African leaders gather for theological study

Simon Bol Choat, lay evangelist, leads worship at St. Olaf Lutheran Church, Austin, Minn. (click on the image for a higher resolution image for use in print publications)

Minnesota is known for Ole and Lena. We’re a frozen land of tough, fair-skinned, Scandinavian Lutherans. But if you step into one of the congregations in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod, you’ll see beyond the stereotype. And not just because there are some Germans.

Several of our congregations now have communities of African immigrants, primarily from what is now South Sudan, worshipping in their midst. Because these communities worship in their own language – three different tribal languages in our synod – they have their own worship services and their own lay leaders. But these lay leaders have no theological training. This is where AGORA comes in.

Agora is a Greek word that means “marketplace.” It’s the place where people gather. The AGORA program serves as a place for the growing populations of new Americans to come to learn about leading their faith communities.

AGORA began as an independent program in 2003. In 2012, it became part of Luther Seminary’s Global Mission Institute. During the 2012-2013 academic year, approximately 30 students from ethnic-specific and immigrant Lutheran congregations in the Twin Cities took part in the program. Leaders from four African-national communities in the Southeastern Minnesota Synod take part in programming offered right here in our area.

The participants in our synod’s component of the program are lay evangelists, leaders identified by their communities, and others who preach. Once a month, the group gathers for an hour-and-a-half-long conversation about preaching on a selected Biblical text. These conversations have been led by Professor Richard Nysse, Luther Seminary, and Professor Emeritus Bradley Holt, Augsburg College, and others may contribute in the future. Through discussing preaching during these conversations, participants also learn about theology, Biblical studies, and even pastoral care.

Yang Tut is the lay evangelist for the Nuer community at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Owatonna. He has been participating in the AGORA program for almost a year. “It helps when you do worship,” he says of this intentional time studying the texts. “It helps me understand what the Bible is talking about and tell the congregation about what it says.”

In addition to the monthly conversations, participants meeting with mentors about twice a month.

“I love being an AGORA mentor because of the relationships that are being created with our Sudanese lay evangelists as we work on pastoral skills and leadership,” says Rev. Katie Fick, Hayward and Trondhjem Lutheran Churches, Hayward. “We learn together about what it means to be leaders and preachers in our different contexts, as well as how we all are united in the body of Christ.”

The structure of the AGORA program remains in flux, ready to adapt to the needs of the church and the participants.

For more information about the program, visit www.luthersem.edu/gmi/agora.aspx 

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