Seminar “Studying Ecumenism in Strasbourg”

With the seminar “Studying Ecumenism in Strasbourg” (2–12 October 2019), the Institute for Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg has created a new format for its seminars. Unlike the International Ecumenical Summer Seminar, which takes place every year in July, only Lutheran pastors from the member churches of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are invited to attend these seminars. The purpose of these seminars is to raise awareness of the issues, outcomes, and challenges of the dialogues that the LWF has undertaken with other churches and church communities over the past 50 years and to make them known to as many people in the member churches as possible. The hope is to kindle an ecumenical fire to ignite the unity of the church. In addition, the Research Council of the Institute of Ecumenical Research is eager to gain the widest possible knowledge of the various ecumenical constellations in LWF member churches. In this way, it fulfills the LWF commitment: “to be Lutheran is to be ecumenical.”

The 12 participants in this year’s seminar came from Cameroon, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, and Tanzania. Others were expected but unable to attend: a pastor from Liberia was denied a visa while the one from Japan fell ill. The seminar was designed for a limited number of participants, during a relatively long time period of time, studying a clearly defined theme, and offering enough free time for joint ventures and private studies. It created an intense, inspiring atmosphere of encounter and learning; a concrete form for deepening community in the LWF.

The mornings during the seminar focused on an introduction to the ecumenical movement and its dialogues and especially the study of ecumenical texts. In the afternoons, the morning’s topics were given over to free-ranging discussion. Participants reported on their respective ecumenical situations, presenting a colorful picture of the worldwide ecumenical situation. Topics included the World Council of Churches (WCC), Vatican II, the Leuenberg Agreement, models of unity in the church, the Catholic / Lutheran Dialogue on the Lord’s Supper, “The Apostolicity of the Church,” the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, the method of differentiating consensus, the Lutheran / Orthodox dialogue, the history of the Pentecostal movements and their challenge to ecumenism, the Anglican / Lutheran dialogue, the Lutheran / Mennonite reconciliation, and the concept of receptive ecumenism. It has proved to be a great advantage that members of the Institute’s Research Council had participated in many of the dialogues discussed in the seminar and were thus able to report on their experiences with these dialogues so that the texts came to life.

Strasbourg, with its rich history as a hub of the Reformation and its present-day cosmopolitanism, made it an ideal location for such a seminar. The Saturday afternoon in the middle of the seminar offered a chance to get to know the city with a guided tour of the wonderful Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady and the Lutheran St. Thomas Church. On Sunday, the group took a trip through the Alsatian countryside, culminating in a service of holy communion held by the participants in the old church in Waldersbach, where Lutheran pastor Johann Friedrich Oberlin (1740–1826) served for 59 years. In this at the time remote, hard-to-reach area, Oberlin did phenomenal work: he was a Pietist, Enlightenment scholar, an educational reformer inventing pre-school education, developing adult education, and pioneering teacher training, an economic promoter innovating in local agriculture, constructing roads, and establishing a fund for small-scale loans. Moreover he practiced basic medicine, served as a pastor and was a zealous preacher, and exchanges ideas in a vast correspondence with many great personalities of his time. All of these facets of his fascinating life are presented in a modern museum built in the old rectory. After lunch at a country inn in the mountains, the group concluded the day with a visit to the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, which houses the world-famous Isenheim altarpiece with the crucifixion painting by Matthias Grünewald. Careful viewing with commentary opened up the artistic, theological, and spiritual dimensions of this unique work of art.

The Fondation oecuménique Oscar Cullmann, the Church of Wurttemberg and the German National Committee have generously supported the Seminar financially. We are very grateful for this support!

The response of the participants to the seminar were very positive. It is to be hoped that this seminar will provide many impulses for ecumenical work in their local and national churches.