The 70-million strong Lutheran World Federation has struggled to live up to its own vision of inclusiveness regarding the role of women, the General Secretary of the church grouping, the Rev Ishmael Noko, has told LWF members - writes Peter Kenny.
"Equitable participation in God's mission is the hallmark of an inclusive communion. Member churches are therefore urged to take appropriate steps towards the ordination of women, and, where it is not the case, to put in place policies of equality," Noko said in his address to the LWF's highest governing body on 21 July 2010 in Stuttgart, Germany.
Noko, who is to retire from his position in November after 16 years, was delivering his report to the Lutheran grouping's 11th assembly, taking place from 20 to 27 July.
Pressed by ENInews during a press conference on which regions are ordaining women and which are not, Noko would only say that in different continents some churches ordain women and some do not. There is most resistance to ordaining women in the Africa, Asia and Latin America regions, he said.
"We are called to be an inclusive communion," said Noko, a Zimbabwean educated in South Africa and Canada. "Without living that calling, we cannot be effective witnesses for justice and inclusiveness in our societies."
Hundreds of Lutherans from around the world are in Stuttgart for the LWF assembly, where Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is due to address the gathering on 22 July. This is the second LWF assembly to take place in Germany. The first was in Hanover in 1952.
The Geneva-based Lutheran grouping is made up of 140 member churches in 79 countries, representing more than 70 million Protestants. It is expected an estimated 1000 people, including 418 delegates from member churches, will participate in the Stuttgart assembly.
In his speech, Noko noted that, "More than 60 years after its foundation, the LWF still struggles to live up to its own vision of inclusiveness. We continue to be challenged to work toward becoming a communion that truly reflects the body of Christ - complete in all its parts and representative of its full diversity."
LWF assemblies take place normally once every six years. The last assembly was in Winnipeg, Canada in 2003.
Noko noted that in Winnipeg there was a call to LWF churches to, "undertake theological studies on overcoming the remaining barriers that prevent gender mainstreaming and women's ordination".
He rued, however, "In most cases, even assembly or council decisions that received strong support at the time may not enjoy much subsequent follow-up by churches."
Noko added that the seventh LWF assembly in 1984 called for a balance of men and women delegates, and he had hoped to achieve that parity in 2010. He regretted that in Stuttgart male delegates accounted for 52 percent whilst women made up 48 percent.
On the matter of involvement by young people, Noko said, "The absence of young people in many churches today, and the fact that many are finding meaning in more charismatic worship services, is a sign the mainline churches need to renew their liturgies and practices."
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]