The ‘Federation of Lutheran Churches in Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein’ (BELK) was founded in 1967. It started in the form of a working group to provide a platform for joint activities. In the meantime, BELK brings together the Lutheran Congregations of Basel, Bern, Geneva (German and English-speaking), Vaduz and Zurich, although each is independent and unique in its history, its regional setting, its ecumenical relationships, its structure, and its leadership.
The unity found under BELK brings these churches together in community, and it is the aim of BELK to do so. Decisions made by the leadership of BELK are designed to enhance the inter-congregational life of its member churches and to coordinate activities. Among other things it serves it member churches by organizing seminars for readers of biblical texts in worship services, by providing an exchange platform for members of church councils as well as for pastors. Besides, BELK represents the interests of the five Evangelical-Lutheran Churches in Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein within the Swiss Christian context and beyond in the international ecumenical family.
The General Assembly is the decision-making body of BELK. It comes together once a year to discuss administrative as well as theological questions and if necessary to vote on arising issues. Each member church is represented by up to three delegates of whom one is the pastor. The General Assembly elects the Executive Committee and the president of BELK for two years, at which point, re-election is possible. The Executive Committee is composed of the president, the vice president, the secretary, the treasurer as well as other members. Each church has representation on the board (constitution). The previous presidents of the federation are listed below:
Dr. Peter Wepfer (1972)
Otto Diener (1974)
Ingalisa Reicke (1990)
Dr. Herbert Burmeister (1992)
Barbara Blum (1996)
Gottfried Daub (1998)
Ed. Henry Newman (2002)
Dagmar Magold (2006)
Elisabeth Benn (2012)
Jörg Winkelströter (2016)
The pastors‘ council meetings provide opportunities for all pastors in the federation, and their Lutheran colleagues who serve in Switzerland, to meet regularly and to work on upcoming questions and ideas. Mutual spiritual exchange and collegial advice enhance community at this level and promote the interest to work together within and for the congregations and the federation.
All activities and events encourage communal growth and create solidarity as well as mutual support between the member churches. During the meetings and at seminars practical topics are discussed such as building up of congregations, Ecumenical and youth work, liturgy and many others. Over the years they have provided good opportunities for exchange and inspiration and have been very much appreciated by many church members.
Another important instrument that is used to foster relationship and support between the BELK churches have been ‘visitations‘ that were introduced at the General Assembly in 2004. Representatives of all congregations visit one of the member churches. The visit involves conversations with full-time staff, volunteers and congregational members as well as celebrating a worship service together. The host congregation is encouraged to talk about and to reflect upon the way it views itself and its congregational life. The outside perspective provided by the visiting representatives of other churches offers the chance to get feedback and consider ways of enhancing how they work. Furthermore, the BELK congregations get to know each other better and learn about their distinctiveness.
The aim of these visits is also to exchange experiences and to strengthen the relationship between the member churches. For the conversations with staff and church members a well designed questionnaire is used, that allows them to gain deep insights in the congregational life within a short time. As well as this, it provides a good opportunity for those members who are absent that day to participate in and provide input for the visitation. The questionnaire therefore includes many observational questions about:
How congregation members view
- themselves within their church,
- the congregational life and work
- the congregation’s ecumenical connections
- the relationship between the volunteers or laypersons and the structures that is provided for paid staff,
- the expectations and wishes of individual members of the congregation as well as the congregation as a whole