From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Reformed churches and Lutherans inaugurate `full communion'

From John Rollins <>
Date 26 Oct 1998 20:25:09


Reformed churches and Lutherans inaugurate `full communion' agreement

by James E. Solheim
 (ENS) Three churches of the Reformed tradition and the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) set aside centuries
of disagreement and sealed a historic agreement for "full
communion" in a colorful worship service October 4 in Chicago.

 A procession led by the heads of the four churches moved
down the aisle of Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago
to a baptismal font in the chancel where they reaffirmed their
baptismal vows.

 "We gather to repent of the ways we have condemned each
other, to recognize our mutual baptism, and to encourage the
sharing of the Lord's Supper among our members," said Presiding
Bishop H. George Anderson of the ELCA.

"We gather to pledge ourselves to live under the Gospel in
mutual affirmation and admonition that respect and love for each
other may grow," added the Rev. Paul Sherry, president of the
United Church of Christ.

Joined by Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick of the
Presbyterian Church (USA) and General Secretary Wesley Granberg-
Michaelson of the Reformed Church in America, the procession moved
together to the altar.

"It was a very powerful, visual image," said the Rev.
Cynthia Campbell, president of the PCUSA's McCormick Seminary in
Chicago, and a signal that the churches are ready to "put behind
us the divisions that kept us apart for so long."

 As celebrant for the service, Campbell proclaimed to the
1500 people in the congregation, "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."

Drinking from the same cup
 After decades of official dialogue, the four churches voted
in the summer of 1997 for a Formula of Agreement that moves them
into a new relationship, maintaining individual traditions and
identities but committing them to mutual recognition, common
mission and interchangeability of clergy.

 "It is God who opened the eyes of these Reformed and
Lutheran theologians to see that the disagreements that divided
were in fact differences that need not divide," said the Rev.
James Kenneth Echols, president of the Lutheran School of Theology
in Chicago, in his sermon.

 "It was God who opened their eyes to see that we could live
more closely together in mutual affirmation and admonition,
drinking from the same cup of salvation in witness to the one who
shed his blood for us all," he said.

 "Part of the meaning of this day has to do with the
historical blindness of our two traditions to one another," Echols
said, "blinded to our essential unity in the faith-and this has
kept us apart." Yet he said that the day almost meant
"celebrating the power of God to open eyes.."

The liturgy was a blend of elements from Lutheran and
Reformed traditions, as well as some new material commissioned
especially for the event. The Prayers of the People used a variety
of languages to demonstrate the diversity represented by the

 "We are taking the first steps of our really becoming the
body of Christ as it was envisioned nearly 2,000 years ago," said
Dr. Addie Butler of Philadelphia, who served as the assisting
minister at the service. "It is an important step, an early step,
and much work has been done-but there is still a lot more work to

Growing together
 Anderson of the ELCA told a banquet the night before the
service that he thought it was inconceivable that the churches
could move beyond their differences in his lifetime. As a
professor of church history he lectured about the splinters of the
Reformation era, describing them as different branches of the same
tree. "But a miracle happened," he said. Using the image from
Revelations, he described a tree of life whose leaves are used for
the healing of the nations. "We're not quite grafted yet, but
we're growing together."

 Dr. Konrad Raiser, general secretary of the World Council of
Churches, said that the new relationship goes beyond the healing
of four streams, calling the agreement a "balm for the healing of
the body of Christ." He told the audience that he had been touched
in his own life by the Lutheran and Reformed traditions since he
was baptized in "a very traditional, Lutheran way, confirmed in
the United church, married in the Reformed church in Switzerland,
and ordained in the Evangelical Church of Germany," which includes
both Lutheran and Reformed partners. "I knew all along you were
related. And I feel satisfaction saying you finally belong to an
extended family," he said.

 Granberg-Michaelson picked up on the image and said that the
churches all share in the common waters of baptism "but more than
that, we are part of what is flowing together into the future,
into that one river of life."

 Sherry agreed, sharing an encounter with an African pastor
and church leader who, when he heard about the agreement, said
that "we are finally catching up with God." Sherry added, "Now we
can really move into the future together. If God be for us, who
dare stand against us."

 "I feel like the best man at a wedding," said an elated Dr.
Ishmael Noko, general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation,
calling the celebration a "healing time."

 The Episcopal Church, however, was not invited to this
wedding-at least, not yet, since the ELCA  narrowly turned down a
similar agreement with the Episcopalians. The Rev. David Perry,
the church's ecumenical officer, joined the ecumenical guests at
the service and said afterwards that "any step forward is a step
for all of us. But I look forward to the day when we can take this
step together."

 The ELCA will present a revised agreement to its Churchwide
Assembly next year and Perry is convinced that the two churches
will agree on a statement that "would quicken excitement for the
whole ecumenical endeavor."

--James Solheim is the Episcopal Church's director of news and

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