ELCA Bishops Discuss Ecumenical Proposals

 — Mar. 20, 199720 mars 1997

WOODLAND HILLS, Calif. (ELCA) — Bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting here March 6-11, talked about response in ELCA synods to ecumenical proposals to be considered at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August. The church is scheduled to vote on entering into “full communion” with the Episcopal Church and with three churches of the Reformed tradition: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.

Several bishops reported that opinions in their synods are mixed or not supportive of one or the other of the proposals. The ELCA Church Council sent the proposals forward to the assembly at its meeting in November.

The Saint Paul (Minn.) Area Synod is “deeply divided,” according to Bishop Mark S. Hanson. Hanson tapped a common theme when he cited “a visceral response … coming out of a piety that is suspicious of hierarchy.” In this case, “intellectual arguments are not helpful,” Hanson said. He asked, “How can we say to people, it is okay to be a member of the ELCA and not support these agreements?”

The Rev. Paull E. Spring, Seneca, Pa., said he will write a piece for “The Lutheran” magazine opposing “A Formula of Agreement” (relating to the churches of the Reformed tradition), while many in his synod support that proposal. Spring is bishop of the ELCA’s Northwestern Pennsylvania Synod.

In the Upper Midwest it is the clergy of the ELCA who are most likely to be divided on the proposals and most opposed to the “Concordat of Agreement” with the Episcopal Church, according to the Rev. David W. Olson, bishop of the Minneapolis Area Synod.

The Rev. Peter Rogness, bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, said, “We are in an awkward situation as the vote approaches because the lines of debate have never been clear.” It does not help to tell people their visceral arguments are not in keeping with an ecumenical spirit, he said.

“We are burdened by a process that never opened to the life of the church,” Rogness said. He finds himself “with some reservations about the Concordat,” but unable to voice them without speaking against the processes of the church. Rogness said debate has been handicapped. “We have not been free to be open and vigorous in our expression” for fear of inflaming the argument, he said.

The Rev. Peter Strommen, Duluth, bishop of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod, said the church has “an enormous stake in the passage of the Concordat,” making it extremely difficult to oppose it. “One difficulty,” he said, “is that a well- articulated argument against the proposals has never been published by the church, so there is a sense of a highly-managed process with very high stakes.”

The Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, said four “matters of judgment” are important for the church: “First, will the mission work of this church be advanced or diffused by either proposal? Second, does the acceptance of the gift of the `historic episcopate’ vitiate the Lutheran understanding of ministry?”

Anderson continued, “Third, are the differences between us and our partners of the Reformed tradition over the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper church-dividing? The Formula of Agreement asserts that they are not. We must decide if this is true,” he said. “Fourth, can we accept the doctrinal position of the United Church of Christ as representative of its congregations?”

Anderson said he hopes people in the ELCA will have enough information to make a decision on these four “judgment issues.” On the most basic level, he said, “we must know what the documents say and assume that they mean what they say. Don’t assume any subterfuge.”

The Rev. Richard N. Jessen, bishop of the Nebraska Synod, said he has found “every point of opposition is based on misunderstanding.”

In the New England Synod there is “very little opposition to the Concordat” but “strong feelings against the Formula,” according to Bishop Robert L. Isaksen, “mostly based on anecdotal evidence” and a sense of “losing the confessional basis of Lutheranism.” He said, “People need to know we are hearing their fears, and we will need to stand tall.”

The Rev. Steven L. Ullestad, Waverly, Iowa, said, while people say their opinions are not being heard, “both documents have been changed” based on concerns expressed by the ELCA. Ullestad is bishop of the ELCA’s Northeastern Iowa Synod,

The Rev. Roy G. Almquist, Philadelphia, bishop of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod, said he is “visceral” about approving of the ecumenical proposals. He said those who oppose the proposals are like “some congregations who simply do not want to change. They are comfortable with who they are and do not really care about the church of the future.”

The Rev. Allan C. Bjornberg, Denver, bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod, said some people are afraid “this argument will fracture us.” He said, “Ecumenism means giving and receiving, it’s a conversation with two or more tenable positions.”

In an interview Bjornberg added, “I sense an anxious reaction that shows a discomfort with opposing positions. For some people `being heard’ means `you adopt my position.'” He said, “We have a process, we have given this decision to the whole church. Now we need to ask ourselves if we can disagree and still be the church.”

Bishop Paul J. Blom, Houston, Texas, co-chair of the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee, and Bishop Guy S. Edmiston, Harrisburg, Pa., co-chair of the Lutheran-Reformed Coordinating Committee, reported on final meetings of the two committees.

Posted: Mar. 20, 1997 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4661
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 20 mars 1997 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4661
Catégorie : ELCA News

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