U.S. Workshop on Christian Unity Celebrates Lutheran Agreements

 — June 6, 20006 juin 2000

LOUISVILLE, Ky (ELCA) — Tears of joy and tears of sadness were often the same tears the morning of May 17, as worshipers approached the altar of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville, Ky. The Lutheran-Reformed celebration of the Lord’s Supper was a symbol of unity and an illustration of separation for 300 Christian ecumenists.

About 40 Lutherans were among the participants at the annual National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) May 15-18 at Louisville’s Galt House Hotel. “Full communion” agreements and proposals of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) gained much attention during the workshop’s plenary speeches, seminars, luncheons and ecumenical worship services.

“The 2000 NWCU was characterized by a strong emphasis on worship and a desire to communicate and implement the fruits of full-communion agreements already approved by the churches,” said the Rev. Darlis J. Swan, associate director of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, Chicago. “All three plenary speakers lifted up the importance of the spiritual nature of Christian unity through the use of personal narratives and illustrations,” she said.


The Rev. Leontine T.C. Kelly, a retired bishop of the United Methodist Church s California-Nevada Annual Conference, preached during the workshop s opening worship service at the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Assumption.

“You have come here to work together in sincerity and honesty in the midst of a deceptive world,” said Kelly. “How will we tell this world about a God we have never seen? Through our love, only through our love,” she said.

The Rev. Ofelia M. Ortega Suárez, principal, Evangelical Theological Seminary, Matanzas, Cuba, offered the workshop s keynote address on “Christians in Conflict.” She said ecumenism is based on a “theology of relationships” or a “theology of the Holy Spirit.”

Ortega cited several biblical examples of seemingly contradictory concepts working in unison, such as law and freedom. The Christian law to “love your neighbor as yourself” is not a restriction, she said.

Christians move toward unity in spite of seeming contradictions as “a sign of the Holy Spirit,” said Ortega. “The church and ecumenism are alive and an integral part of the socialist society in Cuba” because God wants it so, she said.

Cubans are celebrating the Lutheran-Catholic “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” which the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and Vatican signed Oct. 31, 1999, in Augsburg, Germany. Ortega said, although the Lutheran community in Cuba is small, the churches have established a commission to study the declaration.

The Rev. Thomas L. Hoyt Jr., bishop of Louisiana and Mississippi for the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, gave the workshop’s closing address. “It does little good to talk about unity of doctrine … if there is not unity in spirit,” he said.

Hoyt challenged the participants to remove the racial divides between Christian denominations in the United States. He applauded the United Methodist Church for sponsoring a service of confession at its Cleveland convention earlier in May to apologize for racism in the church and to apologize for not doing all that was possible to dismantle racism in the church and in society.

“The spirit has to be of head and heart. That is the key to where we have to be,” said Hoyt. “Unity of the church and unity of humankind go together,” he said. “Both are accomplished through the spirit of repentance.”

“Those who repent receive what God has already given,” said Hoyt. Forgiveness is difficult, “but I believe that is what we are called to do as ecumenists,” he said. “We are striving to be what God wants us to be but are not yet.”


The Rev. Dagmar Heller and the Rev. William G. Rusch presented a seminar on “Convergence/Consensus on Baptism: The Ecumenical Implications.” Heller is executive secretary, Faith and Order, World Council of Churches, Geneva, Switzerland. Rusch is director, Faith and Order Commission, National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., New York, and former director of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs.

“We tend to make the assumption that Baptism is a ‘solved’ issue, but there’s convincing evidence out there that it isn’t,” said Rusch. “A great majority share a common understanding of Baptism as a sacrament,” he said, a “bond of unity” that brings the baptized into the body of Christ.

Rusch said recent developments in ecumenical dialogues — looking more for convergence than consensus — will be helpful in discussing Baptism. Consensus is a special accord between communities, he said. “Convergence is a degree of consensus on our way to consensus.”

Although Baptism is often not repeated if Christians change denominations, churches think differently about the nature and meaning of Baptism, said Heller. Some see the baptized as a passive recipient of God’s grace — allowing for infant Baptism, while others see the baptized making an active affirmation of Gods grace — requiring a reasoned decision, she said.

