The United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India is a Communion of eleven member churches spread out in many parts of the country, with a membership of approximately 1.5 to 2.5 millions. The Lutheran Communion in India is predominantly Dalit and Adivasi. Each member church has its own unique cultural and historical context, with different mission histories. The Communion was founded in 1926 as a Federation of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in India and went through a metamorphosis and now is known as the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India. The following gives a brief description of each organ in this Communion that is bound by the will of God and sustained by the Holy Spirit.
ANDHRA EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (AELC)
The Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church is one of the biggest Lutheran Church in India and the third largest Lutheran Church in Asia. Its headquarters is situated in Guntur, one of the richly populated cities in Andhra Pradesh. Though AELC was constituted in 1927, the spade work was done by two different missionary societies: the Guntur Mission by John Christian Frederic K. Heyer of Pennsylvania Synod Society on July 31, 1842 and Rajahmundry Mission by Rev. Luis P. Manno Valett of North German Missionary Society in July 1845. In 1927 both these Missions came under the responsibility of AELC. At present it spreads over 500 miles of the Coromandel Coast (east coast of India) covering the important cities and districts in Andhra Pradesh and having a congregational membership of more than 4,50,000 in around 400 parishes. The strong edifice built by the missionaries for the growth of education is still being continued by AELC. It also concentrates on diaconal works such as Establishment of Hospitals, Emancipation of Women's Status, Rural Development Projects and Mother & Child Health Programme.
ARCOT LUTHERAN CHURCH (ALC)
The Arcot Lutheran Church with its headquarters located in the eastern coastal city of Cuddalore in Tamilnadu, though being small in size, is one of the oldest Lutheran Churches in India. It encompasses principally the districts of North and South Arcot, Salem and Darmapuri. Its origin can be traced back to the period when the Danish Missionary Society sent Rev. Christopher C.E. Ochs, the pioneer missionary in 1861 to Melpattambakkam, South Arcot. From its initial stage the Danish missionaries tried to coordinate protestant working groups in the area and gave priorities to evangelism backed by education. It also concentrates on upliftment of the poor, discriminated and the marginalized in the society in addition to its normal ministries such as education, medical aid, human development etc. ALC has around 35,000 congregational members spread over 37 pastorates. Besides management of number of schools, colleges and institutes the Church also runs Development Projects, Cross Community Centre, Community Development & Health Centre, an Inter Faith Dialogue Centre and an Agricultural Training Farm.
EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN MADHYA PRADESH (ELCMP)
Chhindwara, Madhya Pradesh is the site for the headquarters of ELCMP. It covers over twelve districts in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Maharashtra. It has recently extended its ministerial work to the neighbouring areas such as Nappur Bhandara and Tumsar in Maharashtra, Jamtangi in Orissa. It also has a diaspora congregation in Delhi. Its constitution was registered in 1942 and the Bishopric was introduced in 1969. Its historical background can be traced back to 1877 when missionaries like Rev. A.G. Danielson and Evangeliska Fosterlands from Swedish Evangelical Mission started their pioneering work among the Gonds who were the early adherents to the Lutheran faith. Later caste Hindus, Uraons, Panka, Kewat, Pabhiyas and Baris also joined the fold. The present name, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Madhya Pradesh, was adopted from 1949 onwards replacing its earlier name, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Central Provinces. The Church now has a total of 13,546 members in around 52 pastorates. Besides its primary aim of educating the tribal children it also runs a technical school where instruction is given in Carpet Weaving, nine Boarding Homes and Hostels, a Home for Widows, a Child Care Centre and a Widow Rehabilitation Centre for the benefit of the poor and the needy.
EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH IN THE HIMALAYAN STATES (ELCITHS)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Himalayan States is the latest member of the UELCI family and was born on November 2003. The 25th Triennial Conference at Chennai in November admitted this Church to full membership within the UELCI. Its unique feature is that it brings together five distinct ethnic communities, the Bodos, the Assamese and the Oriyas in the Himalayan States, the Zomis of North East India and the Manipuris, in four dioceses. The Bodo Evangelical Diocese, Assam Evangelical Lutheran Church, Eastern Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Christian Church, Manipur have come together to constitute the ELCITHS. It has a combined membership of around 30,000. The amalgamation of these churches with its rich experiences in its own ministerial fields has enriched the activities of ELCITHS.
