2004 Pivotal Year for ELCA Ecumenism, Interfaith Relations

 — Apr. 7, 20047 avril 2004

CHICAGO (ELCA) — 2004 is a pivotal year for many ecumenical and interfaith endeavors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

The ELCA’s 2003 Churchwide Assembly received a planning report and committed the church to work in five strategic directions, including to “deepen and extend our global, ecumenical and interfaith relationships for the sake of God’s mission.”

While that commitment keeps the work of the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs at the forefront of the church’s mission, the department shares in the churchwide organization’s need to trim its budget, said the Rev. Randall R. Lee, director, ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs.

“Surely our work in implementing our relationships of full communion will continue, as will our talks with our other dialogue partners, although they may need to be on a longer time table for fiscal reasons,” Lee said. The ELCA’s commitments to the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC), Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and World Council of Churches (WCC) will also continue, he said.


“According to the ELCA’s Ecumenical Vision Statement adopted in 1991, all of our ecumenical contacts have as their ultimate goal the establishment of a relationship of full communion,” Lee said.

Full communion allows the churches to work more closely together in a variety of ministries. They agree to exchange clergy under certain circumstances. Full communion is not a merger of the churches.

April 29-May 2 the ELCA plans to begin talks here with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Five representatives from each church body will make up the dialogue teams.

“The initiative for this dialogue came from the Disciples,” Lee said. “They are in a full communion agreement and relationship with the United Church of Christ,” as is the ELCA, he said. “I like to talk about: if A equals B and B equals C, then this dialogue is trying to discover whether A equals C.”

Preliminary conversations were held in 2003 that led to two decisions. “The first was that we would, in accord with the ELCA’s ecumenical vision statement, seek to develop through dialogue a relationship of full communion, if at all possible. The second was that we would recommend to our respective church bodies that we initiate the dialogue as soon as possible,” Lee said.

The opening round of talks will be about the concept of “covenant” in the Disciples tradition and the Lutheran emphasis on the Lutheran Confessions and confessional statements. The dialogue will also explore mutual understanding of the Lord’s Supper.

Orthodox and Roman Catholic

“2004 is a very good year for us, because we will bring to a conclusion the third round of the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue in June and we bring to a conclusion the 10th round of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue in April,” Lee said. The Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue meets April 22-25 in Milwaukee.

“The Roman Catholic dialogue will issue a rather lengthy statement on the role of bishops in the life of the church and where ‘the fullness of church’ is located. For Lutherans it’s in the congregation, where the word is preached and the sacraments are celebrated. For Roman Catholics the church exists where the people of God are gathered around the bishop,” Lee said.

“The Orthodox dialogue will issue a more modest statement on the kingdom of God and the mystery of the church. Our hope also is to publish a guidebook for use by Orthodox and Lutheran congregations so they can discover ways to worship together in evening prayer and morning prayer settings and do some study together, to get to know one another better,” he said. The Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue is to meet here June 14-17.

“We will bring those two dialogues to conclusion in 2004 and then reassess where we might go in the future. At this point, it’s very likely that there will be an 11th round of the Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. We have not yet had serious conversation about a theme for another round of dialogue with the Orthodox,” Lee said.

United Methodist

The third round of Lutheran-United Methodist dialogues began in 2001 and will continue at least through 2004. The United Methodist General Conference, which meets April 27-May 7 in Pittsburgh, is expected to consider a statement regarding that church’s “sacramental practices,” Lee said. “The content of that statement will provide much of the background for our future conversations with the United Methodists.”


“2004 will also mark the end of conversations with representatives of the Mennonite community. That conversation was an opportunity for the two traditions to get to know one another better,” Lee said. “There was not an expectation that it would continue beyond these initial conversations.”

“The two church bodies have agreed that they will appoint one representative each to the international Lutheran-Mennonite commission sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation. So, conversation will continue, but it will be done at the international level with involvement from North America,” Lee said.

The last scheduled ELCA-Mennonite meeting was March 18-21 in Valparaiso, Ind. After that meeting the liaison committee issued its report, “Right Remembering in Anabaptist-Lutheran Relations.”

