Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Address Given at the Memorial Service Held for Lukas Vischer

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Address Given at the Memorial Service Held for Lukas Vischer

Article excerpt

Dear Barbara, dear Bernard, dear Virginie and Ulrich!

Dear grand-daughters!

Dear colleagues and friends!

When I joined the Secretariat of the Faith and Order Commission, back in January 1974, the Reverend Dr Lukas Vischer was the undisputed "Mr Faith and Order". He monitored and coordinated a wide variety of programmes and projects, some of which reached far beyond the confines of Faith and Order; for Lukas was also the moderator of Programme Unit I--we had three "Units" in those days, the second was led by C.I. Itty from India and the third by Brigalia Barn from South Africa. Unit 1 comprised Mission and Evangelism, Life and Work, the interreligious dialogue programme and, of course, Faith and Order.

Just to refresh your memories of what was on the Faith and Order agenda in those years:

* The Leuenberg Agreement had been drafted and the Protestant churches in Europe were being asked to ratify it.

* The first version of the convergence statements on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry had been compiled and were being sent to the WCC's member churches for corrections and amendments. A vast number of suggestions came pouring back into the Faith and Order office. They formed the basis for the famous BEM texts which were finalized during the meeting of the Faith and Order Commission in January 1982, less than two years after Lukas had left--or rather: had been made to leave--the WCC. [See note 3.]

* The wide-ranging study on "Giving Account of the Hope that is Within Us" was underway and led to the Statement of the Bangalore meeting of the Faith and Order Commission in 1978 which can be considered as the first attempt to express an ecumenical eschatology.

* The studies on "conciliarity" and "conciliar fellowship" were well on their way, leading to the famous statement on "Conciliar Fellowhip" at the WCC Assembly in Nairobi 1975.

* The first edition of the "Ecumenical Prayer Cycle" was published.

* The work on "The Community of Women and Men in the Church" was set up. (It was lodged in Faith and Order, but developed jointly with the Women's Desk of the WCC.)

* Under the title "The Handicapped and the Wholeness of the Church" the work with persons with disabilities was set up.

It would be easy to prolong this list. But let me just refer to one further particular aspect which Lukas never mentioned to us in the Faith and Order staff, and that was his involvement in human rights issues in the then Soviet Union. He managed to get into contact with dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov. Of course, Vitali Borovoj, the Russian Orthodox priest who had been on the Faith and Order staff, and who died just a few days after Lukas, was also eager to learn more about the gulag system--the ugly underside of the great socialist project which so many women and men--including some WCC colleagues--did not want to admit.

Looking back at our staff meetings I remember Lukas keeping track of all the details, with the help of a little notebook into which he scribbled his remarks, in mirror-writing by the way--something he had taught himself while being confined to a plaster-bed for an entire year in his youth because of spondylitis.

Let me admit that at first I feared Lukas. Then I began to admire him, and later I began to love him, although he was not easy to love, for he was indeed an intimidating figure. The amount of work he got done during each single day was staggering. But it must also be said very clearly that he could not have done this without the steadfast support of his wife, without you, Barbara. You could have had your own career, but you put your great gifts at the service of your family and your husband's ministry. It was only during the last two decades of your life together that your theological and ethical concerns converged and grew into a moving partnership, first in your work against torture and then in your work for the earth. …

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