Seminarian Matt Hansen (right) with ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth A. Eaton and LTSS Seminarian Kjell Bakken.
People of the North Carolina Synod: the Lutheran church is thriving!
A typical post-COVID Sunday in our local congregations may make us feel differently, but having just returned from the 13th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) in Krakow, Poland, I can confirm that our global Lutheran communion is alive and vibrant. And it is beautiful.
There is nothing quite like attending opening worship alongside a thousand other Lutherans and singing “A Mighty Fortress” in English, German, Spanish, and French. Or attending a Sunday service at a local church in Krakow with attendees overflowing the church building and causing congestion in the street. Or hearing the joys and struggles, hopes and dreams, from our siblings in Christ from 150 member churches in 99 countries during a weeklong gathering. But the LWF Assembly included all these amazing things.
You may be asking yourself: what is the Lutheran World Federation? And why were you at the Assembly?
What is the LWF?
The LWF was founded shortly after World War II when people rooted in the Lutheran faith were in search of healing and fellowship following the devastation of the war. The LWF is comprised of member churches from across the globe that share values: to live and work together for a just, peaceful, and reconciled world. The ELCA is one of 150 member-church bodies—a part of this shared work and communion of churches. As members of the NC Synod of the ELCA, we too are co-workers in these global efforts.
Four organizational pillars were eventually declared to guide the global communion:
- rescue the needy,
- common initiatives in mission,
- joint efforts in theology,
- and a common response to the ecumenical challenge.
As the global expression of our faith, the LWF engages in humanitarian work (like owning and operating Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem where life-saving care is provided to Palestinian refugees) to engaging in ecumenical work (such as Lutheran-Catholic dialogues). In 2017, when the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation took place, Pope Francis joined LWF leaders for an ecumenical service in Lund, Sweden—the same city in which the LWF was founded and held its first Assembly.
What is an LWF Assembly?
The Assembly is the highest governing body of the LWF (i.e. the group that sets in motion its mission and vision, elects leaders, issues statements and teachings). Forty-seven member churches took part in that first Assembly. Seventy-six years later, 150 member churches from 99 countries were in Krakow for the 13th Assembly of the LWF.
What were you doing there?
I served as a co-opted staff member on the LWF Communications team, leading social media efforts for the Assembly. This was fitting since my occupation prior to seminary was social media marketing. One of the greatest joys of my NC Synod Candidacy journey has been the ability (and need) to intertwine my communications work with my vocation as a candidate for ordained ministry.
The LWF Assembly is a perfect example of that need. Although I’ve been back in North Carolina for a few weeks now, I can’t contain my joy and enthusiasm for the future of the church. I want to share the beauty and vibrancy of our global church with everyone. In tragic and violent times like now, we need to hear of good work happening near and far. We need to learn how fellow Lutherans—joined together in our baptismal journeys—are working together for a more just and reconciled world.
Across contexts and cultures, the Lutheran church is doing this work in response to Jesus’ final prayer “that they may be one.” (John 17:11)
The Assembly theme, One Body. One Spirit. One Hope., informed our time together and will guide the work of the LWF until the next Assembly in approximately six years. Throughout the Assembly, ecumenical leaders shared statements of support of this theme and their desire to work together. At the end of the Assembly, delegates published a message sharing their learnings from the Assembly and their commitments for the work to come.
Why does this matter to North Carolina Lutherans?
As a seminarian, I am increasingly convinced that two things are going to be most fundamental to my work as an ordained minister in Christ’s Church: gathering and reminding. Focusing on these two things illumines the importance of this work for all of us.
Gathering is fundamental to our faith. We realized this when we could no longer gather onsite at churches during the early weeks and months of the pandemic. But we also realize this when we sit around a table—whether for the Eucharist or a family meal—and see other faces, hear stories, and share our hopes and struggles.
Our worship is rooted in gathering. It’s the first of four movements of the service found in our liturgy (Gathering, Word, Meal, Sending) and it enables us to confess and receive God’s forgiveness, to hear and be transformed by God’s word, and to taste and see the goodness of God through the gift and Sacrament of Holy Communion.
We gather in our congregations and sit next to people we may not normally seek out; all the while being transformed together by the goodness and mercy of God.
We are forgetful people. We sometimes forget in whose image we were made (Gen 1:26). We sometimes forget the most important things (John 13:34). And we sometimes forget that we cannot do things alone.
At Holy Communion, we get a reminder “that can be grasped and appropriated only by the heart.” (Luther’s Large Catechism, Sacrament of the Altar). So we receive it week after week, reminding us of the goodness and mercy of God.
Through worship, meals together, and newly formed cross-cultural relationships, the LWF Assembly gathered and reminded people from all over the world that we are One Body. One Spirit. One Hope. in our one God and Lord of all. (Ephesians 4:4)
The LWF Assembly gathered and reminded us that our church is most certainly alive. The Holy Spirit still has work for us to do. I am so grateful to have joined in this work.