From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Lutheran Agreements Fuel Multilateral Ecumenical Movement

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date Fri, 31 Jan 2003 14:04:18 -0600


January 31, 2003


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- Ecumenical agreements the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in America (ELCA) forged with the Episcopal Church and with three
Reformed churches are providing some help to nine church bodies that are
moving toward relationships of full communion, according to the two ELCA
representatives who attended a Jan. 15-17 meeting of the Churches
Uniting in Christ (CUIC) ministry task force in Birmingham, Ala.
     Members of the CUIC ministry task force at this meeting had
reviewed the ELCA's agreements, said the Rev. Mark N. Wilhelm, associate
director for theological education, ELCA Division for Ministry.  They
did not find the key to reconciling their ministries, but they "took
heart" over the possibility that it could be done, he said.
     The nine churches have "widely varying patterns of ministry in
each church," said the Rev. Philip L. Hougen, bishop of the ELCA's
Southeastern Iowa Synod, Iowa City.  They face issues similar to but not
identical to those the ELCA faced while fashioning recent full-communion
agreements, he said.
     In 1997 the ELCA adopted "A Formula of Agreement" -- a full-
communion agreement with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed
Church in America and United Church of Christ.	In 1999 the ELCA
approved "Called to Common Mission" -- an agreement of full communion
with the Episcopal Church.
     The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and United
Church of Christ are among the nine CUIC churches.  The others are the
African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion
Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian Methodist
Episcopal Church, International Council of Community Churches and United
Methodist Church.  The nine churches include about 22 million Christians
across the United States.
     The CUIC churches will vote in 2007 about entering into a
relationship of full communion -- each church retaining its own identity
and structures, recognizing each other's ministries and sacraments, and
opening the possibility of inviting ministers to serve in each other's
churches.  The CUIC churches have also pledged to join in a special
mission to combat racism.
     The Lutheran church was an observer during the 40-year process
leading up to the formation of CUIC in January 2002, and the ELCA
decided in 2001 to continue as a "partner in mission and dialogue" in
the new organization's work toward the 2007 votes.
     A "parallel conversation" between Episcopalians and Presbyterians
is significant for the CUIC ministry task force, said Hougen, "because
their orderings of ministry seem to be among those that are the most
difficult to reconcile."  Since the ELCA has full-communion agreements
with both churches, "we have agreed to mutual availability of ministries
across those denominational lines," he said.
     The ELCA orders its lay and ordained ministries differently than
both the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, said Hougen.  The Lutheran
agreement with the Episcopal Church tried to address those differences
more than its agreement with the Reformed churches, he said.
     One issue involved the question of who oversees the church's
ministries.  "Historically, the Presbyterian church has seen 'oversight'
as the responsibility of the presbytery, which is that collective body
of leaders in a given territory," said Wilhelm.  "Historically, the
Episcopal Church has seen it embodied in the office of the bishop -- of
that individual," he said.
     Another issue involved the question of who is ordained.  "Most
traditions reserve the term 'presbyter' for ordained clergy, by which
they normally mean ministers of Word and Sacrament," said Wilhelm.
Presbyterians include clergy and elders in the office of presbyter, he
said.  While most traditions consider elders to serve a lay ministry, it
is an ordained ministry in the Presbyterian church.
     The full acceptance of elder as presbyter "is one of the more
complicated ones for them to work through, because a variety of
practices exist" among the CUIC churches, said Wilhelm.
     The Lutheran agreements of full communion raised an element of
hope for the CUIC ministry task force in how they implemented the
availability of ministers between churches, Wilhelm said.  "If the
minister from one church body goes to another, that minister will
function according to the practices of the receiving church body," he
     That means the CUIC churches can acknowledge a variety of
ministries, but a member church would determine if it is appropriate for
a specific minister to serve within that denomination, said Wilhelm.
"It is the receiving body that determines whether a person shall be
called to ministry and how a person shall conduct that ministry," he
said.  "That seemed to be a breakthrough for them in a way of beginning
to deal with moving ahead with their work."
     "Folks from the other denominations seem very eager for Lutheran
input," said Hougen.  "We have to be a bit humble, because, while I
think it's significant that we have full-communion agreements with
people on both sides of some of these issues, I'm not sure that we have
answers for all of those issues that other churches face, in our
agreements or otherwise," he said.
     "It's important to keep this on the radar screen," said Hougen.
"It's important for Protestant Christianity in America, because these
nine denominations represent a major portion of mainline denominations,
including three traditionally African American churches."  He added,
"It's important for us to be in conversation with them."
     The next meeting of the CUIC ministry task force will be June 3-5.
     The ELCA is also in full communion with the Moravian Church in
America.  The ELCA is involved in direct dialogue with the African
Methodist Episcopal Church and United Methodist Church, as well as with
Mennonite, Orthodox and Roman Catholic representatives.
-- -- --
     The home page of Churches Uniting in Christ is at on the Web.
     Information on the ELCA's full communion relationships is
available at on the Web.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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