ELCA Inks Partnership with Church of Christ in Thailand

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America recently agreed to an "equal partnership of Christian fellowship" with the Church of Christ in Thailand, the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

The two church bodies have worked together for more than three decades and decided to ink their partnership in the spring. The bilateral agreement became effective in June.

"The Church of Christ in Thailand has taken the initiative to develop a 'Memorandum of Understanding' to guide its relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," said the Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director, ELCA Global Mission, according to the denomination's news service. "The memorandum is a sign pointing to the strong relationship between our churches, which is firmly grounded in our partnership in the gospel and our common call to mission."

Both churches – which are members of the World Council of Churches – have agreed to share resources; explore matters of theology, policy and strategy of mission together; and exchange personnel including missionaries, seminary students and professors, among other things.

Since 1975, the ELCA has sent personnel to Thailand to serve as faculty at the CCT's universities and provided support for programs such as leadership development.

Though the denominations had already been partnering on many levels, the CCT requested that they "re-examine" their relationship and formalize how they intend to work for the future, according to the Rev. Y. Franklin Ishida, a director at ELCA Global Mission.

"The agreement represents mutual respect and accompaniment," he said, as reported by the ELCA News Service.

Since its founding in 1934, CCT has grown to 130,000 members in a predominantly Buddhist country. The church, which is a member of the World Council of Churches, operates two universities, two theological seminaries, some 30 schools, seven hospitals, a rehabilitation institute for leprosy patients and ministries aiding the poor and those infected with AIDS.

Church leaders who signed the formal agreement include ELCA Presiding Bishop the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, CCT General Secretary the Rev. Sayam Muangsak, CCT moderator the Rev. Virat Koydul, and Padilla of the ELCA.