Iceland: Lutheran Pastors Stand ready to Serve Anglicans because of ‘Porvoo’

 — Mar. 11, 200211 mars 2002

Too many Young Theologians in Iceland

REYKJAVIK, Iceland/GENEVA (LWI) – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Iceland (ELCI) may be ready to serve Anglicans in Britain and Ireland as needed, because of an oversupply of young theologians. Rev. Dr. Sigurdur Ami Thordarson of Reykjavik, who heads ELCI’s Division for Theologv and Society and serves as a member of the Porvoo Agreement Contact Group, explains in this special article.*

Traditionally the Icelanders have been recipients of English culture and church. For centuries various books were translated from English into Icelandic. Monasteries and later universities welcomed Icelandic travelers and students. These have brought parts and pieces of Anglican Christianity to Iceland. This spiritual export has been mostly one-sided. Could this change?

The ELCI and Anglican churches in Britain and Ireland were brought closer together by the Porvoo Agreement. Two Lutheran Icelanders have served Church of England parishes near Scunthorpe in the Lincoln Diocese: Rev. Thorir Jokull Thorsteinsson served nine months in 1998-99; Rev. Bjarni Thor Bjarnason served 17 months in 1999-2001. No Anglican pastor has served in Iceland so far.

The Anglican church is having problems with recruiting pastors but the ELCI has an oversupply of young theologians who could be deployed to England. Will Icelandic pastors serve Anglican churches all over the world in great numbers? Some information about the ELCI and its development may be useful.

Openness in Ecumenism

The character of the ecumenical self-understanding of the ELCI is probably best described by the term “openness.” For centuries the church was the only one in the country. It was a national church in a homogeneous culture and was spared any strained ecclesiastical relationships or competition. Due to this the bishops and pastors of the national church have been willing to help sister churches by allowing them to use ELCI buildings, including churches, for their services. Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox and some Reformed churches have been blessed by this hospitality.

This openness has found its organizational expression as well. The ELCI was a founding member of the Lutheran World Federation (1947), the World Council of Churches (1948) and the Conference of European Churches (1964). The ELCI participated in the talks that led to the 1995 signing of the Porvoo Agreement. This resulted in the Porvoo Communion, linking Nordic and Baltic Lutherans with British and Irish Anglicans.

Church Membership in Iceland

More than 87 percent of Iceland’s 277,906 people belong to the ELCI. Other groups, each with less than two percent of the population, include Evangelical Lutheran “free churches,” Roman Catholics, Seventh-day Adventists, Pentecostals and a few charismatic and Calvinist churches. Membership in the ELCI, the national church, has been dropping, but most of those who leave have joined one of the evangelical Lutheran churches.

Local ecumenism in Iceland is rather uncomplicated, as the number of members of other churches is very limited. Church leaders know each other and can work as bridge-builders. Confessional discussions seldom arise, and ecumenical questions are handled by a committee for promoting inter-church relations.

Profile of the Church of Iceland

Christianity came to Iceland from Ireland in the ninth century. Missionaries from Scotland and Norway also followed. The Reformation brought Lutheranism to Iceland in the mid-sixteenth century. Because Iceland was part of Denmark until 1944, church life has been ordered in line with Danish legislation. The Lutheran Confessions form the basis of ELCI’s theology and life.

Episcopal oversight has been practiced in the ELCI from the beginning. The apostolic succession was broken during the Reformation due to changes in Denmark where Icelandic bishops were ordained at the time. The issue of succession is not particularly important within the ELCI. The Porvoo Declaration was signed and its theology has been accepted. The 247,245-member ELCI has one diocese which is divided into 15 deaneries. Women are represented at all levels of leadership except the episcopal one. The majority of deacons are women. The first woman was ordained as a pastor in 1974. Women now make up the majority of theology students.

Used with permission from ‘The Window,’ the newsletter of the Anglican-Lutheran Society. The LWF President and Archbishop of Canterbury serve as the Society’s patrons.

[Lutheran World Information (LWI) is the information service of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Unless specifically noted, material presented does not represent positions or opinions of the LWF or of its various units. Where the dateline of an article contains the notation (LWI), the material may be freely reproduced with acknowledgment.]

Posted: Mar. 11, 2002 • Permanent link:
Categories: Lutheran World InformationIn this article: Anglican, Lutheran, Porvoo
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Catégorie : Lutheran World InformationDans cet article : Anglican, Lutheran, Porvoo

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