The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Mark S. Hanson, told members of the Executive Council November 14 that the Episcopal Church's "public witness" in struggling to live in unity amid diversity "gives hope to all of us."
Hanson, leader of both the 4.8 million baptized members of the ELCA and of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), made his remarks after the Executive Council and Episcopal Church Center staff celebrated a noon Eucharist with some of the ELCA's Churchwide Office in suburban Chicago.
He said Lutherans pray for and "feel the burden" that the Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori bear in having struggles over diversity and human sexuality played out in a more public way than in the ELCA.
"This is the same set of questions that the Lutheran World Federation is dealing with," he said.
Hanson also thanked the 25th Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, for his friendship and leadership.
Hanson said that the two denominations have "only begun to imagine" what work can be done through their nearly six-year-old Called to Common Mission agreement.
He said that local partnerships made possible by the agreement may well have lessons to teach the two denominations and their global organizations about how people of faith can work together.
As part of building Episcopal-Lutheran relationships, Pastor Elizabeth Eaton, of Messiah Lutheran Church in Ashtabula, Ohio, will be a liaison between the ELCA Church Council and the Episcopal Executive Council.
Called to Common Mission, approved by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in August 1999, by the General Convention in July 2000, and enacted in early 2001, joined the two denominations in "full communion," meaning that that each church recognizes that the other holds "the essentials of the Christian faith" within the catholic and apostolic tradition.
They fully recognize each other as part of the whole church of Jesus Christ. They seek opportunities to cooperate with each other in service, life and witness. The churches mutually recognize baptism and Eucharistic life, allowing for joint worship and an exchange of members.
"When I think of Episcopalians, three words come to mind: incarnation, Eucharist and reconciliation," Hanson said. Those themes "are woven into who you are and what you bring to us," he added.
Episcopal Diocese of Puerto Rico Bishop David Alvarez told Hanson that he was praying for ELCA Bishop Margarita Martinez of the Synod of the Caribbean, who is ill with cancer, and offered any help that his diocese could provide.
The Rev. Lee Alison Crawford, a Province I member of Executive Council, told Hanson that she grieves with the LWF over the murders of two pastors from the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod (SLS), Francisco Carrillo and his wife Jesús Calzada de Carrillo, who were killed 10 days ago as they were leaving the Montes de Pensbert congregation church in the Jayaque municipality, in El Salvador's central department of La Libertad.
During the Eucharist November 14, Jefferts Schori, preaching on the feast of the consecration of Samuel Seabury as the first Anglican bishop in the United States, noted that talks leading up to the Called to Common Mission agreement included some "challenging" issues about how the two denominations understood the episcopate. Those differences, she said, stemmed from the skepticism in both the Scandinavian heritage of ELCA Lutherans and the English colonial heritage of Episcopalians over "excessive episcopal authority," especially in its relationship to monarchy.
Lutheran bishops are elected and ordained for a specific length of time, after which they retain their priestly orders but not their episcopal position.
Echoing the day's Gospel (Matthew 9:35-38) in which Jesus has compassion for the crowds because they are "like sheep without a shepherd" and using a reference to savage wolves who threaten the church in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles (20:28-32), Jefferts Schori said that the ministry of the baptized is both to keep watch over the sheep and to beware that "sometimes some of the sheep turn out to be wolves."
Noting that ordination to the episcopate in the Episcopal Church carries a somewhat different sacramental understanding of God's ongoing action in a person's life than it does in the Lutheran tradition, Jefferts Schori said she wonders if Episcopal polity needs "a limit to how long authority should be exercised," particularly if it is not exercised appropriately.
Jefferts Schori added that in exercising the ministry of "episkope" or oversight, bishops -- and the rest of the church -- should recognize the difference between "oversee" and "overlook," a distinction she said was highlighted for her by an African bishop during a 2003 trip to Africa.
"Is our seeing in large ways limiting our ability to see what is in front of us?" she asked. "There are loads of sheep wandering, and our task is to be about shepherding our neighbors both far away and under our noses. Can we do that without overlooking the people closest to us?"
The Executive Council meeting continues in Chicago until November 15.