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Rev Tony Franklin-Ross, Chairperson of the WMC Ecumenical Relationships Committee, along with other ecumenical guests in Krakow, Poland..
Photo by Ady Shannon

Lutheran Assembly Meet in Poland

Rev Tony Franklin-Ross —

Approximately 1000 people gathered for the 13th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation 13-19 September in Krakow, Poland. The Assembly theme, One Body, One Spirit, One Hope was drawn from Ephesians 4:4 (NRSV): “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling.”

A report on one of the many inspiring plenary and thematic sessions

Keynote speaker Mons. Prof. Dr Tomáš Halík, a leading Catholic intellectual and author from the Czech Republic, impressed me with his presentation titled, “Christianity stands on threshold of new Reformation”. He commended a new reformation for the 21st century which must transcend the current forms and boundaries of Christianity, resist simplistic answers to contemporary challenges and contribute to uniting into ‘One Body’ – not just all of humanity, but more critically in light of the climate changes and crisis, together with all of creation.

For this, Halik suggested that the ecumenism of the 21st century must go much further than the ecumenism of the last century. Christianity today needs “to transcend existing mental and institutional, confessional, cultural and social boundaries in order to fulfil its universal mission.” This transformed mission also requires a new evangelization, he reflected, which “is not to recruit new church members, to squeeze them into the existing mental and institutional boundaries of our churches but to go beyond” to create a “mutually enriching dialogue” with those of other beliefs and none.

Worship infused the Assembly

In addition to opening and closing services, both of which included Holy Communion, each day of the Assembly started with worship. This included a bible study, uplifting music and song supported by the Assembly choir and local band which gave a strong energy to the worship.

For Sunday services, participants were dispersed to a range of local parish churches across the southern parts of Poland. In the town of Wisła, a 2.5 hour drive from Krakow, my group was welcomed to a bilingual service in the local parish, and enjoyed a day of hospitality, singing from traditional choirs, and a tour of the area. It was a wonderful opportunity to encounter local ministries and learn more about Lutheranism in Poland.

Poignant moments.

The most poignant time was the Friday afternoon when the entire Assembly visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau former concentration camps, where over a million people, mainly Jews, were murdered, alongside others deemed dangerous or undesirable by the Nazi regime. This visit was held on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath; and the eve of the Jewish New Year, Rosh HaShanah.

After the visit, we shared in small groups a ‘prayer path’; infused with the words ‘How long, O Lord?’, the anguished cry of King David recorded in Psalm 13. We crushed and scattered dried flowers on the sandy ground, before joining together to sing a Kyrie, the traditional Christian prayer of lament. In the words of the Psalmist, we prayed: “Out of the depths we cry to you, O Lord. Hear our voice. Hear our speechless cry.”

The following day, the Assembly heard a moving appeal from Polish Holocaust survivor Marian Turski, who urged church leaders to combat hate speech and xenophobia, wherever it is found.

Ecumenical relationships highlighted

As part of the final morning worship service, the LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Anne Burghardt led part of the service alongside Cardinal Kurt Koch from the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity. Prayers were led by the Mennonite and Salvation Army representatives.

This was followed by a panel discussion with leaders from the five world communions (Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed and Roman Catholic) associated with the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (JDDJ) initially signed by Lutherans and Catholics.

WMC General Secretary Bishop Ivan Abrahams spoke from the Wesleyan-Methodist family as offering “the ability to adapt, grow and transform,” whilst understanding that “orthodoxy and practice must go hand in hand.” Justification, he said, is not “an isolated event, but a journey towards holiness” and service of neighbour through social transformation.

Rev Tony Franklin-Ross, Chairperson of the WMC Ecumenical Relationships Committee, attended the assembly as an ecumenical guest.