Lutherans Again Reject Ties with Episcopalians: OK Bond with Reformed Denominations

Article excerpt

PHILADELPHIA - The nation's largest Lutheran body yesterday rejected a decades-long effort to bolster ties with the Episcopal Church, but Lutherans meeting here did approve full cooperation with three denominations in the Reformed tradition.

The vote by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA) to seek closer ties with the three Reformed denominations - the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Reformed Church of America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) - aims to resolve doctrinal disputes that date back to the 16th-century Protestant Reformation.

By just six votes, the 1,035 members of the ECLA assembly failed to reach the required two-thirds majority needed to approve the proposed Concordat of Agreement for "full communion" with the Episcopal Church.

"I thought we would have a more decisive vote," said Bishop H. George Anderson, presiding bishop of the ELCA and a supporter of the Concordat. "I really feel that what we saw today was an accurate reflection of where the Lutheran Church is" on ecumenical relations.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning said in a statement that local church cooperation will continue, but with less enthusiasm. "An opportunity was created, and I regret that we missed it," he said.

The three Reformed bodies voted overwhelming this summer for closer ties with the Lutherans. The 2.5 million-member Episcopal Church in July also had a nearly unanimous vote for convergence with Lutherans.

The approved agreement affects nearly 10 million American Protestants: 5.2 million members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church; 2.7 million members of the Presbyterian Church; 400,000 members of the Reformed Church in America; and 1.5 million members of the United Church of Christ.

Under the Lutheran-Reformed agreement, clergy trained in any of the denominations may be hired to serve in any of the four churches' congregations. Members of the four churches may also attend a Holy Communion service in any of the four traditions.

The Lutheran-Episcopalian pact's most controversial provision would have made Lutheran and Episcopal bishops equally recognized in either church.

But Lutheran apprehension with the power traditionally given the Episcopalian bishops - who trace their authority to Christ's apostles and serve for life - led to the defeat, said Concordat opponent Bishop Rick Foss of North Dakota.

"There's not a sense of wanting to move away from the Episcopal Church," he said. "And it's not that we don't like bishops. I get treated so well that it's ridiculous."

"Every fiber of my being shouts out, cries no, to the historic episcopate," said Connie McCallister of Mendota Heights, Minn., in the debate before yesterday's vote. But she nevertheless urged adoption of the agreement for the good of the church. …