Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile
(Iglesia Evangélica Luterana en Chile, IELCH)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile traces its origins back to the 1860s, when German Lutheran immigrants colonized the southern part of the country. The formation of non-Roman Catholic churches was not allowed prior to 1925, when the separation of church and state was included in the constitution. The Lutheran churches formed an association, which resulted in the late 1930s in the creation of the Evangelical German Church in Chile. The name was changed to Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1959. During the 1960s, in a process of "chileanization" and the formation of new congregations, the IELCH began to work in Spanish, and invited the Lutheran Church in America to cooperate in this task by sending missionaries. The church committed itself to working among the marginalized and economically oppressed in society. After the coup d'état in 1973 the leadership of the church, its pastors and lay members engaged themselves on behalf of those persecuted and executed by the military government. As a result the large German-speaking congregations withdrew from the IELCH (with the exception of one), to form the Lutheran Church in Chile. Today there is dialogue and cooperation between the two churches.
The IELCH continues to minister among the poor and oppressed sectors of the population. In 1981 it created an institution called Popular Education in Health, to work on health issues among the poor. Due to the general economic situation in the country, the church is facing financial constraints which have an impact especially on its social ministry. The IELCH is currently engaged in a 10-year period dedicated to growth in mission, through the strengthening of congregations, the training of leadership and the development of new worshipping communities. Its diaconal work continues, with a strong emphasis on popular health education, community centres, day-care ministries, domestic violence outreach and pastoral accompaniment of those living with HIV/AIDS. The church is also actively involved in inter-religious dialogue in Chile.