United Evangelical Lutheran Church
(Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Unida)
The United Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is present in Argentina and Uruguay, is the outcome of mission work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the USA which began in 1919, after an initial visit in 1908. Lutheran immigrant churches in the area had been in existence since the second half of the 19th century. The aim of the American mission was to announce the gospel in Spanish, the local language. Subsequently the objectives of the church were to promote lay leadership training, to support the production of Lutheran literature in Spanish and the establishment of parish schools in connection with the Argentinian public school system. In 1948 the United Evangelical Lutheran Church became an autonomous church. In the 1950s, Hungarian, Latvian and Estonian refugees settled in the country and established congregations, some of which were incorporated into the IELU.
The church is organized in five districts and has a synodal structure. The highest authority is the assembly which elects an executive council. Besides the existing congregations there are eight new missions. The severe economic and social problems of Argentina have had a strong impact on the life of the church. On the one hand the church was affected and experienced financial constraints. On the other, part of the constituency of the church has been falling into poverty and exclusion, raising new questions for the ministry of the IELU. Social work, in the perspective of diakonia, has become a high priority. The congregations and missions are developing among the poor and destitute, and several actions aiming at strengthening their capacity to claim and promote their human rights have brought to light the consequences of more than a decade of neo-liberalism in Argentinian society. Traditionally the IELU served the middle classes of Argentina and Uruguay. Now it is reaching out to poor and marginalized communities. In the area of development, an important number of community projects are carried out by the Joint Project office with the Evangelical Church of the River Plate. Work with women and youth is done through ad hoc secretariats. Special emphasis has been given to the improvement of social projects. Good experiences are being developed with the indigenous population (Mapuchos) in the south of Argentina, and with Bolivian immigrants in Buenos Aires. The church runs six schools, a home for people living with HIV/AIDS, a home for women, one for men, and four student hostels.