GOOD SHEPHERD EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (GSELC)
Bhadrachalam in Andhra Pradesh is the headquarters of the Good Samaritan Evangelical Lutheran Church. It is one of the fastest growing Lutheran Churches in India. The Church was formed in 1972. Unlike the other Lutheran Churches in India that are established by foreign missions, GSELC was established, designed and formed by Rev. Dr. Paul Raj, an Indian. He has earned the distinction of taking the Gospel, though born in a traditional Hindu family, into the remote tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh. The present congregational strength is 41,786 in 41 pastorates that are situated mainly in the forest areas of East and West Godhavari, Warangal districts and the southern parts of Baster district of Madhya Pradesh. The Church's uniqueness lies in the translation of the Bible in Koya language, one hitherto does not have a dialect of its own. The invention of Koya alphabets is seen as an important phase in the history of the tribe and is expected to provide a new value system both in the economic and social sphere to the entire tribal community.
GOSSNER EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (GELC)
The Gossner Evangelical Lutheran Church with its headquarters located in Ranchi, Jharkand (formerly Bihar) is one of the largest and widespread Lutheran Churches in India. Its past can be traced back to 1845 when Johannes Evangelical Gossner Missionary Organization, Germany sent four missionaries namely: Rev. Emil Satz, Rev. August Brandt, Rev. Fredrick Basch and Rev. Theodore Yankey for planting Lutheran mission in India. The church has five diocese headed by the Bishop. Ranchi is the headquarters and the Dean heads its congregation. At present it has around 5,00,000 congregational members spread over 1687 pastorates (Congregation-wise) in the state of Jharkhand, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Orissa, Assam, Haryana and the major cities like Delhi, Kolkata, etc. It has its presence in the northeastern states as well. The church is duly registered on July30, 1921 in the office of the Registrar, Joint stock Company, Patna under the societies Registration Act 21 of 1860 ( Vide No-273J). The church declared its autonomy on 10th July 1919 and runs the following institution – a Theological college, a Bible School, four Colleges, two Teachers' Training Colleges, a Technical Centre, a Agricultural Training Centre, a Human Resources Development Centre, twenty four Secondary schools, a Printing Press cum Training Centre, a Hospital, a Dispensary, three Boarding Homes for poor and needy and an Old Age Home. The Women and youth in the church also play a vital role in conducting relief and awareness programmes, specially to be mentioned are their role during Bhopal gas tragedy and the cyclone in Orissa. Its overseas Mission partners are Gossner Mission Berlin Germany and church of Brandenburg, Germany.
INDIAN EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (IELC)
Vellore district in Tamilnadu is the headquarters of the Indian Evangelical Lutheran Church. It covers large areas in the states of Tamilnadu, Karnataka and Kerala. Its diaspora congregations are located in Bombay and Andhra Pradesh. The untiring efforts of Rev. Naether and Rev. Mohn, missionaries from the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, USA, since 1894 witnessed the conversion of many Hindus to Christianity. The subsequent missionaries who came in due course of time started schools, orphanages and hospitals. The efforts of Ms. Alice Brauer resulted in the establishment of three hospitals, of which Christian Medical Centre, Vellore is well known all over Tamilnadu for its work among the poor and the needy. The Church has a congregational strength of 80,000 spread over 400 parishes. Besides secular schools, the Church runs a school for the hearing and speech impaired children in Ambur, a school for the rehabilitation of mentally retarded and a school for deaf and blind in Vellore. Self-Help Project, Good Samaritan Project, IELC Vocational Centre for the Handicapped and Community Development Project are some of the projects undertaken by the Church to help the people in the lower strata of the societal pyramid.
JEYPORE EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (JELC)
Jeypore in Koraput district, Orissa is the location of the headquarters of JELC. The Lutheran missionary activity in these tribal areas began with the pioneering works of Rev. Earnest Pohl and Rev. Herman Bothman since 1882. It was mainly due to the initiative taken by Rev. Christian Jensen, the pioneering missionary of Breklum, Germany. Consequently many German missionaries were sent from the Schlewig Holstein Evangelical Lutheran Mission Society, now known as Nordelbisches Missionzentrum (NMZ). The congregation formed by the Mission was organized into a Church when the first Synod met in 1928. 1954 was the year of culmination of missionary assistance and the beginning of Indian leadership. At present the Church consists of 1,43,000 members spread over 96 parishes in 926 villages. This is one of those churches that shepherds a host of language groups such as Oriya, Kuri, Godaba, Bonda, Bhotra, Didegi and Koya. Apart from the establishment of a number of schools and training institutes for the tribal children the Church's sustaining work in the emancipation of the status of the Adivasis is commendable. Initiatives such as Research and Development, Mapping of Resource, Identification of Training need, Identification of Model Parishes, Infrastructure Development, Constitution Amendment, Environmental concerns and Dialogue with people of other Faiths are presently undertaken by JELC.
