Episcopal Church Adopts Full Communion with ELCA

 — July 11, 200011 juil. 2000

DENVER (ELCA) — “The Episcopal Church is now, as of today, in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on the basis of a shared ministry in the historic episcopate and for the sake of common mission in proclaiming and serving the gospel,” the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, declared July 8. Griswold’s comment followed action of his church’s 73rd General Convention to approve three resolutions to receive and implement the new accord, which the ELCA approved here last August.

An international inaugural worship service of Holy Communion will celebrate the agreement on the Feast of the Epiphany — January 6, 2001 — at a location to be determined. Amendments to the churches’ governing documents go into effect Jan. 1.

“Full communion” is not merger but opens the way for the two church bodies to work more closely in starting new ministries and in supporting current struggling congregations. Among other features, it allows for the exchange of clergy.

“The birth of this new relationship has been a long time coming,” said the Rev. H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the ELCA. “Although many persons worked for years to bring us to this grand moment, it is ultimately ‘the Lord’s doing and it is marvelous in our eyes,'” he said, quoting Psalm 118.

Formal Lutheran-Episcopal talks began in 1969. In 1991, the talks produced a “Concordat of Agreement” which first outlined full communion between the two churches.

In 1997 the Episcopal Church approved the Concordat, but the ELCA assembly fell short of the two-thirds vote required for adoption of that plan. At the direction of that assembly, the ELCA began drafting a revised proposal — “Called to Common Mission” (CCM). The ELCA approved CCM in 1999.

Lutheran churchwide assemblies are held every two years, and Episcopal general conventions are held every three years.

The 2000 Episcopal General Convention received the revised proposal and understood it to be substantially the same as the Concordat in 1997, and the constitutional amendments could have second reading to implement CCM.

The Episcopal convention runs July 5-14 in the Colorado Convention Center — the same site where the ELCA Churchwide Assembly met in 1999. Anderson, who was in Iceland at the time of the Episcopal vote, plans to visit the convention July 12.

“Adoption of ‘Called to Common Mission’ shows the world a new way to be one in Christ. Helping the world to believe must always be our priority as we work out our new life together,” said Anderson.

The Rev. Lowell G. Almen, ELCA secretary, read Anderson’s statement July 8 to the Episcopal House of Deputies, after that house finished voting on the resolutions. The Episcopal House of Bishops approved the resolutions on July 7.

“With you we celebrate this moment. I can indicate to you that wonderful surprises await us,” Almen told the deputies.

“While most of our parishes will not be affected directly by this action, we are aware that in certain situations this decision represents a significant step, a step that will provide crucial opportunity for greater effectiveness together in witness and service,” said Almen. “Be it urban ministry, be it rural ministry, be it campus ministry or other situations of ministry, this agreement of mutual recognition will prove to be highly constructive.”

The 5.2 million members of the Chicago-based ELCA have more than 10,800 congregations which are organized into 65 synods, each headed by a bishop. The 2.5 million members of the Episcopal Church, based in New York, have more than 7,400 congregations in 106 dioceses, each headed by a bishop.

The Episcopal legislature consists of two houses. The House of Deputies includes up to eight representatives from each diocese — four clergy and four lay. The House of Bishops involves all Episcopal bishops — current and retired. Resolutions must be passed by both houses.

Full communion was enacted through three resolutions. The first received the text of the revised proposal, CCM. The second and third resolutions gave the necessary second reading to amend the Episcopal constitution — suspending rules of Episcopal ordination to recognize current ELCA clergy and allowing for the exchange of clergy.

Before the convention began, Griswold told reporters that full communion with the ELCA would be “a very significant sign to the ecumenical community” of a dialogue’s possible outcome. He said the agreement “invites us to yield some of our sense of ourselves and the uniqueness of our traditions, both by sharing some of ourselves and by making some adjustments in our tradition for the sake of unity.”

Griswold said he has seen Episcopal and Lutheran congregations operating side by side in rural and urban areas, and full communion would allow them to be more efficient by sharing resources and ministries. He noted that campus ministries are models of such cooperation.

The Rt. Rev. William J. “Jerry” Winterrowd, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado, Denver, spoke of his “solid relationship” with the Rev. Allan C. Bjornberg, bishop of the ELCA’s Rocky Mountain Synod, Denver. “We have in the past and will continue to have joint ventures,” he said. If CCM failed, “it would create a sense of demoralization in two churches which are already working well together,” he added.

Ecumenical guests were introduced in both houses. Dr. Addie J. Butler, vice president of the ELCA, Philadelphia, addressed the House of Deputies.

