Magazine article The Christian Century

Interchurch Journey

Magazine article The Christian Century

Interchurch Journey

Article excerpt

A CEREMONIAL culmination of nearly 40 years' dialogue brought church leaders together at the Washington National Cathedral on Epiphany to inaugurate full communion and opportunities for joint ministries between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold put the event's significance into an even longer time frame.

Preaching before 3,500 people in the soaring cathedral on January 6, Griswold reached back two millennia to the biblical story of the magi, moved ahead to Martin Luther's time in the 16th century, then fast-forwarded to prospects of even greater church unity in the uncertain future.

"If the church in its many parts is to be an active sign and minister of reconciliation, it must live as a reconciled community; otherwise its preaching will be in vain," Griswold said. "And so it is that we must leave home and follow the star."

The bishop went on to say: "To be sure, there is room in our saddlebags for the Augsburg Confession [a key 16th-century doctrinal statement for Lutherans] and the Book of Common Prayer [with roots in 16th-century Anglicanism], but a great deal will have to be left behind, particularly attitudes and self-perceptions which keep us from joyfully welcoming one another as brothers and sisters in the communion of the Holy Spirit, and opening ourselves to the gifts of grace and truth to be found in one another's churches."

The two church bodies, whose combined membership is about 7.4 million, are the most liturgically oriented mainline churches in the U.S. and share many social perspectives. But the accord has met resistance among Lutherans who object to the ELCA's move to require bishops who are in the "historic episcopate"--the tradition of unbroken apostolic succession--to be part of its ordination of bishops.

The formal declaration of full communion is "just a beginning of the journey--where we will be led God alone knows," Griswold said in his sermon. "The divine imagination exceeds all our efforts to comprehend and contain it, and what use God will ultimately make of our ecclesiastical arrangements or where they will take us or require of us in the days ahead, may well surprise us all. …

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