Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network Seeks Recognition

 — May 14, 199914 mai 1999

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (ELCA) — The Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) began an identity-building transition at its annual meeting here May 3-6 during the National Workshop on Christian Unity. The Rev. Robert A. Kriesat, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, N.J., was elected to a one-year term as LERN’s president.

The Rev. Thomas A. Prinz, Nativity Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Va., served more than four years as LERN’s president. His term ended at the meeting, and he was ineligible for re-election to LERN’s board. Kriesat will be ineligible for re-election to LERN’s board in 2000.

“Seeing it essentially as a transitional position, my hopes are that we will use the time to firm up our identity as a network within the ELCA,” said Kriesat.

“It is clear that a lot of people within the church are not aware of our existence,” Kriesat said. “That may be our own fault for not having a clear identity.”

The bishop of each of the ELCA’s 65 synods is considered that synod’s ecumenical officer. Each bishop names one representative to LERN.

The network is an active part of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, said Kriesat. Individual ecumenical representatives have varying degrees of recognition from their synods, he said. Representatives promote ecumenical relations and education within the territory of the synod.

Prinz told the ecumenical representatives that LERN is a maturing organization and an eroding organization. Although Lutherans will make several significant ecumenical decisions this year, he noted about one-third of LERN’s voting members attended the annual meeting; about two-thirds attended in previous years.

“We have found people are not attending because funds are not available, and we have ecumenical representatives who are spending their own personal funds to be present,” Prinz said. “That’s evidence of a commitment these people have, but it also shows a lack of understanding of what LERN could be and what LERN is on the part of synodical leadership.”

In August the ELCA Churchwide Assembly will vote on a Lutheran proposal for full communion with The Episcopal Church, “Called to Common Mission.” If it passes, Lutheran ecumenical representatives will become important resources for their Episcopal counterparts, said Prinz. If it fails, “leadership for this particular ecumenical initiative will move from the national church back to the synods and the congregations.”

Full communion is a common confessing of the Christian faith; a mutual recognition of Baptism and a sharing of the Lord’s Supper, allowing for joint worship and an exchangeability of members; a mutual recognition and availability of ordained ministers to the service of all members of churches in full communion, subject only but always to the disciplinary regulations of the other churches; a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service; a means of common decision making on critical common issues of faith and life; and a mutual lifting of any condemnations that exist between churches.

The assembly will also consider a proposal for full communion with the Moravian Church in America. The ELCA’s 1997 Churchwide Assembly approved a relationship of full communion with three churches of the Reformed tradition — the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.

LERN’s focus has been on “getting the information out, processing and ventilating formal documents that are being sent for legislative votes,” said Prinz. As the ELCA enters into full communion agreements with other church bodies, he said LERN will have to consider new responsibilities for “bringing those agreements practically and effectively into the lives of the congregations and the synods.”

The Northern and Southern Provinces of the Moravian Church in America have already approved the proposal, “Following Our Shepherd to Full Communion,” which the ELCA is considering. The Rev. Otto Dreydoppel Jr., director of Moravian studies and assistant professor of church history, Moravian Theological Seminary, Bethlehem, Pa., addressed the LERN meeting.

“Lutherans and Moravians are really members of the same sheepfold,” said Dreydoppel. He traced Moravian church history to the Czech Reformation which preceded the German Reformation and creation of the Lutheran church.

“Moravians saw themselves more as a mission society than as a denomination within the church catholic,” Dreydoppel said. Their first priority was to revive mission at the heart of European churches, he said.

“Moravian theology is devotional and relational,” said Dreydoppel. “Our church treasures the liturgy that your church has preserved.”

Since Moravians were more concerned with making Christians than with making Moravians, the church is small but global. There are about 750,000 Moravians in 19 provinces around the world, said Dreydoppel. There are 60,000 Moravians in 250 congregations across North America.

Dreydoppel was a member of the dialogue that drafted the full communion proposal. He outlined the document and its recommendations. It listed “mutual affirmations” or similarities, such as the churches’ emphases on the gospel, justification and the sacraments. The document also listed “mutual complements” or differences of emphasis, but it did not list any conflicts.

“In the Lutheran-Moravian dialogue, we strove hard but could not find anything on which to admonish one another,” said Dreydoppel.

The Rev. Randall R. Lee, associate for bilateral relations and dialogue, ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, Chicago, reported to the LERN meeting on relationships of the ELCA with various church bodies and ecumenical organizations.

In addition to the new full-communion agreement with Reformed churches and upcoming votes on full communion with Episcopal and Moravian churches, Lee told the representatives about dialogues in various stages with the African Methodist Episcopal, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and United Methodist churches. He described discussions to begin this year with The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

The ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 1997 adopted a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification with the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican announced its approval of the document in 1998. Lee said the council of the Lutheran World Federation is expected to decide in Bratislava, Slovakia, this June if there will be a formal international signing of the declaration.

The Rev. Merlyn E. Satrom, ecumenical representative for the ELCA Saint Paul (Minn.) Area Synod, discussed what it means to be an ecumenical representative in a seminar with counterparts from other Christian churches. Although he is retired, he said his reading related to ecumenism seems to be a full-time job.

Satrom said an ecumenical representative works closely with the bishop and with the synod’s ecumenism committee, as well as with the local council of churches. She or he writes documents or sees that documents are written that can explain technical dialogue reports to any interested reader.

The representative encourages her or his synod to make covenants with other Christian churches in the area, in consultation with the ecumenical officers in those churches and with Lutheran clergy and laity in the synod, said Satrom. She or he can also advance the ecumenical relationships of seminaries, colleges, campus ministries, high schools, publishing houses, confirmation classes, chaplaincies and social ministry organizations in the synod.

“I have a passion for the unity of the church, and I continue to work for it,” said Satrom.

The LERN board named the Rev. Dennis A. Andersen, Bethany Lutheran Church, Seattle, as vice president, and the Rev. William J. Sappenfield, St. Mark Lutheran Church, Olathe, Kan., as secretary.

LERN members elected the Rev. Timothy Hungler, Fort Thomas, Ky., and the Rev. Kurt S. Strause, Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Lancaster, Pa.,to the board.

LERN’s next annual meeting will be during the National Workshop on Christian Unity to be held May 15-18, 2000, in Louisville, Ky.

Posted: May 14, 1999 • Permanent link:
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