In addition to Almen, Bjornberg and Butler, other guests from the ELCA represented the Department for Ecumenical Affairs: the Rev. Daniel F. Martensen, director; the Rev. Darlis J. Swan, associate director; and the Rev. Randall R. Lee, associate for bilateral relations and dialogue.

The ELCA is a “richly diverse church body,” said Butler, “and issues of ecumenism are regularly on the agenda of the church.” The ELCA Churchwide Assembly approved CCM eleven months earlier in the same room where the deputies met, she said.

The ELCA entered into full communion with three Reformed churches — the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ — in 1997 and with the Moravian Church in America in 1999. In 1997 it approved the Lutheran-Catholic “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” which was signed in 1999 by representatives of the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican.

Episcopal debate on full communion with the ELCA began with hearings the convention’s 30-member ecumenical relations committee conducted July 6. Many speakers favored the resolutions, but some questioned whether the 2000 convention could have a second reading on constitutional amendments first read in 1997 while the Lutherans had revised the basic proposal for full communion.

“We need a better document than what we have,” said the Rev. David K. Ottsen, deputy from the Episcopal Dioceses of Northern Indiana, Mishawaka. He contended that Anglican churches have found ways to exchange clergy in other countries without having to suspend rules of Episcopal ordination.

Other speakers explained that churches in other countries found themselves in situations different from those in the United States. Other ecumenical agreements involved smaller church bodies or churches using different structures.

“I want to speak in favor of this resolution with all the passion I can,” said the Rev. William T. Rontani Jr., St. Luke’s Mission, Calistoga, Calif., who said his congregation serves many Lutherans in an area where there are few or no Lutheran congregations. “To vote against it would be devastating to the congregation of St. Luke and the Christian community of Napa Valley,” he said.

“Every once in a while comes a moment that God must have called into being,” said the Rt. Rev. Edward W. Jones, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, in support of full communion. He called the vote a turning point in church history and an invitation “to live into a relationship like none other we have known.”

“What’s the rush?” asked the Rev. John E. Hightower, deputy from the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, Texas. He suggested that more time was needed to study the revised proposal in light of Anglican teachings. “The church does everything at breakneck speed if it takes less than 200 years,” he said.

“I hope we do rush … as in 40 years,” said the Rev. Barbara Cavin, deputy from the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who works part time with Faith Lutheran Church, Saline, Mich. She said full communion would help congregations like hers. “It is about mission and ministry,” she said. “It allows us to share our identity as Christians.”

Several members of the convention’s constitution committee raised concerns about an early draft of the second resolution, to give second reading to constitutional amendments first approved in 1997. The draft resolution eliminated some language which was in the original resolution.

The constitution committee questioned whether action on the resolution could be considered second reading of the 1997 action, after such editing.

The committee on ecumenical relations returned to the 1997 resolution, and changed the words “the Concordat of Agreement” to “the Concordat of Agreement (as presented to the 73rd General Convention in the document Called to Common Mission).” The constitution committee agreed that it would then be second reading.

The Rt. Rev. Edward Lee, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Michigan, Kalamazoo, and chair of the bishops’ committee on ecumenical relations, introduced CCM to the House of Bishops on July 7. “Though the document is a revision and obviously with different language, on all the basics it is the same basis for entering into full communion and in some instances maybe even stronger than the Concordat that we approved so overwhelmingly three years ago,” he said.

“At the beginning of a new century, a new millennium if you will, we have, I believe and the committee believes, an opportunity to enact a jubilee action of reconciliation,” said Lee. He related the proposal to the convention’s theme of jubilee — a biblical concept that every 50 years social inequities would be rectified by freeing slaves, returning land to original owners and canceling debts.

“If we don’t pass this, we may never have this opportunity for another 50 years or just maybe the Episcopal Church will have said, ‘Enough with ecumenical relations. We’d still rather do it our way,'” Lee said.

Lee said the agreement would not compromise the Anglican identity of the Episcopal Church. “That very identity compels us to share it with the Lutherans, to receive from them that unique special identity of theirs and then together to offer that to the ecumenical movement of full communion, which is now what the new century and the new millennium ought to be about,” he said.

“Our relations with the Lutherans are extremely important in southwestern Virginia,” said the Rt. Rev. F. Neff Powell, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, Roanoke. “We have an ecumenical Episcopal-Lutheran congregation and an ecumenical Episcopal-Lutheran-Presbyterian congregation. This would allow us to continue what we are already doing in even more vibrant and creative ways,” he told the bishops.

“If this does not pass, I will go home utterly mortified,” Powell added.

