This question involves two separate issues. The ELCA’s statement, Ecumenism: The Vision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
, clearly notes the different situations: "Ecumenism has as its focus and goal clarity of understanding among Christians and a greater realization of unity among Christ’s people. As such it is closely related to the mission of the Gospel to all the world. It should not be confused with the important but distinct responsibility for the Church to enter into conversations and reach greater understanding with people of other faiths." With this distinction in mind, first the question of worship and prayer with other Christians will be considered, then the latter issue, relations with non-Christians.
The commitment to Christian unity is a part of the ELCA’s very identity, as outlined in chapter 4 of its constitution. The ELCA statement on ecumenism offers helpful criteria for making judgments on whether and when participation in worship and prayer with other Christians is appropriate: "As understood in Christ’s prayer ["that they may be one" (John 17:21)], unity is given to the church, not for the sake of the church, but that the church might give itself in mission to the world for the sake of the Gospel." In its ecumenical efforts, the ELCA "commits itself to share with others in the worship of the Triune God, [and] to the task of proclaiming the Gospel to all." These criteria may be applied to three common situations of ecumenical worship: 1) a wedding between two people from different Christian traditions; 2) community-wide, ecumenical services such as an Easter sunrise service or Thanksgiving Day service; and 3) prayers at civic ceremonies, such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, or Martin Luther King Day celebrations.
In the first instance, a wedding certainly offers an opportunity for proclaiming the Gospel both to the wedding couple and to all who gather to witness and celebrate with them. There is no question that such opportunities are consistent with the ELCA’s commitment to Christian unity. The same can be said for the community services sponsored by local ecumenical associations made up of Christian congregations. In this instance, these services are a witness to the whole community of the unity shared among Christians, while at the same time they are an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to those gathered for the service.
The third example, prayers at civic ceremonies, moves into a gray area, since these ceremonies and services are based on civil religion rather than the Christian faith. From USA's beginnings as a nation, American civil religion was based on the presumption that this country was a "Christian" nation. While such a presumption might have been acceptable by some in an earlier age, it is no longer valid nor appropriate today. Therefore, Christian clergy involved in such events ought to make clear that they do not represent the nation nor do they pray as representatives of the nation. In such situations, it is best articulate a narrow, confessional stand, and make it clear that, as a member of the clergy of the ELCA, one can offer prayers on behalf of the nation and the world in the name of Jesus Christ.
The second issue, worship and prayer with non-Christians, moves beyond the constituting identity of the ELCA but is very much a matter of concern in the religious pluralism of the present day and in the wake of events since September 11, 2001. Interfaith Relations and the Churches: A Policy Statement of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., can offer some guidance in these matters. Representatives of the ELCA participated in the preparation of this statement and voted for its adoption by the NCCC. This documents notes an underlying tension within Scripture. On the one side, scripture speaks of the uniqueness of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, Colossians 1:19-20, 1 Corinthians 15:22); and on the other side, scripture also speaks of natural or general revelation (Romans 1:20) and asserts that "the Spirit blows where it chooses" (John 3:8). Taken together, Scripture invites Christians to be open to people of other religious traditions while at the same time witnessing through their lives of the liberating power of salvation through Christ. The NCCC policy document counsels Christians to respect the identity of others and to "accept their right to determine and define their own identity." With this in mind, Christians eager to express the unity of all humanity affirmed by the Christian scriptures through prayer and worship should not force their agenda on those unwilling to take this step.
The desire for interfaith prayer or worship is likely to occur in these settings: 1) a wedding of people from two different religious traditions; 2) interfaith dialogue groups; 3) social justice gatherings. In the first instance, if the wedding takes place in a Christian church, the ceremony should be an expression of the Christian tradition and an opportunity for the proclamation of the Gospel. The inclusion of a blessing of the couple by non-Christian clergy in this instance is a possibility. The decision to include such a blessing would be a matter of local concern, informed by ELCA statements and policy. If the wedding takes place in a non-religious setting, the shared participation by representatives from two faith traditions is more feasible. Under these circumstances, the role of the clergy in the marriage rite as agents of the state, which regulates laws on marriage, is more obvious than in a wedding that takes place in the church, where the pastor’s call to proclaim the Gospel is more evident.
In the second and third settings named above, interfaith dialogue groups and social justice gatherings, often the desire is to start and/or end the gathering with prayer. The cautions noted above must be kept in mind. At the same time, the ELCA Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations offers this suggestion: "On some occasions, when persons of several faiths offer prayer, it may be possible by way of introduction to note that each will pray in language fully reflecting each tradition. In such settings Lutherans will want to witness to our tradition of Trinitarian prayer offered ‘in the name of Jesus’ or ‘through Jesus Christ our Lord.’"
- A Christian Celebration of Marriage: An Ecumenical Liturgy. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1995. ISBN: 0806628316. This rite provides an ecumenical liturgy for marriage, ideal for use in interdenominational weddings and weddings performed jointly by two ministers from different Christian traditions. The rite contains contemporary versions of favorite marriage rituals, including the blessing of rings and nuptial blessing. Developed by the Consultation on Common Texts.
- The ELCA Department of Ecumenical Affairs. The department's Web site includes pages on current ELCA ecumenical and interfaith dialogues, and a resource page with study materials and historic documents.
- Guidelines for Lutheran-Jewish Relations: Suggestions for fostering Lutheran-Jewish dialogue and cooperation were drafted by the Consultative Panel on Lutheran- Jewish Relations of the Department for Ecumenical Affairs of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and were adopted by the ELCA Church Council at its meeting on November 16, 1998. These guidelines are an outgrowth of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's April 1994 "A Declaration to the Jewish Community," which repudiated the anti-Jewish writings of Martin Luther and expressed the ELCA's urgent desire to live out its faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people.
- Interfaith Relations and the Churches: A Policy Statement of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Adopted by the NCCC General Assembly on November 10, 1999.
- Revised Common Lectionary Prayers: Proposed by the Consultation on Common Texts. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002. ISBN: 0800634845. This resource is the result of a five-year project by the same ecumenical consultation that prepared the Revised Common Lectionary, the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT). Revised Common Lectionary Prayers contains three prayer options for all the Sundays and holy days in the three-year cycle: thematic, intercessory, and Scripture echoing the images and themes of the appointed readings. The CCT sought to prepare a truly ecumenical set of prayers, representing the full spectrum of Christian traditions in all its diversity and richness.