ANDHRA EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH (AELC)
The AELC was founded as a mission field of the then United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA) by John Christian Frederick Heyer (known as Father Heyer) on 31 July 1842. "Father" Heyer was deployed by the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, the oldest synod in North America. Work started by the North German Missionary Society in 1845 was turned over to the American Lutherans in 1850. As the work spread, Guntur became the center for general and higher education, and Rajahmundry, an old Telugu center of learning and culture, became the center for theological education. The Bible training school set up there in 1885 later became Luthergiri Seminary.
The AELC was constituted in 1927. Prior to this it was a mission of the United Lutheran Church in America (now part of the ELCA). With more than 400,000 members, the AELC is considered the third largest Lutheran church in Asia. It has been a member of the LWF since 1950. It is served by 250 ordained pastors and a large number of workers in areas of evangelism, education, health, and other diaconic ministries.
AELC's work is mainly in the state of Andhra Pradesh, a Telugu-speaking region. Evangelism is carried out through film, radio, and personal work. Bible women are effective in gaining access to Hindu and Muslim homes. The AELC runs 500 Sunday schools. Over 30,000 women regularly study the Bible and promote the Christian faith. Five ashrams give people of various castes and ethnic backgrounds opportunities to live and study together.
The church operates a college of education, 19 secondary schools, a school of law, and cooperates in running an interdenominational college. For vocational training, it operates an agricultural school, a sewing school, two industrial schools for boys and girls, and a Bible school.
About John Christian Frederick Heyer
John Christian Frederick Heyer (July 10, 1793 - November 7, 1873) was the first missionary sent abroad by Lutherans in the United States. He founded the Guntur Mission in Andhra Pradesh, India. "Father Heyer" is commemorated as a missionary in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church on November 7, along with Bartholomaeus Ziegenbalg and Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen.
Johann Christian Friedrich Heyer was born in Helmstedt, Lower Saxony, Prussia (now Germany), the son of Johann Heinrich Gottlieb Heyer, a prosperous furrier in Helmstedt, and wife, Fredericke Sophie Johane Wagener. After being confirmed at St. Stephen’s Church in Helmstedt, in 1807, his parent sent him away from Napoleonic Europe to reside in America with a maternal uncle (Wagener), a furrier and hatter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who specialized in the popular beaver hat.
C.F. Heyer, as he is often referred, studied theology in Philadelphia studied under J. H. C. Helmuth and F. D. Schaeffer. He traveled back to Germany in 1815, and studied theology with his brother, Henry, at the University of Göttingen. He obtained his M.D. from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1847.
After his return to the United States in 1816, he was licensed as a lay preacher. Heyer worked as a preacher for three years until he was fully ordained in 1820. He spent the next twenty years ministering and establishing churches and Sunday schools in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, the mid-western States, and as far west as Missouri. He was the first pastor of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, established in 1837, which was the earliest English-speaking Lutheran congregation west of the Allegheny Mountains. He organized The First German Evangelical-Lutheran Congregation of Pittsburgh, a German-speaking congregation, one week later, on January 22, 1837.
His wife and children remained in Friedens, Somerset County, Pennsylvania where Mrs. Mary Heyer died in 1839. The following year, Heyer was asked to enter the foreign missions. He studied Sanskrit and medicine in Baltimore, and set sail for India from Boston in 1841 with three other missionary couples on the ship Brenda, Captain Ward.
Returning to the United States in 1845, he continued his missionary work and established St. John’s Church in Baltimore. At the same time, he studied medicine, and obtained his M.D. from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1847.
He traveled to India a second time in 1847, spending a decade, mainly in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh state, in southern India, where he ministered and performed yeoman service to the people there. Supported initially by the Pennsylvania Ministerium, and later by the Foreign Mission Board of the General Synod, Heyer was also encouraged and assisted by British government officials. He established a number of hospitals and a network of schools throughout the Guntur region.
For health reasons, he returned to the United States in 1857, and spent the next decade organizing churches, particularly in the new State of Minnesota. He traveled to Germany in 1867-1868. In 1869, at the age of 77, he made his third trip to India.
Heyer returned to the United States in 1871. In January 1872, he was appointed chaplain and the first " house father" of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. Despite his brief time among the students, he was much respected and loved by the faculty and students.
He died in 1873 at the age of eighty, and his body was buried beside his wife in the Friedens Lutheran Church cemetery, Friedens, Pennsylvania.
The missionary field that Heyer founded in Guntur in 1842—together with the Rajahmundry Mission that was founded by the Rev. Luis P. Manno Valett of the North German Missionary Society in 1845—grew to become the Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church (AELC), organized in 1927. By 2009, the congregational membership of the AELC grew to become one of the largest Lutheran churches in India, and the third largest Lutheran church in Asia, boasting a membership of more than 2-million families (more than 4.5-million individuals) in about 5,000 parishes.