“This is an historic ecumenical moment for us and an historic ecumenical decision,” said the Rt. Rev. Christopher Epting, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa, Des Moines. He said the two churches could enter into a relationship of full communion “without ‘unchurching’ one another in that process.”

“I am already in conversation with all three Lutheran bishops in Iowa about joint work that can be done. We have shared a joint Lutheran-Episcopal chaplaincy at the University of Iowa for many years,” said Epting.

“We have always been stymied in the opportunity either for new church starts or for cooperative ministry in many of our tiny congregations who cannot afford or are unable to have full-time clergy. We’ve been stymied in our ability to share clergy up until this point. Full communion will allow that to happen,” he said.

Epting said specific plans will go into effect as soon as possible in Iowa. “You will begin to see the fruits of that mission very quickly after Jan. 1,” he said.

Cooperative ministry with Lutherans in North Dakota could suffer under the full-communion agreement, said the Rt. Rev. Andrew Fairfield, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota, Fargo. “At issue is the historic episcopate, which most Lutherans in North Dakota view as not a gift but a threat,” he said.

Lutherans and Episcopalians agree on the doctrine of apostolic succession, an ongoing “faithful proclamation of Christ.” Episcopalians bring to the relationship the “historic episcopate,” a succession of bishops as a sign of unity back to early days of the Christian church.

Some Lutherans oppose certain changes needed to receive the “historic episcopate.” For the ELCA, those changes are centered in ceremonies for the installation of new Lutheran bishops and the ordination of new Lutheran pastors.

Lutheran bishops will be installed in a ceremony which includes a “laying on of hands” by many people, including three bishops standing in the historic episcopate. One or more Episcopal bishops will be invited.

Lutheran bishops will ordain new Lutheran pastors. Until 2001, bishops are able to delegate the presiding at an ordination to another ELCA pastor, such as an assistant, and their presence is not required.

Those opposed to these changes often cite the Augsburg Confession, a foundational 16th century document of the Lutheran church, which said that agreement on the gospel and proper administration of the sacraments are all that’s needed for Christian unity. Common ceremonies are unnecessary, and requiring them is wrong, they say.

Those supporting these changes often cite the same words, saying that there is agreement on the gospel and the sacraments between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church. The ceremonies may be unnecessary for Christian unity from a Lutheran perspective, but they are essential from the Episcopal view, they say.

About one-third of the 65 ELCA synods meeting in assembly earlier this year have asked the church to consider exceptions to the changes, such as methods for allowing a new pastor to be ordained by another pastor with the understanding that the new pastor would never serve an Episcopal congregation.

Fairfield said Lutherans in North Dakota suspect CCM has a hidden agenda “which threatens to change the way they practice their Christianity.” To vote “yes” on this document, he said, would pose a “real strain in my ecumenical relationships.”

The Rt. Rev. Donald Parsons, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy, Peoria, Ill., expressed reservations about the word “regularly” appearing in sections of CCM regarding ordinations and about the ELCA practice of licensing lay people to administer the sacraments “in unusual circumstances.” Using “regularly” allows for irregular situations and “leaves the way open for ordination of clergy not done by those who are bishops,” he said.

Letting lay people administer sacraments for a set period of time may be another way to circumvent the authority of bishops, said the Rt. Rev. Dan Herzog, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Albany, N.Y. He called CCM a vaguely crafted document which “desperately needs an Anglican balance.”

“I’m confident that over time we will see our hesitations set aside,” said the Rt. Rev. Harry Shipps, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, Savannah. He said he was more frightened by the consequences of rejecting CCM than receiving the document.

“The Lutherans have come out to meet us halfway,” said the Rt. Rev. William E. Swing, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California, San Francisco. “We have billed ourselves for years as a ‘bridge’ church. Now we’ll find if it’s a drawbridge or the Golden Gate bridge. I’m from California, so I favor the Golden Gate.”

After about an hour of debate, the bishops voted by a “show of hands” to accept CCM. There were 204 bishops registered to vote. About 14 voted “no.”

There was no discussion in the House of Bishops on the other two resolutions. Each was introduced and approved by voice vote.

The bishops sent the three resolutions to the House of Deputies for action.

The Very Rev. Donald Brown, deputy from the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California, Sacramento, and chair of the deputies’ committee on ecumenical relations, introduced the first resolution — to accept the text of CCM. “Called to Common Mission comes to this house with the enthusiastic support of almost all our bishops,” he said.

