We sat down with Reverend Anne Burghardt, the first female General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. We learned some of the reasons that make her such a phenomenal woman. Rev. Burghardt is 45 years old, was ordained as a pastor in 2004 and is married to Matthias Burghardt, who is also a pastor of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC). They have two children.
Reverend Burghardt has been working at the Institute of Theology of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, where she was responsible for introducing new MA level curriculum “Studies in Christian Culture” in the early 2000’s. She is currently serving as Director of Development. Besides this, Rev. Burghardt still serves as an Advisor for International and Ecumenical Relations at the Head Office of the Estonian Lutheran Church and has been teaching ecumenism at the church-owned Institute of Theology and at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Tartu over the past few years. She led several projects in the field of intercultural learning and peacebuilding. From 2013 to 2018 she worked at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva as Secretary for Ecumenical Relations and coordinated the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at the Communion Office of the LWF.
Besides working at the Institute of Theology and at the Head Office of the EELC, Rev Burghardt is serving as a vicar pastor at a deanery close to the Estonian capital Tallinn. The task of vicar pastors, who are mainly working in church institutions, is to occasionally hold worship services and assist the deanery´s pastors in the case of need. She has also been very active in the congregation where her husband is serving, holding worship services, offering pastoral care, and organizing conferences, etc.
Estonia, the country where she comes from, is one of the most secular countries in the world. She comes from a secular family, and found her way to the church only as a teenager. She is convinced that Christianity has a very strong, liberating and empowering message, and it serves as a “counter program” to many “gods” of today, such as putting one’s own individual interests first at the cost of others, or submitting to the pressure to always be successful, etc. In many secularized countries, such as Estonia, people also long for a transcendent dimension in their lives, they are often yearning for God, without knowing how to approach and how to call God. Often there is still quite some way to go from recognizing and believing that there is a god, to being able to call God „Abba“, „Father“, as our Lord Jesus Christ did.
What achievement are you proud of and why?
I don’t like to use categories such as “proud of my achievements.” I would rather talk about what are the achievements I cherish most; what are the things I am happy about, as I am aware that often it has not been just my own achievement, but there is a lot of support from others and help and grace from God behind these achievements. I cherish the fact that I have been able to finalize my doctoral dissertation while taking care of all the other tasks I have had both professionally and in private life. It would however hardly have been possible without the help from my husband and our caretaker who enabled me to make short study trips while they were managing life at home. I am truly grateful for having had the chance to initiate and edit the LWF main material for Reformation 500, the booklet on “Liberated by God’s Grace” as well as the three booklets “Not for Sale”’: “Salvation – Not for Sale”; “Human Beings – Not for Sale”; “Creation – Not for Sale”. But here as well I can say that I was happy about having been able to develop the concept, while the content itself consisted of excellent contributions from authors from Lutheran churches around the world. Further I cherish the possibility of having been able to introduce some new initiatives in my home church such as peace building and conflict resolution courses at the Institute. Also I was one of the founders of the Internet-based theological magazine “Kirik & Teoloogia” (Church and Theology) that serves to enrich the theological discussions in our home church. In all these cases however a lot of cooperation from colleagues, as well as many consultations, was needed. And here indeed lies something which I believe to be one of my strengths – the willingness to be a team worker and the conviction that the best ideas are born in discussion with others. This is something that I hope to implement also in my role as LWF General Secretary. Being elected to this position is of course a big honour and I regard it as a great acknowledgement – something one can indeed be proud of.
As a female leader, what has been the most significant barrier in your career?
I must say that personally, I cannot point to any concrete barriers. Rather, on my journey I have sensed support from colleagues, both men and women, and also from the church leadership, particularly also from our archbishop. However, it does not mean that there are no hindrances for women in our church. It is only in the past few years that two women were appointed as members of the Church Government. Until the election of the current archbishop, this body consisted only of men. There is also a constant underrepresentation of women in the synod of the church, since no women candidates are proposed by some deaneries, although there would be good candidates around. Further, in some deaneries in Estonia it is rather difficult for women pastors to serve as a parish pastor, mainly due to the theological preferences of the dean. Generally, I think that woman theologians should be more encouraged and empowered to take up more responsible roles both on congregational level as well as in the church as whole.
What is the most important change that should be made to your country?
Estonia regained its independence in 1991 – this year we just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the end of Soviet occupation. I still remember the peaceful, so-called singing revolution from my teenage times. I also remember how during the first year of independence the country was in short supply of everything, from petrol to some basic goods. Earlier, you posed a question regarding what achievements I’m proud of. There I was hesitant to use the word “proud”. As an Estonian, I would however dare to use the word ‘proud’ for the achievements of Estonia as a country. Still remembering where we started off from, I think we can be quite proud today of many things we have achieved as a country – we have one of the most advanced IT-sectors worldwide; freedom of the press is on a very high standard in Estonia and the level of corruption is far lower than in most former Eastern European countries. The Estonian school system is considered to be one of the best in the world. Education as such has played an immensely important role in the history of Estonian people, and here we must be grateful to the Lutheran church that emphasized the importance of reading and writing skills in one’s mother tongue both among girls and boys as early as in the 17th century. In the 19th century, where the country was largely governed by Baltic German nobility, gaining a good education was for many Estonians the only way to play a more significant role in society. Accordingly, many peasants worked hard, so that they were able to pay for their children’s education (one needs to keep in mind that Estonian peasants were serfs until early 19th century).
