Lutheran leaders from the United States and Madagascar have decided to continue a relationship that unites the Evangelical Lutheran church in America and the Malagasy Lutheran Church.
The ELCA and MLC signed a partnership last week that strengthens their relationship "in a new time," the U.S. denomination said on Tuesday. Both are members of the Lutheran World Federation.
The agreement "is a strong foundation built upon the past but we sign if for the future," said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA.
The Rev. Rakoto Endor Modeste, president of the Malagasy church said his church had been "studying" the agreement for the past year and a half, adding they were "very glad" to sign it.
Modeste told ELCA's news service that while there were differences between the churches they are "not enough to cut relationship. We can go together on evangelism, development (and other ministries). We are working together."
The churches have had a relationship since 1888, according to the ELCA.
MLC had its beginning with Norwegian missionaries in 1863 and was established as an independent church in 1950. At the time it had 1,800 congregations and 180,000 members. Today the MLC has more than 3 million members.
The ELCA had more than 4 million members as of 2011. According to ELCA figures, the denomination had 5.3 million members in 1987.
The Rev. Rafael Maplpica Padilla, ELCA executive director for global mission says that the Madagascar-based church is needed.
"The understanding of us needing you has opened up possibilities for mission engagement, which we did not have 50 years ago. About 50 years ago, Norwegians and Americans were sending missionaries (to Madagascar). Today, we in the United States open ourselves to receive your missionaries. You are helping us … to send missionaries around the world," said Malpica Padilla.
Rev. Hanson said the ELCA had "much to learn from the revival movement in the Malagasy Lutheran Church and its training and consecrating lay people to serve as shepherds, whose ministry is one of prayer for those who are sick."