Lutherans approve full communion pact with Methodists

 — Aug. 21, 200921 aoüt 2009

Even as their churches are riven by internal debates over homosexuality, the two nation’s two largest mainline Protestant denominations agreed Aug. 20 to share ministers and resources in a “full communion” accord.

By Daniel Burke, Religion News Service

The agreement, which was approved at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s biennial assembly in Minneapolis, connects the 4.6 million-member ELCA with the United Methodist Church, which has 11 million members.

Church leaders said the measure is more than just feel-good ecumenism. By sharing ministers, missions, and other resources, the accord may toss a lifeline to the two denominations, both of which have steadily lost members for decades.

ELCA delegates voted 958 to 51 in favour of the accord, standing to applaud the measure and sing a celebratory hymn. The United Methodist Church approved the agreement by similarly overwhelming numbers at its General Conference last year.

It is the first full communion accord for the UMC, though parts of the denomination overseas have reached similar agreements with other churches. The ELCA has five other full-communion partners.

Thirty years in the making, Thursday’s accord was hailed as a step toward an ideal of Christian unity encouraged by Jesus. The agreement means that the two denominations recognize the validity of each other’s ministers, baptisms, and Eucharistic services, and pledge to work closely together.

Leaders of both denominations stress that the agreement is not a merger — both will remain separate and bound by their own rules.

Under most full-communion agreements, ministers serve according to the rules of their host church, an important condition at a time when mainline Protestant churches have distinctly different policies on ordaining gay clergy.

Mainline denominations “have been facing major challenges as we continue to age, decline in membership, and retain too high a white profile in a richly pluralistic culture,” said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson.

Hanson said Aug. 17 that having a full communion partner means that Lutherans no longer have to worry about planting congregations in every community, posting ministers to every college campus, sending missionaries to every country, and can speak with a louder voice on pressing political issues in Washington.

“It gives us far more capacity to be engaged in God’s work in the world, for the life of the world, and more opportunities to do ministries imaginatively in our varied contexts,” Hanson said.

Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the UMC’s Council of Bishops, also praised the agreement’s practical benefits.

“The interchangeability of ordained clergy could be very important in sustaining ministry presence in places where it’s hard to have full-time ordained clergy,” particularly hard-hit urban areas and far-flung rural congregations, Palmer said.

A joint committee has yet to determine how the clergy sharing will work, Palmer said, but will probably work out the details within 24 months. Meanwhile, he said, “we are zealous to get going” on pooling resources to provide social services.

The ELCA’s nine-year-old full-communion agreement with the Episcopal Church has had mutual benefits, said Bishop Christopher Epting, a top ecumenical Episcopal official, from sharing clergy to planting churches together and speaking with one voice on public policy issues.

“It’s been a very rich relationship,” Epting said.

Posted: Aug. 21, 2009 • Permanent link:
Categories: RNSIn this article: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, full communion, United Methodist
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Catégorie : RNSDans cet article : Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, full communion, United Methodist

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