However, having mentioned all these positive aspects, I’ll get back to your initial question. In Estonia, partly due to the political landscape which has been influenced by liberal economic thought for years, as well as due to the rather individualistic character of Estonians, more solidarity and compassion are needed in society, more readiness to “walk in another one´s shoes”. Further, as in many societies today, there is an increasing polarization in Estonia as well. The classical nine-stage conflict escalation model of Friedrich Glasl says that if one does not manage to reconcile conflicting parties before reaching the stage where one is not ready to communicate with the other side and is only willing to demonize the counterpart, it is extremely difficult to advance with conflict resolution. I see that here the church has an important role to play in bringing together different opinions and cultivating a respectful dialogue.
What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders?
First of all, I hope that the next generation in general will reach a stage where it is not important to emphasize if the leader happens to be a man or a woman, but what really counts such as her/his leadership skills and the ability to include others. Accordingly, I hope that women leaders are less in need to emphasize their gender, and do not have to feel that they must constantly face certain prejudices but are just able to concentrate on carrying out their work.
What would be my concrete advice to the next generation of female leaders?
Follow your calling and be passionate about and good at what you are doing; carefully think through what are your priorities; be participatory, include both men and women, and value teamwork; find yourself a person you can trust and with whom you can discuss difficulties that may occur in your job. Finally, try not to pay too much attention to malevolent comments based on your gender. These say more about the commentators than about you. And finally, for Christian leaders: do not forget to love and respect your neighbor.
What are you most passionate about?
I am passionate about the question what Jesus Christ wants to tell us here and today, in our different contexts, and how I can contribute to the growth of God’s kingdom. More concretely, what can be my contribution to both the “vertical” as well as “horizontal” side of God’s mission: to proclaim God’s Word and bring it closer to people both in words and deeds. I also hope that my children will remain faithful to Jesus Christ – they had a privilege of getting to know him already as children, different from myself, and I hope that this will continue to support them throughout their lives.
What is your motto in life?
To try to fulfill the greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” as well as I can.
What would you be doing if you weren’t appointed to your current position?
If I wasn’t elected General Secretary of the LWF, I would have continued to work at the Institute of Theology of the EELC and at the Head Office of the Church. In fact, I very much like living in Estonia and the move to Geneva will not be made with an easy heart.
I see the forthcoming task at the LWF not so much as my goal or as my major achievement, but as a task that requires readiness to serve and to be aware of the immense responsibility that comes along with this position. I hope that prayers and support from good colleagues from all around the world will accompany me on this journey.
What does being a women mean to you?
In view of work life, it often means that one needs to fulfil more expectations than men do in a similar position, or – to put it differently – there are many more societal expectations. They range from the question how one manages work and private life balance, particularly in view of children (this question is not so much posed in Estonia where more than 90 % of women have been involved in the labour market for decades, but I have encountered it in other contexts), to the question what kind of dress code one is following, is one sufficiently feminine, etc. To put it short: being a woman often means being put under special attention and pressure, particularly if one is stepping into roles that have been rather regarded as men’s domain.
In my case, being a woman also means that I am a mother of two wonderful children (one of them will already be an adult next year!), and a wife to my dear husband who has been supporting and encouraging me immensely. The word ‘marriage’ in Estonian means literally something like ‘life of mutual help and support’. This is how I see our marriage – a life, marked by mutual help and support, where both try to help to carry each other’s burdens.
Why do you think organizations would benefit from having more women within the top structures of governance?
In fact, I’m not that fond of gender-based classifications of qualities that characterize leaders. I do think however that precisely because women normally face more difficulties when taking up a leadership role, they are more likely not to become too self-satisfied. Many women leaders whom I’ve met have also been rather accessible and willing to listen to different opinions before making the final decision. Further, in many contexts they are often better able to understand the complexities of multitasking between home and family.
But on whole, I would not like to draw up a list with certain qualifications, as there are positive and negative examples of leadership models both among men and women. What is important is that the possibility to take up a leadership position is open to women as well, and that they are not excluded due to their gender.
Any last word? I would like to thank you for the opportunity to respond to your questions, and I wish God’s rich blessings for the whole region of LUCSA. I pray that the COVID-pandemic may soon be over, and that the region may have a peaceful and reconciled future.
As the Lutheran Communion in Southern Africa we would like to wish Rev. Anne Burghardt well in her new position and are looking forward to having many fruitful encounters in the future.