The 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation approved a statement on Thursday calling on Lutherans to express their regret and sorrow for past actions against Anabaptists and asking for forgiveness.
Bishop Mark S. Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), described the move as "the most significant legacy" that will be left by the assembly – the federation's highest decision-making body.
"We will not just look back; we will also look towards together to God's promised future," he added.
In the statement, titled "Action on the Legacy of Lutheran Persecution of Anabaptists," the assembly repented for violent persecution of Anabaptists and for the ways in which Lutheran reformers supported persecutions with theological arguments.
The statement asks for forgiveness "from God and from our Mennonite sisters and brothers" for past wrongdoings and the ways in which Lutherans subsequently forgot or ignored this persecution and have continued to describe Anabaptists in misleading and damaging ways.
In response to the statement, the Rev. Dr Danisa Ndlovu, president of the Mennonite World Conference, delivered an emotion-filled address to the assembly, confessing that Mennonites were painfully aware of their own inadequacy.
In a symbolic act of reconciliation and servanthood, Ndlovu presented Hanson with a wooden foot-washing tub, saying that it represented the Mennonites' commitment to a future "when the distinguishing mark of Lutheran and Anabaptist-Mennonite relationships is boundless love and unfailing service."
"It is in our vulnerability to one another that God's miraculous, transforming and reconciling presence is made visible in the world," he stated.
In accepting the gift, Hanson said, "In this and so many other ways, we will continue to follow [the Mennonite] example, and in this most significant day in our life there may be no more public example of reconciliation."
The LWF's 11 Assembly, which has been gathered since Tuesday in Stuttgart, Germany, concludes their once-every-six-years meeting this coming Tuesday.