CHICAGO -- In the United States the Lutheran Church is often considered an immigrant church. Of the 41 new congregations the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is starting in 2010, more than half are among immigrant populations.
After World War II Lutherans resettled some 57,000 refugees with the participation of 6,000 congregations. Today Lutherans continue to welcome the new neighbor actively.
The Rev. Robert N. Waworuntu, an ELCA pastor from Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes), Indonesia, has made a commitment to start one Indonesian Lutheran ministry per year in the United States. For 2010 he is helping to start Indonesian Lutheran Church in Plano, Texas. "There is an urgent need for worship in this area," he said.
"It is my passion to engage in mission among the Indonesian communities across the United States," said Waworuntu. There are 10 Indonesian congregations across the church, from California to New York, Colorado to Texas. "I keep in close contact with all 10," he said, adding that members of these congregations gather once a year. "We call it the Indonesian Caucus."
"I share with these communities that we are part of the universal church," said Waworuntu. "We can still keep our Indonesian identity and serve as members of the ELCA."
Waworuntu is based in Newington, N.H., where he serves as pastor of Immanuel Indonesian Lutheran Church there. He came to the United States in 1990 to attend seminary and returned to Indonesia to teach. Since returning to the U.S. in 2001, Waworuntu has helped start congregations in New Hampshire, Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
"It is important for us to reflect to the entire world, not just one part of it, that we are a church built by immigrants, and we continue to be a church of immigrants," said the Rev. Mary C. Frances, assistant director for new evangelizing congregations, ELCA Evangelical Outreach and Congregational Mission (EOCM).
Of the 41 new starts, 15 are among the working poor, 23 are middle class and 3 are upper-middle class. Thirty-nine percent are located in suburban locations, 37 percent in urban and 24 percent in small-town rural areas.
The large number of new starts for 2010 among immigrant people "reflect a biblical image of the church, not so much as a welcoming church but rather a church in the world in search of welcome," said the Rev. Stephen P. Bouman, executive director, EOCM.
"Jesus showed up mostly as a guest, as someone who was vulnerable," said Bouman.
"In the Gospel of Luke he sent his disciples and the 70 out into the world. They traveled light (and) didn't even take bread with them, because Jesus wanted them to be welcomed at the kitchen tables of those he loved," he said.
"I see our outreach to immigrants this way. It is not so much opening the doors and windows of our shut-down churches afraid of their neighborhoods. Rather it is a venturing out, a seeking and, by God's grace, receiving a welcome at the tables of our new neighbors," said Bouman.
Members of El Camino de Emaus in Burlington, Wash., are celebrating its four-year anniversary July 11. El Camino is an ELCA congregation under development.
"We are the only Hispanic ministry" in the ELCA Northwest Washington Synod, said Luz Cabrera. She and her husband, the Rev. Eduardo A. Cabrera, an ELCA pastor, serve as ELCA mission developers in Burlington.
"We are thankful for the support of congregations and pastors in the synod that have come to know our ministry," said Cabrera. "We have never felt isolated. We are very well integrated into the life of the synod."
She said members of El Camino visit congregations in the synod on Sunday mornings. "We lead adult forums, among other activities, as a way for people to come to know us."
Cabrera said connecting with the community, especially for weddings and "Quinceañeras" (a coming-of-age ceremony on a girl's 15th birthday), and participating in immigration marches serve as significant outreach opportunities, as well as engaging in Bible study among seasonal and migrant farm workers and their children.
"The Hispanic population is growing very fast in northwest Washington," said Cabrera, adding that she anticipates the ministry to continue growing at a rapid rate. To help meet that demand, there are two seminary students at El Camino. "We hope they'll become pastors who can begin new Hispanic ministries in northwest Washington," she said.