Optimism Marks Renewal Process in Churches of Central and Eastern

Feb 27, 2003 11:54 AM EST

VIENNA, Austria - It is through personal encounters that the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) acquires a face, declared Bishop Herwig Sturm, Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Austria, during the LWF Europe region pre-Assembly consultation.

Speaking to journalists on February 24 in the Austrian capital, Sturm said it was a great honor for the 355,000-member church to host the LWF Tenth Assembly preparatory consultation. For the Austrian church, one of the Federation's founding members in 1947, the meeting is an opportunity to "put faces to names," and also clearly bring out the goals of the various LWF programs, making it easier to implement them in congregations.

On the agenda of the February 23-26 Europe pre-Assembly is the content and program of the LWF Tenth Assembly, to be held 21-31 July 2003 in Winnipeg, Canada under the theme "For the Healing of the World," explained the LWF Treasurer, Ms Inger Johanne Wremer, Church of Norway. She noted that the Assembly's conclusions would determine the LWF's work for the next six years. In ten so-called "village groups", Assembly participants will discuss topics such as economic globalization, family violence, HIV/AIDS and justice.

As a fellowship of 136 Lutheran churches world-wide, the Assembly would also address the obligation of resource-sharing, the treasurer emphasized, with the aim of enabling smaller chrches with limited financial means also to participate fully in the Lutheran communion. Wremer noted that even before Winnipeg, the LWF has been working to remove barriers that exclude people. She cited HIV/AIDS and various forms of discrimination including the effects of economic globalization, which can be both negative and positive, but in her opinion is an indication of increasing injustice. Another central theme to be discussed at the Assembly is the continuing dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church since the 31 October 1999 signing of the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.

Dr Julius Filo, Bishop of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in the Slovak Republic, called for a return to Christian values in Europe in its process of reunification. As the continent grows back together, it is the churches' task to uphold the fundamental ethical and spiritual values that have been influenced by Christianity, Filo said.

As LWF Vice President for Central and Eastern Europe since 1997, he noted that the LWF member churches in the region aim to have other churches share in their process of renewal, which is marked by optimism. Since the fall of the "Iron Curtain," he pointed out, these churches have been confronted with the negative as well as positive effects of globalization. In such a situation, he said, developing the capability to accept the positive aspects, while resisting the negative ones, is a great challenge. Filo, who is Bishop of 373,000 Lutherans, considers it urgently necessary to introduce a process of sharing of all gifts.

The opportunity for conversation with LWF member churches that are both larger and smaller than her own pleases Rev. Ilona Fritz, who in May 2002 was elected President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For her small church with 15,000 members, she says, it is "enormously important" to be part of a worldwide communion. It joined the LWF in 1947.

The Lutheran church in the Netherlands, currently in the process of uniting with the Reformed churches there, is faced with the decisive question of whether the resulting 2.5 million-strong church will then belong to the LWF. Fritz points out that a further challenge in the unification process is the acceptance of women in positions of leadership, to which conservative groups in the Reformed churches object. Fritz considers it a special advantage of smaller churches that they are often more flexible in decision-making processes than large churches.

By Albert H. Lee
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