Associated Press, August 19, 1999

Lutherans OK Pact With Episcopalians

Filed at 2:13 p.m. EDT

By The Associated Press

DENVER (AP) -- Evangelical Lutheran Church in America delegates today approved a controversial unity pact with the Episcopal Church that has been under discussion for decades.

The vote was 716 to 317, or 69.3 percent approval, slightly exceeding the two-thirds (67 percent) margin needed for passage. After the announcement, the Lutherans' national assembly members applauded and sang the hymn ``If You But Trust in God To Guide You.''

Now that Lutherans have decided, Episcopalians will vote on the pact during their convention next year. Two years ago, the Episcopal Church gave overwhelming approval but the Lutheran assembly's vote fell just short of two-thirds. The pact has been slightly reworked since.

Under the ``full communion'' pact, the churches will recognize and share each other's sacraments and clergy and cooperate in missionary projects, something supporters say will strengthen the ministry and prove helpful in urban and rural areas where church resources are scarce.

Together, the churches have about 7.5 million members in 18,000 congregations.

The agreement requires Lutherans to follow an ordination practice known as the historic episcopate: Each bishop is installed by a laying on of hands by three predecessor bishops from a line believed to extend back to Christ's apostles.

That raised opposition within the Lutheran ranks. While Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as Episcopalians, follow the practice, Lutheran teachings don't require such historic succession. Many of the world's Lutheran bodies do not practice it.

Two years ago, at the same time the Lutheran delegates narrowly rejected the pact with the Episcopal Church, they approved pacts with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America and United Church of Christ. Those were different in that none of them required changes in Lutheran tradition.

On Wednesday, opponents said the Episcopal Church should be willing to take Lutherans as they are without requiring them to adopt the historic episcopate.

The Rev. Jaynan Clark-Egland of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, said her opposition was ``based on scripture and the freedom of the Gospel.'' Bishops are no more sanctified than clergy, she said, and clergy no more than the laity.

Others considered the pact old-fashioned. The Rev. Thomas Lyberg of Convoy, Ohio, labeled it a ``political, ecclesiastical document'' that envisions ``maintenance to marginal congregations'' in both churches, rather than new evangelism.

The Rev. James Hanson of Winters, Texas, called the proposal ``a move in the wrong direction.''

``We have so obviously not yet gained wide consensus among ourselves,'' declared the Rev. Stephanie Frey of Redwood Falls, Minn., who said Lutherans should forget the pact and tend to their own internal ``division and woundedness.''

Supporters said the time had come for a change.

``We write the final chapter for this century in this assembly,'' said President Timothy Lull of Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif. ``How does it end? With whimpering and squabbling that are, woefully, part of the dark side of Lutheranism past?''