July 12th, today, is the day that we as the Lutheran community commemorate the life of Lars Olof Jonathan Söderblom (15 January 1866 – 12 July 1931). He was a pastor in the Church of Sweden and later Archbishop of Uppsala (1914-1931). In 1930 he was recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ecumenical and peace making efforts (including work with Bishop George Bell, dean of Canterbury and later a good friend of Dietrich Bonhoeffer).
In my family’s lore he was responsible for authorizing my great-grandfather’s return from America to the church of Sweden and for giving him the pastorate of the St. Mary Magdalene Church on the island of Runö. A Swedish settlement governed by Estonia in the gulf of Riga. My grandfather, who returned to America after his mother’s death on the island, had deep regard for Söderblom as a leader, ecumenist, and peacemaker. He lived in a time when the church had far more institutional power than it does today. But he risked that power for the sake of the gospel and for the work of peace in a time of rising nationalism and fascism.
Thinking of Söderblom today as I reflect on others who have made an impact in expanding my understanding of the church. One who came to to mind was Gudina Tumsa. I first heard his name in Seminary when he was given the Christus Lux Mundi award, one of the only awards Luther Seminary presents to alums, 25 years after his assassination on July 28, 1979. Known as the Bonhoeffer of Africa he died for his witness and challenge to the oppression of his people in Ethiopia. Today the Ethiopian Evangelical Lutheran Church Mekane Yesus is one of the largest Lutheran churches in the world.
Another who has been a witness and gift to me is our The Lutheran World Federation General Secretary the Rev. Martin Junge. I have been honored to meet him and watch his work as a leader of our global community as Lutherans. In the fall of 2017 I was present for the celebration of the 500 anniversary of the reformation in Geneva with the Swiss Lutherans. Martin preached a prophetic and strong word that day. Reminding us that Salvation is not for sale, and neither should be creation or human life. As he plans to step down from his post I am grateful for his work.
These leaders have blessed me with their witness. And I ma humbled by their legacy. Last weekend I was honored to preside over the funeral of the father of dear friends. He died too early of Covid-19 and so I presided over a funeral and committal liturgy at Greenwood Cemetery in Fort Worth. As bishop I do not do these sort of pastoral acts as commonly as I once did. So it was an honor and reminder of the core work of the church. To bury the dead and proclaim the gospel.
While at Greenwood I took time to visit several of the saints whom I had been honored to lay to rest there. One of whom was Ernestine Tietjen. Her spouse, the Rev. Dr. John Tietjen was pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, FW in the 1990s. When Ernestine died in 2015 I was honored to preach her funeral liturgy at Trinity. John was the subject of my doctoral dissertation. Adaptive Leadership in Crisis. As I prayed at the their resting place I coveted the opportunity to gather these saints together now. To ask their wisdom in this time of crisis. I would like to know what they had to say in conversation.
The church has and continues to be blessed by leaders inspired by the gospel and compelling them to works of service and love. Today I give thanks for these leaders from 4 Continents, united by our shared confessional heritage. #NTNL #LWF #InMissionTogether