NORTHERN EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (NELC)
The Northern Evangelical Lutheran Church with Dumka district, Jharkand as its headquarters is principally spread over four North Eastern states in India viz., Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Bengal and Assam. The Church has recently started its diaspora ministries in Morang and Jhapa districts of Nepal. The majority of the Church members belong to four different ethnic groups namely: Santals, Boros, Bengalis and Biharis. Though NELC attained its Episcopal formation in 1950 its history can be traced back to the year 1867 when two missionaries Lars Olsen Skrefsrud, a Norwegian and Hans Peter Boerresen, a Dane started evangelising the Santals. Before the Church could hold on to the present name i.e., NELC it was baptized with two other names – The Home Mission to the Santals and later during 1950-58 as Ebenezer Lutheran Church. At the moment the Church comprises of 85,000 members spread over 453 pastorates. Besides running a number of colleges, schools, hospitals and dispensaries the Church also focuses on development programmes such as Agricultural Development, Irrigational Projects, Construction of Community Infrastructure and Emergency Relief.
SOUTH ANDHRA LUTHERAN CHURCH (SALC)
The popular Hindu pilgrimage place called Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh is the site for the headquarters of SALC. It encompasses the southern part of Andhra and few areas of Tamilnadu with diaspora congregations in Chennai. The historicity of the church can be dated back to the year 1865 when Rev. August Mylius of Hermaunsburg Evangelical Lutheran Mission (HELM), Germany began his evangelistic work in the southern part of Andhra. World War 1 made the German missionaries to leave India in 1915. After a period of five years in 1920 the American missionaries from Ohio Lutheran Evangelical Mission (OLEM) took charge of the abruptly ended work of the German missionaries. Later in 1929 the church organization was governed by American Lutheran Church. The year of Indian Independence (1947) was the birth year of SALC. Since 1949 the church became independent and got all the properties and institutions from the hold of the foreign missionary societies. In the present day scenario the Church has a capacity of 33,863 members in 44 parishes. The Church runs five Secondary Schools, five Boarding Homes and Hostels, couple of Technical Schools and Institutes and a Hospital.
TAMIL EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (TELC)
The Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church is one of the oldest Protestant Churches and one of the largest Lutheran Churches in India. Its ministry is mainly concentrated in the state of Tamilnadu and in certain parts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Pondichery and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Its headquarters is situated in Trichy district, Tamilnadu. Though TELC was established on January 14, 1919 as a registered body its glorious past could be traced way back to the Tranquebar Mission on July 9, 1706 when Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Heinrich Plutschau entered Tranquebar to spread the Gospel. After the death of Ziegenbalg, missionary work was revived only in 1841 by the Leipzig Evangelical Lutheran Mission (LELM), Germany. It was in 1950 under an arrangement called "Document B", mission work which hither to was taken care by both the German and Swedish Mission Societies were handed over to TELC with an understanding that these foreign missionary societies continue to be partners in mission for promoting the welfare and growth of TELC. Today TELC has 1,05,773 members in around 110 pastorates. Apart from the number of educational institutions, hospitals and orphanages the Church also concentrates on social work activities such as Emergency Relief Operation, Self-Employment Project, Community Economic Programme, Local Resource Generation Project, Ecological Programme, Addiction Concern Programme and Tribal Welfare Project.
The Communion, United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India, along with its member churches are also members of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), World Council of Churches (WCC), Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) except GSELC is a non-LWF member and ELCITHS is a non-NCCI member. The Communion facilitates member churches to witness to the Gospel and faith together with action. The Communion provides the possibilities for constant interaction and serves as the platform to speak together on fundamental concerns of the Lutheran Churches in India. The Communion enables the member churches to express their unity as part of the universal church and the Church in India and explores ways to be God's effective instrument for justice, inclusiveness and liberation of the oppressed. The Communion helps in further deepening the understanding of the Gospel and our faith in God and to commit to closer and deeper cooperation in witness and service. The Communion constantly explores effective and relevant ways to participate in the ecumenical movement even in the midst of struggles.