From the Worldwide Faith News archives

2004 Pivotal Year for ELCA Ecumenism, Interfaith Relations

Date Wed, 7 Apr 2004 11:22:23 -0500


April 7, 2004

2004 Pivotal Year for ELCA Ecumenism, Interfaith Relations

     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- 2004 is a pivotal year for many ecumenical
and interfaith endeavors of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America (ELCA).
     The ELCA's 2003 Churchwide Assembly received a planning
report and committed the church to work in five strategic
directions, including to "deepen and extend our global,
ecumenical and interfaith relationships for the sake of God's
     While that commitment keeps the work of the ELCA Department
for Ecumenical Affairs at the forefront of the church's mission,
the department shares in the churchwide organization's need to
trim its budget, said the Rev. Randall R. Lee, director, ELCA
Department for Ecumenical Affairs.
     "Surely our work in implementing our relationships of full
communion will continue, as will our talks with our other
dialogue partners, although they may need to be on a longer time
table for fiscal reasons," Lee said.  The ELCA's commitments to
the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC),
Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and World Council of Churches
(WCC) will also continue, he said.

     "According to the ELCA's Ecumenical Vision Statement adopted
in 1991, all of our ecumenical contacts have as their ultimate
goal the establishment of a relationship of full communion," Lee
     Full communion allows the churches to work more closely
together in a variety of ministries.  They agree to exchange
clergy under certain circumstances.  Full communion is not a
merger of the churches.
     April 29-May 2 the ELCA plans to begin talks here with the
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).  Five representatives
from each church body will make up the dialogue teams.
     "The initiative for this dialogue came from the Disciples,"
Lee said.  "They are in a full communion agreement and
relationship with the United Church of Christ," as is the ELCA,
he said.  "I like to talk about: if A equals B and B equals C,
then this dialogue is trying to discover whether A equals C."
     Preliminary conversations were held in 2003 that led to two
decisions.  "The first was that we would, in accord with the
ELCA's ecumenical vision statement, seek to develop through
dialogue a relationship of full communion, if at all possible.
The second was that we would recommend to our respective church
bodies that we initiate the dialogue as soon as possible," Lee
     The opening round of talks will be about the concept of
"covenant" in the Disciples tradition and the Lutheran emphasis
on the Lutheran Confessions and confessional statements.  The
dialogue will also explore mutual understanding of the Lord's

Orthodox and Roman Catholic
     "2004 is a very good year for us, because we will bring to a
conclusion the third round of the Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue in
June and we bring to a conclusion the 10th round of the Lutheran-
Roman Catholic dialogue in April," Lee said.  The Lutheran-Roman
Catholic dialogue meets April 22-25 in Milwaukee.
     "The Roman Catholic dialogue will issue a rather lengthy
statement on the role of bishops in the life of the church and
where 'the fullness of church' is located.  For Lutherans it's in
the congregation, where the word is preached and the sacraments
are celebrated.  For Roman Catholics the church exists where the
people of God are gathered around the bishop," Lee said.
     "The Orthodox dialogue will issue a more modest statement on
the kingdom of God and the mystery of the church.  Our hope also
is to publish a guidebook for use by Orthodox and Lutheran
congregations so they can discover ways to worship together in
evening prayer and morning prayer settings and do some study
together, to get to know one another better," he said.	The
Lutheran-Orthodox dialogue is to meet here June 14-17.
     "We will bring those two dialogues to conclusion in 2004 and
then reassess where we might go in the future.	At this point,
it's very likely that there will be an 11th round of the Lutheran-
Roman Catholic dialogue.  We have not yet had serious
conversation about a theme for another round of dialogue with the
Orthodox," Lee said.

United Methodist
     The third round of Lutheran-United Methodist dialogues began
in 2001 and will continue at least through 2004.  The United
Methodist General Conference, which meets April 27-May 7 in
Pittsburgh, is expected to consider a statement regarding that
church's "sacramental practices," Lee said.  "The content of that
statement will provide much of the background for our future
conversations with the United Methodists."

     "2004 will also mark the end of conversations with
representatives of the Mennonite community.  That conversation
was an opportunity for the two traditions to get to know one
another better," Lee said.  "There was not an expectation that it
would continue beyond these initial conversations."
     "The two church bodies have agreed that they will appoint
one representative each to the international Lutheran-Mennonite
commission sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation.	So,
conversation will continue, but it will be done at the
international level with involvement from North America," Lee
     The last scheduled ELCA-Mennonite meeting was March 18-21 in
Valparaiso, Ind.  After that meeting the liaison committee issued
its report, "Right Remembering in Anabaptist-Lutheran Relations."

