Not Your Regular Christmas Column: God Can Work Through Smallness and Vulnerability
I recently visited with our partner church the Iglesia Evangelico Luterana Unidad – IELU (Argentina and Uruguay). I began my visit in Buenos Aires, meeting with the president of the church, Pastora Wilma Rommel and Vice-President Mariela Pereyra. We talked about the current state of the church and the country.
In Argentina, inflation is currently at 110% making finances and budgets very difficult. The church has moved to a centralized administration doing finance and human resources for the schools, nursing home, congregations and the synod which has helped achieve cost savings. As a result, pastors have been moved back to full-time salaries (they were reduced to 50 per cent three years ago).
Sadly, the church is still in mourning due to the unsolved murder of their former Vice-President Fabián Kreischer, that occurred in February 2021. It is hard for them to find closure and move on.
IELU is currently experiencing some of the same issues we are in a “post-pandemic” time. Not all members have returned to in-person worship. They are not sure if everyone will come back to worship and what this might mean for the future of the church.
They have initiated a new “encouraging communities” program which began in 2020. They are doing formation and training for lay people in preaching, Christian education, biblical studies and theology. It is a two-year program that leads to a certificate. This is going very well.
Their current challenge is to develop and articulate a mission that links their work in congregations and the work that they do in the schools.
Several of us went together to inspect the work being done to build new classrooms in a former nursing home for the use of the age 3 to kindergarten program of the neighbouring Jose C. Paz School.
The project is not as far along as they had hoped, but labour shutdowns due to COVID, and supply chain and inflation issues have slowed down the work. Fortunately, they bought all the windows and doors at the start of the project and those are the most expensive items, so they have saved a lot of money.
We have set a new date for the completion of the project for the spring of 2024 in conjunction with their synod meeting.
I look forward to that celebration.
It was good to also revisit the existing space and see the children engaging in their regular learning. One class was having a camp-out on the patch of grass the school owns.
Moving to a new space will separate these little children from the big kids. The school goes to grade 12 and does teacher training. Each classroom will have its own bathroom and the children will not need to be accompanied to the bathroom, cutting down on staffing needs.
I had the opportunity to meet with pastors in the local Buenos Aires area and led them in a retreat where we looked at different images of God.
We examined how scripture is full of different images of God and that opening up our use of these images might help people to connect more with God, rather than just using the traditional male image.
For me the biggest learning is to again be reminded of how much smaller their church is, both in number of congregations and congregational size, and yet how much ministry they are able to accomplish.
Jesus coming to us as a baby reminds us that God can work through smallness and vulnerability. Jesus’ teachings about the mustard seed and the widow’s mite remind us of that truth.
As we celebrate Christmas this year, let us cling to that hope and promise, and let the Christ child lead us into a new year full of possibilities.
Rev. Susan Johnson
ELCIC National Bishop