The Times of London, 21 Aug 99

Narrow vote for church unity 


AFTER an intense debate, leaders of America's biggest Lutheran denomination have narrowly agreed to unite with the Episcopalians, an autonomous US branch of the Anglican community. 

The link will enable the two churches to recognise each other's sacraments and share resources and their clergy will be interchangeable.

The move is expected to be confirmed by the Episcopalians in July. 

The ballot, by elected delegates to the Lutherans' Churchwide Assembly in Denver, was hailed yesterday as a significant advance for the Christian unity movement. The decision was passed by 716 votes to 317, only 27 more than a required two-thirds majority. 

The two denominations are close in liturgy and both ordain women. The main point of controversy was the Episcopalian insistence that Lutheran bishops must join the "historic episcopate" -- the unbroken line of succession said to date back to Christ's apostles. Elected Lutheran bishops will for the first time be consecrated by the laying on of hands by three bishops already in the line of succession, including at least one Episcopalian bishop. 

Delegates who opposed that, argued that the Episcopalians, with 2.4 million members, should take the Lutherans, numbering 5.2 million, as they were. The Missouri Synod, a conservative branch of Lutherans, has not approved the unity plan.