“Over the last two years, the Concordat has been revised and, we believe, strengthened by the Lutheran church in consultation with representatives from our church,” said Brown. “Here in Denver, at their 1999 Churchwide Assembly the Lutheran church passed an improved proposal for full communion, under the title of ‘Called to Common Mission.’

“Now, in this year of jubilee, we have the opportunity to bring to completion the discussions of more than 30 years. We have the obligation to move from talk to mission,” he said.

“Each church will retain its own liturgical, theological and organizational uniqueness and integrity. We Episcopalians will still be inspired by the liturgical genius of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and Lutherans will still proudly proclaim the theological insights of Martin Luther, but, most importantly and significantly, both our churches will be living into the reality of Jesus’ prayer in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John that all his followers might be one,” said Brown.

“Called to Common Mission gives us an historic opportunity to heal old wounds and divisions within the body of Christ. The greatest value of Called to Common Mission will come at the grassroot level, where people of God of both our churches will work and worship together in ways that are appropriate to their local circumstances,” he said.

More than a dozen deputies went to microphones to discuss the resolution. After several speeches in support of the resolution, Dr. Pamela Chinnis, president of the House of Deputies, asked if any of the deputies were planning to speak against it. Hearing no response, the house heard a few more speeches in favor before voting to close debate.

Clergy from three dioceses asked that the deputies be polled “by orders.” The lay members from each of 106 dioceses and the clergy from each of 107 dioceses voted in blocks. If a majority of each block voted “yes,” a “yes” vote was registered for that diocese; if a majority voted “no,” a “no” vote was registered; and, if an equal number of “yes” and “no” votes were cast, a “divided” vote was registered.

Chinnis cautioned the house not to engage in any celebration when the results of the vote were announced. Out of respect for the feelings of all the deputies, there would be no acts of “triumphalism,” she said.

On the first resolution — to receive CCM — the lay deputies voted 93 yes, five no and eight divided. Clergy voted 97 yes, five no and five divided. The house was informed that the first resolution “passed overwhelming” before ballots were cast on the other resolutions. Specific totals were given later.

On the second resolution — suspending rules of Episcopal ordination and recognizing current ELCA clergy — the lay deputies voted 94 yes, six no and six divided. Clergy voted 96 yes, five no and six divided.

On the third resolution — allowing for the exchange of clergy — the lay deputies voted 96 yes, six no and four divided. Clergy voted 97 yes, four no and six divided.

“For both of our churches, we know that the way ahead — while grand in prospects for mission — will sometimes be challenging and perhaps even difficult,” Almen told the deputies after all results were announced. “Just as mutual respect, compassion, and common understanding are not achieved easily within each of our churches, such mutuality will require abiding commitment to one another as we live into the full prospects of this new relationship.”

“God bless us all as our churches now enter into full communion,” he said.

Speaking with reporters, Almen said, “Today marks the beginning of a marvelous new future for both of our churches.”

“God is doing new things,” he said. “This is a significant moment in history.”

“One of the obligations that we will have in our planting of new congregations and parishes will be to engage in some coordinated planning,” said Almen. “There will be no excuse whatsoever in the future for the building of an ELCA church on one corner and a Presbyterian or Episcopal church on the other corner.”

“We’re going to have to learn to be good partners,” said the Rev. Canon David W. Perry, director, Episcopal Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. Establishing new ministries together and coordinating relief efforts between the two churches can become a model for all Christians, he said. “We are honoring the long traditions of the two churches.”

The ecumenical movement is still moving, said the Epting, “from a concept of one giant super-church to what we now call a communion of communions.”

“The great coming church of the future will always have its own uniqueness and different styles of worship,” said Epting. “We really are one church in the larger sense of that word.”

“The Anglican Consultative Council, the Lutheran World Federation and other Christian world communions will be watching very closely to see how it unfolds here in North America in the coming years as we move into full communion,” said Martensen.

In visits with church leaders around the world, “we noted the keen interest that they have on what was happening these days and will take heed of the decision made today, not that it can be transported or translated to another part of the world, but as a model and a way to explore new possibilities in those settings,” said Martensen.

“We are all aware that this was not a unanimous decision in either church,” Butler told reporters. She said her role as vice-president of the ELCA will be “to serve as the conscience and the reminder of how we will implement this decision with sensitivity.

“We are all a family. It’s not an issue of division. It’s an issue of family growing together, and growth sometimes is troublesome. So, we’ll really be very careful how we move forward and hopefully take the entire family into the future together,” said Butler.

— — —

The official text of “Called to Common Mission” is available on the ELCA Web site.

Posted: July 11, 2000 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4714
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 11 juil. 2000 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4714
Catégorie : ELCA News

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