In Tanzania for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania
Greetings to you all from Columbus, Ohio! We are in the US during the break between academic years, spending time with our children and handling business that is very much easier to address from a US address. As we prepared to come stateside, we took part in two important conferences for which the ELCA took a leadership role: the ELCA/ELCT Bishops’ Summit, and the 1st Annual International African Lutheran Conference. We were grateful to take part as observers. These conferences evoked deep gratitude and raised deep questions about a central issue for our work: What does it mean to be in relationship, to be brothers and sisters, with people whose lives, cultures, and experience of church are so very different? Or, more simply: What is it to be in mission today?
In his opening address to the Bishops’ Summit, ELCT Presiding Bishop the Rev. Dr. Frederick Shoo stated that “Companionship is not for the weak, nor the faint of heart.” The ELCA’s Companion Synod program, begun decades ago with ELCT dioceses and now encompassing churches around the world, includes 20 companion relationships between US and Tanzania. All the bishops involved from the US and Tanzania were invited to take part, along with representatives from their dioceses or synods. There are six ELCT dioceses which do not have ELCA companion synods; bishops from these newer dioceses also took part.
We saw a number of issues emerge, including:
- Profound and lasting joy in relationship. It was wonderful to see disciples from very different contexts be so excited and happy to see each other. Relationships built over years made for wonderful reunions. We were blessed by being able to take part as this happened.
- Different styles of companionship. Some ELCA synods contribute significant levels of funding to their companions, and others contribute much less. Some synods send people every year—or even many times a year; others have not sent visitors for years. Some synods support their ELCT companions to visit the US, while other relationships have not done so. These different styles have inadvertently created a sense of inequity for some in the relationships between ELCT members and leaders
- Decline in ELCA membership/funding while the ELCT grows. When the companion synod program began there were many more members and much more funding available for mission relationships from the ELCA. Since the beginning of companion synod relationships between the ELCA and the ELCT, the ELCT has experienced precipitous growth. ELCA synods have 120 relationships with Lutheran partners around the world, with many synods having more than one relationship. As was clear during the summit, new dioceses are looking for companion synods—while many ELCA synods are already feeling stretched in their current relationships.
- Who gets to decide? How can the clear and often thorny dynamics of power and privilege in companion synod and diocese relationships be faithfully negotiated? Issues of race, gender, language, history—both wonderful and painful—and the issue of money and the power to give and receive were repeatedly raised in conversations.
- Deep gratitude for God’s amazing grace. In worship, in song, in prayer, around tables and the Table, the grace of God did not fail to show up and surprise. All the issues, questions, and complex concerns did not dim the real and present participation in God’s Spirit together, and the shared sense of how indebted we all and each are to God for the opportunity to be in relationship.
The First Annual International African Lutheran Conference began with the closing service of the Bishops’ Summit, as all participants gathered around the Table for worship and communion. As with the Bishops’ Summit, the ELCT served as gracious host for the IALC. Lutherans from across the continent gathered with Lutherans from the African diaspora, including many from the US. Issues and challenges facing African and African-American Lutherans were discussed. African speakers included the new General Secretary of the All Africa Conference of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Fidon Mwombeki, a clergy member of the ELCT; the Rev. Dr. Elieshi Ayo Mungure, Area Secretary for Africa for the Lutheran World Federation, also clergy in the ELCT; and Bishop Ernst Gamxamub, president of the Lutheran Church of Namibia. Speakers from the US included the Rev. Dr. Wyvetta Bullock, Assistant to Presiding Bishop of the ELCA; the Rev. Dr. Joseph Bocko, ELCA African National Ministries Program Director; and the Rev. Dr. Emmanuel Grantson, an ELCA pastor serving a church in Maryland who grew up in Ghana, and who currently serves as the Chairperson of the IALC.
The conference resulted from years of work among Lutherans in the US and Africa, including some challenging conversations about what issues to discuss and how to hear and listen to each other. Issues challenging African-American Lutherans in the US are often quite different than the challenges facing Lutherans and Lutheran churches on the African continent. This brings difficulty when people try to understand each other. We were humbled to watch many participants persist in the struggle to understand and empathize with situations that were not like those they personally faced. We were blessed to take part in this important conference.
FINALLY, a number of ELCA leaders who took part in the IALC visited Tumaini University Makumira to tour the campus and meet with the Rev. Professor Faustin Mahali, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University and one of our key supervisors. We are joyfully excited at the possibility of growing partnerships with ELCA institutions through the discussions started last month.
SPECIAL THANKS and welcome to the saints of First Lutheran, Plano, IL; Pastor Lauri O. Maki Jr. and the saints of Bethel Lutheran, Ishpeming, MI; and Pastor S. Kim Lee-Brown and the saints of St. John Evangelical Lutheran, Princeton, IL, for covenanting support for us and joining us in this journey! If you or your congregation are interested in exploring ways to join us — please be in touch!
AS ALWAYS, THANK YOU for supporting us with your prayers – with emails and messages – with financial support! As Paul said, we thank our God every time we remember you (Philippians 1:3). As we prepare for our second year at the University, we are aware how much our ministry depends on your steadfast support. Thank you!
Peace in Christ,