"Partnerships serve to spread the gospel. Church partnership life is about fellowship, where partners grow spiritually together and pray for each other." summarises Ephorus Dr. Robinson Butarbutar. He is the leader of HKBP*, a member church of the UEM and the largest Protestant church in Indonesia, as well as UEM vice-moderator and member of the UEM Council.
In May, representatives of HKBP met with churches from Germany and Tanzania for an international partnership consultation of the UEM. The EKiR* and EKvW* took part from the German side, and the ELCT/NWD* from the Tanzanian side.
The 69 participants spent five days in Bonn discussing current challenges of church partnership work in Africa, Asia and Europe. International church partnerships enable new spiritual learning experiences, friendships and broaden horizons also interculturally.
At the same time, it was noted that some church partnership relationships today continue to have paternalistic features and are marked by an economic imbalance between North and South. Ephorus Butarbutar noted that an eye-to-eye encounter could not always take place if church leaders from Africa and Asia were invited to talk not with church leaders from Germany but with their subordinate deputies.
He stressed that the churches in Asia and Africa have grown and developed an understanding of ownership. It has become clear that they no longer have to be mere recipients, but can also be givers. Together with Volker Martin Dally, General Secretary of the UEM, he mentioned examples like the fundraising campaign "United Action", in which African and Asian member churches collect hundreds of thousands of euros annually for projects in all three regions of the UEM. The financing of a full scholarship for students from Germany by the Kimara congregation in Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, and the donations of over 40,000 euros by the UEM member churches in Asia and Africa for the victims of the floods in Germany in 2021 were also evidence of this, he said.
Representatives of the EKiR and EKvW also drew attention to the climate disaster and the war against Ukraine as challenges for church partnerships.
Dr. Wibke Janssen, Senior Church Councilor of the EKiR and member of the Council of the UEM, pointed to the drastic loss of membership in the German churches and the associated financial losses. Partnership work is a great opportunity, especially for the German churches, to develop into an intercultural church.
Making church partnerships future-proof and fair: In the opinion of the conference participants, this requires a partnership strategy which, for example, provides for bi- and trilateral workshops. Young adults and choirs, but also professional groups such as medical personnel and teachers play a special role in this.
*HKBP = Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (Christian-Protestant Church of the Batak)
*ELCT/NWD = Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania, North Western Diocese
*EKiR = Evangelische Kirche im Rheinland (Evangelical Church in the Rhineland)
*EKvW = Evangelische Kirche von Westfalen (Evangelical Church in Westphalia)
All churches mentioned here are members of the UEM Communion.
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