Heller proposed churches find convergence around three basic and related elements of Baptism: the formation of Christian faith, “the water event” and life in the Christian community. Churches may disagree on the order in which believers experience these elements, she said, but they may easily discuss other aspects of Baptism if they recognize all three elements in the ways each other administer the sacrament.

Bishop William Boyd Grove, ecumenical officer, United Methodist Church s Council of Bishops, Albany, N.Y., and the Rev. Duane H. Larson, president, Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, led a seminar on “Reception: Challenges and Opportunities.” Wartburg is one of eight ELCA seminaries.

Reception — the practical application of ecumenical agreements in the life of the churches — will be different for “baby boomers” than for earlier and younger generations, said Larson. He looked at the sociological differences between “modern” and “post-modern” generations. Younger generations are much more accepting of seemingly contradictory views, he said.

On one hand, agreements made between church bodies are accepted by the “wider official audience” over a period of time, said Larson, and, on the other hand, relationships between individuals are sealed by the church bodies. “Reception happens … unless one is hermetically sealed,” he said.

“Ecumenical relations form a web,” said Grove. “When there is an advance at any one point, the whole web lights up,” he said. “Reception is out of the energy of the Holy Spirit,” which lights up the web.

“When we are beyond our own families we’re in better company,” said Grove. “”That’s not to slight our families,” he said, but to note that, in a post-modern world, relationships are internalized and every ecumenical breakthrough is cause for celebration.

Grove and Larson used the Lutheran-Catholic “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” as an example of how previous dialogues and Vatican II set the stage for this agreement and of how this agreement will effect future relationships among Christians.

Dr. Michael J. Root, professor of systematic theology, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio, discussed the ways ecumenical dialogues have addressed the nature of authority in the life of the church in a seminar, “Authority in Ecumenical Discussions,” with the Rev. Ellen Wondra, associate professor of theological studies, Colgate Rochester Divinity School, Rochester, N.Y.

Root explored one aspect of the seminar during a luncheon presentation on “The Gift of Authority,” a recent publication of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). He agreed that authority was a gift of God to facilitate God’s mission and that the church is at the center of that authority.

“Conflict is a fact of life” in the church, said Root, because the people who make up the church hold the apostolic teachings and decide what is authoritative today. Christian tradition is a debate over what is Christian tradition, he said.

ARCIC said bishops and clergy have roles in interpreting apostolic teachings through liturgy and theology. Root contended that more definition needed to be given to the role of the laity in decision making. “Note the importance of conflict” as “checks and balances,” he said.

Root said one voice can rarely speak with authority for the whole church, but he lifted up one ARCIC recommendation that on issues of general agreement — such as opposition to land mines — a shared view of papal leadership could allow the pope to speak publicly on behalf of all Christians.


The National Workshop on Christian Unity is an annual meeting comprised of several ecumenical networks meeting separately and together. The workshop involves Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers (EDEO), the Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN), the National Association of (Roman and Eastern Catholic) Diocesan Ecumenical Officers (NADEO), and Ecumenical Colleagues, which includes the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church.

At an EDEO-LERN luncheon the Rev. Richard L. Jeske, an ELCA pastor and former Lutheran co-chair of the Lutheran-Episcopal Dialogue, described the ministry to which Immanuel Lutheran Church, San Jose, Calif., called him. He serves as “ecumenical pastor and theologian” for that congregation, as well as for St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Saratoga, Calif., and Trinity (Episcopal) Cathedral, San Jose.

Jeske said theological dialogues between church bodies are often challenged to address the true mission of the church, and he feels that’s what he is doing. “The San Jose experiment,” as he called it, is “a purposeful injection of ecumenism in the lives of our congregations.”

Jeske’s work is based on an interim agreement of fellowship between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, and the congregations are watching a Lutheran proposal for full communion which the Episcopal General Convention will consider this July in Denver.

“Full communion is not flipping a switch from off to on” by taking a vote, said Jeske, it requires relationships like those being forged in San Jose. “Relations of trust have opened up where none existed before,” he said.

“At present no one seems to know what to do with us — a position for which I am, at times, very grateful,” said Jeske. His position is funded largely by San Jose donors. “There are many lay people who are well aware of the stakes involved … in this small step toward Christian unity,” he said.

