ELCA NEWS SERVICE
January 9, 2001
Lutherans and Episcopalians Celebrate New Relationship
WASHINGTON, D.C. (ELCA) -- In a "house of prayer for all people," the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) celebrated its new relationship of "full communion" with The Episcopal Church in a gala worship service here at the Washington National Cathedral on Jan. 6 -- the day Christian churches around the world celebrate the Epiphany.
After more than 30 years of conversation between Lutherans and Episcopalians in the United States, about 3,500 members of the ELCA and the Episcopal Church shared Holy Communion in the inaugural celebration of full communion.
"One of the gifts full communion brings is the opportunity to discover gifts that each of the churches have, which can be used to share with the other," said the Rev. H. George Anderson, ELCA presiding bishop, at a press conference on Jan. 5.
"In my view, [full communion] is one example of God's continued gathering of God's people," Anderson said.
The premise for the full communion relationship is contained in "Called to Common Mission" (CCM), a document adopted by the 1999 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and the 2000 General Convention of the Episcopal Church.
Full communion is not a merger of the two churches. It commits the churches to share locally and internationally in their mission and to develop procedures whereby clergy in one church body may serve as pastors in congregations of another church body.
"Full communion is an organic relationship. It is not a document nor a set of legislative criteria. Being in communion, which is a very ancient principle, does not mean merging. Being in communion means respecting one another's traditions -- be they liturgical, linguistic, cultural or theological -- but recognizing that there's a sufficient commonality of faith so that those two entities can share life in Christ to the full," the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop, Episcopal Church, said at the press conference.
The two-hour worship celebration marked the beginning of the new relationship made official on Jan. 1. The celebration began with music and processions entering the incense-fragrant cathedral. Representatives of ELCA synods and Episcopal dioceses formed one procession. Other processions included international ecumenical guests, members of the churches' full communion dialogue and writing teams, and staff from both churches. The internationally known St. Olaf College Choir, Northfield, Minn., performed. St. Olaf is one of 28 colleges and universities of the ELCA.
Anderson presided over the Eucharist and Griswold preached. Dr. Addie J. Butler, ELCA vice president, Philadelphia, and the Rev. Ernestina R. Campbell, an ordained Episcopal deacon from Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, Calif., served as assisting ministers.
"As we are rooted and knit together by the Spirit in fellowship and full communion, we are called to common mission; and the mission we share is none other than the mission of Christ and the mission of Christ's body, the Church," said Griswold.
"While Lutherans and Anglicans and many other communities of believers subsist within the Western tradition and have much of our inheritance from the Church of Rome, we do not stand apart from the ancient churches of the East from which so much of our life and tradition have come, as the Feast of the Epiphany makes plain," Griswold said.
"It is, therefore, my prayer and earnest hope that full communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church of the United States will lead to ever-widening and deepening relationships of shared life and mission with other churches of the Reformation, as well as the Church of Rome and the churches of the East," he said.
"How right it is that as we come together to affirm our call to common mission as two households of faith within one holy, catholic and apostolic Church in full communion with one another, we do so within the context of the Eucharist," said Griswold.
"On this occasion the Eucharist, in conjunction with the renewal of our baptismal identity is not an adjunct -- an appropriate ceremonial addition to our call to common mission -- but rather, it is the ground of the communion we share. The Eucharist both summons us and sustains us as we face the future in all its challenge and complexity, as well as its possibility," he said.
"Our formal declaration of full communion is just the beginning of the journey," said Griswold. "Where we will be led God alone knows."
Griswold also presided over the renewal of baptismal vows, a highlight of the service. Anderson, Butler, Campbell and Griswold gathered around a baptismal font, located at the center of the church, to affirm the churches' mutual recognition of Baptism.
The entire assembly was sprinkled with "baptismal water" as a sign and reminder of each participant's Baptism. Assistants at the baptismal renewal included the Very Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, dean, Washington National Cathedral; the Rt. Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon, bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Washington; and the Rev. Theodore F. Schneider, bishop, ELCA Metropolitan Washington, D.C., Synod.
The liturgy blended resources from the Lutheran and Episcopal churches, as well as new liturgical material commissioned for the worship service.
Vestments worn by ministers at the service represented the variety of traditions from the two churches.
The "Prayers of the People" were led in a variety of languages by members of the Lutheran and Episcopal churches. Ministers and the congregation greeted one another with expressions of peace following the prayers.
An offering was collected to help support the ministries of the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund; Lutheran Disaster Response, a ministry of the ELCA and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS); and Lutheran World Relief, the overseas relief and development ministry of the ELCA and LCMS.
The ELCA, based in Chicago, is a 5.15 million member church with about 11,000 congregations across the United States and Caribbean. Congregations are organized into 65 synods, each headed by a bishop.
The Episcopal Church, based in New York, has 2.4 million members in some 7,500 congregations. The church has 107 dioceses, each headed by a bishop. -- -- --
Images from the Jan. 6 worship service are available at http://www.elca.org/co/news/images.celebrate.html on the ELCA Web site.
For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG