I can say already that I will be proud for the rest of my life that I was able to take part in the action of the LWF today in repenting of the sins of the past against the Anabaptists. It was an extraordinary event. I am proud that the Lutheran family was capable of confessing its wrong and asking for forgiveness. But I was not expecting the response from the Mennonites, which was every bit as extraordinary.
After the action was taken by the assembly, a response was given by Rev. Danisa Ndlovu, a pastor from Zimbabwe and president of the Mennonite World Conference. I typed his response as he was speaking so it is not absolutely verbatim and I have missed a few clauses, but this is the heart of it:
“You seek forgiveness for what your forebears in the sixteenth century did to the Anabaptists, for forgetting about it in the intervening centuries, for misleading things said by Anabaptist authors…
“Are we worthy of this? We are painfully aware of our own inadequacies. We cannot come to this table with our heads held high. (choking up) We can only bow down in great humility and in fear of the Lord. We cannot come to this point and fail to see our own sinfulness. We cannot come to this point without recognizing our own need for God’s grace and forgiveness.
“At this time we are profoundly moved by your spirit of repentance and your act of seeking forgiveness, and we remember the prayer of George Blaurock, first baptized Anapbatist, later burned at the stake, who said, “I sincerely pray for all my enemies”… We believe that God has already heard and granted this Anabaptist prayer. We believe that God has heard and granted this appeal for forgiveness. We humbly and joyfully join with God in granting this gift of forgiveness. …God also is doing it in heaven. To God be the glory.
“In response we commit to promote the interpretation of the Lutheran-Anabaptist story, which we take seriously, the jointly told history in the report. We will take care that your initiative for reconciliation is known among us… We will continue deliberation on resolving the issues between our two communities, open to the movement of the Spirit. We will encourage our local churches and institutions to seek greater copperation and relation with Lutheran chruches for service to the world. Again we say to God be the glory.
“In the last supper Jesus gave a new commandment (quoting John 15). He gave them a physically embodied symbol of this new commandment (retells story of footwashing). Some Anabaptist and Mennonite churches have maintained this practice of footwashing. This tub and towl come from this tradition (offering them).
“We will learn to seek one another’s good from a posture of voluntary and mutual submission. This is how God’s transforming presence is made visible in the world. Amen.”
The whole assembly joined the amen and the applause went on for quite some time.
This is the first time this has ever happened, as far me and my ecumenical colleagues know: a unanimous decision of a worldwide assembly repenting for its own church’s past errors, met in kind with forgiveness from a worldwide community’s delegation. Let no one say again that we are in an ecumenical winter!