We used to dance to kings but now we are dancing to God,” explains Omot Ochan, the worship leader for the Anuak service at Christ Lutheran Church, near St. Paul, Minnesota.

The music at his church begins as a high-pitched offering, a young woman’s ethereal voice floating through the sanctuary, before meeting a fervent response from congregants and the rhythms of three drums. Most of the parishioners at the service were refugees from the Gambela region in western Ethiopia, which borders South Sudan. Now, they live out their faith in the Midwestern suburbs, surprised to find empty church buildings in a country they once assumed was overwhelmingly Christian.

In the United States, the two largest US Lutheran bodies—the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)­­­ are around 95 percent white, and the denomination is slowly in decline in the Global North. But Lutheran membership in the Global South is growing. As of 2016, the largest Lutheran bodies are found in Tanzania and Ethiopia; they now rank ahead of Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and the US.

The revivalist spirit of these Lutheran newcomers is often expressed in a most Lutheran way—music. As Martin Luther himself once said, “Music is next to theology.”

In another Minneapolis suburb, Sudanese Lutherans sing Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress” in the Nuer language, accompanied by a resonant drum. This rendition of the denomination’s most famous hymn is hardly reconcilable with its German predecessor, proof that even the most eminent songs can be reproduced in profoundly different ways.

One God, Many Traditions

I set out more than ten years ago to answer a few questions: ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.