Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Meet in Savannah

 — May 27, 200327 mai 2003

SAVANNAH, Ga. (ELCA) — Members of the Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) held their annual meeting here May 12-15, during the National Workshop on Christian Unity. A leading topic of the meeting was how agreements the ELCA has reached with other church bodies can be “lived out” in the ELCA’s 10,766 congregations and other ministry settings.

Congregations of the ELCA are organized into 65 synods, each headed by a bishop. Each bishop names one representative to LERN, which is coordinated through the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs.

The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the ELCA, gave the representatives six “descriptors” for their work: creating expectations that to be Lutheran is to be ecumenical; helping the church implement or “receive” ecumenical agreements; providing the church with “ecumenical imagination”; affirming the church’s work in ecumenism; identifying and helping shape future ecumenical leaders; and “agitating” the church to continue toward its goal of full communion with other Christians.

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. Full communion means the churches recognize each other’s ministries and sacraments, and, under certain circumstances, allows for the exchange of ministers.

In a question-and-answer session with the Lutheran ecumenical representatives, Hanson was asked “how to raise the ecumenical question in a climate where ecumenism usually means conflict.” Hanson said part of the representatives’ task was to change the climate from one of conflict to one of Christian cooperation.

“Called to Common Mission” (CCM), the full-communion agreement of the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, has drawn criticism for requiring Lutheran bishops to ordain new ELCA clergy after the pact went into effect in 2001. The ELCA’s 2001 Churchwide Assembly adopted a bylaw that allows a bishop, under unusual circumstances, to designate another pastor to preside at an ordination.

Lutheran ecumenical representatives opposed the bylaw when it was being considered, and several asked Hanson here to emphasize the unusual nature of any exception a bishop might grant under the bylaw.

Hanson explained that considering an exception is a “pastoral” function of a bishop, and it is difficult for bishops to establish general guidelines for the process. Each request must be considered on its own merits, he said, pointing out that the five exceptions granted represent fewer than 1 percent of all ELCA ordinations since 2001.

Representatives told Hanson that the WordAlone Network, an organization of Lutherans opposed to “a mandated historic episcopate,” had sent a letter in March to all bishops of the Episcopal Church, asking them to accept the exception as the norm.

The letter, signed by the Rev. Jaynan Clark Egland, president, and the Rev. Mark C. Chavez, director, asked Episcopal leaders “to express support for changes in the implementation of CCM” at this year’s General Convention. The changes WordAlone suggested would remove the requirement that bishops preside over Lutheran ordinations.

Hanson said it would be appropriate for LERN to act in response to the WordAlone letter.

Later the LERN board of directors drafted a letter to their counterparts in the Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers and to the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee, which oversees implementation of CCM for the two churches.

The Rev. Dennis A. Andersen, Bethany Lutheran Church, Seattle, is president of LERN. He said the LERN letter “re-articulated our own resolve to carry out the understandings of the agreements in Called to Common Mission.”

“We especially want to support the work of the coordinating committee and reaffirm its primary role in helping the entire church live into this [agreement] with open communication, mutual understanding, great sensitivity and patience,” said Andersen.

The LERN board also saw this as an opportunity for the ecumenical representatives to discuss the agreement with Lutheran bishops, asking them to speak with the Episcopal bishops in their territories about opposition to CCM within the ELCA.

“I’d like to say how pleased I was to have Presiding Bishop Hanson at our meeting,” said Andersen. Hanson also gave the closing address of the National Workshop on Christian Unity.

Considering the presiding bishop’s schedule, his presence was a sign of the priority he gives ecumenism, said Andersen, and of the collegial nature of his relationship with Lutheran ecumenical representatives. “It was a great gesture,” he said.

From visits with pastors and lay members across the church, the Rev. Randall R. Lee, director, ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, Chicago, told the representatives he had the sense that people were still waiting for permission to work with other Christian churches.

“I invite you to frolic in the ecumenical playground,” Lee said. “You do not need permission from Chicago. You need the permission of your bishop, who is the chief ecumenical officer of an ELCA synod,” he said.

Lee gave the ecumenical representatives an “assignment” to gather stories of congregations involved in ministries with other church bodies. As an example, he asked the Rev. Jon S. Enslin, interim associate director, ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs, to discuss a report he prepared for the presiding bishop.

Through a series of interviews and surveys, Enslin prepared “So What?” — a 21-page report on ways the ELCA churchwide staff in Chicago have begun working directly with their counterparts in one or more of the full communion partner churches.

Ecumenical representatives elected the Rev. Russell L. Meyer, Faith Lutheran Church, Lakeland, Fla., and re-elected the Rev. G. Scott Cady, St. Peter Evangelical Lutheran Church, Cornwall, Conn., and the Rev. David A. Owren, St. Francis Episcopal Church, Fortuna, Calif., to the LERN board.

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

LERN’s next annual meeting will be held May 10-13, 2004, at the Doubletree Downtown Hotel, Omaha, Neb.

Posted: May 27, 2003 • Permanent link:
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Catégorie : ELCA News

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