Lutheran Ecumenism at Center of Workshop on Christian Unity

 — May 15, 200115 mai 2001

SAN DIEGO (ELCA) — Fifty of about 300 participants at the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) here April 30-May 3 were members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). A list of ecumenical dialogues and agreements put the ELCA at the center of many of the workshop’s seminars, plenary and luncheon speeches, and ecumenical worship services.

“Lutherans enjoy a particular position of leadership in the national workshop together especially with their Episcopal and Roman Catholic partners,” said the Rev. Dennis A. Andersen, Bethany Lutheran Church, Seattle, president of the Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN).

The National Workshop on Christian Unity is an annual meeting comprised of several ecumenical networks meeting separately and together. The workshop involves LERN, Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers (EDEO), 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.

“There are very few ecumenical partners here with whom we are not in some kind of ecumenical bilateral dialogue, full-communion relationship or with whom we will not soon be in ecumenical dialogue,” said Andersen, so we stand in a remarkable position.”

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 — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Full communion commits the churches to share locally and internationally in their mission and to develop procedures whereby clergy in one church body may serve as pastors in congregations of the other church body.

The ELCA is in full communion with the Episcopal Church, Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ. It took an active role in the Lutheran-Catholic “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” signed by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Vatican in 1999.

The ELCA is involved in direct talks with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Mennonite Church, Orthodox churches, Roman Catholic Church and United Methodist Church. It maintains a Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations.

At its churchwide assembly this summer in Indianapolis, the ELCA will vote on becoming a “partner in mission and dialogue” with Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC). After 30 years of dialogue, the nine churches of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU) — African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Episcopal Church, International Council of Community Churches, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church — will form CUIC in 2002.

The ELCA is a member of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC), Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and World Council of Churches (WCC). Its ecumenical activities are coordinated through the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs.



Participants chose four of the 12 seminars the National Workshop on Christian Unity hosted — topics ranging from “Ecumenism 101” to interreligious dialogue. Ecumenical networks also sponsored seminars.

The Rev. A. Craig Settlage, associate executive director of the ELCA Division for Ministry, conducted a seminar on “Living in Full Communion: Orderly Exchange of Ordained Ministers of Word and Sacrament.” Settlage had worked with staff of the ELCA’s “full communion” churches to make provision for the exchange of clergy — a feature of full communion.

Exchange is more than just one pastor “filling in” for another pastor and less than a pastor transferring from one church to another, said Settlage. The pastor remains a pastor of the sending church but is “authorized by the receiving church to serve in a ministry setting, usually for a term,” he said.

Settlage stressed that a pastor serves a congregation of another denomination “at the invitation of the receiving church in consultation with the sending church.” The pastor abides by the policies of the receiving church but remains a pastor of the sending church, he said.

Full communion churches will be changed by exchanging clergy, said Settlage. Pastors will become more versed in their own traditions and in the traditions of other Christians, he said.

The Rev. G. Scott Cady, St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, Cornwall, Conn., and the Rev. Christopher L. Webber, author and retired Episcopal priest, Sharon, Conn., gave an EDEO-LERN seminar on their new book, “Lutherans and Episcopalians Together: A Guide to Understanding.”

“The ecumenical enterprise is a tricky business,” said Webber. Two churches may use the same signs, symbols and words to mean different things, while using different signs, symbols and words to mean the same things, he said.

European bishops were officers of the state, administering the state church, said Webber. The histories of Lutheran and Episcopal bishops in the United States are different, and bishops serve as more than just administrators, he said.

ELCA-Episcopal full communion allows the two churches to ask together: “What are bishops?” and “What are bishops for?” Webber recommended that the churches also discuss the roles of deacons and lay ministers.

Cady said many Lutheran pastors usually learn about other denominations by talking with other Lutherans, and they’re usually wrong. He urged clergy to “engage in more deliberate conversation with people in other traditions about themselves.”

Churchwide “agreements may not guide ecumenism in your place,” said Cady, encouraging congregations to visit neighboring churches. He asked the welcoming churches to be themselves.

“My parishioners like to see what is distinct in the Episcopal Church,” Cady said. “We don’t want to go to the Episcopal Church and have them do us the favor of singing all Lutheran hymns.”

The Rev. David L. Veal, retired Episcopal priest, Chapel of the Transfiguration, Lubbock, Texas, led a seminar on his book, “In a Central Way: A Contemporary Look at Lutheran and Episcopal Liturgies.” He said the liturgies that Episcopalians and Lutherans use in their worship services were developed together centuries ago.

