Denver Post, 20 August 1999
Lutheran-Episcopal ties OK'd
By Virginia Culver
August 20 - Lutherans approved a historic document
Thursday that brings them into full communion with the Episcopal Church.
Denver Post Religion Writer
The vote to form the alliance, under which the two churches will exchange
clergy, recognize each other's sacraments and cooperate in missionary projects,
doesn't mean a merger of the churches but rather a "walking together,''
said the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presiding
Bishop H. George Anderson.
Delegates to the church's biennial convention, called the Church Wide
Assembly, passed the measure 716-317, or with 69.3 percent of the vote.
A two-thirds majority was needed to approve the proposal, "Called to
The vote followed a low-key debate that lasted more than two hours.
Hundreds of speakers flocked to the 12 microphones as the debate started
in an exhibit hall at the Colorado Convention Center.
Each was given 2 minutes to speak, but scores never got the chance because
the convention had adopted a rule about the length of the debate.
Lutherans and Episcopalians already have been sharing communion for
a number of years. And because conversations between the two denominations
have gone on for 30 years, there are several joint congregations. Two of
those - in New Mexico and Utah - are in the Rocky Mountain Synod, headquartered
in Denver. Rocky Mountain Bishop Allan Bjornberg said he and all 17 other
delegates from the region voted in favor of the alliance.
The 5.2-million-member Lutheran Church and the 2.8million-member Episcopal
Church now can combine efforts in such areas as disaster relief, education,
and medical and missionary work, instead of duplicating them.
"This is an incredible way to start the new century,'' said the Rev.
David Perry, ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church, who was in town
for the vote.
"This wasn't a win or lose thing,'' said Perry, adding that he knows
the "pain and anguish and distress'' people feel when they lose a vote
in church deliberations.
Though disappointed, those who opposed the agreement were good-natured
after the vote. The Rev. Brad Jensen of Duluth, Minn., said there was no
talk of any congregations bolting because of the vote. Jensen said he told
Anderson afterward that opponents will remain loyal Lutherans.
The agreement now will go back to the Episcopal Church for final ratification.
That vote also will be in Denver - next July at the triennial convention.
The Episcopal Church passed the first full communion statement, the
Concordat of Agreement, in 1997, but the Lutheran Church defeated it the
same year by six votes. The bilateral team that wrote the statement made
some changes and renamed it "Called to Common Mission.'' Episcopalians
attending the Lutheran meeting in Denver said they believe the revised
agreement will be passed by the Episcopal Church.
During the final debate Thursday, the Rev. Ruth Peterson of Reno, Nev.,
who favored the proposal, asked, "What kind of witness will we give to
the non-churched community, who see our arguments as confusing?''
The biggest stumbling block was the bishop issue. The Episcopal Church
requires that a bishop perform ordinations, but Lutherans allow ministers
to do them.
David Morken of Minnesota was near tears as he argued against the historic
episcopacy part of the document. Historic episcopacy is a belief among
Episcopalians and Catholics that all bishops come from an unbroken line
that dates to St. Peter.
Lutherans, always skittish about the power of bishops, used that portion
of the document to argue against it.
But Samuel Zumwalt of Texas said the church doesn't belong to the priests,
the bishops or the laity, but to God. As he spoke, his voice got louder
and louder and he began waving his arms as if he were preaching.
Anderson stopped him after 2 minutes with an "amen.''
North Dakota Bishop Rick Foss said the revisions to the agreement are
illusory. He compared them to the bath his dog recently got from a groomer.
When he brought the dog home, "It smelled good and had a bow around
its neck. But in no time the dog was dirty again. It's the same dang dog,''
he said, referring to the revised agreement. "We need a new dog.''
But finer points of theology are of little interest to the rest of the
world, said the Rev. Reinold Schlak of West Virginia. People are more interested
in whether Christians love each other, he said.
Lutherans also approved a fullcommunion statement Thursday with the
tiny Moravian Church of America.
They also have full communion with the Presbyterian Church, United Church
of Christ and Reformed Church in America.
Copyright 1999 The Denver Post. All rights reserved.