Contextualizing the practice of the Lord's Supper among Dalit Christians in AELChurch
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The Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church was begun on July 31, 1842 by a German Lutheran missionary, John F.L. Heyer who was sent by the Lutheran synod of Pennsylvania, USA. He started his ministry by serving the poor and the oppressed communities, called Dalits, by establishing schools, hospitals and other developmental programmes. As a result, many Dalits were attracted to the gospel.
Dalits are communities who are broken and oppressed by the socio, economic and religious structures of the Indian society. Many Dalits embraced Christianity because of the dedicated and selfless service of the American Lutheran missionaries. During this process of conversion into Christianity, Dalits adapted western Christian beliefs and practices in their faith journey. Of these, the practice of the sacraments are very important, particularly the practice of the Lord’s Supper. The purpose and focus of this study is to find ways discern how to best embody the practice of the Lord’s Supper among Dalit Christians in AELChurch. To achieve this goal, I divided this study into 4 chapters.
Chapter 1 deals with Dalit context and culture in the life of the AELChurch, emphasizing some definitions, and the history and ministry of AELChurch among Dalit Christians. In order to better discern the ecumenical meanings of the Lord’s Supper, I study the various perspectives of theologians such as Gordon Smith, Jenson, Amala Doss and WCC represented from different denominations and backgrounds. These findings are recorded in chapter 2. In chapter 3, I focus on the contextualization of the Lord’s Supper, and propose two major changes. One, I propose a change of elements- substituting bread and grape juice for rice cakes and tea. Two, I propose a change in the method of distribution- including a change of place, change of person and change of posture.
As theological methods, I incorporate two different perspectives analyzed by Newbigin and Appavoo who contributed rich thoughts to the concept of contextualization. I also examine two case studies explored from my ministerial experiences. Finally, in chapter 4 I conclude by proposing some recommendations that are helpful for the edification of AELChurch to reflect upon in the practice of sacrament.