The Rev. Cynthia Banks, an Episcopal priest, also addressed the luncheon. She described her work in starting St. Thomas Church, Campbellsville, Ky.

The congregation is a joint mission project of the Episcopal Diocese of Kentucky and the ELCA’s Indiana-Kentucky Synod. The ELCA Division for Outreach trained Banks for her work as a mission developer.

Banks explained that ecumenical debates over the necessity for the ELCA to accept the historic episcopate — a succession of bishops reaching back to the earliest days of the Christian Church — become secondary, when it comes to the mission of the church. The people were more impressed that, when she left Campbellsville, the Episcopal and Lutheran bishops cared for the congregation personally, she said.

“The issues on the hearts and minds of the people I’ve been dealing with are not the issues of polity that we’ve been arguing about,” she said. “I never once was asked on the streets of Campbellsville which tradition was in or out of the historical episcopate.”

Society often portrays God as a judge who can never be pleased, said Banks, and the people of Campbellsville needed to hear the gospel of a gracious God. When the local economy “dropped out” and created 26 percent unemployment, the people needed to know there was hope, she said.

“That society knew that they were broken,” said Banks. “To have two denominations come together blew their minds.”


“By focusing on a Lutheran-Reformed Eucharist to which all participants were invited, the workshop called attention to ‘A Formula of Agreement,’ the full-communion agreement between the ELCA and three Reformed churches: the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and the United Church of Christ,” said Swan. “This service provided a way for all those present to celebrate one of the gifts of full communion: a common sharing at the Lord’s table.

“A special blessing was offered for those who did not feel free to receive the sacrament so that all were welcome to gather at the altar,” she said. “This was one of the examples of the liturgical and spiritual dimension that seemed to permeate this year’s workshop.”

The Rev. Gordon W. Lathrop, Charles A. Schieren professor of liturgy, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, preached during the service. Christians of Lutheran and Reformed traditions, which trace their roots to a 16th century European debate over the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, have come together in the United States to discover Christ in the sacrament and in worship, he said.

Brother Jeff Gros, associate director of ecumenical and interreligious affairs for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Washington, D.C., led workshop participants in a discussion of the Lord’s Supper and the ecumenical movement. “Theological agreement and liturgical convergence have made full communion deeper,” he said.

“Even though not everybody, of course, is ready to celebrate (the Lord’s Supper) together yet, there is this great hunger for a common eucharistic table and a great rejoicing that any Christians are able to move forward together,” Gros said later. He said the worship had emotional significance for many of the workshop participants because ecumenists, who work most of their lives for Christian unity, have seen the progress of their labors in “churches coming together around the Lord’s Table.”

“The scholarship of a hundred years is beginning to bear fruit in the lives of the churches,” said Gros. “Many of us don’t really notice how close our celebration of the Lord’s Supper — of the Eucharist — is to one another, and yet we’ve really come so far, at this point,” he said.

Gros credited Lathrop and other liturgists with creating “the groundwork for a common form of worship that is true in many of our churches.”

The Rev. James R. Stuck, bishop of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod, preached during a Lutheran-Episcopal celebration of the Lord’s Supper. “Jesus is the model shepherd,” he said, and we are Jesus’ sheep.

Sheep are very dependent on their shepherd, said Stuck. “the sheep have one quality that makes them special,” he said. “They hear Jesus’ voice and follow him.”

“We are called to be listeners — with all the voices out there — listeners for the voice of the good shepherd,” said Struck. “Prayer is listening — two hearts coming together and listening,” he said.

“Listening is what we are called to do, and in listening we will find the unity which we seek,” said Struck. “As you move closer to Christ, you move closer together.”

In 1991 the ELCA adopted “A Declaration of Ecumenical Commitment,” which states that the church s ecumenical goal is a relationship of “full communion” with all those churches that confess the Triune God. Its ecumenical activities are coordinated through the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs.

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.

In addition to churches with which the ELCA is in full communion, the ELCA is in dialogue with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Orthodox churches, Roman Catholic Church and United Methodist Church. It is in conversation with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It maintains a Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and World Council of Churches.

Posted: June 6, 2000 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4708
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 6 juin 2000 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4708
Catégorie : ELCA News

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