The Reformation, which celebrates its 500th anniversary, is increasingly global. Today only half of Lutherans live in Europe. A look into the Lutheran Church in Africa.
According to the Lutheran World Federation – a global communion of 145 Churches in the Lutheran and Reformation tradition – out of 72 million Lutherans, nearly 36 million live in Europe, 21 million in Africa and more than 10 million in Asia.
The Lutheran churches in Africa are 21 and they are present in 23 of the 54 African countries. It is no coincidence therefore, that the Lutheran World Federation has chosen Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, as the place to hold the 12th General Assembly 2017, on 10/16 May. The event will be attended by 800 delegates who will debate the theme ‘Liberated by God’ s grace’, a topic that also recalls explicitly the anniversary of the Reformation.
Another element to consider is that the Lutheran Church with the largest number of believers is not in Europe but in Africa, in fact more than 7.8 million people were baptized in the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. It should be specified, however, that the Lutherans in Germany are 12 million, though belonging to twelve different bodies. Ethiopia now claims more Lutherans than Sweden or Denmark, two countries which have been historically home to some of the largest Lutheran communities in the world.
Lutheranism in Ethiopia experienced most of its growth in the southern areas of the country still unaffected by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which has had a long history in Ethiopia and shaped much of the culture of the centre.
Now there are more than eight thousand Lutheran local communities, grouped in 25 synods in the country. Last summer, Rev. Dr. Wakseyoum Idossa, the president of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), on the occasion of the General Council of the EECMY, urged Ethiopian Lutherans to make a courageous commitment to peace and reconciliation in the country, which today is shaken by serious tensions. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania is also another important Lutheran community in Africa; with its 6.5 million faithful, it is one of the largest Lutheran community today on a global scale. The first Lutheran missionaries were sent from Germany to Dar es Salaam in 1887. They planted the seed that eventually formed the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania. After 130 years the Lutheran Church in the country has 22 dioceses, with 274 women pastors out of 2,000 pastors overall. Rev. Dr. Elieshi Mungure is one of these women; she has taken prominent positions at the Lutheran World Federation and is currently serving as LWF Area Secretary for Africa.
Furthermore Tanzania has a great historical significance for Lutherans in Africa for hosting, in 1955, the Conference of Marangu, the first meeting of the reformed communities in the continent. The conference was held during the time of liberation movements, which was a key moment in the reflection on the identity of these churches in a postcolonial context. In 2015, a new conference, which was attended by two-hundred delegates from all over the continent, took place in Moshi in Tanzania to celebrate the 1955 event. The conference marked a phase of preparation in view of the 5th centenary and it was also an opportunity for debating specific challenges that Lutherans in Africa are facing. Among the issues that the leaders of local communities underlined: training of pastors, ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, the fight against corruption in African societies, commitment to peace and justice, service to the poor. On this occasion an appeal was made symbolically from the peak of Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa, for a new responsibility towards creation. (R.K.)