“We are gathered to share experiences and concerns from our churches, our theological or confessional issues, to discern how to contribute best to the WCC central committee meeting and the upcoming assembly,” said Rev. Prof. Dr Dirk G. Lange, assistant general secretary for Ecumenical Relations of the Lutheran World Federation, moderating the gathering.
Although 33 participants of the meeting representing 18 countries came from many parts of the world, the topic of Russia’s war in Ukraine dominated the discussions of the meeting.
"The upcoming assembly will be either an assembly of resilience or an assembly of crisis,” said Rev. Rainer Kiefer, general secretary of the Association of Protestant Churches and Missions in Germany, underlining that, from the German perspective, the most burning questions are related to the war in Ukraine and the situation with the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the tensions and current discussion in Germany on Israel and Palestine. "These are huge challenges, but we know that also the Lutheran theology can contribute to the notions of just war and just peace.”
Many Lutheran churches in Europe are in decline – formerly large, established churches now face secularization in their countries, said Berit Hagen Agøy, international director of the Church of Norway. “We have two contradicting tendencies: we are seeing the crisis the world has probably not seen since World War II, and at the same time our churches are looking inwards, worrying how to keep our own position in society. But we are called to share as churches in a global fellowship to confront this global crisis.“
There has been a visible difference in the world’s response to recent struggles of African countries when they needed support in vaccine accessibility, comparing to the current level of support governments are providing to Ukraine, said Rev. Dr Fidon Mwombeki, general secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches. “Some countries have even changed their laws to welcome Ukrainians, while Africans are still not accepted. These developments are troubling, and that’s why there is not so much enthusiasm in Africa about the war in Ukraine.”
But preparing for the assembly in Karlsruhe, we as the WCC should not only focus on crises, challenges and problems – we should celebrate too, said Mwombeki. “Besides lamenting, churches need to recognize the blessings received and celebrate them—not disregarding what is wrong and what are the problems; but life is not only that.”
Bishop Simo Peura from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland acknowledged that reflections and responses to Ukraine war are largely depending on the contexts we are coming from. “When we are reflecting on the issue in Finland, the fact is that we have a 1,340 kilometre-long common border with Russia, and we hope it stays there in future,” said Peura.
It is easy to react differently when something is happening near, said Rev. Marianne H. Brekken from the Church of Norway. “The war and suffering has become nearer to us in Europe. As European churches we should reflect on the fact that human suffering has got deeper into us when it is our neighbor we sit next to, rather than our neighbor, brother or sister at the other side of the world.” The role of churches should be to always advocate for human dignity, “changing our mindset on how we welcome refugees in Europe and standing up for injustices wherever human dignity is threatened,” said Brekken.