[ELCA News/Joe Thoma]
Officials of the Episcopal Church were among representatives of five “full-communion” partners of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who blessed the ELCA’s 2005 Churchwide Assembly on August 11.
An Episcopal Church ecumenical officer earlier in the day offered testimony at a hearing leading to a shared-communion pact between Lutherans and Methodists.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, met in Orlando Aug. 8-14 at the World Center Marriott and Convention Center. About 2,300 people participated, including 1,018 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly was "Marked with the Cross of Christ Forever."
Dr. Thomas Ferguson, associate deputy for ecumenical and interfaith relations for the Episcopal Church, brought greetings from Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, and Episcopalians nationwide.
“One thing I’ve learned from my Moravian brothers and sisters and my United Methodist brothers and sisters is the significance of one’s own testimony,” Dr. Ferguson said, drawing laughter and applause by adding that his personal testimony harks back to early childhood and the influence of two “prominent Lutheran theologians, Davey and Goliath -- the [Martin] Luther and [Philip] Melanchthon of my generation, Generation X."
He went on to give thanks for "the movement of the Spirit between our two communions. Our relationship is one driven by our mission together," he said.
Ferguson also addressed current common struggles facing the two denominations.
"We stand in solidarity as both our churches face difficult questions on evangelism and matters of sexuality. Like you, we are not all of one mind," he said. “But we seek to move ahead while maintaining the bonds of affection within our church” and the global Anglican Communion.
"We hold this relationship to be all the more important because of our struggles,” Ferguson said. “Know that we are praying for you."
He closed with a prayer for Lutherans assembled, calling on God to, “Help them listen to what you are saying, speak peace to your people and turn their hearts to you. In their deliberations, may mercy and truth be together, righteousness and peace visit each other so that truth might spring up from the Earth in righteousness with God in heaven.”
Full communionFor Episcopalians, the 1958 Lambeth Conference recommended “that where between two Churches not of the same denominational or confessional family, there is unrestricted communio in sacris, including mutual recognition and acceptance of ministries, the appropriate term to use is ‘full communion,’ and that where varying degrees of relation other than ‘full communion’ are established by agreement between two such churches the appropriate term is ‘intercommunion.’
The Episcopal Church and the ELCA entered into a relationship of full communion through an agreement titled “Called to Common Mission.” The Episcopal Church adopted the plan at its General Convention in Denver in July, 2000.
The 1999 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Denver also voted for full communion between the ELCA and The Episcopal Church.
Interim Eucharistic Sharing with UMCBy a vote of 877 to 60, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly also agreed to begin an "Interim Eucharistic Sharing" with the United Methodist Church. The agreement had previously been approved by the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church in April 2004, pending this decision by the ELCA.
Bishop Christopher Epting, the Episcopal Church’s Deputy for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations, offered encouragement at an assembly hearing before the vote was called.
“We are in a bilateral conversation with the United Methodist Church and we will be going to our General Convention [Columbus, Ohio, in 2006] with a similar proposal for interim eucharistic sharing,” said Epting, a former rector in Central Florida.
Bishop William Oden, ecumenical officer for the Council of Bishops and Head of Communion for the United Methodist Church, said his discussions with the Episcopal Church are “very similar” to those leading to the Lutheran/UMC agreement, and to those that preceded the closer Episcopal/Lutheran full communion. Those discussions primarily center on common standards for preparation for ordained ministry, and differences in procedures for selecting and consecrating bishops.
"What an historic moment this is for United Methodists and the ELCA," said Oden as he greeted the assembly following the vote. "We have invited each other into each other's house."
The terms of the agreement foster "mutual prayer and mutual support, study together of the Holy Scriptures as well as the histories and theological traditions of both churches, and joint programs of theological discussion, evangelical outreach, and social ministry endeavors," while encouraging joint services of Holy Communion following guidelines established by both churches.
The agreement, which looks forward "to the future possibility of a relationship of full communion," comes after nearly 30 years of theological dialogue between the two churches that had resulted in convergence in matters relating to baptism and episcopacy (oversight). The agreement also recognizes the United Methodist Church "as a church in which the Gospel is preached and taught" and that "the basic teaching of each respective church is consonant with the Gospel."
Many in the assembly expressed support for the proposal, including the Rev. David Housholder, voting member, ELCA Pacifica Synod, who expressed his hope that "we can catch up with the grassroots" efforts of joint Methodist-Lutheran work already existing.
The Rev. James Crumley, voting member, ELCA South Carolina Synod and former president of the Lutheran Church in America -- a predecessor church body of the ELCA -- asked "why this doesn't go further" to an immediate vote of full communion.
"You certainly capture the mind of the dialogue team," responded the Rev. Alan C. Bjornberg, bishop of the ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod, Denver, and co-chair of the Methodist-Lutheran Dialogue, who went on to suggest that a time of interim sharing would provide an opportunity for "the whole church to discover what we have discovered" regarding convergence between the two churches.
For information on the Interim Eucharist Sharing agreement, see http://www.ELCA.org/ecumenical/ecumenicaldialogue/unitedmethodist/
For more articles on the ELCA General Assembly visit http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_64095_ENG_HTM.htm or the ELCA news site at: http://www.elca.org/news/