Latin American Lutherans discuss role of theological education
Balancing ecumenism, denominational identity is tricky, they agree
According to the 39 representatives of Latin American and Caribbean Lutheran churches and institutions of theological training, the churches are increasingly in need of a diversity of ministries, such as youth, diaconal service, psychosocial assistance, music, liturgy, theatrical arts, gender equity, and church administration.
At an Aug. 7-10 meeting here titled “New Wine-New Wineskins” and sponsored by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), participants said meeting these needs does not require creating new programs, but rather establishing networks of support and exchanges with other training centers (seminaries).
During the consultation, Lutheran churches in Latin America asked themselves if their training centers are taking the needs of the churches into consideration.
The question itself led to a recognizing that the training centers do not necessarily need to respond to the needs of the churches. Theological study should not only be functional, participants agreed, but also provide the possibility to foster reflection and investigation beyond the practical needs of the churches.
Theological education institutions in Latin America are becoming more and more ecumenical and some here said training in the denominational identity of the ministers should therefore be the task of the churches.
Ironically, ecumenical theological education institutions in the region are seeing an increase in the number of Pentecostal students enrolled in their student bodies, while in the more Pentecostal seminaries like SEMISUD in Quito, Ecuador, there is an increase in the number of students from historic churches.
This new reality is providing a valuable exchange of experiences, participants agreed, but requires that the churches give attention to denominational training.
Consultation participants have seen different models of Lutheran churches in Latin America that are responding to the context and needs of each country. The challenge, they agreed, is to build bridges between those various models.
What is also needed, they concluded, is a critical evaluation of what is to be gained and what lost with each of the training models. Accompaniment by the churches of their students during the period of training is also needed. Pastoral fieldwork during training is basic, especially that having to do with a deepening of knowledge in Lutheran theology and practice, and given the need to contemporize that theology in the reality of each community.
The Rev. José David Rodríguez , dean of the Higher Evangelical Institute of Theological Studies (ISEDET) in Buenos Aires, said suspicion between churches and institutions of theological training has got to be overcome through dialogue over the context and search for resources to attend to the needs of the churches.
“In addition to the programs and projects according to the contextual needs, there should be co-responsibility, a complementing and a joint articulation as the training centers also need to creatively have the human resources with which to deal with those challenges,” said Rodríguez.