Magazine article The Christian Century

A Lutheran-Episcopal Pact

Magazine article The Christian Century

A Lutheran-Episcopal Pact

Article excerpt

After three days of civil but intense debate, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America approved by nearly a 70 percent majority a document that opens the way to full communion with the Episcopal Church. The final vote of 716 (69.3 percent) to 317 (30.7) met the requirements of two-thirds of voting members at the Churchwide Assembly in Denver. The theme of the biennial assembly was "Making Christ Known: Hope for a New Century."

The document, "Called to Common Mission," was written after the ELCA failed by six votes to approve a Concordat of Agreement at its 1997 assembly in Philadelphia. Earlier in the summer of '97 the Episcopal Church's General Convention had overwhelmingly approved the concordat. The Lutherans did approve full communion with several Reformed churches.

In the wake of the '97 vote, Lutherans appointed a writing team, headed by historian and author Martin Marty, to write a new proposal that would address the objections that emerged at the assembly. Episcopalians served as advisers to the writing team. The document will be presented to the Episcopal Church's General Convention at its meeting in Denver next summer.

If approved, the two denominations would share mission strategies and clergy. In the most controversial provision, the Lutherans agree to join Episcopalians in the historic episcopate, a sign of the church's continuity with the apostolic church. Well-organized opponents of full communion argued that agreement on word and sacrament is sufficient for unity, and that Lutherans should not be "required" to adopt the historic episcopate. Lutherans in other parts of the world do embrace the historic episcopate, but it has never been part of American Lutherans' experience.

"This is a big step for us--but we're not dancing yet," said Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson of the ELCA, pointing out that the document must be approved by the Episcopal Church. "We live in hope." Nonetheless, the action to approve full communion with the Episcopal Church, as well as with the Moravian Church (with only 11 negative votes),is, Anderson added, "a great step in our ecumenical understanding. And it is not the end. We will continue to press forward."

Saying that he celebrates both moves, Marty noted that it is the first time in U. …

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