Institute for Ecumenical Research

The Helsinki Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) voted in 1963 to establish a Lutheran Foundation for Interconfessional Research. The purpose of this Foundation was and is to help the Lutheran Churches fulfill their ecumenical responsibility in the area of theology. According to its Constitution, the Foundation carries out its work by:

  • “theological research in areas where Christian churches are divided in matters of doctrine and church order,and where theological questions are a matter of controversy”;
  • “the holding of theological seminars and conferences of a scholarly nature”;
  • “contacts and conversations with theologians from other churches”;
  • and the “publication of the results of this research and of such conferences and conversations.”

“The understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His Church as rediscovered in the Lutheran Reformation” acts as the guiding principle in the Foundation’s tasks.

In order to carry out its work, the Foundation established the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, inaugurated on February 1, 1965. The choice of Strasbourg as the Institute’s home reflects the academic, cultural, and religious traditions of the city. Host city for the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, Strasbourg provides not only a platform for research in the midst of contemporary world issues but also the resources of the Protestant and Catholic Theology Faculties, excellent libraries, and a centuries-old experience of theological reflection, controversy, and ecumenical encounter. Sixteenth-century Strasbourg was a center of the Reformation, and today about one tenth of the population belongs to the Lutheran church. The city also contains the see of the Catholic archbishop and the offices of the Reformed Church in Alsace-Lorraine. On the crossroads between the Romance and Germanic cultures, Strasbourg gives ready access to other European religious, cultural, and academic centers.

The foundation works through its Board of Trustees and the Research Staff of the Institute. The Board, which normally meets once a year, has six to nine members. Three of these, including the Board’s chair, are elected by the Council of the LWF from among its members. The current Chair of the Board is Bp. Frank July, Bishop of the Württembergische Landeskirche. The Research Staff has over the years consisted of two to five members from different countries and various Lutheran churches. Staff members are appointed by the Board and work for renewal periods of service. One among them serves as the Director of the Institute.

Although the Foundation has a legally independent status, it works closely with the LWF, headquartered in Geneva. The Chair of the Board reports annually on the work of the Foundation to the LWF Council, and the Research Staff has regular contact with the Commissions and Departments of the LWF, particularly with those responsible for ecumenical and other theological issues.

Funds for the operation of the Foundation and the Institute come from an endowment fund, annual contributions from Lutheran churches, and special donations. Endowment income has proportionally decreased in recent years, so that the contributions of the churches have now become more important.