By Kathy Magnus
“70 million Lutherans DO make a difference!”
That tagline from the Lutheran World Federation gives me great hope. Coined by the Federation in 2003, the phrase calls us to daily service in the world and reminds us that we are not alone in our mission and ministry in the world. The ELCA is part of a global communion of churches who walk together, pray together, advocate together and serve together. Together we do make a difference in the world.
I had the privilege of being elected to the first Church Council of the ELCA in 1987. I quickly learned that the Lutheran World Federation is part of the DNA of our church. When we came together to form the ELCA, the three merging churches were already members of the Federation. In those early days when our ecumenical commitments were discussed and debated, it was immediately clear that this new church would continue with strong, vital membership in the Lutheran World Federation. We valued and understood that together we could engage the world in a far greater way than alone.
U.S. Lutherans were there in the summer of 1947 when the bombs stopped falling across Europe and tens of thousands of refugees, many of whom were Lutheran, needed assistance. We came with others to Lund, Sweden, to assist in writing a constitution, electing leaders and to begin our work together as the Lutheran World Federation. Our first call to service was resettlement of refugees. Lutherans. Working together. Lutherans, who just months earlier had been at war with one another came together, understanding that our shared faith moved us beyond the recent past to a future of hope. Can you imagine the range of emotions at that table?
Now, decades later we are still caring for refugees. In fact, the Lutheran World Federation is the United Nation’s second largest partner in refugee work. We have been in an experiment of hope that has carried us into the present.
Today the Federation is 70 million members strong, and we do make a difference! We are made up of 140 member church bodies in 79 countries and our relief and development projects circle the globe. We are active in responding to the needs of the 140 member churches and are involved with ecumenical relationships, human rights advocacy, farming techniques, HIV and AIDS work, water projects, health ministries, theological discourse and support of Bible schools and seminaries where new leaders are empowered.
We aren’t just a loose federation of churches. We are a communion of churches. That means we are accountable to one another, responsible to each other, committed to walk with each other and are in full communion with one another. Former Lutheran World Federation General Secretary Ishmael Noko said it this way:
We are a communion of churches united through Word and Sacrament. This holds us together in a more profound sense than any constitutional requirements. Whenever and wherever we gather in local congregations to hear the Word and celebrate the Sacraments, we are reminded that we do so as part of the communion of saints worldwide. This wider communion must become for us more than an abstract, faceless reality. We must be able to touch, hear, taste and experience this reality firsthand. Through God’s grace, we are able, in solidarity, to share our pains and joys, our burdens and gifts.
I have come to understand the Lutheran World Federation as the “table” where the world’s Lutherans come together to:
- Pray over the needs of the world
- Share our concerns as churches
- Learn from one another
- Discuss and strategize for the healing of the world
- Sing, share and celebrate the good news
As we celebrate our 25th anniversary in the ELCA, our leadership commitments to the Lutheran World Federation continue to be strong. Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, served as the Federation’s president for eight years (2003-2011), and currently ELCA member Christina Jackson-Skelton serves as the treasurer. Over the decades, countless U.S. Lutherans have held leadership positions on the council and many have served on the staff.
As you sit at your computer or iPad today, reading Living Lutheran, you are present around the world. Our handprints are on clean-water projects, grain banks, HIV and AIDS programs, evangelism training, Bible study, refugee camps, theological education, farming techniques, ecumenical relationships and countless other places where we go in Christ’s name. As we celebrate this anniversary we give thanks that we are in mission and ministry with a whole world of Lutherans, and with confidence can say, “70 million Lutherans DO make a difference!”