Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) is a Lutheran denomination based in Namibia. It has a total membership of over 772,398,[1] mainly in Northern Namibia. Formerly known as the Evangelical Lutheran Ovambo-Kavango Church, it played a significant role in opposition to Apartheid in Namibia and was part of the Namibian independence struggle.[2]

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia
Symbol of Lutheranism
Presiding BishopShekutaamba Nambala
Secondary schools2
Other name(s)Evangelical Lutheran Ovambo-Kavango Church
Official websitewww.elcin.org.na

Other Lutheran churches in Namibia are the southern based Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia and the German-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (GELK).

The current presiding bishop is Dr. Shekutaamba Nambala.


The church developed out of the work of the Finnish Missionary Society that began in 1870 among the Ovambo and Kavango people in the northern area of what became German South West Africa. In 1954, an independent church known as the Evangelical Lutheran Ovambo-Kavango Church (ELOC) was established with Birger Eriksson as its first president.[3]

The first Namibian bishop of ELOC, Leonard Auala, played a notable role in the struggle for Namibia's independence. In 1971 an open letter was written jointly with Moderator Paulus Gowaseb of the Rhenish Mission's United Evangelical Lutheran Church in South West Africa (later known as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia) to the Prime Minister of South Africa, B.J. Vorster, which declared their church's opposition to the continued rule of South Africa and the acceptance of the recommendation by the International Court of Justice for the withdrawal of South Africa's mandate and a transition period towards independence.[4]

In 1984, ELOC's name was officially changed to its current iteration, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia.[2]

Auala's successor, Kleopas Dumeni, also played an important role in highlighting the plight of Namibians under South African rule.[5] Bishop Dumeni suffered personal losses in the struggle including the death of his 18-year-old daughter in a bomb blast in 1988.[6]

In 2007, ELCIN together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia and the German-speaking Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (GELK) formed the United Church Council: Namibia Evangelical Lutheran Churches, with the ultimate aim of becoming one united national Lutheran church.[2]


The church was originally led by a Moderator, elected from amongst the clergy. In the 1960s the church adopted episcopal polity and was subsequently led by a bishop. In 1992, the church was divided into two dioceses, the Eastern Diocese and the Western Diocese, each led by its own bishop, and since 1996 a Presiding Bishop has been elected to preside over the whole ELCIN.

There have been calls for the Western Diocese to be further divided into two, to create a total of three dioceses.[7] Two further dioceses would be added by the proposed amalgamation with Namibia's other two Lutheran denominations, a process which is under discussion.

Moderators and Presiding Bishops

Moderators of ELOC[8]
  • Birger Eriksson (1954 1958)
  • Alpo Hukka (1958 1960)
  • Leonard Auala (1960 1963)
Bishops of ELOC (episcopal polity adopted 1963)
  • Leonard Auala (1963 1978)
  • Kleopas Dumeni (1978 1996) (name changed from ELOC to ELCIN in 1984)
Presiding Bishops of ELCIN
  • Kleopas Dumeni (1996 2000), consecrated 1978
  • Apollos Kaulinge (2000 2004), consecrated 1996 for Western Diocese
  • Tomas Shivute (2004 2012), consecrated 2000 for Western Diocese
  • Shekutaamba Nambala, (2012 present), consecrated 2012 for Western Diocese

Okahao controversy

Between 2012 and 2014 the Bishop of the Western Diocese was Josaphat Shanghala. Bishop Shanghala attempted to move the parish pastor at Okahao, the Rev Hulda Shau-Aitana, to the parish of Okambebe. The pastor refused to move, claiming that the relocation was not for pastoral reasons, but rather a personal punishment. The issue became highly divisive within the church, and high-profile within Namibian news media.

In October 2013 parishioners at Okahao petitioned the Presiding Bishop, Shekutaamba Nambala, to have Bishop Shanghala removed from office. The Presiding Bishop attempted to intervene, and appointed two separate commissions to report on the growing public controversy, but the results of both commissions were rejected by the parish. The Presiding Bishop ultimately appeared to side with the parish authorities, leading to concerns being expressed for the future unity of the church.[9]

On 9 February 2014 Bishop Shanghala attempted to visit Okahao parish to preach at the Sunday morning service, but he was prevented from speaking by the congregation, who heckled him in the pulpit, and then ejected him from the church.[10]

The controversy was terminated when Bishop Shanghala retired in June 2014, aged 70.[11] His retirement ceremony was attended by dignitaries of church and state, including the Namibian Prime Minister. Shanghala was succeeded as Bishop of the Western Diocese by Bishop Veikko Munyika.


ELCIN participates actively in ecumenical work through its affiliation with:

See also


  1. "Namibia | The Lutheran World Federation". www.lutheranworld.org. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  2. Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia Archived 2008-08-30 at the Wayback Machine World Council of Churches, January 2006
  3. "1952-1954". Chronology of Namibian History. Namibia Library of Dr. Klaus Dierks. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
  4. Dugard, John (1973). "The South West Africa/Namibia Dispute: Documents and Scholarly Writings on the Controversy Between South Africa and The United Nations". Perspectives on Southern Africa. University of California Press (9).
  5. "Bishop Kleopas Dumeni: 'Namibian blacks worse off than those South Africa'". The Afro-American. 4 April 1987. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
  6. "Dumeni's Daughter Among Dozens Killed in Namibia Bomb Blast" (PDF). Dateline: Namibia. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. 1988. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 14 December 2011.
  7. See reports in The Namibian in June 2014.
  8. Peltola, Matti (1958). Sata vuotta suomalaista lähetystyötä 1859–1959. II: Suomen Lähetysseuran Afrikan työn historia [A hundred years of Finnish missionary work 1859–1959. II: The history of the Finnish Missionary Society in Africa] (in Finnish). Helsinki: Suomen Lähetysseura (The Finnish Missionary Society). pp. 242–243.
  9. Report Okahao ELCIN parishioners split at The Namibian.
  10. See report Congregation boos Bishop Shanghala out of church by Kakunawe Shinana at New Era Newsgroup.
  11. Retirement report Shanghala retires from ELCIN at 70 by Oswald Shivute in The Namibian.
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