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Historic Service Marks "Full Communion"
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08 Oct 1998 23:47:34
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Historic Service Marks "Full Communion"
by Alexa Smith
CHICAGO-More than 1,500 Reformed and Lutheran Christians from four
different churches gathered here on World Communion Sunday to formally mark
passage of an agreement that allows them to celebrate the Eucharist
together for the first time in over 400 years.
Surrounding a baptismal font in the center of the University of
Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel, leaders from the Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Reformed
Church in America (RCA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC) confessed
their centuries-long sins of division and reaffirmed their unity as
baptized believers in the body of Christ.
Led by denominational heads the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk
of the PC(USA), Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson of the ELCA, Wesley
Granberg-Michaelson, general secretary of the RCA, and Paul Sherry,
president of the UCC, representatives of the four churches processed to the
font from the four corners of the chapel, reaffirmed their baptisms and
then walked together to the bannered Communion table at the head of the
chapel's long center aisle.
"It was a very powerful visual image," said the Rev. Cynthia Campbell,
president of McCormick Theological Seminary, "those four groups coming [to
the baptismal font] ... [to look] at the leaders saying we solemnly
reaffirm our faith and put behind us the divisions that kept us apart for
Celebrant for the service, Campbell proclaimed: "Hear the good news!
Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life is gone, a new
life has begun. You are forgiven. Be at peace."
A chorus of trumpets and bells followed the assurance of pardon.
After decades of dialogue aimed at healing splits dating back to the
16th-century Reformation, the four churches agreed in the summer of 1997 to
commit to full fellowship sacramentally, missiologically and theologically
- while maintaining the traditions and identities of each separate
denomination. The Formula of Agreement acknowledges the denominations'
differing histories, theologies and traditions, but insists those
differences need not be church dividing.
"This is a very fine thing," said Lynn Japinga of Kentwood, Mich., an
RCA theologian and a member of the dialogue team that drafted "A Common
Calling," the paper summarizing the theological dialogues and urging the
denominations to enter into "full communion."
"Ten years ago at the first meeting, there were internal conflicts
[within the denominations]," said Japinga, "a lot of uncertainty. It is
neat to see this finally happen today."
Historic liturgies predating the splits between the churches made up
the bulk of the service, with prayers composed for the occasion used when
there was no shared source. The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving - prayed
before the breaking of the bread - was written by Presbyterian Horace Allen
of the Boston School of Theology. It included the following words:
"Loving God, Creative Power, blessing your Name, we seek your Spirit.
Come to us and bless these gifts of bread and wine, that they may be for us
the body and blood of Christ, the sign and seal of our forgiveness in
Christ and our adoption as the children of God. As we eat and drink
together, make us one with Christ and one in Christ, a sign of his eternal
reign in all the world. ..."
The music, too, often paraphrased historic liturgical texts.
"The liturgy," said the ELCA's director for worship, the Rev. Paul
Nelson of Chicago, one of the service's planners, "does not have the same
confessional burden that our official church documents have to carry ...
and it [provides the] opportunity for shared prayer that doesn't always
apply when you're sitting down to the table as theologians working out
Using Luke 24:31, the Rev. James Kenneth Echols, president of the
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, said that the meaning of this day
"has to do with the power of God to open our eyes - just as the eyes of two
disciples were opened to Christ after they broke bread together.
"Two nondenominational believers 2,000 years ago or Reformed and
Lutheran Christians today," he said, citing the years when the churches
were blinded to their essential unity in the faith and remained apart.
Echols cautioned, however, that mission does not end with declarations
of unity and fellowship, but requires that believers practice the faith and
proclaim God's love in Christ so that the "eyes of the world" may be opened
PC(USA) associate for worship the Rev. Paul Detterman, one of the
service planners, said the sacraments were the central symbols lifted up
for the newly communing churches to see. "We've been proclaiming the word
for centuries," he said.
Nelson agreed. "The rationale was that even when divisions [developed]
over the Eucharistic theology [a fundamental cause of division between
Lutherans and Reformed Christians in the 16th century], we all held baptism
in common," said Nelson. "The planners felt that strong, shared experience
of Christian baptism was the place to begin the celebration of the new
relationship of full communion."
At the conclusion of the worship, Campbell charged the four churches to
"Let this be a day of new beginnings." Each communion responded -
individually and then communally:
ELCA: "Remember this day on which we have joined together to hear the
Word and share the Sacrament." Congregation: "May our proclamation of the
Word and sharing of the Sacrament be a sign of healing and hope to the
PC(USA): "Remember this day on which we have joined together to
reaffirm our baptism and share the joyful Feast." Congregation: "May we be
a sign of unity in a broken world."
RCA: "Remember this day on which we have joined together to affirm each
other's ordained ministries." Congregation: "May we be one in the Spirit
as we proclaim the Word and celebrate the Sacraments."
UCC: "Remember this day on which we have joined together to celebrate
our full communion." Congregation: "May we serve the world together as an
expression of our love of Jesus Christ."
After the worship service, the Rev. Addie J. Butler, vice president of
the ELCA and an assisting minister in the Eucharistic celebration, told the
Presbyterian News Service: "It is an exciting, exciting beginning. We are
beginning to be the body of Christ. May we continue with more celebrations
of full communion with other church bodies.
"Thanks be to God," she said.
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