On 16 September 2022, the Evangelical Mission in Solidarity (EMS) celebrated its foundation exactly 50 years ago with a thanksgiving service in Stuttgart's Matthäuskirche and a gala evening. The Jubilee was celebrated together with national and international guests from member churches, staff, associates and people connected to the EMS.
Archbishop Dr Hosam Elias Naoum of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East preached on the Bible verse "To freedom Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1). The EMS used this Bible verse to derive the slogan "Free for the future" for its Jubilee Year. But this does not mean just any freedom that lets us continue to sin or sit back and do nothing. “The only thing that counts is faith working through love,” said the Archbishop in his call to action.
Looking back on the foundation of the network, the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg, Ernst-Wilhelm Gohl, said in his welcoming address: "It was important to build relationships of an equal footing between the individual churches in the North and in the South - to become a new fellowship of churches and together form a stable network of firmly established relationships and great solidarity through mutual support and commitment to cooperation." He said he was grateful for "this stable network which the EMS had gradually become over the past 50 years, and the lifelong learning community that continues to grow and flourish."
The service, followed by a reception in the Stuttgart Hospitalhof, also marked the end of the EMS Jubilee Year, which was launched last year by a kick-off service and a theological conference in Ghana. The Jubilee Year was inspired by the tradition of the biblical "Year of Jubilee" when the 49th year is celebrated as a year of liberation and solidarity. "One of the special highlights of the Jubilee Year, apart from the publication of a Jubilee Book containing articles by over 50 international authors, was the song 'Together we are free', composed especially for the Jubilee. The Jubilee song went around the world and was interpreted in creative ways by many EMS members," reported Klaus Rieth, Chairman of the EMS Executive Committee. (Link to the medley of the Jubilee song: https://ems-online.org/service).
The Jubilee Book - together with reports from those attending - formed the basis for a review of 50 years of EMS history at the gala reception. Many guests found this survey of contemporary witnesses together with historical pictures, personal accounts and anecdotes particularly enriching. A major role was played by the lengthy process of transforming a German mission society into an international fellowship with equal rights of joint decision on all matters. This was finally achieved and written in the constitution in 2012. A look ahead to "100 years of EMS" was also not to be missed: Jerusalem, Cape Town and some other places were mentioned as suggestions for the next big jubilee celebration.
The celebration was lent a spiritual and artistic tone by songs from Pastor Fabian Vogt and a dance prayer from India, which the participants were allowed to learn, albeit in excerpts. The alcohol-free cocktail bar enriched the end of the evening and provided an opportunity for personal encounters and conversations. Finally, each guest was allowed to take home his or her personal Jubilee Book. (The Jubilee Book can be ordered free of charge at https://ems-online.org/shop).
"Your living faith and your commitment to a worldwide, just community were noticeably during the past few days. We are grateful that we, as an Anglican diocese located at the birthplace of Christianity, are allowed to be part of this worldwide fellowship," said Archbishop Dr Hosam Elias Naoum from Jerusalem, summing up at the end of the festivities.
The founding synod of the "Evangelisches Missionswerk in Südwestdeutschland", the former name of the EMS, took place on 16 September 1972 in the Stuttgart Hospitalhof. In addition to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Württemberg, the founding members included the Protestant Churches in Baden, the Palatinate, Hesse and Nassau and Kurhessen-Waldeck, the Moravian Church and five mission societies. Since then, the EMS has developed from what was originally a German-only mission organisation into a worldwide fellowship of 25 member churches and five mission societies. In 2012, its name was changed to the "Evangelical Mission in Solidarity". This name change also reflects the EMS's agenda: “It is a Gospel that sets us free, a fellowship that opens our eyes to see others and solidarity that we feel with the poor,” says Klaus Rieth, Chair of the EMS Presidium. The EMS represents the concerns of about 25 million believers and has many other ecumenical relationships worldwide through its churches and mission societies.