A NEWS RELEASE
From Lutheran World Information
LUND, Sweden/GENEVA, 24 March 2007 (LWI) – In 1947, five women were present as delegates at the First Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Assembly held in Lund, Sweden. Sixty years later, in Lund again, almost 150 women participants are attending LWF Council and associated gatherings, including the Conference of Women Bishops and Presidents and regional coordinators of the LWF desk for Women in Church and Society (WICAS) 20-21 March, 2007.
Ms Priscilla Singh, the secretary for WICAS in the LWF Department for Mission and Development, says that the communion has come a long way in implementing women's participation and leadership, and in including the agenda of gender in member churches. "Many people are committed to LWF being an inclusive communion, where women, men and youth not only come together in respect for each other but also live out the gospel more fully."
"This is not only about equality; it is about God’s call to all women and men to take part in the building of God’s reign," says Singh. "This includes accepting the diverse gifts and witness that women bring as lay leaders, pastors and bishops. We are called to fully live the gospel as the priesthood of all believers - men and women, youth and children."
However, despite the significant milestones that have been reached, including an increasing number of women leaders in the church, there is still much work to be done, according to a message released by the conference participants on 21 March.
The message recommended to the LWF Council that women, including bishops, be involved in inter-confessional and inter-Lutheran dialogues in accordance with the LWF commitment to at least a 40 percent representation of women.
The message also called for all LWF member churches to approve the ordination of women and that under full communion agreements the rights and privileges of women bishops be fully supported. The importance of member churches continuing to publicly condemn violence against women was reiterated in the message, with particular attention being drawn to the LWF document "Churches Say No to Violence Against Women," which has been translated into 27 languages all over the world, and has been used in training sessions in churches and secular organizations in various parts of the world.
According to the conference participants, however, some member churches in the LWF communion are yet to put these principles into practice. Rev. Dr Barbara Rossing, chairperson of the Program Committee for the LWF Department of Theology and Studies, says that the commitment to 40 percent representation of women in LWF leadership is not new, "it is just that it has to be applied more firmly. We need to do a better job to fulfill our commitment."
Rossing is concerned that 37 LWF member churches are yet to approve the ordination of women but is also confident that progress is being made. "Changes can and do happen. Jesus is calling women into mission. But women have to be persistent and keep making their case over and over again, with the help of the brothers who support them," she said.
According to Rev Gloria Rojas, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile, barriers to the full acceptance of women in the ministry of the church are usually culturally based. She says that women in the church have to work harder than men in order to demonstrate what they are capable of achieving. Ten years ago it was hard to find female leaders in Chilean society but that is changing now. The church, too, is giving greater recognition to women, and church leaders are openly talking about it, Rojas says.
Rev. Marie Barnett, pastor and women's coordinator of Faith Community Lutheran Church in Freetown, Sierra Leone, toward women in leadership is connected to the cultural understanding of a woman's place in society. "Women are property; they are owned - like chairs or tables. In the minds of many people (both men and women), their voices should not be heard in public."
Barnett, chairperson of the LWF Program Committee for World Service, endorses the message from the women's meeting. The challenge, however, will be to turn the statement into practice. In Africa, out of 30 Lutheran churches, only one has a woman president.
Ms Vidhya Rani from India, a WICAS regional coordinator, shares Barnett's concern for turning words into actions. "As a faith-based organisation we must do what we say we will do. Across the communion, churches do not necessarily practice what they preach."
Rani says that in India girls are born into submission to men. A 'good Indian woman' will be quiet and not overstep a man, either in church and society. "We learn this from the time we are born. By the time a woman is 20 years old this traditional view of the roles of women and men is so deeply imprinted in her that it is very difficult for her to change."
But Rani is optimistic that the goals the women leaders seek will eventually be achieved. "In India we say that if you want to knock mangoes off a tree with a stone, you probably won't succeed with the first stone you throw. It might take ten stones, but eventually you will get that mango. We won’t give up."
Bishop Caroline Krook, Diocese of Stockholm, Church of Sweden, agrees with Rani, urging women to "continue to raise strong voices" about gender balance and about women in leadership. "We cannot just sit in a corner saying nothing. We have to keep fanning the flame, lest the fire grow cold and die."
Krook recognizes that in Sweden there is much greater equality between men and women, both in church and society, than in many other places. The church approved the ordination of women in 1958 and the first three women were ordained in 1960. Out of the 425 pastors in Stockholm, half are women. "In the church, we talk about the fullness of creation, and that includes men and women working together as equal partners," she says.
She is mindful of places where women are not recognized as equals. "We have a responsibility to encourage and support women in other countries," she says. "Women can look at me and other female bishops and be encouraged that it is indeed possible: 'if it can happen in Sweden, it can happen in my own country.' It is important to help and encourage others to continue the struggle."
Generally optimistic about the future of women in the church, Krook also admits to becoming impatient with the slow progress. "But then I remember how much has happened in such a short space of time, relative to the long history of the church. My grandmother was not even allowed to vote - and now her granddaughter is the bishop of Stockholm. So much progress has been achieved in a very short time, so we can be optimistic about the future." (1,167 words)
*A contribution of the Young Communicators Writing Team
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An estimated 500 people including over 100 church leaders are attending this year’s Council meeting, church leadership consultation and the LWF 60th anniversary celebrations. Also attending are officials from LWF partner organizations, invited guests, stewards, interpreters and translators, LWF staff and co-opted staff, accredited media and participants in the three-year *LWF international training program for young communicators.
The Council is the governing body meeting between Assemblies held every six years. The current Council was appointed at the July 2003 Tenth Assembly in Winnipeg, Canada. It comprises the President, Treasurer and 48 persons elected by the Assembly. Other members include advisors, lay and ordained persons, representing the different LWF regions.
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