The Institute Celebrates Its 50th Birthday

At a festive day-long event on Wednesday, April 22, 2015, the Institute celebrated five decades of service to the Lutheran World Federation and the ecumenical movement. The program included greetings and lectures by a number of dignitaries from many Christian World Communions as well as from within the Lutheran World Federation family, interspersed with soloist performances on violin and piano. The highlight of the occasion was a worship service at the St. Thomas Church to give thanks to God for the work of fifty years and ask for blessing in the continued pursuit of the unity of the church.

The day’s events opened at the Séminaire Protestante in Strasbourg with a greeting from Bp. Dr. Frank O. July, bishop of the Evangelical (Lutheran) Church in Württemberg and Chair of the Foundation for Interconfessional Research, which governs the Institute. His remarks were followed by those of the Institute’s director, Prof. Dr. Theodor Dieter, who outlined the history, mission, work, and challenges of the Institute and thanked the many people and institutions that have supported it over the last 50 years and have contributed to its work and outcome.

Bp. Frank O. July

Warm words of appreciation and hope for the future then followed from partners and friends of the Institute. The General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Rev. Martin Junge, spoke powerfully of the Institute’s contributions to the development of world Lutheranism and the extraordinary progress in ecumenical rapprochement, most especially in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) and the Mennonite Action (2010). He remarked, “[I]t is in the Institute for Ecumenical Research’s very DNA to care so passionately for the theological rootedness and accountability of ecumenical dialogues, and… from the LWF’s perspective, the Institute is so firmly linked both to the ecumenical vocation of its member churches, as well as to the actual theological dialogues that give expression to the ecumenical engagement. In theological terms: for the LWF, the Institute with its research capacity and its support of the communion’s ecumenical relations is not an adiaphoron, a ‘could be,’ but a necessity, a ‘must be.’”

Bp. Brian Farrell of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity followed with his own words of gratitude for the long partnership of the Institute with Catholic ecumenism. For the Roman Catholic church, he said, “the Strasbourg Institute stands as a visible sign of how seriously the Lutheran World Federation takes its engagement in the ecumenical movement.”

Further greetings and accolades came from Bp. Dr. Michael Bünker, a Lutheran bishop in Austria as well as General Secretary of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), who acknowledged the important contributions Institute professors made to the coming-into-being of the Leuenberg Fellowship and its development up to the present day; Rev. Dr. Gabriel Tschonang, a Catholic priest and scholar in Strasbourg, who wrote his dissertation at the Institute; and Prof. Dr. Christos Filiotis, a Greek Orthodox priest and professor at the University of Saloniki. The morning’s program concluded with remarks from Rev. Dr. Larry Miller, formerly General Secretary of the Mennonite World Conference who participate in the Lutheran-Mennonite dialogue and presently serving as General Secretary of the Global Christian Forum, whose offices are located at the Institute, and Church President Christian Albecker of Strasbourg.

The beautiful festival worship service took place at noon in the St. Thomas Church, with Bp. July presiding and Church President Gottfried Locher of the Swiss Evangelical Church Federation/CPCE, also a member of the Institute board, offering the sermon. A beautiful buffet feast then awaited at the Médiathèque of the Séminaire Protestante.

The afternoon’s program featured four speakers from across the world. Bp. Dr. Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria and Council Chairman of the Evangelical Church in Germany, recalled the special history of Bavarian bishops and the Bavarian Lutheran church with the Institute and strongly emphasized the need for ecumenism for both practical and theological reasons. He was followed by Bp. Dr. Ndanganeni Phaswana from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, who made an impassioned plea for the Institute’s increasing involvement in theological education and guidance for the Lutheran churches of the Global South. Rev. Dr. Cecil M. Robeck Jr. of Fuller Theological Seminary and a leading Pentecostal ecumenist spoke enthusiastically of his own involvement in the Institute’s preparatory dialogue on behalf of the world’s Lutheran churches with Classical Pentecostals. The day’s program concluded with a commendation from Prof. Dr. Friederike Nüssel of the University of Heidelberg about the academic contributions made over the years by the Institute’s theologians.

In addition to the official speakers, many other guests attended the celebration. Board members beyond those already mentioned included Rev. Naoki Asano from Japan, Rev. Dr. Duane Larson from the USA, and Bp. Dr. Matti Repo from Finland. Former board members attended as well, namely Bp. ret. Dr. Johannes Friedrich of Germany and Bp. ret. Dr. Eero Huovinen of Finland. There were also former Institute staff members, namely Prof. Dr. Harding Meyer, Prof. Dr. Marc Lienhard, Rev. Dr. Flemming Fleinert-Jensen, and Ms. Alice Heyler. Past and present LWF colleagues included Rev. Dr. Kaisamari Hintikka, Rev. Sven Oppegaard, and Ms. Sybille Graumann.

Local attendance was naturally very strong. Ecumenical friends from France included Monseigneur Joseph Doré, former Archbishop of Strasbourg; Prof. Dr. Franck Lemaître, Ecumenical Secretary of the Episcopal Conference; Rev. Claire Sixt-Gateuille, Ecumenical Relations, EPUdF; and Mme Jane Strantz, Ecumenical Relations, FPF. From Strasbourg proper we welcomed Vice President Christian Krieger; Prof. Dr. Matthieu Arnold; Prof. Dr. Karsten Lehmkühler; Past. Reutenauer, Inspecteur ecclésiastique; Past. Wolf-Bonsirven, Inspecteur ecclésiastique; Past. Hetzel, Inspecteur ecclésiastique; Past. Jundt, Inspecteur ecclésiastique; and Past. Gerber, Inspecteur ecclésiastique.

From further abroad both Lutheran and ecumenical guests arrived to share their well-wishes, including Monsignore Dr. Matthias Türk of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Dr. Jean-Daniel Plüss from Switzerland, Chair of the Pentecostal team for the forthcoming Lutheran-Pentecostal dialogue; Bishop Dr. Manzke, Bückeburg, Catholica-Beauftragter of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany; Privatdozent Dr. Günther Frank of the Europäische Melanchthon-Akademie Bretten; Dr. Fleischmann-Bisten of the Konfessionskundliches Institut Bensheim; Dr. Haizmann of the Arbeitsgemeinschaft christlicher Kirchen in Württemberg; Dean Rev. Wilfried Braun from Backnang, Germany; and Rev. Dr. William Rusch from the USA.

Finally, a number of theologians were invited to attend the celebration and then proceed immediately for the two-decade-long tradition of ecumenical conferences at the Klingenthal château. Among these were Dr. Beate Bengard, Germany/France; Prof. Dr. Martin Friedrich, CPCE, Austria/Germany; Prof. Dr. Hans Jochen Hilberath, Germany; Prof. Dr. Hervé Legrand, France; Prof. Dr.  Annemarie Mayer, Belgium/Germany; Prof. Dr. Peter de Mey, Belgium; Prof. Dr. Jeremy Morris, UK; Prof. Dr. Friederike Nüssel, Germany; Prof. Dr. Johanna Rahner, Germany; Prof. Dr. Risto Saarinen, Finland; The Rev. Canon Dr. Nicholas Sagovsky, UK; OKR Dr. Oliver Schuegraf, DNK, Germany; Prof. Dr. Walter Sparn, Germany; Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Thönissen, Germany; and Prof. Dr. Henk Witte, The Netherlands.

The accolades and encouragement were a wonderful way to celebrate 50 years of service. We thank and praise God for what has been done and ask for another 50 years to continue in the search for a church that is truly one.