A Gift Yet to Be Received: Presbyteral Confirmation and Anglican-Lutheran Relations in Canada

By Myers, Bruce | Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

A Gift Yet to Be Received: Presbyteral Confirmation and Anglican-Lutheran Relations in Canada


Myers, Bruce, Journal of Ecumenical Studies


Introduction

The Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) have been in a relationship of full communion since 2001. To be in full communion, in the context of Anglican-Lutheran relations, "means that churches become interdependent while remaining autonomous. One is not elevated to be the judge of the other, nor can it remain insensitive to the other. ... Thus the corporate strength of the churches is enhanced in love, and an isolated independence restrained." (1)

Therefore, while each church maintains its own autonomy, it also fully recognizes the catholicity and apostolicity of the other full-communion partner and commits itself to integrate its ecclesial life into that of the other church. In practical terms, this means that Anglicans and Lutherans in Canada can share the eucharist together, use each other's authorized liturgical resources, participate in each other's ordinations, and will regularly consult each other in decision-making. Anglican and Lutheran clergy may also serve interchangeably in either church.

The last of those implications has resulted not only in Anglican clergy serving in Lutheran congregations, and vice versa, but also in the establishment--either through mergers or church-planting--of fully integrated "Joint Anglican and Lutheran Congregational Ministries." (2) Currently more than fifty congregations across Canada are either served by a priest/pastor of the other tradition or have become "blended parishes." (3)

In the dozen years since full communion between the ELCIC and the ACC was established, both churches have been growing into the agreement and its implications for their respective ecclesial lives. In many respects, it is these blended communities--or those served by clergy of the other tradition--that have been on the leading edge of this growth into full communion, encountering some of the pastoral, juridical, or ecclesiological issues not fully anticipated by "Called to Full Communion: The Waterloo Declaration," (4) the agreement that brought the two churches into formal relationship.

One of those issues is confirmation. Both the Anglican and Lutheran traditions continue to administer confirmation as a rite of Christian initiation, typically to young people in their early or middle teens, although, since their respective separations from the Roman see, these churches have ceased to consider it a sacrament. While both churches share a common understanding of the meaning and purpose of confirmation, they differ in the manner of its administration. Lutherans have, like most other churches, delegated the authority to administer confirmation to presbyters (pastors). In Anglicanism, however, the authority to confirm continues to reside exclusively with the order of bishops. This arguably obscure liturgical difference has become the unlikely source of tension in an ecclesial relationship that until now has produced little obvious conflict.

This divergence in practice has led to an impasse in the establishment of joint guidelines on confirmation between the two churches, largely because of the refusal of the ACC's House of Bishops to permit any Anglican priest from presiding over a service of confirmation, even if that priest is serving within the context of an ELCIC congregation, where confirmation administered by pastors is normative.

This situation has pastoral, liturgical, sacramental, canonical, and ecclesiological dimensions, as well as potentially wider implications for the health and integrity of the full-communion relationship between Canada's Anglicans and Lutherans. It is also an example of how one church's engagement with another church has the potential to change its own practice as a result of that ecumenical relationship. I will therefore use this essay to explore briefly similarities and differences in the understanding and practice of confirmation in the Anglican and Lutheran traditions, relate those differences to the current deadlock in establishing joint guidelines on confirmation, and suggest a possible way forward by appealing to the method of receptive ecumenism. …

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