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From Columbus: Ecumenical partners say relationships remain strong after Jefferts Schori's election

By Matthew Davies
[Episcopal News Service]  Dialogue between the Episcopal Church and other Christian denominations, both in the United States and beyond, should not be impacted negatively because of the election of a woman -- Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori -- as the 26th Presiding Bishop, according to ecumenists attending General Convention.

Roman Catholic Bishop Edward Clark of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said the impact was made 30 years ago when the Episcopal Church chose to ordain women as bishops. "With a woman bishop now becoming Presiding Bishop, I don't see that adding any complications to our relationship," he said.

The Roman Catholics are the oldest ecumenical partners of the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church participates in the international Anglican-Roman Catholic International Consultation (ARCIC), sponsored by the Anglican Communion Office, as well as the Anglican-Roman Catholic dialogue in the United States (ARC-USA).

"I think it is going to be a challenge for [Jefferts Schori] within the Anglican Communion, and I wish her well in that," he added. "But she seems to have some very good talents for working with people, and that will stand her in very good stead."

The Rev. Lowell Almen, secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), relayed Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson's delight in hearing news of the election.

"We expect the decision will be highly regarded by member churches of the Lutheran World Federation," Almen said. "Many already ordain women as pastors. A few do not, although the encouragement continues for those churches to receive the gifts of women in ordained ministry."

Almen, who is at Convention for the third time, said the full communion relationship between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church, expressed in the document "Called to Common Mission," has opened the way for some very significant cooperation, ministry and outreach.

We continue to rejoice in the ELCA for the adoption of that document and the relationship that continues to grow between the two churches," he said.

Bishop Joris Vercammen, Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht, described the election as a "minor" decision. "The major decision was made 30 years ago in accepting female bishops," he said. "If you have someone among the bishops who has the capacity to be the Presiding Bishop, and it's a woman, you have to elect that person. You elected your best bishop, and I don't have any critical commentary on that."

Signed in 1931 and celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Bonn agreement between the Old Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion is one if the earliest ecumenical agreements.

"It expresses that the churches respect one another and accept one another as churches," said Vercammen, praising the initiative some years ago when the Episcopal Church appointed a permanent representative, Bishop W. Michie Klusmeyer of West Virginia, to sit in conference with the Old Catholic bishops.

Veracammen was the first non-Episcopalian to preside at a General Convention Eucharist June 19 during a service that celebrated the anniversary of the Bonn Agreement.

Acknowledging that the election may complicate some ecumenical relationships and dialogues, Vercammen said it is important for people respect the integrity of the decision.

"No one was interested in making this a historic decision or a historic step," he said. "No one was interested in shocking fellow Christians or other churches. On the basis of that integrity, I think [ecumenical dialogue] will develop in the right way."