The ministry of Agora began in 1999, when the Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA initiated The Multicultural Ministry Center “to equip the Minneapolis Synod and its congregations for expanded Christian mission and ministry among ethnic communities in the Twin Cities.” The ministry has evolved since that time, becoming its own 501(c)3 corporation under the name of Agora in 2003. Under the direction of Pastor Cherian Puthiyottil, its vision was realized through programs that included Mission Awareness Training for leaders of Lutheran congregations, assistance in developing relationships between immigrant worshiping communities and host congregations, an annual Growing Church Seminar, and the Discipleship Academy, a training program for ethnic leaders.
Under the leadership of Pastor Sharon Baglyos, the program relocated to Luther Seminary in 2012 and became a part of its Global Mission Institute. The primary focus has been the development of “Christian Leadership Training for a Multicultural World,” which has utilized Luther Seminary faculty and area clergy to offer classes in Biblical Studies and Christian Education, Ministries of Congregational Care, and Preaching. Twenty-five to thirty-five students each year participate in the classes, two-thirds of whom are recent immigrants from such places as Mexico, China, Southeast Asia, Liberia, and Kenya. The remaining students are Anglo and African-American members of supporting congregations.
The fundamental mission of Agora has been to “equip congregations and leaders for expanded Christian mission and ministry especially in immigrant and multicultural settings.” Agora has accomplished this by lifting up the needs and gifts of the congregations, identifying the resources in the larger church community, and providing a place for leaders to come and receive the guidance, training, and support they need to become more capable leaders in service of God’s mission in the world.
Agora is at another point of transition, as it recently became re-incorporated as a separate entity and is launching an effort to expand its ministry to include the four ELCA synods in southern Minnesota (Southeastern MN, Southwestern MN, Minneapolis Area and Saint Paul Area) as well as the South Dakota Synod. Each of these synods has a lay and clergy representative on the board of directors, and the vision is to develop ministries that will equip immigrant leaders for ministry in areas too far from Luther Seminary to regularly travel for the Saturday classes.
Rev. Paul Erickson has served on the Agora board since 2009, and on October 15, 2014, assumed the position of Director of Agora. Paul has been an ELCA pastor for 25 years, and he most recently served as the Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelical Mission in the Saint Paul Area Synod from 2008-2014. He will focus his work on “providing leadership in Agora’s mission of equipping congregations and leaders for expanded Christian mission and ministry with immigrant, ethnic-specific and multicultural congregations.”