"Full Communion" on the ELCA Agenda

11/18/1996 12:00:00 AM



     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will vote in 1997 to enter into partnerships of "full communion" with the Episcopal Church and with three Reformed churches: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ.  The ELCA Church Council, meeting here Nov. 7-11, placed the final wording of both resolutions on the agenda of the ELCA's 1997 Churchwide Assembly.
     A representative from each church body addressed the council and answered questions.  The assembly of each church will take a similar vote for full communion with the ELCA in 1997 before the ELCA votes.
     "Thank you for your unanimous vote.  This is a great day in the ecumenical world," said the Rev. Eugene G. Turner, PCUSA associate stated clerk.  He described several points in recent history when his church voted to maintain the process leading up to a decision next year.
     "The vote will reflect the doctrinal consensus that has been developing over the past 32 years," said the Rev. Douglas W. Fromm Jr., RCA associate for ecumenical relations.
     "There is a readiness available to us that will not be available to us again," said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC assistant to the president for ecumenical concerns.  "Many of our congregations see this as an opportunity for the national churches to receive what God is already doing in our local communities."
     The council is transmitting a resolution it received from a Lutheran-Reformed Coordinating Committee.  The first resolve is that the ELCA "adopt 'A Formula of Agreement' on the basis of 'A Common Calling' and declare that it is in full communion" with the three Reformed churches.  Three other resolves will make the agreement effective when all four churches pass the resolution, appoint a committee to coordinate its implementation and direct the ELCA's presiding bishop to present a progress report to the 1999 Churchwide Assembly.
     "A Common Calling" was the report of the Lutheran-Reformed Committee for Theological Conversations 1988-1992, ending with the recommendation that the four participating church bodies enter into full communion.  The Formula of Agreement was issued in 1995 clarifying how to implement full communion.
     The council is also transmitting to its churchwide assembly a "Concordat of Agreement" revised by a Joint Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee.  The Concordat lists a series of actions the two churches will take to enact full communion.  The first is that in each church's governing body "there shall be one binding vote to accept or reject, as a matter of verbal content as well as in principle, and without separate amendment, the full set of agreements to follow."
     Using the multicultural ministry work of both churches as an example, the Rev. William A. Norgren, retired ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church, said full communion will allow "collaboration among responsible people."  He said, "The freedom of the Holy Spirit opens all kinds of opportunities."
     The principles of full communion are similar for both agreements.  The churches will not merge.  They will have:

*    a common confessing of the Christian faith
*    a mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing of the Lord's
     Supper, allowing for joint worship and an exchangeability of
     members *    a mutual recognition and availability of ordained ministers
     to the service of all members of churches in full communion,
     subject only but always to the disciplinary regulations of
     the other churches *    common commitment to evangelism, witness and service *    a means of common decision making on critical issues of
     faith and life *    a mutual lifting of any condemnations that exist between
     churches

     Fromm addressed a concern Lutherans often raised in conversations with the Reformed churches -- the UCC ordaining homosexuals as pastors without the expectation that they abstain from homosexual sexual relationships.  The RCA is also concerned with that practice and has issued a formal request that the UCC enter into conversations with it on the topic, he said.
     Fromm said full communion carries the responsibilities of "mutual admiration and admonition" -- to compliment and to reprimand the other church.  It allows the two churches to enter such significant discussions "without naming these issues as church dividing."
     The Lutheran-Episcopal Concordat includes an "Agreement in the Doctrine of the Faith" and a description of the joint participation of both churches in the ordination of Episcopal bishops and in the installation of Lutheran bishops.
     The Rev. Stephen M. Youngdahl, council member from Austin, Texas, raised concerns with a statement in the Concordat that "the threefold ministry of bishops, presbyters and deacons in historic succession will be the future pattern of the one ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament shared corporately within the two churches."  The ELCA does not include its associates in ministry, deaconesses or diaconal ministers in its ordained ministry.
     Norgren explained that the emphasis of the statement is the historic succession that joint participation in the installation of Lutheran bishops would bring.  It did not imply that the Lutheran church would have the Episcopal threefold office of ordained ministry.
     The Rev. Robert L. Isaksen, bishop of the ELCA's New England Synod and an advisory member of the council, said Youngdahl's concern was addressed in the Concordat's next section: "The Episcopal Church hereby recognizes now the full authenticity of the ordained ministries presently existing within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America."
     The Reformed Church in America will hold its General Synod in Milwaukee, June 14-20.  The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will hold its General Assembly in Syracuse, N.Y., June 14-21.  The United Church of Christ will hold its General Synod in Columbus, Ohio, July 3-8.  The Episcopal Church will hold its General Convention in Philadelphia, July 15-25.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will hold its Churchwide Assembly in Philadelphia, Aug. 14-20.

For information contact: Ann Hafften, Dir., ELCA News Service,
(312) 380-2958 or AHAFFTEN@ELCA.ORG; Frank Imhoff, Assoc. Dir.,
(312) 380-2955 or FRANKI@ELCA.ORG

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