Synod Representatives Discuss Ecumenical Agreements, Dialogues

 — Feb. 16, 200016 févr. 2000

CHICAGO (ELCA) – Representatives from most of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) 65 synods met here Feb. 11-12 to discuss ecumenism and its connection to the mission and identity of the church. Speakers addressed these issues from national and global perspectives.

The representatives are part of the Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN). All are appointed by their synod bishops. LERN members work in cooperation with the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs to serve as resources to synods and help in the reception of ecumenical agreements, said the Rev. Darlis J. Swan, associate director, Department for Ecumenical Affairs. Swan also serves as staff for LERN. The Rev. Robert O. Kriesat, Chatham, N.J., is LERN president. The Rev. Dennis A. Andersen, Seattle, Wash., is president-elect.

The ELCA, a 5.2-million member denomination, is active in ecumenical relationships. It relates officially through full communion agreements with four churches, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ and the Reformed Church in America. In 1999 it entered into full communion with the Moravian Church in America. Full communion provides the means by which the churches work together in cooperative ministries, and in some cases, provides for clergy to be shared.

The 1999 ELCA Churchwide Assembly also adopted a full communion proposal, “Called to Common Mission” (CCM), with the Episcopal Church. This year a general convention of the Episcopal Church will vote on the same proposal in Denver. The proposal has generated some controversy in the ELCA.

The concept of full communion has its Biblical roots in John 17:20-21. The 1991 ELCA Churchwide Assembly directed the church to seek ecumenical relationships and “pursue the goal of full communion.”

Some LERN conference speakers discussed world and national ecumenism through organizations such as the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC). Other speakers discussed specific ecumenical issues related to the ELCA.

Ecumenical issues are often viewed by congregations as an option or add-on activity, said Jean S. Stromberg, executive director, U.S. Conference, WCC. The WCC consists of 337 Christian churches around the globe, including the ELCA.

“It (ecumenism) is essential in what it means to be Christian,” she said. “The more inclusive those relationships are, the more we serve God.”

Church relationships today are local as well as global, and they are very complex, Stromberg said. WCC members can help churches live out their mission in such relationships, she added.

The WCC’s 8th assembly in Harare, Zimbabwe, in 1998, made significant decisions that affect the organization’s purposes, Stromberg said. Today the WCC serves as a catalyst for ecumenical work and fosters “coherence” of understanding in ecumenism, she said.

The NCC, an organization of 35 member churches including the ELCA, is in a time of transition, said the Rev. Stacatto Powell, former NCC deputy general secretary of the national ministries unit, New York. The organization is undergoing reorganization and has new leadership, he said.

Powell, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church pastor, suggested re-engineering the NCC into a learning organization. He also said the NCC can help facilitate an ecumenical movement that shows greater diversity and includes historic black churches in the process.

“I believe in the ecumenical movement, and I believe it is divinely mandated,” Powell said. “The NCC should be a vital, breathing, pulsating organism that makes a difference in the lives of people.”

In the ELCA, the Rev. Daniel F. Martensen, executive director, ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, said the church has been challenged “in new and fresh ways” to be in partnership with four churches through its full communion agreements.

“God alone really knows what effect the dramatic development of full communion relationships will have on the ELCA,” he said to the LERN members.

The Department for Ecumenical Affairs has determined two priorities for its work in the near future, Martensen said. One is to assist in the implementation of full communion agreements.

“Our task is to help the bishops, theologians, faculties, congregations and pastors of the ELCA to engage continually in theologically grounded, factually based and ecumenically sensitive deliberation,” Martensen said.

A second priority is to encourage and facilitate local discussion of the many controversial ecumenical issues that have surfaced in the ELCA, particularly with CCM, he said. Those opposed to CCM should not discuss their opposition only with the churchwide offices, because the entire ELCA became involved when the decision was made last summer, Martensen said.

“Our task is to encourage people to carry out discussions among responsible people in various regions, synods and territories of the ELCA,” he said. “The discussion should happen wherever possible in a wide range of geographical and institutional settings.”

For some Lutherans, one of the controversial aspects of CCM is the historic episcopate, brought to the relationship by the Episcopal Church. The historic episcopate is a succession of bishops back to the earliest days of the Christian Church. The ELCA adopted it as a sign of unity; however, it has generated controversy for some who say CCM threatens Lutheran identity, changes the role of bishops in the church and calls into the question the roles of lay people.

“The ecumenical significance of the historic episcopate does not lie in the consideration that it is a necessary part of the life of the church,” said the Rev. Sven Oppegaard, assistant general secretary for ecumenical affairs, Lutheran World Federation, Geneva, Switzerland. “We do not require it on theological grounds, but we can see it as a legitimate sign of the universality of the church through time and through space.”

“All signs that help us identify the church and its unity and cross dividing lines can be looked at as helpful provided the content of the service is according to the Gospel,” he added.

Oppegaard also reminded conference participants that in every congregation there is the unifying element of the church.

“What creates unity in the church goes on in local congregations,” he said.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a communion of 128 Lutheran churches worldwide and includes nearly 58 million Lutherans. The ELCA is a member of the LWF. Department for Ecumenical Affairs staff provided LERN members with updates on implementation of the Lutheran-Reformed and Lutheran-Moravian agreements as well as ELCA dialogues. They include dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. New ecumenical dialogues to begin soon include discussions with the Mennonite Church, African Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church.

ELCA interfaith relations, especially with the Jewish community, were discussed, as was a new NCC policy statement on “Interfaith Relations and the Churches,” which was adopted in 1999.

Posted: Feb. 16, 2000 • Permanent link:
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Transmis : 16 févr. 2000 • Lien permanente :
Catégorie : ELCA News

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