DENVER, Colo. -- The Department for Ecumenical Affairs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was advised to continue current bilateral church dialogues, build on positive signs from recent meetings with officials of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) and maintain funding for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
The department's advisory committee discussed those subjects and more in a wide-ranging meeting here Jan. 26-27, following the LWF North America Pre-Assembly Consultation. The consultation was intended to prepare delegates, advisors and staff for this summer's LWF Assembly in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, attended the advisory committee meeting. He noted that "ecumenism is central to my leadership of this church."
"It's a great time [for the department] and we're having a lot of fun," said the Rev. Randall R. Lee, director and assistant to the presiding bishop, in summarizing the department's work in recent months. "We're doing interesting work, and I think we're doing it well."
At this meeting the department's advisory committee was asked to deal with a series of questions aimed at determining priorities for the department's work for the next few years, Lee said. Meeting with the advisory committee were members of the ELCA Conference of Bishops' liaison committee with the department.
In November, leaders of the ELCA and LCMS had a "very positive" meeting in St. Louis, Lee reported. LCMS officials "urged that a deeper relationship between the two church bodies be attempted," he said. ELCA and LCMS leaders agreed to meet twice a year, and the next meeting was set for April 3 in Chicago.
LCMS leaders asked that two LCMS representatives be invited to participate officially in Lutheran-Roman Catholic and Lutheran-Orthodox dialogues, meetings in which the ELCA now participates, Lee said. The LCMS representatives also asked for a formal theological dialogue between ELCA and LCMS officials. The LCMS representatives also asked for a formal theological dialogue between ELCA and LCMS officials. Also discussed was a 2001 LCMS convention action declaring that the ELCA cannot be considered "an orthodox Lutheran church body," he said.
Suggestions of continued dialogue with LCMS leaders met with mixed reactions from advisory committee members. For example, the Rev. Timothy Wengert, professor of Reformation history, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, said he knows of some LCMS members who are "pained" by actions such as the declaration about the ELCA. "On behalf of those folks, we have to continue to talk," he said.
"I want to register my vote that we stay in some conversation with them,' said the Rev. Murray D. Finck, bishop of the ELCA Pacifica Synod, Yorba Linda, Calif. It's important to keep close relationships locally and a national conversation is desirable, he added.
Kathy J. Magnus, LWF regional officer for North America, Chicago, said she is concerned that no women are present in the ELCA-LCMS meetings and should be, especially since the ELCA ordains women, she said.
Following discussion, Lee proposed that ELCA leaders meet with LCMS leaders semi-annually, and he suggested there be some "pre- conversation" with a small group to understand the content, context and status of the 2001 LCMS convention action about the ELCA before formal dialogue is initiated. Further, the advisory committee suggested delaying action until next year on the LCMS request for participation in Lutheran-Roman Catholic and Lutheran-Orthodox dialogues.
The committee heard reports and offered advice on several other ecumenical matters:
+ It recommended continuing bilateral conversations with representatives of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, United Methodist, Mennonite and African Methodist Episcopal traditions. The committee also suggested that seminary professors and students from the ELCA and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) could initiate an informal dialogue between the two churches.
+ On funding for ecumenical and interfaith organizations, the committee said priority should be given to maintaining financial support for the LWF. "Our most important ecumenical commitment is to the (LWF) communion," Lee said.
+ The committee discussed the status of the ELCA's five full communion relationships. The ELCA is in full communion with the Episcopal Church, Moravian Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ. Such relationships have led congregations to share ministries and resources, and, in some cases, allows for exchange of clergy. Hanson told the committee that there have now been three people in the ELCA who have been ordained by a pastor other than a bishop. The ELCA's full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church requires that a bishop preside at all Lutheran ordinations, however, the 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted a bylaw that allows for the possibility of exceptions to that requirement under certain circumstances.
+ Hanson will lead a small delegation of ELCA leaders on an "ecumenical journey" to Europe March 14-31. Planned stops include Geneva, Switzerland, to meet with staff of the LWF and World Council of Churches; Istanbul, Turkey, to meet with His All-Holiness Batholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch; Rome, to meet with Cardinal Walter Kasper of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, and for a possible meeting with Pope John Paul II; and London/Canterbury, and a meeting with Archbishop Rowan Williams, the new Archbishop of Canterbury. "I'm going with the idea of establishing relationships personally and deepening church-to-church relationships," Hanson said.
+ Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) is a dialogue of nine U.S. Protestant churches with a goal of establishing full communion relationships. The ELCA is not a full participant, but has joined the discussions as "a partner in mission and dialogue." The Rev. Philip L. Hougen, bishop of the ELCA Southeastern Iowa Synod, Iowa City, is an ELCA representative to the CUIC. He reported that the CUIC churches are hoping to reach agreement on full communion in 2007. Hougen said the churches have some "big issues" to resolve first, including the historic episcopate, ordained elders and lay presidency.
+ U.S. Lutheran and Jewish leaders will meet May 12 at the ELCA churchwide office in Chicago for dialogue, said the Rev. Franklin E. Sherman, the department's associate for interfaith relations, Allentown, Pa. The May 12 dialogue grew out of a meeting Hanson had in August 2002 with several Jewish leaders in New York. That meeting came about over some concerns about Hanson's statements on violence in Israel and the West Bank.
+ The committee urged the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. to maintain a person on its staff with expertise in interfaith relationships. The NCC is an ecumenical organization with 36 member churches, including the ELCA.e Preceding the planning meeting, the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, professor, Eden Theological Seminary, St. Louis, former CUIC general secretary and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, presented some perspectives on the future of the ecumenical movement.