ELCA NEWS SERVICE
September 19, 2011
ELCA, African Methodist Episcopal Zion leaders gather for historic summit
CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church have embarked on a new relationship to engage in mission and ministry together, sharing in one another's traditions, witness and service in the world.
"It is my prayer that congregations of the ELCA and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church will join together in worship, Scripture study and shared commitment to work for justice and reconciliation," said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson.
Leaders of both churches gathered for a festive worship service Sept. 16 at St. John's Lutheran Church in Salisbury, N.C., and a daylong summit Sept. 17 at Hood Theological Seminary, also in Salisbury, to celebrate and explore how congregations of both denominations can engage in ministry together.
The summit came about as a result of talks between the ELCA and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church that began five years ago. The conversations produced a mission statement in which both churches affirm a common call to be "restorative agents of God's redeeming work in the world."
The relationship between both denominations may be the first time in the U.S. that a historically White church and historically Black church have agreed to cooperative ministry, according to the Rev. Leonard H. Bolick, bishop of the ELCA North Carolina Synod.
The relationship is an opportunity for deeper understanding, said the Rev. Donald McCoid, assistant to the ELCA presiding bishop, Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations. "Now we move toward sharing who each of our churches are, our theological affirmations, and what we will plan to do together both locally and nationally," he said. The summit was "a time for coming together in worship, sharing with one another about who we are and being open to the Holy Spirit's guidance as we look for tangible ways to cooperate in grassroots ministries."
"This is a new beginning that will be seen in the lives of our churches and communities," said McCoid. "We have much to learn from our African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church colleagues, and we hope that we can learn together, share together, witness together and serve together in many ways and in many places."
At the summit, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, bishop of the ELCA Northeastern Ohio Synod, shared an overview of the Lutheran church's history in the United States, including the 1988 merger that gave birth to the ELCA.
"No Lutheran ever thought of America as the new Jerusalem," she said. Noting that the Lutheran church also upholds its sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion, Eaton said that the "Lutheran (church) is a place where people can get over themselves and be freed to serve their neighbors."
The Rev. Dennis V. Proctor, bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion's Western District, said that from its beginning, "Zion has been at the forefront of the perpetual march for human freedom, dignity and equality. These talks today, although new to us, follow in the legacy and lifestyle of the people called Zion."
Hanson said the weekend's gathering was a "time to celebrate our growing relationship in faith, witness and service. As we have engaged in conversations, I have been so blessed by the faith-filled, prophetic testimony of the bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church."
In his sermon at the Sept. 16 service, Senior Bishop George W.C. Walker Sr. of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, encouraged congregations of both churches to "wake up and arise" as one church to focus on the problems affecting society today.
In August, Walker had greeted the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Orlando, Fla.
"The enthusiastic response of the Churchwide Assembly to the moving greeting of Senior Bishop Walker was a clear sign of the ELCA's commitment to our relationship," said Hanson.
McCoid added that Walker's greeting at the assembly was a "historic moment for our churches."
In looking at where we go from here, the Rev. Wayne N. Miller, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod, shared that now we return home, "but we will go home forever transformed."
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The Rev. Robert Shoffner, communication coordinator of the ELCA North Carolina Synod, contributed information for this release.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with approximately 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region. Known as the church of "God's work. Our hands," the ELCA emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer, Martin Luther.
For information contact:
Melissa Ramirez Cooper
773-380-2956 or Melissa.RamirezCooper@elca.org