From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Baltic and CIS churches meet with the LWF

Date 22 Oct 1998 06:52:10

Eighth Coordination Meeting of the Lutheran World Federation for the
Lutheran Churches in the Baltic States and the Commonwealth of Independent
States (CIS)

VILNIUS, Lithuania/GENEVA, 19 October 1998 (lwi) - At the invitation of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lithuania, the Lutheran World Federation
(LWF) held this year's coordinating meeting for the Lutheran churches in
the Baltic countries and Russia in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius from
October 2 to 7. Representatives of the Evangelical Lutheran churches of
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in
Russia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States met
there with representatives of the churches, church institutions and
agencies from Germany, Finland, the Scandinavian countries and the USA. The
latter support the ecclesial reconstruction and the missionary and
charitable works of these five churches with funds and personnel. In
addition to a mutual exchange of information and the presentation of and
agreement on projects, the deliberations concentrated on several
fundamental considerations.

During the deliberations it became clear that there exists a variety of
forms of spirituality in the different churches. This variety, due to
different historical and geographical contexts, includes extreme dispersion
and a complete break with tradition as well as possibilities of resuming
earlier folk-church traditions. Usually, different forms coexist in the
individual churches, extending from deepest popular piety rooted in the
brotherhood tradition to intellectuals' questioning the meaning of life. In
response to questions posed by many participants from western Europe, the
representatives of churches in the Baltic states and the CIS unanimously
affirmed the importance of the religious aspect of national identity. While
acknowledging the need for openness to people of other nationalities and
confessions, they insisted that one must see one's own language and culture
and their preservation as a gift and a duty given by God.

It was emphasized that, as a rule, the public places considerable trust in,
and has high expectations of, the churches' role in society. The public
expects the larger churches to take a stand, especially on social and
ethical issues, religious instruction in schools, the military and prison
chaplaincies. Diaconic works are generally perceived as an obligation.
Although the efforts of congregational social works and church-wide service
agencies might diverge, this is not inevitable. It must be made clear that
both are needed and ultimately related to each other. Generally, and in
this area in particular, motivated and well-trained people are a basic
resource for the churches. Reaching people today with the message of Jesus
Christ requires a high degree of professionalism which should also preserve
the enthusiasm each person originally brings to the job. Positive outreach
as an expression of the Christian mandate could then supersede currently
prevailing enemy images.

A special session dealt with the topic of partnership from the perspective
of the "giving" and the "receiving" church. The possibility of passing on
gifts received was noted with joy, and it was recognized that again and
again the donors can be understood as recipients. Humility, honesty,
patience, devotion, prayer, thankfulness and the use of enormously
increased technical innovations, especially in the field of communication,
are important here. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation, with their
respective advantages, should bring complementary benefits to all
concerned. Many things may change in church partnerships, e.g. the level of
financial and staff support, but as a matter of principle the partnerships
should remain continuous.

Concretely, these reflections resulted in a discussion on the form and foci
of future LWF consultations. The following wishes were generally endorsed:

-    The LWF will in the future continue regularly to sponsor
consultations in any church that has hitherto participated in the
coordination meetings.
-    The theme of the consultation will be chosen by the host church and
be of general interest to the whole region, e.g. theological education,
church and state, pastoral services, church and school.
-    The host church will decide whether to conduct an ecumenical day
before the meeting or an encounter with another of the country's social
-    The partners/churches/agencies will continue to be invited and can
raise their concerns as can the churches of the region.
-    Projects of general interest for the region can be discussed.

This time, too, an "Ecumenical Day", with the theme "Christian Calling and
Challenges of Society", preceded the meeting. Representatives of six
churches, the Lutheran, Adventist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Reformed and
Roman Catholic churches, emphasized the importance of such encounters. Also
present was the Minister of Religious Affairs, Petras Plumpa. In an address
at a reception given by the host church after the ecumenical worship
service, the parliamentary president, Vytautas Landsbergis, highlighted
ecumenical concerns. There were visits to the Lutheran congregation in
Klaipeda, the Theological Center there and to the Lutheran Trinity
congregation in Kaunas.

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Lutheran World Information
Editorial Assistant: Janet Bond-Nash

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