The Lutheran Church in Ireland is a very small church with a presence on the island of Ireland since the late 17th century when it was founded by a pastor from Hamburg, who had come to Ireland as military chaplain to a Hessian battalion in the army of William of Orange. After William’s military campaign came to an end he was approached by German and Scandinavian merchants in Dublin who wished for Lutheran services in the city.
Over time the congregation was able to build a church – with support from the Lutheran Church in Amsterdam – in Dublin’s Poolbeg Street. That church building became known as “the Dutch Church”. In the middle of the 19th century it burnt to the ground and by the eve of the First World War the homeless congregation ceased to gather for worship altogether.
After the Second World War, efforts resumed to gather Lutherans and adherents of the Continental European Reformation into a congregation in Dublin. With the support of the Lutheran World Federation, the Church was refounded in 1955 with the double name Evangelisch–lutherische Kirche in Irland/Lutheran Church in Ireland.
Through the offices and with the practical help of the late Archbishop George Otto Simms, the Church of Ireland leased St. Finian’s Church in Adelaide Road to the Lutheran congregation as a permanent place of worship. In 1961 St. Finian’s was solemnly re–dedicated as a Lutheran place of worship in a service which was jointly conducted by a German and a Swedish Lutheran bishop together with Archbishop Simms.
Since then it has become a home for German speaking adherents of the continental Reformation and Lutheran Christians from many different national origins together with their often bi–national/bi–lingual families.
In the early 1990s the church undertook a major refurbishment of its parish centre/pastorate which is adjacent to St. Finian’s Church. 20 years later, after a decade, which during the economic boom years saw a major increase in membership and life, the Church Council embarked on a further building project. From 2011 to 2013 the space for the congregation and its various groups and activities was enlarged and refurbished to environmentally sustainable standards.
The project not only was the result of a great fund–raising effort but also actively supported by members and friends on countless days of community activity. This hands–on communal effort helped dampen the cost of the extension considerably. Neighbouring churches and ecumenical friends also helped in many practical and financial ways. The congregation and leadership of Methodist Centenary Church in Leeson Park in particular generously opened their own facilities for the use of the Lutheran Church free of charge, when the facilities in Adelaide Road were not available. The building project, therefore, turned out to be not only a project in stones but, at least as importantly, an effort in building up “The Church”.
Membership and Geographical spread
At present the Lutheran Church in Ireland has nearly a thousand addresses on its list of contacts, with 453 registered members and 11 friends, of which about 180 contribute financially to its life in form of membership dues. Nearly 90% of its members are of German speaking origin or live in German speaking families. The members are spread all over the island of Ireland and apart from weekly services in St. Finian’s in Dublin, worship is conducted in Belfast once a month and three to four times a year in Mullingar, Wexford, Cork, Kerry, Limerick/Ennis, Galway and Sligo.
The Lutheran Church in Ireland has strong contractual links with the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD) through which it receives regular, though gradually decreasing, financial support. The EKD also facilitates the sending of German speaking pastors to Ireland. The Lutheran Church has one full–time post for a pastor which is currently held by Pastor Stephan Arras. All other work in the church is provided on a voluntary basis. The Church Council is grateful for the voluntary service of two ordained assistant pastors, of a main cantor/organist and a few other musicians who are willing to help out when needed.
The Governing Body of the Lutheran Church in Ireland is the 10 member Church Council. It is elected by members of the church every three years in the Church Assembly. The pastor of the church is an ex officio member of the council and normally also its presiding chair. The Church Council is responsible for financial affairs as well as matters of Church Order.
As the members of the Lutheran Church are thinly spread out over the entire island, the life of the church, as in other diaspora communities, is focussed on Sunday worship: It is for worship people gather, bring their children to family or children’s services and then stay on for times of sharing, for Bible Study or other activities. Nevertheless the church is grateful that over the years a number of regular activities are well supported throughout the week:
At the German Coffee Morning on Mondays volunteers half of the year gather to prepare for the largest annual fundraising event of the church, the German Christmas Bazaar which it co–organises together with St. Kilian’s German School in Clonskeagh in the South of Dublin. The other half of the year is filled with lectures and seminars with invited speakers on contemporary issues as they impinge on Christian life and witness today.
