Meet the three Lutheran leaders who will be presenting reflections on the theme of ‘One Body, One Spirit, One Hope’ at the Krakow Assembly in September
Two seminary presidents and a former archbishop to explore ‘One Body,’ ‘One Spirit,’ and ‘One Hope’
(LWI) – Two seminary presidents from Indonesia and Ethiopia and a retired archbishop from the Church of Sweden. These three Lutheran leaders, from very different regional contexts, will be exploring the theme of ‘One Body, One Spirit, One Hope’ at the forthcoming Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Assembly in Krakow next month.
Indonesian New Testament scholar, Rev. Dr Benny Sinaga is president of the Sekolah Tinggi Bibelvrouw, an all-women’s seminary located beside Lake Toba in North Sumatra. Serving 170 students, the seminary belongs to the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP), the largest of Indonesia’s thirteen LWF member churches and one of the biggest Protestant churches in the south-east Asia region.
Benny will be attending her second LWF Assembly, two decades after she first participated as a youth delegate in the global gathering in Winnipeg, Canada, in July 2003. As a seminary student herself, she stood with other young delegates holding flags at the opening session to represent churches in countries that were unable to obtain visas to attend the event.
Before that, she was part of LWF’s youth program, traveling to Geneva in 2001 to learn about the importance of young people’s participation in the church. It was an eye-opening experience for her: “In those days, there was no voice for the youth in our churches,” she recalls, “but now that has changed. With support from LWF, I was able to develop a campaign for youth participation, as well as a project to plant trees around Lake Toba to combat the deforestation by a giant pulp and paper company.”
Benny will present the topic of ‘One Body’, exploring what it means for churches to be “one in Christ” in a polarized, post-pandemic world. She believes that in the wake of COVID-19, “relations between the churches are not as strong as they were before.” She says: “I hope the Assembly will be more than just a gathering of people from different places and that we can think about developing some instruments to connect us more closely and more regularly in the future.”
From Ethiopia, Rev. Dr Bruk Ayele, president of the Mekane Yesus seminary will explore the topic of ‘One Spirit’, reflecting on how the Holy Spirit can guide us towards unity amid all the current crises including “fragmentation, discrimination, stigmatization, ethnocentrism, tribalism, oppression, injustice, conflicts, war, genocide, slavery and misleading theologies.” Despite the challenges of our diversity, he says, “we know that grace is abounding, so this Spirit-given grace is there to help us return to that divine unity.”
Diversity is reflected in the DNA of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) which reaches out to include people from more than 60 of the country’s 86 different ethnic and linguistic groups. “We are extremely diverse in ethnicity,” Bruk says, “but we also come from a background of high church and low church, including a merger of both Lutheran and Reformed churches. All kinds of missionaries came from Germany, Sweden, Norway, America and other Scandinavian countries, but all these diversities did not deter us from being a united church: one in Christ and one in Spirit.”
The EECMY is the largest among Lutheran churches in the global communion and it is a fast-growing church numbering over 12 million members. “We are a very ecumenical church in so many ways,” Bruk reflects, “yet we are still challenged to hear this call to unity and to move forward in all our diversity. We are a church that is strongly rooted in the Bible and this verse from Ephesians 4:4-6 is a call to Mekane Yesus as well.”
As an educator, Bruk would like to see the Krakow Assembly “reaffirming in a stronger and more realistic way” the emphasis on theological education that was “among the central issues at the previous Assembly” in Windhoek in 2017. Lutheranism, he says, “is rooted in conviction and conviction is rooted in teaching, so I hope the Thirteenth Assembly will offer not only words, but tangible directions to promote theological education, especially in the global south.”
Impatient in Hope
The former archbishop of the Church of Sweden and vice president of the Nordic region, Rev. Dr Antje Jackelén, will be the third presenter, reflecting on the topic of ‘One Hope’. Despite being a veteran of LWF’s global gatherings – she attended the previous two Assemblies in Stuttgart and in Windhoek – she confesses to feeling “a little intimidated to be given the responsibility and the honor of addressing the Krakow Assembly.”
Hope is a central theme in Jackelén’s writing and preaching and it is an issue which became particularly critical for her during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the height of the global lockdowns in the summer of 2020, she published a book in Swedish entitled ‘Impatient in Hope’, to support pastors struggling with questions about “what does it mean to be church in a pandemic, how can we speak about creation as “good” and how can we cultivate hope in this situation?”
“The idea of ‘holy impatience’ is one that appeals to me,” Jackelen reflects, building on her understanding of Christian hope as something more than mere optimism. She explains: “Hope differs from optimism, it is something that liberates you to act, a call to action that is the opposite of apathy and fatalism.”
To those attending an Assembly for the first time, Jackelén encourages them “to be open-minded, to embrace the worship life and the new encounters with people from across the globe, especially the intergenerational involvement.” She urges participants to “take time to prepare by reading the materials, if possible, discussing with others and be courageous in responding to this call to wisdom and action!”
Source : Lutheranworld