We’re not barging in on the rightful work of others, interfering with their ministries, demanding a place in the sun with them. What we’re hoping for is that as your lives grow in faith, you’ll play a part within our expanding work.
[2 Corinthians 10:15-16 The Message]
I am in Polokwane, South Africa, for eight days to visit with Bishop SWS Sihlangu and the good people of our companion synod, the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa. Our Director for Evangelical Mission, the Rev. Terrance Jacob, a native of South Africa, is accompanying me on the trip. It is a blessing to travel with someone who knows the country.
For the uninitiated, the companion Synods program was established by the ELCA in the 1990’s to enable synods of the ELCA to partner with synods or churches outside the U.S., so that they may experience the gifts and witness of another church around the world. This type of relationship offers people the opportunity to participate with others through mutual prayer, study, communication, and exchange of personnel and resources.
Our goal while here is to reestablish that relationship, which has been inactive for a few years, and to learn more from them how to be more effective in doing the work of ministry.
South Africa has seven synods, or dioceses, as they are known there, and each one has a partner in the U.S. I learned on the first day, however, that the Northern Diocese is structured much differently than our Northeastern Ohio Synod. Here are a couple examples:
There are approximately 100 pastors for 88 parishes, but each parish has an average of five congregations. That comes out to a total of upwards of 400 congregations. Not all the pastors are full time and so lay people help out in the preaching and pastoral care needs of the diocese. I will be visiting with students of an educational program that prepares pastors for this synod.
Not all congregations have a building. Some meet in schools, and even in a garage. That saves on building costs, to say the least, but the bottom line is that they put more emphasis on worship than on the facility.
My airplane trip was long and exhausting. However, I want to utilize this blog space to share as much of this experience in a constructive and, hopefully, educational manner. So I will spare you a lot of the travel details. We’ll keep the reports brief, but as visual as possible.
More in the days to come…
*Thobela means “How are you?” which is a formal way of greeting someone in Sotho, one of the eleven official languages of South Africa.