CANADA – Downtown Winnipeg was buzzing July 24-26, 2015 as Lutheran Church of the Redeemer played host to the 20th annual international Conference of United Oromo Evangelical Churches (UOEC). The event brought together delegates not only from across Canada and the United States, but also from across the globe with representatives from England, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Kenya, and Australia.
A major focus of the business of the clergy portion of the meeting dealt with building further unity among the various Oromo congregations represented, especially in the face of the liberal swing concerning human sexuality in many European and North American Lutheran Church bodies.
Central District President Thomas Prachar brought greetings to the UOEC on behalf of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) President Robert Bugbee, speaking both to the pastors’ meeting on July 23 as well as to the larger assembly of delegates on July 25. Rev. Todd Hoeffs also welcomed the delegates on behalf of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer as well as LCC’s Red River Circuit, which aided the conference with prayer, volunteer, and financial support.
Rev. Dr. Gemechis Olana of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) was persuaded to continue on for an additional year as president of the UOEC. Lutheran Church–Canada’s own Rev. Assefa Aredo—the first graduate of LCC’s Pastors with Alternate Training program—was elected to serve on the Canadian Board of the UOEC along with two other delegates, one from Winnipeg and the other from Toronto. The Canadian Board coordinates outreach and mission planning among the Oromo diaspora within Canada.
The event came to a close Sunday July 26 with a joint English-Oromo worship, with estimates of more than 300 people in attendance.
“It was a wonderful conference,” said Rev. Aredo. “I want to say a big thank-you to all the volunteers from the Red River Circuit that helped to make it possible.” UOEC President Olana also expressed thanks on behalf of the UOEC board for all the support which LCC has provided to the various Oromo congregations and missions in Canada. This positive interaction, Rev. Aredo relates, has continued to spark interest in both LCC and Confessional Lutheranism among the scattered Oromo Churches around the globe.
The history of the UOEC is in many ways one of diaspora. From the 1970s on, thousands of Oromo people left Ethiopia to avoid persecution, political instability, and economic difficulties. As Oromo people took up residence in other nations, they began to form congregations and fellowships, many of which have since affiliated with various Lutheran denominations. In 1998, these congregations and fellowships founded the United Oromo Evangelical Churches as a way of unifying Oromo Christians living in diaspora across the globe.
While the UOEC is interdenominational in scope, many affiliated congregations are members of or have friendly relations with such churches of the International Lutheran Council as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and Lutheran Church–Canada.
The 21st UOEC Conference will take place in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2016.