SEARCHING FOR “Credible and Transformative Hope” in the midst of a war against Ukraine, a deepening climate crisis, the ongoing consequences of Covid-19 and a ‘shadow’ mental health pandemic affecting young people in particular. These are the key concerns of churches in the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) European regions, reflected in a concluding message from their 21 to 24 March Pre-Assembly.
Around a hundred and twenty representatives of churches in the Western, Eastern and Nordic regions gathered in Mansfield College, Oxford, to look ahead to the LWF’s Thirteenth Assembly, scheduled from 13 to 19 September in Krakow, Poland. In the context of declining church membership across the region, the delegates acknowledged the huge challenges they face in remaining relevant, hopeful and responsive to people’s spiritual needs.
“We must find new ways of being church”, participants emphasised, with many of them calling for renewed “work on our theology of peace and self-defence, questioning how we can be peacemakers in our time.” Bishop Pavlo Shvarts of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ukraine was among those presenting testimony of how congregations in Kharkiv and elsewhere are struggling to survive and to continue offering pastoral care to the most vulnerable victims of the war in his country.
The growing awareness around mental health issues was another emerging priority for many church leaders in the region, who noted that “we need to work on our theology of mental health and play our role in building […] mutual care in our communities.” Young delegates in particular emphasised the need for churches to provide more resources dealing with “eco-anxiety, depression and other mental health issues”, as well as better training on these topics for lay and ordained faith leaders. The European youth delegates met together in Oxford ahead of the Pre-Assembly, with mental health, climate justice and more inclusive and accessible churches topping their list of concerns in the lead up to the Krakow Assembly.
Inclusivity and accessibility were also areas highlighted by all the church leaders in their concluding message, both in terms of more contemporary liturgies and theology, as well as the use of clearer language and a stronger presence on social media. The message called for more honesty in dealing with legacies of “racism, exclusion and violence.”
Participants lamented the global pushback against human rights and gender justice, with religion “too often used as an argument to justify” such actions. Noting the alarming rise in gender-based violence during the pandemic, the delegates said that as “we mark the 10th anniversary of LWF`s gender justice policy, we recognise that we have made progress in expressing and accepting diversity as a sign of God’s good creation.” They also called for respectful ways of dealing with difficult questions related to human sexuality.
Reflecting on the relationship between the LWF and its member churches, the leaders said: “We need to strengthen our own democratic structures and participatory approaches,” drawing especially on the gifts of women, youth and lay leaders. Calling for “more opportunities for intergenerational cooperation,” they acknowledged the potential of young people to strengthen the work of advocacy, communication and sharing of the Gospel with wider audiences.
Acknowledging “the rich diversity” within the global communion but also within their own European family of churches, participants at the Pre-Assembly stressed the urgency of continuing “to listen to each other carefully and not to give up on one another.” They concluded: “Rooted in one hope, we are united in one body by one Spirit. With Christ in our centre, we believe that unity in reconciled diversity in possible.”
*.The Thirteenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation takes place 13-19 September 2023 in Krakow, Poland. The theme of the Assembly will be One Body, One Spirit, One Hope. It will be hosted by the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland.
* Source: Lutheran World Federation