sisters from the Anabaptist tradition. With theological support from such leaders as Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon, Lutherans in the 16th century violently persecuted and even executed Anabaptists. These actions remain vivid in Anabaptist memory.

Results of the Lutheran – Mennonite International Study Commission (2005-2008) provide common perspectives on this painful history and allow Lutherans to recognize not only past wrongs but also “inappropriate, misleading, and hurtful portraits” of Anabaptists to the present day. Based on this study, the LWF Council in October 2009 unanimously approved the request for forgiveness. While important theological differences remain, these can be explored in a new atmosphere when the legacy of the persecutions is addressed.

In this action, the LWF prays “that God may grant to our communities a healing of our memories and reconciliation.” Mennonites have indicated that they are eager to respond. This action by the Lutheran communion to address faithfully a sorrowful legacy has significance for the entire Body of Christ.

Further information will be made avialable Thursday morning 08:00 in Stuttgart that is currently embargoed information.

More details are available at

The event is streamed from the same website and scheduled for the afternoon of thursday here (between 16:30 and 18:00), early morning EDT

Text of the statement:


The Rev. John R. Spangler
Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg
And Co-opted Staff for LWF Assembly, Stuttgart, Germany

Gettysburg Seminary Sends Three to LWF Assembly in Stuttgart

By Gettysburg Seminary News
Three members of the Gettysburg Seminary faculty and staff will attend the 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), July 20-27, 2010, in Stuttgart, Germany.

The Rev. Dr. Maria Erling, Professor of Modern Church History and Mission, is a voting delegate to the assembly, representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a member of the global Lutheran body. Joining her at the assembly will be the Rev. Dr. Robin Steinke, Dean of the Seminary and newly elected member of the LWF Council, a 48-member body directing the Federation’s work between assemblies, which occur every seven years. The Rev. John Spangler, the Seminary’s executive for communication, will serve on the LWF communication staff for the event.

The focus of the LWF assembly is “Give Us Today Our Daily Bread,” which will open topics of food, hunger and justice, as well as environmental and political causes of food shortages. Leading the meeting is LWF is the Rev. Mark Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, and for the last seven years, President of the LWF.

The LWF is a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. Founded in 1947 in Lund, Sweden, the LWF now has 140 member churches in 79 countries all over the world representing more than 70 million Christians. Information about the LWF and its Stuttgart Assembly is available at .

Opening Worship at LWF2010 Assembly in Stuttgart

From John Spangler, co-opted LWF staff, social media manager for english

The Eleventh Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation opened with a stunningly visual liturgy this afternoon in the Stuttgart Stiftskirche, packed with several hundred worshippers and 8 (count em) television cameras from SWR, broadcasting all over Germany and selected other countries.

The service opened up the theme “Give Us Today Our Daily Bread” with the reading from the first two chapters of Ruth in which Naomi tells her daughters in law to return to their own kin and country. This was paired with the Luke chapter 9 gospel story in which Jesus tells the disciples to feed the great crowd gathered to hear him teach and heal at Bethsaida. The disciples wanted Jesus to send the crowd homeward and away to be fed. This set up Bishop Hanson’s opening to his sermon, asking if the message is “Go back” or whether it is a far more powerful message more like Jesus’ call not to retreat, but to “make them sit down” and feed this crowd with bread, both physical and spiritual. “You give them something to eat” said Jesus, and what was collected, bless and shared fulfilled this promise.

The theme and sermon was augmented by a choreographed feature, part liturgical dance and part chancel drama, in which a dozen people, some clothed in the travel clothes of immigrants and pilgrims, act out and then cry “your people are my people, your God is my God” woven through the entire section of the worship devoted to the Word. The same group brought back a gleaning gesture at communion distribution as worshippers came forward. Each bent low to pick up a stalk of wheat and placed it in a basket that represented an offering of “necessity laid upon you” for this meeting, for your work back home. Say what commitment you are taking to respond to the one who says ‘you will be my people and I will be your God.’”