Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA and the South Andhra Lutheran Church of India
A little over 150 years ago, a German missionary named Rev. August Mylius traveled to the southern part of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh and began sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with the Telegu-speaking people of that area. The word of God took root in the communities of Sullurupet and Nayudupet and the South Andhra Lutheran Church was born out of these roots. SALC now has over 50 parishes with over 50,000 baptized members.
When the ELCA was formed by the merger of its predecessor church bodies, the concept of Companion Synods became an integral part of the mission and ministry of the new church body. Companion synod relationships of the ELCA connect Lutheran churches throughout the world with ELCA synods and congregations.
These relationships are rooted in “accompaniment,” which promotes the values of mutuality, inclusivity, vulnerability, empowerment and sustainability. Through the program, companion churches and ELCA synods nurture and strengthen one another for life and ministry through prayer, study, communication, exchange of visitors and sharing of resources.
The Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA and the South Andhra Lutheran Church have been Companion Synods for many years, although there was a period of several years’ dormancy in the relationship. The relationship has experienced resurrection and new life!
In March 2015, then Bishop Tom Aitken, Brenda Wagner, and Rev. Brenda Wicklund traveled to Chicago for a summit of all the India Lutheran churches and their ELCA Companion Synods. They met with a four-person delegation from SALC, including then Bishop Michael Benhur Oppathati. After the summit, the SALC delegation visited NE Minnesota and the baby steps of renewing the relationship began.
In November 2015, SALC celebrated their 150th Anniversary. NE Minnesota was invited to send representatives to the celebration, along with ELCA Global Mission personnel and German Lutheran representatives. Rev. Mark Wagner and former Vice-President Brenda Wagner traveled to South Andhra to bring greetings from the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA.
In May 2017, the relationship grew further when another four-person delegation from SALC visited Northeastern Minnesota where they were special visitors at the 2017 synod assembly. During their time in NE Minnesota, they traveled to many area congregations and saw many of the ministries occurring in our synod. They even experienced snow for the first time with an early May snowfall!
As the relationship between NE Minnesota and SALC has continued to grow, shared ministries have also emerged. In 2017 with a generous gift from Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa, an India Seminary Scholarship fund was started for seminary students from South Andhra attending Lutheran seminaries in India. Seven seminary students received scholarships in 2017 resulting in over 30% of their annual fees – a huge help – and the fund continues to grow. Female students receive a double portion to encourage more women to enter the ordained ministry. Many of the Lutherans in South Andhra come from the poorer communities. There is increasing pressure and animosity towards minority religions from the Hindu majority. If congregations or individuals wish to contribute to this fund, donations can be made to NE Minnesota Synod with the memo “India Scholarship Fund” and sent to 1105 East Superior St., Upper Suite, Duluth, MN 55802.
In January 2019, the Northeastern Minnesota Synod sponsored a trip to India. The ten-person delegation from NE Minnesota, including former Bishop Tom Aitken, visited congregations and ministry sites, learned about Dalit theology, met with SALC leaders, toured Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, and was received with warm and enthusiastic hospitality – including singing, dancing, and amazing worship. The two bishops also signed an official Companion Synod agreement as a step in the continued growth of the partnership. A few months later, a three-person delegation from the SALC visited Minnesota for the synod assembly.
During the 2022 Synod Assembly, voting members were joined by Rev. Anoop Entrapati of the SALC. Rev. Entrapati is at Luther Seminary in St. Paul studying for his Master’s Degree. The connections made through the Companion Synod program led him to Minnesota to continue his studies. Rev. Entrapati was also one of the early recipients of an India Scholarship from Northeastern Minnesota which allowed him to receive his BA at Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and Research Institute in Chennai, India.
If you would like more information about Lutheranism in India, the India Scholarship Fund, the SALC, the SALC/NE MN Companion Synod Committee, or the accompaniment vision of mission, please feel free to contact Rev. Mark Wagner and/or Brenda Wagner at the email here. Speakers are available to come to your congregation, WELCA group, youth group, or Sunday School for presentations.