Evangelical Church of the River Plate

(Iglesia Evangélica del Rio de la Plata, IERP)
The history of the Evangelical Church of the River Plate goes back to 1840 with the arrival of German immigrants in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. Later they were joined by others from Switzerland, Austria, Russia, Brazil and Romania. They had in common the German language. In 1899 they created the German Evangelical Synod of the River Plate, as part of the German church, with which they became officially affiliated in 1934.

In 1965 the synod approved a new constitution and, under the name of Evangelical Church of the River Plate (IERP), the church became independent from the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD). About 70 percent of the members live in Argentina, the others in Uruguay and Paraguay. A new constitution was approved in 1998, transferring more decision power to the districts. The ratio of two lay people (at least) for each pastor is now obligatory at all the decision-making levels of the church. Furthermore, synods are held every two years (instead of three) and gather only half of the number of participants, also with the perspective of fostering the district assemblies.

The IERP is experiencing severe financial difficulties due to the socio-economic situation in the three countries. Part of the constituency of the church has fallen into poverty and exclusion, in the rural areas, but also among the middle class in the urban centres. This raises new questions for the ministry of the IERP. The majority of the congregations are unable to assume the whole cost of their activities (pastors' salaries, outreach and diaconal initiatives). The EKD helps with eight percent of the church's general budget, covering 50 percent of the administrative budget of the central headquarters. The impact of the financial difficulties has been increased by the loss of external support from partner churches and agencies in the 1990s, when the macro-economic figures seemed so bright. The church was strongly involved in the Jubilee 2000 campaign in Argentina, as one of the problems of the economy is the high expenditure of the government to serve the external debt.

The church gives special attention to children's education in its 17 kindergartens run by congregations in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. It has five homes for the elderly and seven hospitals and health-care centres. There are also centres to assist single mothers, and housing cooperatives. The board of the IERP has developed a new concept of mission where diakonia is connected with the building of new faith communities in the midst of excluded people. Diakonia goes hand in hand with mission, as a way of empowering people by giving them the chance of hearing the good news of a liberating God who stands against the evils of exclusion. In 2000 the IERP created the plan "Sharing the Good News of the Gospel with the Poor", which coordinates programmes in three suburbs of Buenos Aires with the people of the surrounding neighbourhoods: a centre for mothers and children, urban mission in Florencio Varela, and mission in the west (San Pablo House). All suburbs belong to the "second belt" around the city, which has the highest rates of poverty and problems such as unemployment, school absenteeism, malnutrition, social and family violence, alcoholism, crime, marginalization and exclusion. Most activities are run with, and by, women, youth and children.

The IERP is involved in several ecumenical bodies such as the Ecumenical Human Rights Movement, Uprooted People and Refugee Ecumenical Service and ISEDET (Ecumenical Theological University) in Argentina, emergency aid in Paraguay, human rights in Uruguay.

The signing of the Leuenberg Agreement has helped the IERP to improve its relations with other churches, e.g. the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELU), the Waldensian Evangelical Church of the River Plate and the Reformed Churches in Argentina. The IERP has mutual recognition of ministries with the Methodist Church, the Disciples of Christ and the Presbyterian Church.