LSTC alum Pemba Buthelezi, former Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa, returns to visit

Bishop Paulos Phembukuthula Buthelezi of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern
Africa (ELCSA) and his spouse Gretta

LSTC alum Bishop Paulos Phembukuthula Buthelezi of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa (ELCSA) and his spouse Gretta visited LSTC on April 15-18. They met with LSTC students, faculty, and staff and attended an interfaith iftar, LSTC’s Gospel Choir concert, and a Lutheran Confessions class.

Bishop Buthelezi graduated from LSTC in 2004 with a Master of Theology degree, though he did not initially come to the United States to study here. He first went to Chicago Theological Seminary in 1990 and quickly learned of the opportunity to take classes at LSTC through the Association of Chicago Theological Schools (ACTS). He appreciated LSTC’s expertise in mission work and pastoral care and counseling. These studies shaped his years of ministry as the Bishop of the South Eastern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, consecrated in 2009.

Now retired, Bishop Buthelezi found his return to LSTC to be emotional and greatly enjoyed the opportunity to have fellowship with this community. “There are people here that have made marks on my heart,” he said.

He specifically named Dr. Mark Thomsen; Dr. Jim Scherer, Professor Emeritus of Missions and Church History —who the bishop describes as “the best of my professors”; his advisor Dr. Vítor Westhelle, former Professor of Systematic Theology; and Dr. Harold Vogelaar, Professor Emeritus of Christian-Muslim Studies and Interfaith Relations, who expanded his worldview and made him understand the importance of interfaith work. Bishop Buthelezi feels that one of the best parts of LSTC is the opportunity to meet people from different walks of life, especially in other countries.

His passion for interfaith and intercultural work was evident during an interfaith panel discussion in Assistant Professor of Lutheran Systematic Theology and Global Lutheranism Candace Kohli’s Lutheran Confessions class. Joining him in the conversation was Dr. Esther Menn, dean of academic affairs, Rabbi Yehiel Poupko of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago/Jewish United Fund, and Dr. William Caldwell from the Ta’Leef Collective.

On this panel, Bishop Buthelezi talked about his ministry in South Africa and the importance of learning about other cultures, especially when an individual is part of a dominant culture. As a church leader, he also agreed that substantial harm has historically been done in the name of Christianity and that building relationships with people of other faiths is important.

At a community lunch following the panel, Gretta also shared what life is like for women in South Africa. “If you are a woman, you are expected to respect. You respect your husband, your people,” she said. “And if you are a pastor’s wife, they expect more of you. You are an example to other women.”

Gretta is also an ordained pastor, though she did not initially want to be. Bishop Buthelezi believes LSTC was instrumental in her call, saying, “You would be surprised how LSTC helped me encourage her to be a pastor.”

Both Bishop Buthelezi and Gretta agreed that their time at LSTC was filled with wonderful people, and LSTC was glad to receive them for this visit. “I was so encouraged to hear from the Buthelezis how positively their time at LSTC shaped their future ministries and lives,” Menn said. “It is a blessing to be partners in the global church.”

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