ELCA Assembly Adopts Full Communion with the United Methodist Church

8/20/2009 12:00:00 AM

MINNEAPOLIS (ELCA) -- By a vote of 958-51, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a full communion agreement Aug. 20 with the United Methodist Church (UMC).  This is the ELCA’s sixth full communion relationship and the first for the UMC.
The assembly also adopted an implementing resolution by a vote of  922-15.
In 2008, the UMC General Conference adopted the same agreement.
The churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is “God’s work. Our hands.”
Before the ELCA’s vote, the Rev. Gregory D. Palmer of the UMC said it would be “a great day” for both churches. “I am grateful that we have come to this point.”  At a news conference following the two actions, Palmer -- who is president of the UMC Council of Bishops -- said that “God has brought both our churches to a broad place where Jesus Christ calls us ... to all be one [and] to go out for the sake of the world.”
“We welcome you as you welcomed us last summer,” the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told Palmer after the first vote, “and we rejoice at what the spirit has in store for us.”
“This is indeed a day of great rejoicing,” said the Rev. Donald J. McCoid, the ELCA’s executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religiouis Relations.
Just after the first full communion proposal was read to the assembly, the Rev. Barbara M. Wills of the ELCA Northeastern Iowa Synod moved to refer the measure to the presiding bishop for further study throughout the church body, and for it to be re-presented to the 2011 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. She said she was concerned that there had not been sufficient time for such study.
 “We’ve had a long time of discussion [in both churches],” McCoid responded. “I think it’s important for our church to respect the process.”
That motion to refer the decision was voted down by more than 90 percent of the assembly.  
Ten ELCA bishops were among those who lined up at microphones to speak in favor of the full-communion agreement. Speakers told of cooperative and joint ministries already being conducted by Lutherans and United Methodists and noted the need for more such ministries and cooperation, especially in rural and remote areas.
Steven Chapman, a layman from the ELCA Northwest Washington Synod, asked, “What took so long?” in reference to the agreement.  “I know what Lutherans are going to bring to the potluck,” he quipped, “but what are the Methodists going to bring?”
“I think we have the same recipe books,” answered Bishop Sally Dyck of the UMC’s North Central Judicatory Episcopal area of Minnesota, which drew laughter and applause from the assembly.
Full communion is not merger. But it means that the two churches express a common confession of Christian faith; mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing Holy Communion; join worship and freedom to exchange members; agree to mutual recognition of ordained ministers for service in either church; express a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service; engage in common decision-making on critical matters; and a mutual lifting of criticisms that may exist between the churches.
The two churches began formal theological dialogues together in 1977, which led to declarations of “Interim Eucharistic Sharing” in 2005.
The ELCA has 4.6 million baptized members, and the UMC has 8 million.

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Information about the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly can be found at http://www.elca.org/assembly/ on the Web.

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