Lutherans Try Again to Build `Bridge': Foes Fear Bishops' Power in Union with Episcopal Church

Article excerpt

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America yesterday began a second attempt at unity with the Episcopal Church, a step the denomination's top bishop backed as an unprecedented Christian "bridge" but which opponents call a slide into rule by bishops.

"No other church body has ever had this possibility to link together so many branches of Christendom," Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson said to the assembly in Denver of the nation's largest Lutheran body.

"What a bridge we could be," he told 3,000 churchgoers.

Two years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) assembly narrowly rejected embracing the Episcopalians in "full communion," or ability to exchange bishops, clergy and sacraments.

Despite the bad feelings generated by the failed vote, the ELCA has set a follow-up ballot for tomorrow as what might be the last chance before the topic sours.

Episcopal Bishop Christopher Epting of Iowa, in brief remarks to the Lutheran assembly yesterday, said the stakes are high.

"We may not have this opportunity again," he said. The Episcopal Church approved full communion in 1997.

Lutheran Church historian Martin Marty, who worked on the pact, urged the 1,039 ELCA delegates to "make history." A two-thirds vote is required.

Still, opposition to full communion comes from ELCA clergy and laity in the upper Midwest.

They object to Lutheran bishops, under full communion, taking on the authority given the episcopate in the Anglican tradition, to include the U.S. Episcopal Church.

Lutheran bishops in the United States have been elected more as officers akin to presidents. …