A Story of Welcoming, a Lutheran Heritage – ELCA Grand Canyon Synod

A Lutheran heritage

The Lutheran heritage of hospitality goes back a long way.

“When the Lutheran World Federation was established 75 years ago, across Europe there was a refugee crisis after World War II,” explained Reverend Tamás Fabiny, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hungary (ELCH). “People had to leave their country and go elsewhere. So it’s already part of our identity… to be Lutheran is to welcome refugees.

Lutherans in the United States established a hospitality ministry around the time of World War II, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), founded in 1939. LIRS resettled more than 30,000 refugees from Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the aftermath of the war, and has since helped more than 500,000 refugees from around the world to rebuild their lives in the United States. United.

While the current situation in Ukraine creates the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, other conflicts over the years have also led people to seek refuge and provided the Church with opportunities to live out its host ministry. An attempted Hungarian uprising against communism in 1956 led nearly 300,000 people to leave the country, Fabiny said, and many of those people built new lives in Austria, Germany and even the United States thanks to the welcome to Lutherans.

“I had the opportunity to visit several of these Lutheran communities,” he said, and “people told me how wonderful it was to be received by families who took them in. , helped them find a job, or the church was opened for them.. So we know what it’s like to be a displaced person because hundreds of thousands of people left Hungary in 1956. »

The end of the Cold War and the Romanian Revolution in 1989 also brought refugees to Hungary, he said, as did the Balkan war in the early 1990s and the civil war in Syria in 2015. When he launched a video statement in favor of welcoming refugees, as part of a UNHCR campaign in 2017, however, he received a lot of backlash for his message. The political climate in Hungary had become more hostile towards the refugees, he said, and his welcome message was not well received by the general public.

But part of his role as a church leader, he says, is to speak out against injustice, following in the footsteps of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is important for the church not only to act in service to our neighbours, he said, but also to pray and reflect on our call as Christians to work for peace and serve our neighbours.

“We need to think theologically about war and peace,” he says. “We had to learn from the Nazi era, when many churches supported Hitler theologically. Only a few, like Bonhoeffer, criticized [Hitler]. I think it’s very important for us as a church to have prayers, of course, and also theological reflection. The action should come after that.

Emilie Sollie is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She lives in Washington, DC with her husband and 4-year-old son, and is a member of the Reformed Lutheran Church.

Barry F. Howard