El Camino de los Luteranos
The Walk of the Lutherans: Bringing the Church to Spain
“It’s a terribly dramatic story,” says the Rev. Adam Lehman, LCMS missionary to Spain.
“There is a Lutheran history here; it’s 500 years old, and it’s mostly tragic and violent and bloody, and the fact that the Lutheran doctrine has returned to Spain after all that is really kind of cool.”
Lehman and fellow missionary Rev. David Warner are a lonely sight as they walk across the Plaza Mayor in Valladolid, Spain, on a cold, rainy November day, with their wheeled bags rumbling behind them. They are here to visit the only Lutheran family living in this ancient city where 458 years prior, 16 Lutherans, convicted as heretics, were burned at the stake.
The missionaries are greeted with hugs and cheek kisses and loud words of welcome as they enter the apartment home of Jose Antonio; his wife, Sandra; and their son, Juan Jose. The two are doctors and native Columbians. The family has eagerly waited for this visit from their pastors. Soon, the dining room table is covered with Spanish olives, salamis, cheeses and bread, and red Spanish wine fills glasses as these parishioners visit with their pastors long into the night.
Church on the Move
But first things first. This is not a social call. The Church has come to these souls hungry for the bread of life. Warner wastes no time as he unpacks his bag and prepares an altar with the communion vessels. On his iPad is the Concordia Organist, which provides musical accompaniment as the little flock sings the liturgy and hymns for the Divine Service.
The Church has come to these souls hungry for the bread of life.
Jose’s voice cracks as he describes what such visitations mean to him: “It has two faces — the first is that it is a privilege. The other is that there is no Lutheran community here, so it is very good for us that the church is beginning here. It’s not easy to be three Lutherans here alone.”
This is the situation for at least half of the 75 members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Spain, who are spread throughout the country in 17 cities.
“If we are blessed, we are together four to five times a year,” Warner says, speaking of his scattered flock. “It’s a big part of the challenge.”
The dispersed Lutherans are a result of online outreach efforts by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina some 16 years ago, when they partnered with two Spanish families to lay the foundation for a Spanish Lutheran church.
For Warner and Lehman, ministry is always on the move — by foot, train, cab or plane. There is even a member family in the Canary Islands. Monthly travel costs exceed $1,200 for the two of them.
Small congregations exist in Madrid, Cartagena and Seville, where a group of people live and come together weekly in rented spaces — a hotel meeting room, an Episcopal church and, hopefully soon, a former discotheque.
“In Madrid, it’s completely lay driven,” Warner says. “I’m there once a month. The other weekends they get together on their own in their homes. I give them some liturgies and sermons and Bible studies.”
In Cartagena, there’s a seminarian who leads the devotion the missionaries provide. He studies through the online program Formación Pastoral Hispano, a partnership between Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Seminario Concordia in Argentina.
The men are grateful for the regular extended visits of the Rev. Dr. Arthur Just Jr., a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, who helps to care for the flock and mentor these new missionaries. Just lived in Spain as a teenager and has been making visits for nearly a decade.
Celebrate the Reformation?
As the Lutheran world celebrates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, that milestone occasion is tempered by the daily realities and challenges faced by the Spanish Lutherans. They are much more concerned about what will happen to their Lutheran church. They want to be Lutherans, but they worry about what will happen if the missionaries leave.
“This is a big topic,” Warner says, as he talks about the three former Argentine missionaries who have come and gone in the span of 10 years.
“It’s not about persons; it’s about Christ and His Gospel, and He is going to do it,” Sandra says with conviction. “But it is about persons because someone has been your pastor, or your mother or grandmother. Someone has read you Bible stories. Someone spoke the Word to you. And those someones are really important on a basic human level.”
She often wonders what will happen. “We’ve had pastors leave before,” she says.
When asked to explain why he is a Lutheran, 14-year-old Juan Jose says, “Because I believe in what’s in the Bible — for me the idea is that Jesus came, He saved us. I am Lutheran because I believe in what God said.”
The Roman Catholic Church affects everything, it's so ingrained in society to leave that is to leave a significant part of what the daily life is. The Rev. Adam Lehman
The Plan for Spain
Warner and Lehman are concentrating their efforts in Seville, while continuing to care for the members who are spread far and wide. They want to establish a permanent location for ministry efforts of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Spain. Doing so will provide legitimacy for Spaniards who are skeptical of yet another non-Catholic religious group entering their country.
The two have set clear priorities, which include focusing on growing congregations and providing regular theological education for the one Spanish pastor, the two seminarians and other emerging lay leaders — an effort aided by visiting pastors and professors from the LCMS and Latin America.
At the heart of their ministry, Warner and Lehman are focused on providing the Gospel in Word and Sacrament even as they begin to intentionally teach and practice the theology of mercy. Key to their outreach is the use of digital technology to proclaim the Gospel throughout Spain.
This seemingly odd couple — Lehman with his carefully curated attire of aviator glasses, jeans and tweed blazer and Warner in his relaxed wardrobe of cargo pants, jacket and polo shirt — enjoys a wonderful repartee frequented by verbal pokes and jabs. Their personalities clearly complement each other.
For Warner and Lehman, ministry is always on the move by foot, train, cab or plane.
The two former Marines are focused, determined and working their plan, all while also being realistic about the challenges they face.
“To a large degree, it’s a big leap [for Spaniards] to leave the church they were born into,” Lehman says. “The Roman Catholic Church affects everything, it’s so ingrained in society — to leave that is to leave a significant part of what the daily life is.”
However, in this country of almost 50 million where 70 percent of the population claims to be Roman Catholic, most are Catholic in name only.
As Warner sips a coffee at an outdoor café in Seville, where steeples and religious symbolism are ever present, he says, “It’s almost otherworldly to have so much appearance of Christianity but so little real Christian life, but that’s normal here.”
Pray with Us
Lord of all nations, You knit Your scattered Body together in Your Church. Thank You for our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Spain. Strengthen and comfort them through Your Word and Sacrament. Bless Pastors Adam Lehman and David Warner as they travel to deliver Your gifts. Provide for their needs and give them wisdom to carry out Your work in Spain. Be with the laypeople who lead when pastors are not available. May all trust in Your Word, which accomplishes that for which You have sent it forth, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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