Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

Reverend Cynthia G. Halmarson, bishop of the Saskatchewan Synod, on the occasion of her installation as the first female bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (Saskatchewan Synod Office)

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, otherwise known as the ELCIC, was organized as an autonomous Lutheran Church in Canada at the constituting convention in Winnipeg in May 1985. The ELCIC is made up of five synods spanning the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific: the Eastern Synod extends from the Atlantic ocean to western Ontario; the Manitoba Synod includes Manitoba and northwestern Ontario; the Saskatchewan Synod includes all of that province; the Synod of Alberta and the Territories is comprised of Alberta and the western Territories; and the British Columbia Synod is inclusive of the entire province, including Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands. The total membership of the ELCIC is about 200,000 members, with the Saskatchewan Synod accounting for 36,000. The first bishop of the ELCIC was the Rev. Dr. Donald Sjoberg; the present bishop is the Rev. Raymond Schultz. The first bishop of the Saskatchewan Synod was the Rev. Telmor Sartison, and the present bishop is the Rev. Cynthia Halmarson.

The ELCIC came into existence as a result of a merger of the Canadian constituencies of two of the largest bodies of Lutherans in North America. In 1962 the Lutheran Church in America was formed in a merger of four antecedent Lutheran churches: the United Lutheran Church of America (largely German background); the Augustana Lutheran Church (Swedish origin); the Suomi Synod (Finnish); and the American Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish in background). At the time of the formation of the Lutheran Church in America, a Canada section was also formed to represent Canadian interests. The chair of that section was the Rev. Robert Binhammer. The second of those merging bodies was the American Lutheran Church, constituted in 1960 by a merger of four other antecedent Lutheran churches: the American Lutheran Church (of largely German background); the United Evangelical Lutheran Church (Danish origin); the Evangelical Lutheran Church (primarily Norwegian background); and the Lutheran Free Church (also of Norwegian origin).

When the American Lutheran Church (ALC) was formed in 1960, a Canada District of that church was also organized to represent the Canadian constituency. That Canadian District subsequently organized itself in 1967 as an autonomous Lutheran church in Canada under the name “Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada.” Its first presiding officer was the Rev. Dr. Karl Holfeld, who had been the District president of the Canada District of the American Lutheran Church. The smaller Lutheran churches that united to become larger Lutheran synods were all formed initially from the large flow of European immigration in the 19th century. As the immigrants settled in various parts of North America they tended to congregate in ethnically homogeneous communities. The formation of the first congregations and their eventual organization into synods reflected those ethnic origins. In the early years of immigration from the “old country,” worship was conducted in the language of each particular ethnic group. As the congregations grew, however, taking in members from many other ethnic origins, English gradually replaced the German and Scandinavian languages. There is no longer a dominant ethnic group in either the national church or the provincial synods, even though some traditions still reflect the early origins.

The Saskatchewan Synod is the third largest of the five Canadian synods of the ELCIC; this is reflective of the very large immigration from Europe in the formative years of the province. Many of the congregations were established in rural areas in the early days. Today, in spite of the urbanization of the population, many of those rural congregations still exist. Because of the depopulation of smaller centres, some of the congregations have had to disband or enter into co-operative arrangements with other Lutheran churches, and in some cases with churches of other denominations. The ELCIC continues to make a strong contribution to the religious culture in Canada, and also globally, through its mission and service agencies throughout the world.

Roger Nostbakken