Veal said the primary difference was the language being used — English or German. Denominational differences in the liturgies were developed later, he said.

The Rev. Jerald L. Folk, director, Wisconsin Council of Churches, Sun Prairie, Wis., and Dr. Carol LaHurd, visiting associate professor of religion, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., presented a seminar on grassroots ecumenism. Both are ELCA members.

Folk said ecumenical activities — both social and theological — often percolate up from congregations to the larger church. At the same time, agreements between church bodies are relevant when they are received and implemented by congregations, he said.

Stories about problems with reception are plentiful, said Folk, but he wanted to hear success stories. So, he asked diocesan and synod staff to send him reports and newspaper clippings.

Folk sorted the responses into three categories — celebrations, education and administration. He shared stories of how ecumenical agreements inspired joint worship services and covenants between local churches; how local churches co-sponsored conferences and resources; and how pastors served two congregations of different denominations and congregations serve members of two denominations.

LaHurd offered examples of how Lutheran dialogues with the Episcopal Church, Roman Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church have improved working relationships among those churches in North Carolina. The ELCA North Carolina Synod has started its own “conversations with our Baptist neighbors,” she said.

Augsburg Lutheran Church, Winston-Salem, N.C., started and funded a regional dialogue with the Moravian Church in America that resulted in Lutheran-Moravian full communion in the United States, said LaHurd.

LaHurd also led a plenary discussion of Lutheran-Episcopal full communion. She reminded workshop participants that the goal of Christian unity is “not a post-modern invention” but was a dream St. Paul expressed in his letters to early congregations.

It’s difficult to explain to people of other faiths why Christianity, living with the grace of Jesus Christ for 2000 years, is not only fragmented but sometimes internally hostile, said LaHurd.

The Rev. William G. Rusch, executive director, Foundation for a Conference on Faith and Order in North America, New York, led a seminar on “The Church, Its Faith and Its Unity.”

An ELCA pastor and former director of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, Rusch is former director of the Faith and Order Commission, National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.

Rusch outlined plans for a Second Conference on Faith and Order in North America to discuss “the theological center of the ecumenical movement.” The first such continental conference was held in 1957 at Oberlin, Ohio.

The World Council of Churches has hosted five World Conferences on Faith and Order — the first in 1927 at Lausanne, Switzerland, and most recent in 1993 at Santiago de Compostella, Spain.

“Faith and Order” and “Life and Work” are two strands of the ecumenical movement, said Rusch. Life and work involves Christians in common social services and projects. “Faith and order is the theological agenda of the ecumenical movement,” he said.

Plans for the second North American conference are in their infancy, said Rusch. Letters of invitation have been sent to all church bodies in the United States and Canada. The invitation is to express a willingness to join in a study process, he said, not to commit financial support or make a decision at this time.

The study process would involve as many people as possible, from interested laity to theological faculties, in 2002 and 2003, said Rusch. The continental conference could be held in 2004, he said, at a location yet to be decided.

Rusch said the purpose of the conference is to complement the work of national and world councils and to involve churches that may not be members of those councils, such as the Roman Catholic Church. Its goal is to “enable churches to organize in mission together,” he said.



The ecumenical networks planned several worship services during the workshop. The services blended the liturgies of more than one tradition and often celebrated ecumenical relations between two or more Christian denominations.

A “centerpiece” of the workshop was a Lutheran-Episcopal Eucharist at St. Paul’s Cathedral to celebrate the new full communion relationship between the ELCA and Episcopal Church. The Rt. Rev. Gethin Hughes, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, preached, and the Rev. Murray D. Finck, bishop of the Pacifica Synod, Yorba Linda, Calif., presided at the Lord’s Supper.

Hughes recalled the story of Jesus’ disciples ending a disappointing day of fishing. Jesus told the disciples to go out one more time and “fish from the other side of the boat.” The disciples followed that advice and pulled in so many fish that they needed the help of other boats.

The Lutheran-Episcopal agreement is “the work of many people who were willing to fish from the other side of the boat,” exploring visions of faith from a different perspective, said Hughes. The obstacles seemed insurmountable, he said. “Fishing on the other side of the boat is exciting, but it’s scary.”

