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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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The edge of mission

What does it mean to be a Lutheran in a world of religions?

In a hotel room overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, Lutheran Seminary at Gettysburg (Pa.) student Tom Odom replies to the knock at the door with a challenge: "What was Luther's 53rd thesis?"

The Lutheran students, professors, pastors and lay people gathered on the furniture and floor of William Lesher's hotel room laugh at Odom's question.

Lesher is chair of the organization behind the event that has brought them to Barcelona, Spain: the Parliament of the World's Religions. He's also president emeritus of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.

Fifty ELCA members have come from as far as Hong Kong to join 7,000 participants at this once-every-hundred-or-five-years event, July 7-13. Even more have come from other world Lutheran church bodies.

The hotel window offers a view of Barcelona's international convention center, where some participants' brightly colored clothing stands out among the purples and reds of the Spanish architecture. A flash of midnight blue may be a group of Sikhs, while a cluster of saffron could be Buddhist nuns and monks.

From above, the differences are easily discerned and dismissed.

From within, they implicate and inspire.

Lesher's position affords him both vantages. He's "absolutely delighted" at the scene of interreligious harmony unfolding below. "It's a feeling that we are on the edge of mission in a pluralistic age and also in an age of terror," he says.

The "edge of mission" is convening the world's religions to work for peace. A mission, Lesher says, that is pan-religious in its urgency and consistent with the heart of the Christian message: peace on Earth.


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