Denver Post, 20 August 1999

Lutheran-Episcopal ties OK'd

By Virginia Culver
Denver Post Religion Writer

August 20 - Lutherans approved a historic document Thursday that brings them into full communion with the Episcopal Church.

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 Common Mission.''

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.

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