By Pamela Nielsen
Nearly 1,000 Lutherans gathered May 1 on the campus of Concordia Seminary in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to celebrate and thank God for its 70 years of preparing pastors and other church workers.
Participants included pastors and other congregation members from across the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina (IELA), partner church leaders, delegations from five South American countries and several LCMS representatives.
Taking advantage of a two-day national labor holiday, the IELA and Concordia Seminary, Argentina, organized a full day of events for this significant anniversary in their life together. Meetings May 2 focused on the future of the Lutheran Church in the southern cone of South America, where Argentina and other represented countries are located.
The observance began with worship, as those gathered sang “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” in Spanish, while Concordia Seminary, Argentina, Director Rev. Sergio Fritzler led the procession from the front of the seminary campus to the service in a tent the length of a soccer field. Later, that tent also served as the dining hall and activity center for the daylong celebration.
Seminary faculty members led that divine service, for which IELA President Rev. Carlos Nagel preached. Using a variety of instruments, seminary students and choir members provided musical accompaniment for the hymns and liturgy.
“All men must dream,” Nagel said in his sermon. “They must dream or they are not alive. Our ancestors had a dream, and with prayer, hard work and time that dream became a reality.”
After the service, the presidents of Lutheran Churches in Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela addressed the assembly — all speaking of the importance of the seminary to the Lutheran Church throughout Latin America. Each expressed the official intent of his church body to send its pastors-in-training to Concordia Seminary, Argentina.
“Two years ago, our assembly decided that this house of study is our house of study,” said the Rev. Christian Rautenberg, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chile (IELCHI). “We pray for the professors … [and] we ask God to continue to do this work for Chile and also for all of Latin America.”
The Christian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Bolivia’s president, the Rev. Rene Mendoza Viorel, whose son is a student at Concordia Seminary, echoed Rautenberg’s sentiments. “We are very thankful for the invitation and privilege to be here and the power of God to sustain His church with the healthy teaching of this seminary,” he said. “We thank you that our men are able to study in the healthy doctrine of this seminary, and we pray it continues for another 70 years.”
The Rev. Christian Hofman, president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Uruguay, said, “We want to send all of our sons to your house of studies. The purpose of a seminary is to train men for the ministry to spread the message of Jesus Christ, and we thank you [that] we can send our sons here.”
Lutherans from Europe settled in Argentina in the 1800s. In the early 1900s, the LCMS sent missionary pastors at the request of the immigrant communities scattered across South America. In 1928, the Argentine District of the LCMS was formed. Concordia Seminary, Argentina, was established in 1942, and in 1986 the district became an independent church body and LCMS partner church.
Following the anniversary service, the crowd feasted at a traditional asado (Argentine barbecue). The meal included more than 1,300 pounds of grilled beef and chorizo (sausage) prepared by men from IELC congregations. The afternoon also was filled with sacred and folk offerings, including several in German, by various musical groups.
May 2 discussions
Leaders of the Lutheran Churches of the southern cone met at the seminary May 2 to discuss their partnerships, hopes and dreams for the Lutheran Church in South America.
Concordia Seminary, Argentina, is just one example of the cross-border collaborations among these church bodies and the LCMS. Others include a number of mission and mercy projects in several South American countries that employ resources and people from several church bodies.
The South American church leaders indicated that theological education is near the top of their list of priorities, as they stessed the acute need for well-trained clergy who will preach the Word and administer the sacraments throughout Latin America.
At present, there are not enough pastors to serve the established congregations of the region. For example, an average Paraguayan pastor serves eight-12 congregations. The IELA has 73 pastors for her 250 congregations in Argentina.
The Rev. Ted Krey, LCMS regional director for Latin America and the Caribbean, pointed out that “the shortage of pastors in our sister churches makes the identifying of candidates both within Argentina and throughout Latin America a high priority of the Missouri Synod. . . . Would that the Lord of the harvest permit us to have more men in order to plant new missions — pastors who would preach, teach and baptize, calling sinners to repentance and faith in Christ!”
Also discussed May 2 were identifying areas where the church is growing and places where new congregations should be planted if more missionary pastors were available.
In many cases, South American congregations have been formed as the result of mercy work provided through schools or disaster relief. For example, as a result of Lutheran relief efforts in Chile, two new congregations have begun in the earthquake/tsunami-stricken cities of Talca and Constitucion.
“It is our common confession of faith that allows our partner churches to exchange pastors to fill vacancies and send their men to a common house of study for the building up of the body of Christ regardless of territories … for the sake of the Gospel,” said Krey.
Also on May 2, the Concordia Seminary, Argentina, faculty met with Krey; the Rev. Dr. David Birner, co-interim executive director of the LCMS Office of International Mission; the Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, LCMS director of Global Seminary Education; and Deaconess Grace Rao, manager for LCMS Deaconess Ministry. That meeting focused on the strengths and challenges facing Concordia Seminary, Argentina, as the Spanish-speaking Lutheran seminary in Latin America.
Quill addressed matters involved with having an international student body and the importance of fostering a healthy student life for students who are far from their homes and living in a new culture. He shared how a diverse student population fosters cross-border camaraderie among future pastors that will lead to collaboration among them and their church bodies in the future, including examples from other international Lutheran seminaries where this has been the case. He spoke about how this approach to seminary training enriches the entire student body and the positive impact it has on confessional Lutheranism.
“Working together with the LCMS, Concordia Seminary, Argentina, is taking Latin America as a single block to grant all national churches the same opportunity for solid confessional Lutheran theological training for their young people, future pastors and missionaries, which will bring great benefits and ensure the church’s health in future years,” said the Rev. Sergio Fritzler, the seminary’s director. “To achieve this,” he continued, “there are several things that need to occur: the higher education of seminary professors, scholarships awarded to students in the region and sustaining new teachers in the mission area.”
Other meetings on the seminary campus the week of the anniversary involved LCMS representatives and various South American church leaders. They discussed joint efforts in witness and mercy throughout Latin America. Working alongside partners in regions around the world is a key strategy in LCMS efforts to proclaim the Gospel across the globe, bringing together the many gifts, experiences and resources of each partner church.
“These events and meetings,” Birner observed, “are a great visual confirmation of the body of Christ as it spans across countries and cultures, giving us a glimpse of the global network of confessional Lutherans who understand the primary importance of training up Lutheran pastors who will clearly preach the Word of God in the 21st century.”
Deaconess Pamela Nielsen is managing editor for Witness, Mercy, Life Together with LCMS Communications.
James Neuendorf is the LCMS communications specialist for Latin America.
Posted May 11, 2012 / Updated May 15, 2012