Geographical diversity, but common challenges face Lutheran communion regions

27 Nov 2018

2018 retreat of newly elected leaders among LWF member churches

(LWI) - Coming from 12 different countries, a group of 12 newly elected church leaders at a Lutheran World Federation (LWF) retreat in Geneva noticed their vastly different realities, but also that they face similar challenges and need to broaden encounters with each other.

They came from countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) and North America to take part in the LWF Retreat of Newly Elected Leaders (RoNEL), 18-22 November in Geneva. The workshop, the fourth of a series that began in 2015, continues 23-27 November at the LWF Center in Wittenberg, Germany, with encounters on the history of the Protestant Reformation.

“What was confirmed is that they appreciated this space to talk about leadership, especially on the experiences of their calling linked to how the Bible has been interpreted and touched them, and also how some personalities in the Bible inspired them to leadership,” said Rev. Dr Patricia Cuyatti, LWF area secretary for LAC and coordinator of the RoNEL program.

“In fact, they want this space to be broadened in order to deepen the learning from each other,” she added.

 LWF/S. Gallay

Participants follow a discussion during the RoNEL workshop in Geneva.

Those attending the 2018 RoNEL are recently-elected bishops and presidents from across the LWF regions. They represent well-established Lutheran traditions or younger and small minority churches. In Geneva, they spoke about the vast disparities of being church in their respective contexts, how theological formation and education contributes to the churches’ mission, but also expressed thanks for engaging in the spirituality and solidarity of their leadership.

They said they learned about the role of individual church leaders in a global communion, how to support one another including in prayer, rethink the Reformation for today, and what it means to be members of the LWF. In one of the sessions, General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge presented the new LWF Strategy 2019-2024, and encouraged the RoNEL participants to share it in local discussion groups including governing bodies.

Rev. Conrad Plummer, spoke about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana, which has about 16,000 Lutherans in 43 congregations. He said almost all the pastors and laypersons are trained at the Lutheran Lay Academy, which is supported by professors from Wartburg Theological Seminary, an institute of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Migration from Guyana, he said, affects overall population growth in the communities and churches. The location of the country -- sandwiched between Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela -- makes it a transit area for drugs, which are also problematic for the population there.

Revitalized by partner churches

Bishop Katherine Finegan of the ELCA Northern Great Lake Synod spoke of her community of 27,500 Lutherans in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Northeastern Wisconsin in the United States, which she said is shrinking in numbers.

One of the ELCA’s 65 synods, the Northern Great Lake partners with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT). The Tanzanian church refreshes and revitalizes her congregation when it sends visitors, she said.

Looking to the future

Bishop Alexis Salgado of the Lutheran Church in Chile (ILC) said that his church has 10,000 members and is one of two LWF churches in Chile, the other being the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile.

The 1973-1990 era of military dictatorship in the country kept the churches apart and the ILC was identified with what came to be considered “the bad side,” he said.

“My church, because of the political problems isolated itself,” Salgado said of the 10,000-member ILC.

“It was not open to society. However, it has changed now. The new generation are not so tied up with what happened in the past. They are looking to the future,” he added.

Nurturing spiritual renewal

Bishop Asish Kumar Pal leads the Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church (JELC) in India which has 246,784 members and was established by missionaries from the former Breklum Mission in Germany in 1882.The church has 472 congregations, 124 pastors, 61 preachers and 212 lay leaders.

We are the ones who have to pray for others and it is important to see we are accompanied and that we are being supported in a holistic way,
A participant in the 2018 RONEL

“Our church is nurturing spiritual renewal of baptized Christians,” said Pal. He talked of JELC’s work of helping to transform parishes into resource centers and engaging in the rights of Dalits and Adivasi or indigenous people who face discrimination.

Summing up the first part of this year’s meeting, Cuyatti said, “It has been very good for the leaders to hear of the church in context today, and to pray and to know they are supported.” She said one bishop remarked, “‘We are the ones who have to pray for others and it is important to see we are accompanied and that we are being supported in a holistic way.’”


Written for LWI by Peter Kenny