ELCA Presiding Bishop Addresses Workshop on Christian Unity

 — May 23, 200323 mai 2003

SAVANNAH, Ga. (ELCA) — The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), addressed the closing luncheon of the National Workshop on Christian Unity, which met here May 12-15. He expressed gratitude to those who work for Christian unity and named a series of “factors, forces and questions which may have significant impact on the future of ecumenism.”

Christian unity is expressed more easily at the grass roots than it is through theological dialogues between church bodies, Hanson said. He stressed the importance of both, wondering if “laity who pray together, study scripture in ecumenical gatherings and work on community service projects” might be patient with unhurried church bureaucracy, while encouraging dialogue partners to ground their relationships in prayer.

“I believe every congregation should be encouraged, if not expected, to be involved in concrete ways of expressing our unity, experiencing our unity and exploring our unity. We in national and regional leadership should applaud such actions and not convey that somehow they are a lesser form of ecumenism,” said Hanson.

Hanson described “the ecumenical landscape” and questioned ways in which to balance Christians coming together around ethical issues and around relationships achieved through ecclesiastical negotiations. People in the United States seem “more interested in making an impact through serving others than preoccupied with the future of religious institutions,” he said. “We remain a deeply spiritual people, yet increasingly not wanting to be identified denominationally.”

Deep theological conversations between church bodies will continue, said Hanson. “I trust that bilateral dialogues will remain a significant part of the ecumenical landscape,” he said.

Hanson urged the churches to place renewed emphasis on implementing agreements between denominations at the grass roots. “The process of receiving the work of the dialogues must begin before the dialogues are completed, so that the results of the dialogues can be received joyfully and be understood fully in our parishes and judicatories,” he said.

Proposals to “expand the space of ecumenical conversation” beyond the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. (NCC) and beyond the World Council of Churches (WCC) are promising, Hanson said. The ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August will consider becoming a charter member of Christian Churches Together in the U.S.A., and the WCC is working to establish a similar Global Forum.

“To bring many traditions that have historically distanced themselves from ecumenical conversation — such as Evangelicals, Pentecostals and some in the Baptist tradition — is fraught with possibility,” Hanson said, adding that the work of the NCC and WCC should continue to be supported.

Christians should continue to connect with others of the same tradition in ways like the Lutheran World Federation draws Lutherans together in study and service, said Hanson. “Global confessional communions that can learn to speak with one voice, albeit in a blended harmony, will begin to enjoy the strong identity Roman Catholics possess as members of one church,” he said.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, have added significance to interfaith relationships, Hanson said, reporting that the ELCA has entered into a bilateral conversation with Reform Judaism. He supported the NCC’s work in “relating more deeply to Muslims and to other faith traditions.”

The future of ecumenism will rely heavily on the next generation of ecumenists, said Hanson. “It is incumbent on every person in this room to seek out and foster our future leaders,” he said. “Encourage young people to think about church vocations, either lay or ordained.”

The Rev. Dennis A. Andersen, president, Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN), and pastor, Bethany Lutheran Church, Seattle, called Hanson’s address “a signal to the entire ecumenical community of the basic and ethical ecumenical persuasion of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”

“The entire Lutheran community can be proud of the vision that was shared on behalf of the ELCA to a wide variety of Christian people,” said Andersen. “Bishop Hanson spoke not only for the ELCA but gave a gift of vision and energy and passion to the entire Church,” he said.

Of the workshop’s more than 300 participants, about 60 were members of the ELCA. Two major plenaries were devoted to Evangelical and Pentecostal movements toward Christian unity and how they might relate to the ecumenical movement of “mainline” churches.

The Rev. Randall R. Lee, director, ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, Chicago, took part in a plenary panel discussion of various structures the diaconate — including deacons, deaconesses, diaconal ministers and associates in ministry — has taken in U.S. churches.

Dr. Susan K. Wood, SCL, St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minn., addressed a Lutheran-Anglican-Roman Catholic luncheon. She is a Catholic member of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States.

Wood described the dialogue as a spiral staircase, each step taking churches up to the next step and closer to the goal. She said the current tenth round of talks will not be the last step. “Our lived experience is not yet over.”

The workshop included 11 seminars, each offered two or three times, on such topics as “Grassroots Ecumenism, Community Style” and “Interfaith Listening.”

The Rev. William G. Rusch, executive director, Foundation for a Conference on Faith and Order in North America, New York, and former director, ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, led a seminar based on the question: “What Is Keeping the Churches Together?”

Focusing on dictionary definitions of “together,” Rusch said the word applies to church relations in some senses but not others.

“Churches involved in the ecumenical movement are comfortable with one another in ways that would have been unimaginable,” said Rusch. They are not, however, nor may they want to be “in or into a single group, mass or place,” he said.

“The goal of churches in the ecumenical movement should be full visible unity,” said Rusch, “not simply cooperating together.”

Posted: May 23, 2003 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4804
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 23 mai 2003 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4804
Catégorie : ELCA News

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