A. The Beginnings
The Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC) is the largest Lutheran Church in India with 1.6 million membership and the third largest Lutheran Church in Asia. The Foreign Missionary Society of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States of America took birth on 30th May 1837. Here the seed was sown to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ among the people of South India. The Lutheran Synod of Pennsylvania prayerfully decided to send a Missionary to India, and as a result, Fr. John Christian Frederick Heyer, having received his commission at St. Paul’s Church, Philadelphia, left Boston on October 14, 1841 and reached Madras. After some explorations to select a place for his ministry, Fr. Heyer arrived at Guntur on 31st July 1842 and with the support and encouragement of the then District Collector, H. Strokes began to share the joy of salvation in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World. Rev. Louis P. Menno Valett of the North German Missionary Society started the Rajahmundry Mission in January 1845 and Sir Arthur Cotton encouraged the new Missionary and pledged support and cooperation. The Guntur Mission Field which consists of the present Central Guntur, East Guntur and West Guntur Synods was organised as the Guntur Synod on Monday, 29th October 1906 in the First Lutheran (Stork Memorial) Church at Guntur. Some salient features of the work and witness of the Guntur Synod were: the Diaspora work of the Church among migrant Christians at Hubli (Karnataka) which was started in 1915; the publication of the present Church Journal, Andhra Lutheran (earlier known as the Mission News and later as Telugu Lutheran); and organising a Revival meeting with Sadhu Sundar Singh from 17th to 19th November 1924. The Rajahmundry Synod which embraces the present East Godavari and West Godavari Synod was organised in 1921. Like the Guntur Synod, the Rajahmundry Synod also spent its energies and resources on elementary and religious education, strengthening of the Gospel work in rural and urban areas in various phases, Diaspora ministry and ‘merciful’ work.
B. The Emergence of the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church
Matters of Church discipline, uniformity in practice of ordination of Gospel workers, reception of ‘inquirers and seekers’, and scales and salaries of the Church workers, were some of the factors that necessitated the merger of the Guntur and Godavari Synods. The other important consideration for the merger of Guntur and Rajahmundry Synods was the strong sense ‘to promote the work of Christ in India by establishing self-supporting and self-governing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations’. The first meeting of the planning for the merger of the two Synods was held on 19th & 20th April 1927 at St. Mathews Lutheran Church, Guntur and resolved that the entire work of the Synods be handed over to the new Church christened as the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church from 1st January 1928 with diverse activities and programmes.
C. Diverse Ministries of the Church
1. Empowerment through Education:
According to the history of the A E L Church, in November 1842 itself, Fr. Heyer established the first Girls School and today the A E L Church continues its ministry through its several educational institutions from primary schools to Colleges. Andhra Christian College at Guntur is one of its premier institutions in the higher education sphere.
2. Healing Touch for Wholesome Life:
Fr. Heyer before coming to India enrolled himself as a student of Medicine and Sanskrit at the University of Washington and as a result of his speciality, healing ministry became a handmaiden of his Gospel ministry; however, only with the arrival of Dr. Anna S. Kugler in the autumn of 1883, the healing ministry of the Church began to take it roots through ‘Bazar Dispensaries’ and finally culminating in the establishment of Hospitals such as Kugler Hospital, Guntur, Baer Hospital, Chirala, ULCM Hospital, Rajahmundry, Augustana Hospital, Bhimavaram, Andrew-Kleiding Hospital, Koyyalagudem, Lutheran Health Centre, Rentachintala and Visranthipuram Sanatorium, Rajahmundry. Though because of several factors, most of the hospitals are defunct, at least one Clinic named as ‘Ruth Sigmon Memorial Clinic’ has become a strong reminder of the Church’s healing ministry.
3. Care for the Kitchen Garden:
‘Line upon line, and precept upon precept’ is the backbone of the Bible Women’s Ministry aimed at reaching the non-Christian women folk, earlier known as the Zenana Work. As it is easier for women to approach women, the visits of women trained in Bible teaching and preaching to Hindu and Muslim homes has become a strong tool and channel to share the love of God and the salvific act of Jesus Christ. Like women whose lives are focused on their Kitchen Gardens, since these Bible women also carefully introduce the truths of the Bible and slowly and steadily nurture the spirituality of the women seeking to know more about Jesus Christ, their ministry is also nothing but caring for the Kitchen Garden of God’s plantation. At the present the AELC has a strong and committed workforce of 100 Bible women guided by 10 theologically trained and ordained women supervisors.
4. Vision and Mission of Diakonia:
The spiritual welfare of the members of the Church is inter-twined with social welfare as well. Added to this, A E L C is mainly a ‘Dalit’ Church and as the under-privileged and oppressed sections of the society, the mission of the Church is to provide succour to the ‘wounded psyche’ through the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ and a vision for a ‘new today’ through some of the socio-economic programmes.
With its 170 years of work and witness through 4,000 congregations and 850 ordained Ministers, the AELC is privileged to be one of the constituent churches of the National Council of Churches in India and the Andhra Pradesh Council of Churches and supports and participates in all ecumenical programmes and activities. ‘Decay is a natural phenomenon; but the essential vision and mission of the Church is renewal’
- Busi Suneel Bhanu
President, Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church
(As updated in NCC Review November 2012)
Contact as on 30th July 2013
Bishop Frederick Paradesi Babu
Bishop of Andhra Evangelical Lutheran
Post Box No. 205
Guntur- 522 002, A.P.
Tel : 0863- 2241623 (O), 2231487 ®
Fax : 0863-2251383