A pledge to strengthen the bonds of communion

26 Sep 2023

LWF Thirteenth Assembly message affirms unity in diversity, and the call to serve the neighbor.

Bishop Dr Hintikka Kaisamari

Bishop Dr Hintikka Kaisamari, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, presents a reading of the Thirteenth Assembly Message. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

Message from the LWF Thirteenth Assembly  

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) wrapped up its Thirteenth Assembly last week, with delegates at the communion’s highest decision-making body pledging to strengthen the bonds between the churches, celebrate and promote unity, and serve people in need as followers of Christ. 

Nearly 1,000 people including 326 delegates participated in the 13-19 September gathering in Kraków, Poland, that saw the election of a new Council, the annual LWF governing body, and a new President, Danish Bishop Henrik Stubkjær.  

The Assembly Message, one of the key outcome documents, highlighted the main concerns that emerged for the Lutheran communion during the weeklong event comprising daily worship and Bible study, keynote presentations, discussions under Village Groups, exhibitions and other encounters under the Assembly theme “One Body, One Spirit, One Hope.”  

Unity was an underlying theme as the LWF looks forward to marking the 500th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession in 2030. Referring to the keynote speech by Czech Catholic intellectual and author Monsignor Tomáš Halík, the Assembly message emphasized the need to be “‘an ever-reforming church,’” working for Christian unity, but also striving to unite into One Body all of humanity, together with all of creation, as we witness to the gospel in words and actions.” 

“We are churches in ongoing reformation. In Christ, we are called to name and respond to the challenges within the LWF communion and the world around us..”...

– LWF Thirteenth Assembly Message 

The LWF gathering pointed to the relentless rise in global temperatures, loss of biodiversity, lives, livelihoods, and whole communities. In the Assembly message the delegates acknowledged “the urgent call to action” to safeguard the planet and its resources for future generations, and reiterated the previous assembly’s affirmation that “creation is not for sale.” 

Delegates heard about the cries of victims of armed conflict and violence around the world including Russia’s war against Ukraine, and many other places such as Ethiopia, Haiti, Manipur, Myanmar, Nigeria, Palestine, Sudan, Venezuela, Yemen. “Our faith calls us to be messengers of justice, peace and reconciliation, standing alongside those who are most vulnerable,” the Assembly message stated.  

The LWF gathering declared its rejection of all forms of violence and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, age, disability, xenophobia, caste, or social background. “All people are created in the image of God, with equal dignity that cannot be compromised,” delegates affirmed in the Assembly message. 

In 2023, the LWF marks the tenth anniversary of its Gender Justice Policy. The Assembly celebrated the progress made in its implementation and reaffirmed unwavering commitment to women’s empowerment and ending sexual and gender-based violence. The message called for stronger partnerships between women and men to combat patriarchy and promote “an understanding of masculinity that is characterized by caring, nurturing, and serving.” 

Across the world, there is increasing polarization resulting from misleading theologies that create exclusive or escapist communities while sowing fear and fragmentation within churches and communities. In the Assembly message, the LWF member church delegates acknowledged the need “to ground our teaching and preaching on responsible theologies, as a global communion and in the member churches.” 

Assembly participants visited the former concentration and extermination camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Reiterating the 1984 Eighth Assembly declaration of antisemitism as a contradiction and affront to the gospel, the message underlined LWF’s “continued commitment to live out our Lutheran heritage in the Christian faith with love and respect for the Jewish people.” 

The assembly delegates noted that churches in some parts of the world continue to be subjected to limited freedom of speech and persecution for their stand on justice and human rights. In the message, they deplored such discrimination and oppression “wherever it takes place and regardless of their [people’s] faith or denomination,” and urged prayers from the member churches and for the LWF to “address this problem.”  

In a year that has seen the highest number of refugees and internally displaced people surpass 108 million people, the assembly message included a call on the LWF communion to find new ways of offering “bold hope that is inspired by our faith in God” and service to people in need, including migrants, refugees and those affected by crises. 

For Lutherans, participation in God’s holistic mission includes proclamation, advocacy, and diakonia at the international level and locally through individual churches. The assembly message emphasized the calling “to be instruments of justice, peace and reconciliation, healing wounds within our churches and in our common world.” 

The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland hosted the assembly, with its leaders, congregations, and volunteers, extending generous hospitality. The message included gratitude to the Polish Lutheran church for sharing its gifts with the rest of the communion. 

The LWF understands itself as a communion of churches in ongoing reformation that are also called to name and respond to the challenges within itself and in the world. In the message, the delegates stated they were returning to their home countries “with a stronger commitment to strengthen the bonds between us,” and they would heed “the call to live into the gift of reconciliation and unity with all neighbors.”

The Thirteenth Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation took place 13-19 September 2023 in Kraków, 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.

LWF/P. Mumia