For the first time, leaders representing Lutheran churches, seminaries and other educational institutions across Latin American and the Caribbean gathered Aug. 7-11 in Bogota, Colombia, to explore new models of leadership development to shape the kinds of lay and ordained ministries that would strengthen the capacity for mission in the 21st century.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) sponsored this consultation, creating space for a dialogue that also addressed the changing religious landscape in Latin America and the Caribbean. Leaders from ELCA churchwide ministries, seminaries and others from the United States attended the consultation.
According to the Rev. Raquel Rodriguez, a critical objective of the consultation was to sketch out a roadmap of some strategic directions and priorities around leadership development that would deepen Lutheran theology and practice, yet contemporize that theology to meet the new realities of churches in the region.
Theological institutions in Latin America and the Caribbean are becoming more ecumenical, witnessing an increase in the number of Pentecostal students in enrollment, for example. While this new reality is providing a valuable exchange of perspectives among the students, the responsibility of fostering a Lutheran denominational identity is falling on individual churches.
Rodriguez, who directs the Latin America and the Caribbean desk at ELCA churchwide ministries, said that there’s a sense of urgency in which the ELCA’s companion Lutheran churches are observing different models of leadership training, particularly as congregations are looking for a more structured approach to ministries like diaconal services, liturgy and arts, church administration and more.
“I was inspired by the courageous way in which these colleagues are addressing many of the same issues we face (in the United States) in preparing leaders for the church of the 21st century,” said the Rev. Michael Cooper-White, president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, one of eight ELCA seminaries. “It was a privilege for me to represent the seminaries of the ELCA in this historic gathering of theological educators and Lutheran church leaders from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.
The consultation sets a precedent for the mutual sharing of needs, experiences, ideas and perspectives among leaders of our global companions, churches and institutions, allowing us to take seriously the unique leadership needs of our companions and to be more effective in our accompaniment, according to Tammy Jackson, who directs the International Leadership Development program at ELCA churchwide ministries.
As follow-up to the consultation, a committee was formed to assist the participants from both the Centers for Theological Formation and Lutheran churches in the region to continue the dialogue and work on specific recommendations that would hold a mutual accountability and responsibility among all in the training of leaders for ministry, said Rodriguez. The committee will also oversee the development of a concept paper by church representatives on what it means to develop a Lutheran identity in their context and to oversee the deliberations on topics such as sustainability of churches and the Centers for Theological Formation, she said.
There are more than 20 Lutheran denominations across Latin America and the Caribbean that are members of The Lutheran World Federation — a global communion of Christian churches in the Lutheran tradition. The federation has 143 member churches in 79 countries all over the world. The ELCA is the federation’s only member church from the United States.