Geneva, 13 June 2019
Madam Moderator Bishop Kleist,
President Archbishop Filibus Musa,
General Secretary Martin Junge,
Dear sisters and brothers in the Lutheran World Federation – A Communion of Churches,
Grace and peace be with you in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!
I bring you warm greetings from the World Council of Churches and welcome you all here in the house, in the shared Ecumenical Centre, as you gather for your significant Council meeting 2019.
You are representing churches that are in communion with one another because you are sharing the Gospel and the sacraments. This is a reality “Because We Know God’s Voice”. It is the shared legacy of being Lutheran churches that we believe that our salvation and our calling, our identity and our relationships are all given to us in the living Word of God. This is profoundly expressed as “God’s voice” in the theme for your meeting. This is the promise of Pentecost; that the Spirit will make us able to hear, to understand, to believe, and to act together.
It is God’s voice - speaking to us today - that you are searching and listening to.
There are many loud voices today; some are dividing, degrading, defaming, discriminating, disoriented, misinforming, disillusioned, and even destructive. As followers of Jesus Christ we are called to “transformative discipleship”. In the WCC Conference on World Mission and Evangelism, hosted by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania in Arusha, March 2018, we explored together what that means. The Arusha Call says: “We are called to discern the word of God in a world that communicates many contradictory, false, and confusing messages.”
This discernment requires that we listen carefully, also to one another. The truth that we owe each other is what we have received from God. This is the account we give of our hope in our different contexts. We are called to respond to God’s voice, each one of us. We are called to respond together with one another. We are called to respond so that particularly those who desperately need our response, can hear God’s voice of salvation, of justice and peace – through us. Therefore, we are mutually accountable to one another for how we respond to God’s voice - together. This is to be heard in what we say and particularly in what we do. This is the ecumenical call.
This is our shared call. In my role as WCC general secretary I am always encouraged and a bit proud when I hear from the LWF and from the Lutheran member churches within the WCC: “To be Lutheran is to be ecumenical”.
As LWF you have taken brave steps in showing what God’s voice calls us to do for unity in our time. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation became a celebration of what we share with other churches in our faith in Jesus Christ. You have also taken steps together with WCC and others to show what ecumenical diakonia means in the work together for human needs, human dignity and human rights. You have taken new initiatives in promoting gender justice, awakening the giants to serve the great needs in certain areas, in new initiatives for mission, empowering youth, caring for water and the climate, and much more.
We look at the LWF as a strong partner in the one ecumenical movement. Strong in visions and commitments, and strong in human and financial resources. We are stronger as WCC and as ecumenical partners because of you. We all are stronger because of our many opportunities for exchange and cooperation with you.
One significant reason for that is that we can enjoy and work together here in one Ecumenical Centre in international Geneva, the city of many institutions for justice and peace.
You are well aware that the WCC has been working for a long time to discern how this real estate and its facilities can be developed for the joint future work for ecumenism, and for the financial sustainability of the WCC, solving some inherited problems from the past. We will protect what is classified (the chapel, the entrance, and this hall), and further develop this part of the Ecumenical Centre to a well-equipped conference centre for use by all. We also plan office spaces for the WCC within this central part of the ecumenical centre, and to build a connected new building for your work (and other partners) and for a shared cafeteria and terraces. In all our plans we have committed ourselves to provide future opportunities for you as a sister organization should benefit from this process and have new and upgraded facilities for your work, but on the same rental conditions as today; eventually through other arrangements we can discuss if you so wish.
We are aware that you in this meeting will be discussing and discerning where and how to have the Communion office in the future. We understand that this is a significant question to answer. We hope you find the best solution for your work that you continue to serve the Lutheran Communion in the one ecumenical movement.
Let me use this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude for having had the privilege to work with you as a sister organization for almost 10 years, with your presidents and elected leaders, and with your staff led by the general secretaries; first Ishmael Noko, and for most of the time I have been here, Martin Junge. As I have decided to not go for a third 5-year term as general secretary of the WCC, and therefore conclude my ministry here in the first part of 2020, I want to use this opportunity to thank you all for your support in this ministry. This has been received through your kind words and prayers, as a representative of the WCC - not only of the Church of Norway - but also of the Lutheran family. I have heard and understood the call to serve the whole ecumenical family as God’s voice. By God’s grace and your encouragement I have been confident to respond to it, every day.
Many are listening for God’s voice in what you say and decide in this meeting, as you continue to lead in the mission of the Lutheran communion. May God be with you in your deliberations and in your prayers, and may God grant you much joy in your communion in the coming days. May God’s voice continue to guide you and the Lutheran churches all over the world.
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
World Council of Churches