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Sri Lanka

ILC welcomes Ethiopians and Sri Lankans into membership

WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is pleased to announce the reception of two church bodies in Ethiopia and Sri Lanka as observer members. The Ethiopian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC) and the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC) were officially accepted during a meeting of the ILC’s Board of Directors on May 9, 2023.

“It is a joy to welcome the Ethiopian Evangelical Lutheran Church as members in the International Lutheran Council,” said ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill. “I look forward to growing in our new relationship, as we unite together in proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

“We are a confessional church which wants to keep our Lutheran heritage,” noted EELC President Mussie Alazar Niamen on his church’s decision to apply for membership. “We are looking to have a strong relationship with other confessional Lutheran churches in the ILC, so that we can be encouraged to continue as a confessional Lutheran church in Ethiopia.”

EELC President Mussie Alazar Niamen

The EELC has more than 27,500 members in 120 congregations and 30 mission stations throughout Ethiopia. The church operates a seminary in Asella and plans to open another seminary in Addis Ababa. The EELC also operates schools, clinics, and child development projects. The church was established in 1921 through the mission work of Swedish Lutherans. It enjoys relationships with several ILC member churches, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya, the Mission Province in Sweden, and the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland.

The same meeting which welcomed the EELC also saw the International Lutheran Council welcome the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church back into membership.

“The Sri Lankan church has a long history of membership in the ILC, which lapsed in recent years as the church attempted to restructure itself,” noted General Secretary Quill. “It is a joy to welcome the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church back into the ILC and to renew our friendship.”

The CELC has applied for full membership in the ILC but votes on full membership can only be taken during ILC World Conferences (the next of which is scheduled for 2025). In the meantime, the CELC has been accepted as an observer member.

CELC Bishop Arumanayagam Arulchelvan

“We praise God He gave a wonderful opportunity to renew our relationship for the glory of God,” said CELC Bishop Arumanayagam Arulchelvan. “We had a good relationship previously under the name of the Lanka Lutheran Church, and our participants from Sri Lanka have been enriched by the international theological conferences organized by the ILC.”

Bishop Arulchelvan further noted the value of associating with the ILC, saying that “becoming associated with an institution like yours which follows confessional teachings” is “helpful for churches like us as we grow in correct teachings.”

Rev. Roger James, the ILC’s Assistant to the General Secretary, also welcomed the news of the CELC’s acceptance into the ILC. “The CELC is a small church that has had many struggles, enduring decades of ethnic insurgency, the massive tsunami of 2004, and most recently economic collapse and political turmoil,” he noted. “The Lord has been with them through them all. What joy that they are a part of the ILC and know they have Lutheran brothers and sisters all over the world.” Rev. James has a close relationship with the Sri Lankan church, having served as a missionary of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in Sri Lanka from 2013-2018.

The CELC has approximately 800 members in 14 congregations. It is the successor to the former Lanka Lutheran Church, which traces its history back to 1958 when a missionary from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod arrived in the country. The church continues its close relationship with the LCMS.

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions as the true and faithful exposition of the Word of God. The ILC exists to encourage, strengthen, and promote confessional Lutheran theology and practice centering in Jesus Christ, both among its members and throughout the world.


Sri Lankan Lutherans consecrate first bishop, seek ILC membership

Participants at the consecration of CELC Bishop Arulchelvan.

SRI LANKA – On October 9 2022, the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church (CELC) consecrated its first Bishop, Rev. Arumanayagam Arulchelvan. Approximately 200 members from across the church were present for the event.

The consecration was conducted by Archbishop Joseph Omolo of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya (ELCK), joined also by ELCK Bishops Kispin and Titus. Archbishop Omolo, who also serves as the Africa Region Representative for the International Lutheran Council (ILC), expressed great satisfaction at being able to participate in the event, noting “it was a good opportunity for the Africa region to have fellowship with the Asia region in same-saying the faith and strengthening one another in the Lord.”

ECLK Archbishop Joseph Omolo consecrates CELC Bishop Arulchelvan.

Also present for the consecration were representatives of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), including the church’s Sri Lanka Mission Manager, Rev. Steven Mahlburg, and Regional Director for Asia, Rev. Charles Ferry.

The consecration was the culmination of a long process for the CELC. Plans for the election and consecration of a bishop were initially planned for May 2020, with the ELCK’s Archbishop planning to attend at that time. But the outbreak of civil unrest, in addition to the effects of the pandemic and an economic crisis, led the church to delay its Diocesan Assembly several times.

On September 27, 2022, the church was finally able to hold its Diocesan Assembly, gathering in Colombo. Representatives from every congregation in the church, along with CELC’s pastors and lay evangelists, formally ratified their new constitution and elected Rev. Arulchelvan to be their new bishop. They also elected a Diocesan Council.

CELC Bishop Arulchelvan (centre front) and LCMS Sri Lanka Mission Manager, Rev. Steven Mahlburg (front right), pose with the newly elected Sri Lankan church’s Diocesan Council in September 2022.

The CELC also voted to seek membership in the International Lutheran Council (ILC). The Sri Lankan church previously held membership in the ILC but its membership lapsed in recent years as it attempted to restructure itself. CELC also voted to seek altar and pulpit fellowship with the LCMS, with whom it has historic ties.

The history of Lutheran missions in Sri Lanka, go back more than 150 years but the CELC traces its particular history to 1958 when Rev. James Fergin, an LCMS missionary from India, arrived to minister to Tamil workers in Sri Lanka’s tea plantations. This eventually led to the formation of the Lanka Lutheran Church in 1978.

In 1983, civil war broke out Sri Lanka—war which would last for 26 years and put significant pressure on the church. The Lanka Lutheran Church’s government registration subsequently lapsed in the mid-2000s, though the church itself continued to function.

A few years after the civil war ended in 2009, the LCMS began to send resident missionaries to Sri Lanka again, helping the church to reconstitute itself. The church eventually obtained new government registration in 2017 under its new name: the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Today, the CELC has about 15 congregations and mission stations; four ordained pastors; five lay evangelists; and an approximate membership of 2,000 people. The vast majority of people in the country are Buddhist, with Christians making up just over seven percent of the population, meaning outreach can be difficult. Historic tensions between Tamil and Singalese people in the country also create challenges.

The LCMS’ Sri Lanka Mission Manager, Rev. Mahlburg, encourages Lutherans across the world to remember the Ceylon Evangelical Lutheran Church in prayer. “Though they’re small in numbers, there is a core group of Christians in Sri Lanka that are committed Lutherans,” he says. “They are proud of their heritage and are struggling to carry out the ministry there and reach out to people as they are able.”


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