“The concept of having a partner in the faith is foreign to most of us,” said Hughes. Americans are individualists who would rather go it alone and “talk about having a personal savior in the same terms that they talk about having a personal trainer,” he said.

Hughes said Finck and he are sharing “many wonderful dreams of how we will work together.” He said they are cooperating in their territory’s chaplaincies, campus ministries, serving ministries, Hispanic ministry, and in deciding where to plant new churches. There won’t be any “gas station churches,” he said, “two churches on the same corner, selling the same octane.”

Dr. Robert W. Edgar, an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and general secretary of the NCC, New York, delivered the sermon during a worship service CUIC sponsored. The world can support about 12 billion people, he said. “We’ll be there by the end of this century.”

“God is calling us at this time to do extraordinary things,” he said. Biblical prophets and disciples “looked a lot like us — ordinary people called to do extraordinary things.”

“God is reminding us that not only are none of us too old or too young to get involved, but now is the time to act,” said Edgar. “We need to eliminate poverty in our time.”



The workshop’s luncheon speakers addressed audiences of two or more of the ecumenical networks.

The Rev. Michael K. Kinnamon, a pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and professor of mission and peace, Eden Theological Seminary, Webster Grove, Mo., is general secretary of COCU. He described how COCU plans to become CUIC in January 2002.

Kinnamon said the COCU churches will continue to consult on the issues of ministry that still keep them from exchanging ministers, but the churches will work together in every other aspect of “full communion” until the churches vote in 2007 about entering into full communion.

“It makes sense that some of the churches in full communion with COCU members be involved in that conversation,” said Kinnamon. The ELCA and Moravian Church in America have been invited to be “partners in mission and dialogue” — participating in CUIC’s ministry discussion and the group’s emphasis on combating racism.

The Rev. Louis Weil, professor of liturgics, Episcopal Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, Calif., addressed a luncheon sponsored by EDEO, LERN and NADEO. He talked about authority in the church — from the laity to the papacy.

Ecumenical discussions about authority have included too little about the laity as “the bearers of the living faith,” said Weil. Lutheran reformers saw authority in bishops who, in turn, were accountable to the laity, he said.

Weil said he hoped ecumenical dialogues would lead Christianity “toward a more balanced understanding of all the authorities,” including the laity.



The National Workshop on Christian Unity hosted an opening worship service and two plenary addresses.

Bishop George D. McKinney, founding pastor of St. Stephen’s Church of God in Christ, San Diego, gave the opening sermon at Mission San Diego de Alcala. When Christians work together, God accomplishes great things through them, he said.

Dismantling apartheid, racism, sexism “and all other ‘isms'” may seem like overwhelming tasks, said McKinney. “Only God can do these things,” he said. “His glory shines through great acts of power.”

“There is an essential unity that God has granted to those who believe in Jesus Christ,” said McKinney. “The world will know that God is, in Christ, reconciling us to him.”

John H. Erickson, professor of canon law and church history, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, was the keynote speaker. “The end of communism brought the end of ecumenism as we’ve known it,” he said.

The established Orthodox churches of the East have a greater need to distance themselves and emphasize what makes them different from other Christian churches now that the void left by communism created what many Western churches seem to consider “a new religious free market,” said Erickson.

Ecumenical partners seem more interested in entering into competition than in helping Orthodox churches rebuild, he said.

Robert K. Welsh, president, Council on Christian Unity, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Indianapolis, was the closing speaker. He acknowledged that he has returned to full-time work in the ecumenical movement after a ten-year hiatus, and he pointed out several changes and consistencies he noticed.

“I’m overwhelmed by the amount of ecumenical progress made over the past ten years,” said Welch, listing full-communion agreements between the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ (UCC) and between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and UCC, the Lutheran-Catholic “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” and the Consultation on Church Union forming Churches Uniting in Christ.

Welch said ten years ago the NWCU was made largely of white male clergy, and that hasn’t changed very much. “The world has moved; the church has moved; even the ecumenical movement has moved,” he said, challenging participants to intentionally open the workshop to the whole Church.

Welch noted “a new sense of trust and honesty in dealing with one another” and urged participants to “be centered in prayer.” He said, “We must begin with a willingness to confess in humility in Christ that we have wounded one another.”

“Division within the body of Christ is sin,” said Welch. “Ecumenism is a holy task — an accomplishment of God.”

Posted: May 15, 2001 • Permanent link:
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