Lutheran-Anglican Progress Significant, ELCA Group Told

Apr 02, 2003 02:27 PM EST

LONDON, England -- Anglicans have made more ecumenical progress with Lutherans than with any other Christian tradition, said Bishop John Baycroft, director of ecumenical relations and studies, Anglican Communion. However, the ecumenical work may be confusing for some because Anglicans have reached regional ecumenical agreements versus international agreements, he said.

Baycroft was among several leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion and the Church of England, a member of the communion, who met here March 28 with a 19-member delegation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The 19 included ELCA leaders, bishops, Church Council members, pastors, staff and members. Leading the delegation was the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, who is also the church's chief ecumenical officer. The ELCA group traveled with Hanson as he met international church leaders in Europe during a 17-day "ecumenical journey."

The Church of England has entered into several ecumenical agreements with Lutheran churches, including the 1991 Meissen Declaration with churches in Germany; the 1992 Porvoo Declaration, involving several churches in Scandinavia and Baltic regions; and the 1999 Reuilly Declaration with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of France. Anglicans and Lutherans in Canada entered into an ecumenical agreement, the Waterloo Declaration, in 2001.

In the United States, the ELCA and the Episcopal Church -- a member of the Anglican Communion -- entered into a full communion agreement known as "Called to Common Mission (CCM)," effective in 2001. CCM encouraged the churches to engage in a variety of shared ministries, including the possibility of exchange of clergy under certain circumstances.

"The Anglican goal is full, visible, ecclesial communion," Baycroft said.

He added that achieving communion requires commitment and brings with it "costs."

Some Anglican leaders have become concerned about the agreements with Lutherans because there are so many, and each has different elements and challenges, he said.

In North America CCM has generated controversy, particularly among some Lutherans. The 2001 ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted a bylaw that may allow some clergy to be ordained by a pastor other than a bishop, if certain conditions are met. As a condition of full communion, the Episcopal Church required that a bishop preside at all Lutheran ordinations. The ELCA's adoption of this "unilateral change" has caused some worry among Anglican officials. "All of these questions are complicated to answer," Baycroft said. "No one wants to stop the progress."

The Rev. Lowell G. Almen, ELCA secretary and part of the ELCA delegation, said such "anomalies" get a lot of attention and tend to make people believe they are more common, "but there is a commitment to the norm." In the ELCA since CCM, there have been at least three ordinations by a pastor other than a bishop, but more than 550 were conducted under the terms of the agreement.

There are 38 churches in 164 countries that make up the Anglican Communion, said the Rev. Canon John L. Peterson, secretary general, Anglican Communion. The communion has determined two key priorities for its work, he said:

+ The crisis of HIV/AIDS in Africa: "It is here that we need a better working relationship with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), particularly where you are strong in Africa" Peterson said. The LWF, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is a global communion of 136 Lutheran churches in 76 countries. LWF membership includes 61.7 million of the world's 65.4 million Lutherans. The ELCA is an LWF member.

+ Theological education: The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, has determined theological education as a major priority, Peterson said. Lutherans, Anglicans and Episcopalians should be working more closely on this, he said. "We have a crisis in theological education," Peterson said. "Many of our bishops have been trained outside the church."

'UNITY IN STAGES' STRESSED BY CHURCH OF ENGLAND The policy of the Church of England is "unity by stages," said the Rev. Prebendary Paul Avis, general secretary, Council for Christian Unity, Church of England.

"We are committed to being consistent in our ecumenical agreements," he said, noting different language may appear in different agreements. "We are able to claim we are being consistent because of the 'unity in stages' approach," he said.

The Porvoo Declaration, which allows for exchange of clergy among Anglican and Lutheran congregations, is a "remarkable relationship" because it involves the Church of England, Anglican churches in the British Isles, and most Lutheran churches in Europe, said the Rev. Canon Charles Hill, European secretary, Council for Christian Unity, Church of England. However, there has been limited exchange of clergy, mostly because of language differences, he said. In Church of England congregations about 20 Lutheran clergy from Scandinavian countries serve.

On March 24, Hanson and the ELCA group met briefly with Pope John Paul II in Rome. At that meeting, Hanson asked the pope and leadership of The Vatican to consider allowing Lutherans to participate in Holy Communion in Roman Catholic congregations, currently not possible. The subject is still one of many being discussed in an international Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. The situation is similar for Anglicans, whose ministry orders have also been questioned by Rome.

Hanson suggested that Anglicans and Lutherans join together to discuss Holy Communion and ministry with Roman Catholics in a "tri- lateral" discussion. Avis said he appreciated the suggestion, and would discuss the idea with others.

The group spent some time discussing the role of women in the ordained ministry. In the ELCA women have served as pastors for more than 30 years, and seven women are serving as bishops. Within the Anglican tradition, the ordination of women is still an issue for some, said Dr. Martin Davie, theological consultant, House of Bishops, and secretary to the working party, Church of England.

Ten years after women were welcome as priests, there continues to be "strong opposition" from conservatives within the Church of England, he said. The ordination of women is still being "received," he said, adding that the church made a specific decision to "tolerate dissension" on the issue.

Three bishops in the Church of England are specifically consecrated to serve parishes that cannot recognize the ordination of women, he said. As for women serving as bishops, Davie said, "We are really wrestling with this one." The subject is "potentially divisive" for the church, he added.

By Albert H. Lee
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