Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Issue Statement of Concern

 — May 10, 200110 mai 2001

SAN DIEGO (ELCA) — The Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) sent a “Statement of Concern” to its membership and staff and to its counterpart organization in the Episcopal Church. LERN outlined problems it has with a proposed bylaw of the ELCA Constitution that the church’s bishops — who appoint representatives to LERN — endorsed.

LERN held its annual meeting here April 30-May 3 during the National Workshop on Christian Unity. Each bishop of the ELCA’s 65 synods is considered that synod’s ecumenical officer. Each bishop names one representative to LERN, which is coordinated through the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs.

Synod bishops met March 1-6 in San Antonio and endorsed the suggested bylaw, which would allow a synod bishop “for pastoral reasons in unusual circumstances” to designate another pastor to preside at an ordination. The synod bishop is to consult with the ELCA’s presiding bishop and seek the advice of the synod council before making a decision, according to the proposed bylaw.

The ELCA Church Council met April 6-8 in Chicago and placed the proposed bylaw on the agenda of the 2001 Churchwide Assembly to be held August 8-14 in Indianapolis.

The proposed bylaw is related to “Called to Common Mission” (CCM), the full-communion agreement of the ELCA and the Episcopal Church. The agreement enhances opportunities for shared ministries and projects, and, under certain circumstances, allows for exchange of clergy in congregations.

The bishops see the proposed bylaw as an attempt to respond to some Lutherans who remain opposed to CCM, especially a provision of the agreement that a bishop must preside at any ordination. Before CCM, Lutheran bishops could designate another pastor to preside at an ordination, a practice which many opponents seem to prefer.

The proposed bylaw and Lutheran-Episcopal relations were the topics of much of LERN’s annual meeting. Representatives worked on the wording of their statement and referred it to LERN’s executive board for finalizing and distributing.

The Rev. Dennis A. Andersen, Bethany Lutheran Church, Seattle, is president of LERN. He said the statement will be sent to LERN members, so they might discuss it with their synod bishops and determine how it is to be distributed in their synods.

Andersen delivered the statement May 3 to the board of the Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers (EDEO), which also met here.

“We are concerned about the implication this bylaw holds for our relationship with the Episcopal Church in the United States and other ecumenical partners. The bylaw represents a unilateral change to a principle established in a bilateral agreement. It brings the ecumenical integrity of the ELCA into serious question,” said the statement.

“We see unfortunate changes to the polity of the ELCA in the bylaw that would vest additional power in the office of bishop. In addition, clergy candidates setting the terms of their ordinations would create an ongoing division in the one ministry of Word and Sacrament.

“As interested persons dedicated to church unity we find this bylaw proposal deficient in its intended purpose to restore peace and unity in the ELCA. Within the body of Christ differences of opinion sometimes must be endured. We pray that in dialogue and in time, we can come to resolve current differences without additional legislation, with the help of the Holy Spirit,” said the statement.

LERN had the advantage of meeting with members of EDEO during the National Workshop on Christian Unity, said Andersen. “One of the joys of this meeting is the level of friendship, the level of trust and the level of candor we can expect when we come together,” he said.

LERN members bring the “sensitivity of grass-root ecumenism” to the annual meeting, said Andersen, and inform each other and the ELCA’s churchwide staff. “Our people are well equipped to bring back — to their synods and their local parishes — resources they’ve gathered from representatives from other parts of the country, resources from the churchwide offices and resources from our ecumenical partners,” he said.

Full communion between the ELCA and Episcopal Church went into effect this year. The ELCA is also in full communion with the Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.

The LERN annual meeting included reports from the Rev. Daniel F. Martensen, director; the Rev. Darlis J. Swan, associate director; and the Rev. Paul A. Schreck, associate for bilateral relations and dialogue, ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs. They updated the representatives on conversations the ELCA is conducting with other U.S. denominations, as well as the church’s involvement in the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., Lutheran World Federation and World Council of Churches. Martensen has announced his plans to retire on Oct. 31.

In August the ELCA Churchwide Assembly will elect a new presiding bishop, who will take office on Nov. 1.

“The presiding bishop, as chief ecumenical officer of the church, will have much to tell us about the future shape of ecumenical relationships and ecumenical outreach” and LERN’s role in that future, said Andersen.

Ecumenical representatives re-elected the Rev. David E. Jensen, Ascension Lutheran Church, Minoqua, Wis.; the Rev. James D. Lockley, Alamance Lutheran Church, Alamance, N.C.; and the Rev. Albert L. Neibacher Jr., Christ Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, to the LERN executive board.

Representatives from each of the ELCA’s nine regions elect a member to a three-year term on the LERN executive board. Three board members are elected each year. The board elects LERN officers.

LERN’s next annual meeting will be held May 20-23, 2002, at the Sheraton Cleveland City Centre, Cleveland.

Posted: May 10, 2001 • Permanent link:
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