A six-member task force appointed by Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Faith and Life Commission met at Goshen College with counterparts from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) on July 20-23 to review progress on the commitments that the two global communions made to each other during a service of reconciliation in Stuttgart, Germany in July 2010.
At that service, which culminated nearly five years of dialogue, representatives of the LWF asked forgiveness for the actions of their forebearers against the Anabaptists in the 16th century. They also committed their churches and seminaries to interpret the Lutheran confessions in light of the dialogue report, Healing Memories: Reconciling in Christ, and to continue conversations with Mennonites on the topics of baptism and the Christian relation to the state. MWC leaders, in turn, committed themselves to promote a more balanced interpretation of the Lutheran-Anabaptist story, to continue conversation on unresolved issues and to encourage their member churches to seek greater cooperation with Lutherans in service to the world.
In their joint meetings at Goshen, the two task forces identified several areas of progress in their mutual commitments. They noted especially the many local services of reconciliation held by Mennonite and Lutheran congregations around the world, a study guide produced by Mennonite Church Canada, and numerous examples of cooperation in service projects. They also affirmed the trilateral conversations on baptism that are now moving forward among the MWC, LWF and Catholic churches.
The Mennonite task force further affirmed a website, www.anabaptistwiki.org, sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism at Goshen College, that provides easy access to resources related to Lutheran-Mennonite dialogue. The MWC task force called on the Faith and Life Commission to take a stronger role in encouraging Mennonite colleges, universities, seminaries, historical societies, information centers and tour groups to incorporate the story of MWC-LWF reconciliation. It also recommended that several MWC national conferences pursue conversations on Christian peacemaking with their Lutheran counterparts, recognizing that local contexts differ widely on this theme.
On July 21, local Lutherans and Mennonites engaged in a public dialogue with the joint task forces at an afternoon service hosted by Trinity Lutheran Church in Goshen. The Lutheran task force concluded its visit with a tour of Mennohof, a nearby Anabaptist-Mennonite information center, and an extended conversation with 25 Amish ministers and lay people on the topic of baptism and Christian witness.
“After five hundred years of separation, full reconciliation will not happen overnight,” said John D. Roth, professor of history at Goshen College and secretary of the MWC Faith and Life Commission. “But we praise God for these steps toward healing within the Body of Christ.”
MWC members of the task force included Andre Gingerich Stoner, Gayle Gerber Koontz, James Juhnke, Enrique Rodriguez and John D. Roth, along with Kathryn Johnson, a Lutheran professor of history who played a major role in organizing the reconciliation service in 2010.