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Lutheran World Federation’s First Woman General Secretary

by Sharon Heck for the December, 2021 What's News

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a global community of 148 churches in the Lutheran tradition representing over 75.5 million Christians in 99 countries. Our ELCA is a member. It was established in 1947 in Lund, Sweden and is now headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. LWF works in 25 countries carrying out emergency responses and long-term development that assists 2.7 million people. As of November 1, 2021 the LWF General Secretary is the first woman and the first person from Central Eastern Europe. Her name is The Rev. Anne Burghardt and she is from the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Rev. Anne was born in 1975, during the era of Soviet occupation. She grew up in a secularized family environment because her father, aunt, and grandmother were deported to Siberia in 1949. Her grandparents had been active members of the Lutheran Church. A high-school friend invited her to attend a confirmation class and her high school was one of few in Estonia to allow religious education classes. Her discussions with classmates and friends sparked an interest in religious questions. “Everyone was looking for an identity, both on a national level and, in a certain sense, at a personal level too,” she recalled. Ten years lat- er in 2004 she was ordained as a pastor at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia. “I sensed I wanted to serve the church with the gifts I’d been given,” she said.

She studied theology in several European countries and worked on her PhD in Orthodox liturgics. She has had a very diverse career as a pastor including innovating a theological program called “Studies in Christian Culture.” Pastors and others were trained to think in differentiated ways, not just in black and white responses. She also worked in conflict resolution, HIV counseling, and community development in disadvantaged rural areas. For five years she worked at the Communion Office in Geneva as LWF’s Study Secretary for Ec- umenical Relations. She has also been serving as a vicar at two parishes, one of which is a flourishing parish where her husband, Rev. Matthias Burghardt, serves as lead pastor. The other parish is in a small community on a former military base.

Rev. Anne hopes to include strengthening theological discussion around the Lutheran understanding of ordination in order to support churches that are moving towards including women in the ordained ministry and in leadership positions. As the first woman to lead the LWF, she believes many women will be encouraged by this example.

She and her husband have two children, aged 17 and 10. A third adopted child, Johannes, a former Palestinian refugee they welcomed into their family, now lives in Germany and has a six-year-old daughter.

I believe it is a great blessing to LWF and to all of us that they chose such a gifted and spiritual person as their new General Secretary.