After being separated for decades along ethnic lines by a history of colonialism and apartheid, Namibia's three Lutheran churches are moving towards unity following an announcement that they have established a combined church council- writes Rodrick Mukumbira for Ecumenical News International(ENI).
"We are now looking for ways of joint activities and strengthening a unified Lutheran voice in matters of common concern. The ultimate aim is to become one Lutheran Church in Namibia," said a statement signed by Lutheran bishops earlier this month (January 2007). They were representing the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia (ELCRN) and the German-speaking ELCIN-GELC.
Namibia was a German colony until 1915, when it came under the control of South Africa, which later imposed its apartheid system there. It became independent in 1990 during the dying days of apartheid, but the Lutheran churches have maintained old divisions.
The establishment of the United Church Council of the Namibia Evangelical Lutheran Churches followed a meeting on 28 November at which the three churches decided to move towards unification.
The united church council replaces the Lutheran World Federation-Namibian National Committee, which was formed 14 years ago to foster greater Lutheran unity in Namibia. This will now be dissolved to make way for the new council.
The leadership of the three Lutheran churches will manage the council, while financial support from the LWF will be replaced by local fund-raising activities. One way being planned to raise funds is through offerings at three 'Unity Sundays' a year in all 181 Lutheran congregations. Together these congregations account for slightly more than half of Namibia's total population of 2 million people.
The Lutheran church is the biggest in Namibia with the ELCIN accounting for 652,000 members, the ELCRN 350;000 members while the ELCIN-GELC has 5.200 German-speaking members.
"During the past 14 years, we have been trying to find ways of coming closer together," the Rev. Angela Veii, who coordinated the LWF national committee for more than 10 years, told ENI. "On a spiritual level we are united already, but we have to show this."
Veii said the churches would retain their own constitutions. Through the new council, however, they will be able to speak with "one voice", promote joint ventures, and cooperate in such issues as education, health and representation. Veii said: "We are not seeking uniformity, but unity in diversity."
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]