Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
The church’s mission in the world is a shared task of all Christians. Its basis and power lie in all that is common to us. We are united by the gospel of Christ, by Baptism as the foundation of the Christian life, by common faith, by common prayer and spiritual life. In fellowship with each other we share the gifts we have received from God as well as the challenges we face in our world. And even if our love is imperfect, it binds us together, too.
This is the basis which is necessary to keep in mind as we examine the structures of mission. In the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, the church’s mission agencies have traditionally played and will play a crucial operative role in the mission work. The agencies maintain links with partner churches and invite them to joint consultations. These consultations are essential for the nurturing of our links. Equally essential is to maintain and promote strong relations between the church and the mission agencies as well as between the agencies themselves.
The General Synod of the church has recognised seven mission agencies. They have different backgrounds, including those belonging to the revival movements. One is ecumenical (the Finnish Bible Society). – The representatives of the mission agencies will soon give you a more detailed presentation of their agencies.
In the past, our mission agencies were quite independent. In recent years, however, we have tried to strengthen the place of mission in the life of our church. We have prepared a strategy for the church’s mission, which in this form is probably the first of its kind. It has provided the basis for a renewal of the organisational structure of mission work.
From the start of 2015, the newly configured Committee for Global Mission has coordinated the church’s mission at the national level. The committee includes representatives from every diocese and mission agency and from Finn Church Aid. The committee makes major decisions concerning the mission work of the ELCF.
At the national level, there is also the Church Office for Global Mission. The staff of the office develope mission theology, training, interfaith dialogue, church aid, and international relations. The office’s main function is to support mission work in the parishes. More human resources have been assigned to the Church Office for Global Mission, and every diocese has got a post of a diocesan secretary for international work.
An agreement has been drawn up between the church and the mission agencies which sets out the parties’ rights and obligations. I am delighted that all the church’s mission agencies have signed the agreement and are committed to a joint approach to the church’s mission.
The mission agencies have knowledge and a great deal of experience, and they serve the church in its mission. However, they are neither churches nor the mission of the church itself. We need them in the future, and they will continue to play a crucial role in our work.
The mission agencies have some obligations, too. They must work in accordance with the Church Mission Strategy and ecumenical agreements. When we get visitors from our partner churches, we encourage them to visit to the Church Office for Global Mission at Church House and to the dioceses – not only to the parishes and offices of mission agencies. Mission agencies are also called to respect each other. Their work is evaluated by the church on a yearly basis. Information is shared with all those involved.
There are some theological issues which can divide churches. For example, the ordination of women is discussed in the Church Mission Strategy. The ELCF has opened the ministry to women, but we respect the decisions of our partner churches in this matter. Partner churches are free to change their position on this issue. We do not interfere in decision making processes of other churches. The goal is to carry out God’s mission with our partner churches based on equality.
In 2014, our church arranged a partnership consultation with the partner churches. The consultation was an effort to emphasise mission in the life of the ELCF. The consultation was a significant opportunity to listen to the representatives of the partner churches and to hear what was there in the hearts of our partners. We learned much from their experience and knowhow.
The consultation was also a sign of renewed enthusiasm for mission in the parishes of our church. Today the mission field is growing in our own midst. In the strategy for mission it is stated that the message of the gospel must be brought above all to those places where Christ is either not yet to be known or where he is no longer known. For this, we need new courage.
Today, we hear on the one hand positive and joyful reports about how churches have discovered and agreed close ties with each other. On the other hand, we hear reports of controversies and of new divisions both between and within the churches. Therefore, the churches as well as mission agencies have a lot of work to do. However, we are assured by Christ who promises to us: “I pray that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17.21)
It is to me a great pleasure and joy to meet you here and greet you on behalf of the Committee for Global Mission. Thank you for your attention.
© Simo Peura