African Methodist Episcopal

“We’re anxious to start round two of dialogue with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, but to this point we’ve not been able to do that,” Lee said.


The ELCA is in “full communion” with the Episcopal Church, USA, Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ. Lee called the implementation of those agreements “a major element of our work in this department.” Coordinating committees meet twice a year to monitor and encourage the full-communion relationships.


2004 promises to be a pivotal year in the ELCA’s relationship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Lee said. “We are in the midst of a theological conversation,” he said, “and we will decide by mid-year whether or not to continue that conversation or simply be happy with the results of the work we are presently doing.”

The Missouri Synod plans to meet in convention July 10-15 in St. Louis. Its last convention in 2001 questioned the ELCA’s full-communion agreements and cast doubt on whether or not the ELCA was truly a Lutheran church. The same convention called for conversation with the ELCA to address those concerns.

The 2001 convention elected the Rev. Gerald B. Kieschnick as president of the Missouri Synod and directed him to evaluate “current cooperative pastoral working arrangements with the ELCA” and to bring “results and recommendations” to the 2004 convention. “That, of course, will send important signals about our relationship with that church body,” Lee said.

The ELCA, with 5 million members, and the Missouri Synod, with 2.5 million members, are the two largest Lutheran churches in North America. The churches’ Committee on Lutheran Cooperation meets April 14 in St. Louis.


The 10,721 congregations of the ELCA are organized into 65 synods, each headed by a bishop. Each bishop names one representative to the Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network (LERN), which is coordinated through the ELCA Department for Ecumenical Affairs.

The representatives “assist the bishops in their roles as the chief ecumenical officers of the synods,” Lee said. “They are conduits of information from the synods to the churchwide organization” and to the synods about ecumenical work being done locally and in the churchwide organization, he said.

LERN and similar networks representing the Episcopal, Roman Catholic and United Methodist Churches hold annual meetings during the National Workshop on Christian Unity. The workshop is to be held May 10-13 in Omaha, Neb.


“Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) is an endeavor to accomplish a relationship of full communion between nine denominations in this country, some of whom share a relationship of full communion with the ELCA. We participate as a partner in mission and dialogue,” Lee said.

A partner in mission and dialogue helps the 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 as they work toward their goal of entering relationships of full communion with each other.

The ELCA participates in CUIC’s efforts to combat racism and is involved in its discussions of ministry within a wider ecumenical context.

“Another new initiative is Christian Churches Together, which is an endeavor to bring to the ecumenical conversation table a larger group of people, particularly including Roman Catholics and members of the Evangelical and Pentecostal communities,” Lee said.

The ELCA is one of a dozen church bodies that have voted to become charter members of Christian Churches Together (CCT). Lee said the new organization will launch as soon as there is formal support from “historic Black churches,” Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church.

“We have a great deal of optimism about its potential for the future and the conversations we might have,” he said.

Councils and Federation

The ELCA’s involvement with CUIC and CCT complements its memberships in the LWF, NCC and WCC. The theological and “faith and life” work, particularly economic development and relief contributions, of the councils and federation remain as ELCA priorities. “There are significant numbers of ELCA members who serve either on the staff or on boards and committees of those three organizations,” Lee said.


The ELCA is in conversation with the Jewish community of the United States in two ways. The church is pursuing a “theological dialogue” with representatives of Reform Judaism, which is unprecedented for a U.S. Protestant denomination, and several ELCA members serve as a Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish Relations.

The consultative panel has worked for years to remove anti-Jewish themes from “passion plays” depicting the final hours leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The panel offered its concerns and recommendations to Mel Gibson prior to the release of his film, “The Passion of the Christ,” on Feb. 25.

The ELCA’s conversations with other faiths are coordinated through the NCC, Lee said.

Posted: Apr. 7, 2004 • Permanent link: ecumenism.net/?p=4808
Categories: ELCA News
Transmis : 7 avril 2004 • Lien permanente : ecumenism.net/?p=4808
Catégorie : ELCA News

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