Title: ELCA Presiding Bishop, LWF President Preaches in Historic 'Black Church' ELCA NEWS SERVICE
November 2, 2006
ELCA Presiding Bishop, LWF President Preaches in Historic 'Black Church' 06-165-JB
BRASOV, Transylvania (ELCA) -- Preaching in a historic Lutheran church here on Reformation Day, Oct. 31, was a "great privilege" and "very moving" experience, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), as he concluded an eight-day visit to Hungary and Romania.
Hanson preached his Reformation Day sermon at the historic "Black Church," so named because a fire in the city about 300 years ago left the exterior stone structure darkened. The church building, one of the largest in Europe, took about 100 years to build and was completed in the13th century -- predating the 16th century Reformation. It is still in use today, as are many church buildings in Transylvania that have existed for hundreds of years.
The congregation of the Black Church is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession, which serves about 15,000 German-speaking Lutherans in Romania. The church is headquartered in Sibiu/Hermannstadt and is headed by the Rev. D. Cristoph Klein, who serves as bishop.
Many of the worshipers were members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Romania, a 35,000-member church that serves Hungarian-speaking Romanians. The Rev. Dezsoe Zoltan Adorjani is bishop.
More than 600 people attended the Reformation Day service. Klein and Adorjani participated in the service.
Hanson preached a sermon similar to one he delivered Oct. 29 at a Lutheran church in Pilis, Hungary. In both sermons, he said that, in Jesus Christ, Christians are free but are not to do as they wish.
"We are free to serve our neighbor. We are free to be involved in civil society. We are free to live our faith in our daily lives in our homes, in our workplaces, in our friendships, in our struggles for justice and peace. The freedom we have in Christ is for the sake of the other person, not for our own sake," Hanson said, adding that freedom is God's gift to the world given through Jesus Christ.
Hanson meets with local pastors
Before the Reformation Day service, Hanson met with some 40 pastors of the two Romanian churches, sharing his views about the Lutheran church, the LWF and the ELCA.
Hanson told the pastors there are four characteristics that make Lutherans unique: + Evangelical: Lutherans believe that through the gospel the Holy Spirit brings people to faith and sends them into the world to proclaim the gospel. The Lutheran churches in the world that are growing are churches in which members are evangelists, Hanson said. + Confessional: The Augsburg Confession provides the foundation for Lutherans' identity. + Ecumenical: Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, church reformers whose writings formed the basis for Lutheranism, both wanted to preserve the unity of the Western church. Diversity makes Lutheranism richer and stronger, Hanson said. + Missional: The church does not exist to protect itself from the world. "It exists to be God's instrument in the world," he said.
Hanson told the pastors that a key commitment of the LWF is to "stand together with the poor and work for justice."
"Luther said God does not need our good works, but our neighbors do," he said.
The pastors asked Hanson about relationships with Lutherans who are not in the LWF, issues related to human sexuality, and how other Christians and politicians view the LWF.
The largest Lutheran body that is not a member of the LWF is the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), St. Louis, Mo. While leaders of the ELCA, an LWF member, meet regularly with LCMS leadership, there remain significant differences between the two on the status of ecumenical agreements, ordination of women and interpretation of Scripture, Hanson said.
The LWF has a task force on marriage, family and human sexuality, and it is studying how various member churches are addressing these issues, he said.
On the LWF and how it is perceived, Hanson noted that the LWF is respected by leaders of the Vatican and the Orthodox Church, with whom there are continuing LWF dialogues. As for political leaders, Hanson noted that he often meets with top government officials in the countries he visits as LWF president. But in his own country, Hanson said, U.S. President George W. Bush won't meet with him because he has criticized Bush, particularly on the war in Iraq. Hanson said he has supported Bush on other issues, such as Millennium Development Goals, and has met with Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State, and when she was Bush's National Security Advisor.
"To be religious leaders in a free society we must work with political leaders for the common good, but we must challenge leaders when we believe they are in error," he said.
German-speaking Lutherans in Romania face challenges
On the last day of his visit to Hungary and Romania, Hanson visited Sibiu/Hermannstadt, where many public buildings are undergoing renovation and restoration as the city prepares to assume the title of "European Cultural Capital" in 2007. The title is awarded to different cities throughout Europe to encourage cultural development and tourism.
Klein told Hanson that the small church he leads is struggling with its survival. Germans have a long history in Transylvania stretching back several centuries. But many left Transylvania immediately after the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, Klein said.
No one saw the political changes coming until right before the Communist government fell, he said, adding that the church needed "strong faith" to sustain it through a difficult time.
Information about the Lutheran World Federation is at http://www.lutheranworld.org on the Web.
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