Monday, May 3, 2010

A History of the Lutheran Church in Liberia

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman

Yesterday my church, River of Life Lutheran, celebrated 150 years of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. Part of that celebration was a reading of the history of the Lutheran church since it was established in Liberia. River of Life is a mixed congregation of Scandinavians and Liberians. The history was written by and sent to us from church representatives in Monrovia, Liberia.

As I was hearing this, I was struck by the connections that we make in our church every Sunday. Through our worship together, River of Life members share a historic and cultural connection with people literally on the other side of the world. That shared connection goes back 150 years, and ultimately back millennia.

And what the Monrovian church sent us said...

...A History of the Lutheran Church in Liberia

This summary is condensed from a longer history of the LCL (Lutheran Church in Liberia) provided from Monrovia for this 150th anniversary.

The Lutheran Church in Liberia was established on April 28, 1860 in Millsburg, on the banks of the St. Paul River, by the American Lutheran missionary Rev. Morris Officer. Rev. Officer was assisted by Mr. Henry Heigerd who was later ordained and left in charge of the Mission Station.

The Lutheran Church went through three stages of growth and development in Liberia. From 1860 to 1947 it was called the American Lutheran Mission in Liberia (ALML) and all the affairs, major decisions, and funding were directed by American missionaries. In 1947, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Liberia (ELCL) was born. The ELCL and ALML existed side by side but the leaders of the ALML were in control of major decisions including finances and assignment of personnel.

The constitution provided that when the president of the ELCL was a missionary, the vice president must be a national and vice versa. Yet it was a period when both missionaries and nationals began to share positions and power. The third stage of growth was the birth of the national church which occurred on January 6, 1965 when the ALML and the ELCL were dissolved and the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL) was established. Rev. Roland J. Payne was the first president (later changed to Bishop) of the LCL.

The actual numerical growth of the LCL started during the leadership of Bishop Payne. The Lay Training Center was established and the two literacy centers were also established, developed, and expanded. The project "Operation Ten Pastors" was launched that saw the training of more national pastors to cope with the numerical growth.

Partnership was established between the LCL and Church of Sweden, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria, Germany, Danish Evangelical Mission, and Lutheran World Federation. Payne also led the LCL to become a member of the World Council of Churches, All Africa Conference of Churches, and the Liberian Council of Churches. The LCL is now engaging in cross-border ministry by mentoring the new Lutheran Church in Guinea.

In 1960 when the LCL was celebrating its centennial, the membership was 5,180. After 25 years, the membership increased to 25,000 in 1985. But today the LCL has a membership of 71,196 spread in 14 of the 15 counties of Liberia, divided into nine Episcopal jurisdictions called districts. The districts have 48 parishes, 150 congregations, and 300 preaching points in Montserrado, Bomi, Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount, Lofa, Margibi, Grand Bassa, Bong, Nimba, Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Sinoe, Maryland, and Grand Kru.

Hospitals and Schools

The first ever hospital and medical school in Liberia was built by the American Lutheran Mission in Liberia in Harrisburg, Montserrado County in 1920; the Phebe Hospital and Medical School. Over the years, the school trained nurses and male medical assistants. Currently the LCL has seven health facilities, including two hospitals: Phebe and Curran in Suakoko, bong County and in Zorzor, Lofa County. There are also five clinics/health centers: in Lofa, Bong, Nimba, River Gee, and Grand Kru counties, serving the rural people of our country in promoting the GoL-PRS.

The LCL has been outstanding in providing quality education to the people of Liberia since 1860. Millsburg was the springboard for education as the missionaries moved deep into the interior of Liberia along the St. Paul River into the northwest and central Liberia. Every station was established with a school and dispensary even before a chapel was built. The Emma V. Day Girls School in Millsburg and David A. Day Boys School were merged to form the Lutheran Training Institute (LTI).

Prior to the war, LTI in Salayea was one of the best high schools in Liberia. It has the best and well-equipped science laboratory that offered the best science courses in Liberia. Presently, the LCL School System operates 35 schools including seven senior high schools, nine junior high schools, and 21 elementary schools across the country.

LCL has four training centers: the Lay Leaders and Ministers Training Center and the Language, Literacy, Literature, and Bible Translation Center in Totota, Bong County; the Urban Ministry and Minstry to the Handicapped and Disabled in Monrovia; and the Vocational Training Center catering to former combatants and young people affected by the civil war in LTI, Salayea, Lofa County.

LCL also runs five diaconal programs/projects. They are: HIV/AIDS Program, Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program, Christian Education Department, Educational Supervisory System, and Department for Mission and Evangelism. The LCL HIV/AIDS and Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Programs are the best known throughout Liberia today.

Since Rev. Morris Officer was sent to Liberia by the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a predecessor body of the ELCA, the ELCA was the first and longest-standing partner church of the LCL. The ELCA and her predecessor bodies helped build all the major institutions of the LCL that are mentioned above, developed the human resources of the LCL, and the ELCA continues to grant financial and personnel support to the various ministries of the LCL. It is very fitting that we gather ELCA members from the US and Liberia to join in this celebration of 150 years together!


NE MN Woman of the ELCA said...

Seventeen (17) Women of the ELCA visited Phebe Hospital December 2012 as part of their 8 day visit to Liberia. The NE MN Women of the ELCA are now working in partnership with Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) of Pine River MN to bring solar power to the Phebe community in Bong County Liberia.

NE MN Woman of the ELCA said...

Two staff members from Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) will be conducting the site visit at Phebe Hospital, including energy audit and collection of energy monitoring data, along with meeting partners in Liberia from March 31 – April 14.

I would love to come speak to River of Life about this project and how the church can help.

Johnny Northside! said...

Golly, you should let Jeff Skrenes know about that directly. This was his blog post as a guest author.