From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutherans reaffirm proposal for full communion

Date 18 Apr 2000 15:39:00


Lutherans reaffirm proposal for full communion with
Episcopal Church

by James Solheim

      (ENS)Despite some lingering resistance, the Church Council
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) reaffirmed
its commitment to full communion with the Episcopal Church,
noting that it has caused "great hope and thankfulness" throughout
the 5.2-million member church, "as well as deep concern and

     At its April 7-9 meeting in Chicago, the council took three
 actions related to the implementation of the agreement, "Called
to Common Mission"(CCM), endorsed by the Churchwide
Assembly at its meeting last summer. It established a timetable
for implementation, it responded to a resolution from the
Eastern North Dakota Synod opposing CCM, and dealt with
constitutional issues.

     "My basic concern is that this council not interfere with
the action of the Churchwide Assembly," said Presiding Bishop
H. George Anderson. He warned against efforts that would
"abandon governing documents" of the church.

     The council established January 1, 2001 as the
implementation date for CCM, avoiding suggestions from
opponents of the agreement for a delay until the Churchwide
Assembly in 2001,  giving the church time to reconsider
constitutional issues. They argue that CCM requires Lutherans,
contrary to the church's confessional documents and tradition,
to join Episcopalians in consecrating bishops to the historic

     At its March meeting the Eastern North Dakota Synod
overwhelmingly approved a resolution that it "supports the
right of its constituent members, congregations, pastors and
bishops to freely accept or reject local implementation" of the
historic episcopate. The council responded by reminding the
synod that ecumenical commitments and relationships are
made by the whole church and "are not legislated on a
synod-by-synod basis."

The greatest possible unity

     In underscoring the church's decision, and encouraging the
Episcopal Church to act favorably on CCM at its General
Convention this summer, the council called for "orderly
processes of decision-making" within the ELCA. It also invited
church members to "continuing prayers, study and conversation"
in the search for the "greatest possible unity" within the two

     If the Episcopal Church approves CCM "there will be an
opportunity to examine jointly ways to practice the commitments
of full communion, exploring together a variety of matters which
include possible ways to allow a synodical bishop, in unusual
circumstances and with appropriate consultation, to authorize
another ELCA pastor to preside at an ordination."

     The ELCA's Conference of Bishops, at its March meeting
in Florida, reaffirmed its support of full communion and said that
it expects "broad consultation" with Episcopalians on the
implementation of CCM, suggesting that those conversations might
include the issue of exceptions to the CCM understanding on

     At its recent meeting in California, Episcopal bishops made
it clear that "ELCA pastors who were not ordained in the ELCA
or its predecessor bodies will not be interchangeable under the
provisions of CCM," and that would include clergy from other
traditions who transfer into the ELCA after passage of CCM.

Guidance to synods

     The council also offered guidance to other ELCA synods that
may consider proposals similar to the one emerging from North
 Dakota. "While resolutions of a synod assembly seeking changes
in this church's governing documents are in order, resolutions
of a synod assembly pledging to support or undertake actions
in violation of this church's governing documents are not in
order," the council said. Synods should find other methods
to "address their concerns and seek particular decisions."
Council members said that it is appropriate for congregations
 and synods to express their opinions without advocating a
 violation of the church's governing documents.

     "We need to think long and hard about the trend that we
can 'pick and choose' portions of governing documents we
choose to accept or reject," said Brian Rude, a council member
from Wisconsin.

     The Rev. David Perry, the Episcopal Church's ecumenical
officer, said that the tone of the meeting was "very positive"
despite some very "tough" discussions. He said that "there
is no sign that the Lutherans will abandon their decision."
And it was clear, he added, that there is "genuine excitement"
with the possibilities for mission the proposals envision.

     "The hard work begins after we pass CCM," he warned,
"because both churches will need to develop new skills at
partnership and mutual accountability in our pursuit of mission
together." While there has been an increasing level of
cooperation, "we have been able to go only so far."

--James Solheim is director of the Episcopal Church's Office
of News and Information. This article is based on reports by
John Brooks, director of news and information for the ELCA.

For more information contact:
Episcopal News Service
Kathryn McCormick

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