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Lutheran World Federation elects first female general secretary

Anne Burghardt
The Rev. Anne Burghardt |

The Lutheran World Federation has elected its first female general secretary, who will also become the first person from Central Eastern Europe to lead the global communion body.

The Rev. Anne Burghardt of Estonia, a theologian who presently heads the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s Institute of Theology, was elected Saturday.

According to an announcement, the LWF Council elected Burghardt with 28 votes, or 58% support, while the Rev. Kenneth Mtata of Zimbabwe received 20 votes, or 42% support.

Founded in 1947 and based in Geneva, Switzerland, the LWF comprises 148 member churches representing nearly 100 countries and approximately 77 million people.

Burghardt will take office in November, replacing current General Secretary Rev. Martin Junge, who has led the international church body for 11 years.

In a statement, Burghardt said she is “humbled by this great honor and deeply grateful for the confidence that the Council members have shown in me.”

“In accepting this very special responsibility in the communion, I pray for the guidance of God’s Spirit,” she continued. “I rejoice in having the possibility to work with the Council, with member churches, and with different partners, as the LWF continues to participate in God’s holistic mission.”

Born in 1975, when Estonia was part of the Soviet Union, Burghardt studied theology at the University of Tartu and Humboldt University, both in Germany.

The Lutheran denomination she serves, the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, comprises a little over 10% of Estonia’s 1.3 million population, according to Estonian World.

In 2013, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, an LWF member church and the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, elected its first female leader when they made Rev. Elizabeth Eaton the Presiding Bishop of the mainline denomination.

“The Rev. Dr. Anne Burghardt grew up in a secular culture, was only baptized as a teenager and sees the church’s role as being a translator and interpreter of the faith to 21st-century society,” stated Eaton, as quoted by Living Lutheran.

“I believe this historic election will help more people to know Jesus and to make the gospel more clear and relevant for communities around the world.”

The Rev. Ioan Sauca, acting general secretary for the World Council of Churches, also congratulated Burghardt on her election.

“Through your election, the LWF Council has recognized your proven skills as a pastor, an advocate for witness and service and a champion of lively partnerships in the quest for Christian unity and the building of human community despite borders and boundaries,” stated Sauca.

“We, who have worked with you in the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva have long been grateful, too, for the spirituality and talent that you bring to the fellowship.”

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