Remembering Christ’s message

From the right: Bishop Dr Jensen Seyenkulo of the Lutheran Church in Liberia; LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge; LWF Vice-President for Africa, Rev. Dr Jeannette Ada Maina, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon; and the Africa region area secretary, Rev. Dr Elieshi Mungure, during the ecumenical worship service at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in Monrovia, Liberia. LWF/Felix Samari

Liberian churches commemorate Reformation anniversary

(LWI) - Thousands of Christians from all over Liberia, the West African region and guests from around the world took part in a festive ecumenical service to commemorate 500 years of the Reformation at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium in the capital Monrovia, 24 September.

Organized by the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL) and the Lutheran Communion in Central and Western Africa (LUCCWA), the service began in a colorful procession led by a brass band at the St Peter Lutheran Church to the stadium.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge preached at the service attended also by LWF Vice-President, Rev. Dr Jeannette Ada Maina, Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon, and the Africa region area secretary, Rev. Dr Elieshi Mungure. Church leaders from the Episcopal, Dominion, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, United Methodist, Water in the Desert and Christian Methodist Episcopal churches assisted in the liturgy which was accompanied by church choirs from different denominations, traditional songs and dance.

Welcoming worshippers, LCL Bishop Dr Jensen Seyenkulo spoke about the need for churches to stand together and give hope to people otherwise struggling with so many issues in their lives. He said it was important that churches speak with one voice when addressing daily life issues. "This event is an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate our unity. We may have many different ways of looking at Scriptures but the truth is that we have one Lord. So when all the denominations walk down the streets of Monrovia and assemble at the national stadium to worship together we will be declaring our unity to the world - we will be saying 'what unites us is greater than what divides us'."

Doing away with prejudice and labels

In his sermon the LWF general secretary emphasized that commemorating the Reformation anniversary was not about remembering Martin Luther’s message, but Christ’s message. “It is a message that is not just 500 years old, but already 2000 years old (…):  God saves us, God is love, God redeems us because God is merciful.”

Speaking on Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Junge said to be born anew in Christ meant “doing away with labels and prejudices that obscure the way we look at each other, and rather follow Christ’s way to look at people, therefore see the person first. Regardless of social and economic status, tribe, and gender, lay or clergy, or religious affiliation; we are all first and foremost people, human beings, loved and accepted by God.”

He thanked the churches in Liberia for the powerful witness of commemorating the reformation together. He urged the different churches to look for ways to walk together without prejudice against one another. “We shall (…) recognize each other as people baptized, and therefore as people approached by the redeeming God.”

Referring to the October 2016 Catholic – Lutheran Joint Commemoration and the bilateral process “From Conflict to Communion,” the general secretary affirmed the joint commitment to never again resort to violence while dealing with differences, but to instead turn to prayer, dialogue and joint witness as a source of healing and unity. “God called us to be ambassadors of reconciliation, never to be God’s warriors,” he added.

Junge described the ecumenical service in Monrovia as “a powerful witness” and “a sign of hope,” encouraging all to become ambassadors of reconciliation in their own lives and contexts. He called on the church to continue to seek communion and unity with others and mutually share the fire of Christ with others so that the faith can grow and shine in this world. In this way, he added, it will “bring some warmth into a world otherwise so cold, some light into a world otherwise so dark.”

Mutual trust and fellowship

Expressing his joy for the reformation anniversary service, the Catholic Archbishop of Liberia Lewis Zeigler said 500 years was a long time and called on the church “to forge ahead and forget the past hurts and ill-feelings, by embracing true reconciliation and one another, walking together in mutual trust and fellowship.”

In his greetings on behalf of all ecumenical guests, Episcopal [Anglican] Bishop Jonathan Hart, chairperson of the Liberia Council of Churches, reiterated the commitment of churches in the country to walk together in unity.

Liberian Lutheran church

Bishop Seyenkulo thanked the local church leaders present for their support in preparing for the ecumenical service, and guests from around the world for honoring the invitation. He expressed deep gratitude to the LCL pastors for mobilizing congregation members and the various choirs. “What we see here today is your effort; I thank you for bringing all these multitudes.”

The LCL was founded in 1860 through the missionary work of Lutheran churches in the United States of America. With over 112,000 members today, its ministry includes provision of basic services such as health and education in the community. It is an active member of LCC which promotes inter-church collaboration on issues of common concern, and of the Religious Council of Liberia, which encourages members to work across the different faiths. The LCL joined the LWF in 1966.

Faith communities in Liberia played a critical role in peace building and reconciliation after the 1989 to 2003 civil conflict in the country.

(By Felix Samari, coordinator, African Lutheran Information and Communication Network (ALCINET) & LWF Communications)