From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ELCA, First Steps in a Long Ecumenical Journey

Date 30 May 1996 13:42:43


May 29, 1996


     RICHMOND, Va. (ELCA) -- "We all want to share communion, but
maybe not with the church across town," said Bishop Philip R.
Cousin, First Episcopal District of the African Methodist
Episcopal Church, told the 33rd annual National Workshop on
Christian Unity here May 6-9.  He used the theme, "Listen!  I
Stand at the Door and Knock," to address racism in American
Christianity and its being a barrier to ecumenism.
     "The door that is most pronounced is the door of
exclusiveness. ... The door is closed and Jesus is on the outside
knocking," said Cousin.  "We must be sensitive to that command to
listen.  We must be in a position to hear."
     As the "ecumenical century" comes to a close, millions of
American Christians will be making important decisions about how
they relate to one another.  About 60 ecumenical representatives
and other interested members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church
in America (ELCA) were among the more than 400 who reviewed those
proposals and insisted the decisions will only be the first steps
in a long ecumenical journey.
     A special plenary seminar examined three ecumenical
proposals on which the ELCA will vote in 1997: to declare that
16th-century condemnations of the Roman Catholic Church on the
doctrine of justification no longer apply; to establish full
communion with the Episcopal Church; and to establish full
communion with three Reformed churches -- Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.
     If all these proposals are accepted, Dr. Michael Root, an
ELCA associate in ministry and director of the Institute for
Ecumenical Research in Strasbourg, France, said, he's afraid the
churches will settle into a "status quo ecumenism."
     "If we find these proposals convincing -- and I do -- we
must accept them and live in them and live out of them," said
Root.  Christian unity cannot be defined as structural merger in
the United States, he said, but the churches must recognize these
as steps toward where the spirit is leading.
     "Where are we going with the ecumenical movement?" asked
Cousin, encouraging the mainline churches not to treat the
traditionally African-American churches as ecclesiastical step-
children.  "Will there be equity in participation and decision-
     Cousin longed for a time when African-American theologians
would be welcome in ecumenical conversations, rather than treated
as theologians with "an agenda."  "Do we have something inherent
in the traditional African-American church that you find
valuable?" he asked.
     Workshop participants discussed ways the ecumenical
decisions could be implemented in Christian congregations.
     "Out of necessity we've already crossed the lines," said
Marge Gross, an Episcopalian participant from Yankton, S.D.  She
said many congregations are already working with neighboring
congregations to address specific ministry needs in their
     Many examples of such cooperations were examined during the
workshops, with topics including an ecumenical response to hate
violence, medical ethics and the history of youth in the
ecumenical movement.
     The National Workshop on Christian Unity is sponsored by the
National Ecumenical Officers Association.  The ELCA is one of
several bodies involved, including: American Baptist Churches
USA, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal Church,
National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.,
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Roman and Eastern Catholic
Churches, United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church.

For information contact: Ann Hafften, Dir., ELCA News Service,
(312) 380-2958; Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Dir., (312) 380-2955; Lia
Christiansen, Asst. Dir., (312) 380-2956

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