The Thursday prayer is a regular simple form of worship where Taize chants, Readings, silent and open prayers of intercession allow for time of reflection and prayer. It forms the spiritual backbone of the church.
On Friday mornings the parent & toddler group meets, on Saturdays the children’s play group and the scouts have their sessions.
Linguistic and Cultural diversity
The larger part of the activities of the Lutheran Church is conducted in German. However, every last Sunday of the month services are conducted in English and there is also a very committed small group of international members who organise events through the medium of English in order to cater for a slowly growing number of non–German speaking members and their friends. This group is responsible for organising “Sunday Night @ Finian’s”, an innovative form of worship which explores different contemporary ways of expressing faith. It is supported by the St. Finian’s Gospel Choir whose music makes for the inspirational structure of these services.
The Movie Night is also conducted in English: Every two months or so one of the church groups chooses a film which is advertised in the quarterly bi–lingual “Gemeindebrief”/newsletter. It is an opportunity to watch interesting and challenging films together with others and have the opportunity to share in conversation one’s impressions and questions.
The Lutheran Church in Ireland sees itself situated between many different cultural and confessional spheres, many of its members and friends coming from a wide variety of cultural, confessional and national backgrounds. It sees it as a challenge and its calling to live out the gospel as a message to all, irrespective of cultural formation, but very respectful of deep cultural embeddedness and of the need for translation into various cultural idioms.
In this context the Lutheran Church in Ireland provides a home for various linguistic Lutheran communities and groups. It hosts the Latvian Lutheran Church in Ireland with its weekly services and church life in Latvian; the Polish Lutheran congregation in Dublin and their monthly services, as well as sporadic Lutheran services in Finnish, Swedish and Estonian which are conducted by clergy of their respective national churches passing through Dublin.
Core aspects of belief
The main form of worship in the Lutheran Church in Ireland is the Eucharist which is celebrated on 50 out of 52 Sundays a year. The participation in Holy Communion is a core component in the life of the church. The Church cherishes the focus of the Lutheran tradition on Faith, Grace and Scriptural Foundation, which Martin Luther expressed in the three “Solas”: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, and Sola Scritura: The brokenness of humanity and of individual human persons is healed only by the Grace of God in Jesus Christ and can be received only in Faith, which is nourished through the thorough study of and reflection on Holy Scriptures.
The proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the celebration of the Eucharist and Baptism as holy signs are at the core of the life of the community and of its members. Beyond that the Lutheran Church sees education, the life–long study of all aspects of God’s creation and of human culture, and the making and celebration of music as crucial for a Christian life to be lived in fullness.
The Role of Ecumenism
Although Lutheran in its confessional foundation, the church sees itself foremost as a branch of the world–wide Church of Jesus Christ. As such ecumenical communion and participation in ecumenical bodies and events in the island of Ireland as well as deepening relations and cooperation with neighbouring congregations is a central orientation of the church. The Lutheran Church therefore is an active member in the Irish Council of Churches, the Irish Inter–Church Meeting, the Dublin Council of Churches, as well as, crucially, the Irish Council of Christians and Jews.
At local level the Lutheran Church has been an active supporter and co–initiator of the annual Walk of Life, a Dublin Council of Churches sponsored pilgrimage from church to church. St. Finian’s is the home of a monthly ecumenical lunchtime prayer which is supported and conducted by members and clergy of 9 churches in the neighbourhood from 5 different denominations.
The Lutheran Church in Ireland is also a member church of the community of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE) and as such feels a particular affinity to churches of this community with whom it is in fellowship of pulpit and altar through the Leuenberg Agreement of 1973. It sees it as one of its specific pastoral tasks to serve German speaking members of CPCE churches, such as the various German–speaking Lutheran, Reformed and United Churches.
2013 is the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Leuenberg Agreement, a ground–breaking European ecumenical document. Together with local and national bodies and representatives of the other fellow CPCE churches in Ireland, namely the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches in Ireland, the Lutheran Church in Ireland is committed to a deepening of relationships with these sister churches.
How to find out more
You can find out more about the Lutheran Church in Ireland from its website:
from where you can also contact the church.