Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Orthodox, Protestant Ethiopians gather to celebrate traditional Ethiopian Easter

The Orthodox choir performed at an earlier Ethiopian Orthodox-Protestant Easter service at Augsburg. Photo provided by Trinity Lutheran Church

Ethiopians for Ethiopians bases its mission on helping families who adopt Ethiopian children help their children connect with their native culture. Through their work, they connect these families to Ethiopian Americans, helping to give adopted children a rich understanding of their culture. One way the organization connects American Ethiopians to their heritage is by celebrating Christmas and Easter through traditional Ethiopian celebrations.

Through this connection, a large annual Christmas and Easter celebrations have been created through a partnership between Ethiopians for Ethiopians, the Ethiopian Evangelical church (Orthodox), and Trinity Lutheran Congregation (ELCA), in Minneapolis.

The majority of Ethiopian Christians are Orthodox, and a smaller number are Protestant. Because Orthodox Christians and Protestant Christians celebrate Easter on different Sundays, leaders decided to host a traditional celebration where Orthodox and Protestant Ethiopians, as well as families who have adopted children from Ethiopia, could come together to celebrate the holidays together.

The result was an event that has become a resounding success. First held in 2010, the event has welcomed up to 700 people, including attendees who have traveled from Iowa, Wisconsin, and across the state of Minnesota.

Pastor Alem Asmelash, who serves at Trinity, said of this unique event, “You don’t often see this kind of Orthodox and Protestant church gathering of Ethiopians, and those who have adopted Ethiopian children, elsewhere. This is a unique event. It has become wider and wider [recognized] and more well-known in the community.”

Ethiopian Lutherans host holiday celebration

Since both celebrations are held at Augsburg College, Orthodox and Protestant Ethiopians all feel comfortable celebrating their Christian faith together in a neutral area. In keeping with tradition, many people come dressed in Ethiopian national dress. During the event, they sing in Amharic (Ethiopia’s national language). At each celebration, a sermon is always delivered by the Orthodox priest.

Additional highlights for attendees include dramas performed by the teenagers, a children’s fashion show of traditional dress, and families who have adopted Ethiopian children coming together as a choir to sing in Amharic.

Asmelash explained that each event starts at around 2 p.m. and usually lasts until approximately 9 p.m. During that time, people enjoy time in worship and mingling as a combined Ethiopian Christian community.

“You don’t often see this kind of Orthodox and Protestant church gathering of Ethiopians … elsewhere.

It is a meaningful event for those who attend. One family wrote about their experience at the Genna (Christmas in Amharic) event in the Ethiopians for Ethiopians March 2012 newsletter: “To see the apparent feelings of love and happiness on the faces of many, and realize the values of cultural and Christian diversity that bring different people together in celebration of Christ’s holy birth was an extraordinary opportunity,” the newsletter related.

Binyam Negusse, the program director of Ethiopians for Ethiopians, says one of the great things about the event is that it is not political, but an opportunity for people of one country and culture to come together and celebrate their shared heritage.

“The great thing [about] these celebrations is, no matter what we have as differences, we put them aside for the common good and focus on the big picture, which is our faith in God,” Asmelash says. “That will be history someday to the second generation of Ethiopians here in the U.S. It is good to be a good role model to our kids on these issues.”

For Trinity Lutheran, a unique congregation located in the Cedar/Riverside neighborhood, co-hosting this event fits well within its goal to reach out to its diverse neighborhood. “Trinity’s [participation] in these kinds of events gives some courage for our outreach ministry in the Cedar/Riverside area,” Asmelash says.

“It’s uplifting to see, spreading and proclaiming about Jesus with other different Christians in their own traditions and languages. When you open your house and call people to celebrate the Lord together in the place you worship, that’s awesome. Nothing else is better than that.”

To learn more about the impact of Ethiopians for Ethiopians, visit its website, http://ethiopiansforethiopians.org. The 2012 Easter Celebration is tentatively scheduled for May 12 at Augsburg College. All are welcome.

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