African Methodist Episcopal
     "We're anxious to start round two of dialogue with the
African Methodist Episcopal Church, but to this point we've not
been able to do that," Lee said.

     The ELCA is in "full communion" with the Episcopal Church,
USA, Moravian Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),
Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.  Lee
called the implementation of those agreements "a major element of
our work in this department."  Coordinating committees meet twice
a year to monitor and encourage the full-communion relationships.

     2004 promises to be a pivotal year in the ELCA's
relationship with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Lee said.
"We are in the midst of a theological conversation," he said,
"and we will decide by mid-year whether or not to continue that
conversation or simply be happy with the results of the work we
are presently doing."
     The Missouri Synod plans to meet in convention July 10-15 in
St. Louis.  Its last convention in 2001 questioned the ELCA's
full-communion agreements and cast doubt on whether or not the
ELCA was truly a Lutheran church.  The same convention called for
conversation with the ELCA to address those concerns.
     The 2001 convention elected the Rev. Gerald B. Kieschnick as
president of the Missouri Synod and directed him to evaluate
"current cooperative pastoral working arrangements with the ELCA"
and to bring "results and recommendations" to the 2004
convention.  "That, of course, will send important signals about
our relationship with that church body," Lee said.
     The ELCA, with 5 million members, and the Missouri Synod,
with 2.5 million members, are the two largest Lutheran churches
in North America.  The churches' Committee on Lutheran
Cooperation meets April 14 in St. Louis.

     The 10,721 congregations of the ELCA are organized into 65
synods, each headed by a bishop.  Each bishop names one
representative to the Lutheran Ecumenical Representatives Network
(LERN), which is coordinated through the ELCA Department for
Ecumenical Affairs.
     The representatives "assist the bishops in their roles as
the chief ecumenical officers of the synods," Lee said.  "They
are conduits of information from the synods to the churchwide
organization" and to the synods about ecumenical work being done
locally and in the churchwide organization, he said.
     LERN and similar networks representing the Episcopal, Roman
Catholic and United Methodist Churches hold annual meetings
during the National Workshop on Christian Unity.  The workshop is
to be held May 10-13 in Omaha, Neb.

     "Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) is an endeavor to
accomplish a relationship of full communion between nine
denominations in this country, some of whom share a relationship
of full communion with the ELCA.  We participate as a partner in
mission and dialogue," Lee said.
     A partner in mission and dialogue helps the African
Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion
Church, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Christian
Methodist Episcopal Church, Episcopal Church, International
Council of Community Churches, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),
United Church of Christ and United Methodist Church as they work
toward their goal of entering relationships of full communion
with each other.
     The ELCA participates in CUIC's efforts to combat racism and
is involved in its discussions of ministry within a wider
ecumenical context.
     "Another new initiative is Christian Churches Together,
which is an endeavor to bring to the ecumenical conversation
table a larger group of people, particularly including Roman
Catholics and members of the Evangelical and Pentecostal
communities," Lee said.
     The ELCA is one of a dozen church bodies that have voted to
become charter members of Christian Churches Together (CCT).  Lee
said the new organization will launch as soon as there is formal
support from "historic Black churches," Orthodox churches and the
Roman Catholic Church.	"We have a great deal of optimism about
its potential for the future and the conversations we might
have," he said.

Councils and Federation
     The ELCA's involvement with CUIC and CCT complements its
memberships in the LWF, NCC and WCC.  The theological and "faith
and life" work, particularly economic development and relief
contributions, of the councils and federation remain as ELCA
priorities.  "There are significant numbers of ELCA members who
serve either on the staff or on boards and committees of those
three organizations," Lee said.

     The ELCA is in conversation with the Jewish community of the
United States in two ways.  The church is pursuing a "theological
dialogue" with representatives of Reform Judaism, which is
unprecedented for a U.S. Protestant denomination, and several
ELCA members serve as a Consultative Panel on Lutheran-Jewish
     The consultative panel has worked for years to remove anti-
Jewish themes from "passion plays" depicting the final hours
leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.	The panel offered
its concerns and recommendations to Mel Gibson prior to the
release of his film, "The Passion of the Christ," on Feb. 25.
     The ELCA's conversations with other faiths are coordinated
through the NCC, Lee said.
-- -- --
     The Department for Ecumenical Affairs has its home page at on the ELCA Web site.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or

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