Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania
(Evangelische Kirche A.B. in Rumänien)
The Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania is the church of the German Lutheran minority in the country, mostly in Transylvania. Its history goes back to the 12th century, when German-speaking settlers arrived in the area (then Hungary). As a community, they had already, before the Reformation, their own political and ecclesiastical rights. The Reformation arrived in the cities as early as 1520, and was officially introduced in all the towns and villages in 1550, with a direct link to Wittenberg, a confession of its own and the adoption of the Augustana Confession. In the independent principality of Transylvania (until 1687 under Turkish domination, as of 1919 part of the Habsburg empire) the churches (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Calvinist and Unitarian) enjoyed religious freedom. The Lutherans maintained strong ties with the universities in western Europe, especially Germany. They developed a good public school system. Major spiritual movements like Pietism, Enlightenment and Liberalism had their impact, while at the same time a conservative and typically Lutheran devotion persisted.
The 20th century was for the church a time marked by deep and sharp crises. After the transfer of Transylvania to Romania (1919) came the worldwide economic collapse and the impact of Nazism, which provoked resistance, also in the church. The end of World War II brought Soviet domination, expropriation, and deportation of the Germans into forced labour. The church school system and the diaconal institutions were dismantled. Yet the church was able to survive in the new situation. International ecumenical contacts were crucial during this period. It was possible to found an institute for higher theological learning in cooperation with other churches. But the political and economic conditions in the country led to an erosion of church life due to the increasing emigration of members of the congregations. It became a massive exodus after the political changes in Romania in 1989 and the opening of the borders. The church, which in spite of huge losses, still had 190,000 members in 1945, only has some 14,000 left now. The church has been able to survive this decline in numbers, and to consolidate and adapt itself in the totally changed diaspora situation. The centres of gravity of its service are today diakonia and pastoral work. Several homes for the elderly have been set up, places for encounter and meetings have been created, religious education and youth work have been re-organized, and an evangelical academy deals in ecumenical cooperation with issues of society.
Together with the Hungarian-speaking Evangelical-Lutheran Church with which the church has strong ties, and with the much larger Reformed Church, it has been possible to re-establish in Romania the Gustav-Adolf Institution. The small Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania is again seen in the ecumenical environment as a reliable and therefore often solicited partner. In the political and social context in which it finds itself, the church endeavours in its own way to preserve and bring to fruition the Lutheran identity and to hand on the witness of the Reformation.