2/25/2015 2:00:00 PM
CHICAGO (ELCA) – In an endeavor to learn, share and deepen dialogue with Christian partners around the world, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), led a delegation of ELCA leaders Feb. 1-13, 2015, to meet with religious leaders in London, Geneva and Rome.
"Our pilgrimage to Canterbury, Geneva and Rome gave me a sense of the breadth of the church. The Anglican Communion, The Lutheran World Federation, World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church span the globe and, in their history and tradition, span the centuries. The church is catholic – small c – and the ELCA is part of that," said Eaton.
"While we should be mindful of our context in North America, and while we should be able to engage our particular culture, we should remember that the way we tend the gospel treasure entrusted to this part of the church has implications for the rest of the church. It's not just about us. It's not just about now," she said.
ELCA leaders who participated in the journey led by Eaton are the Rev. Conrad Selnick, vice president for advancement and church relations, Bexley Seabury Seminary Federation; the Rev. Donald P. Kreiss, bishop of the ELCA Southeast Michigan Synod and chair of the ELCA Conference of Bishops' ecumenical and inter-religious relations liaison committee; the Rev. Patricia J. Lull, bishop of the ELCA Saint Paul Area Synod; the Rev. Elizabeth Ekdale and the Rev. William E. Flippin Jr., members of the ELCA Church Council; Kathryn Lohre, executive for ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations; and the Rev. Donald McCoid, director for ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations.
Visits in London
In London, the ELCA delegation met with Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury of the Church of England at Lambeth Palace. The delegation visited the Church House – headquarters of the Church of England – and met with staff of the Anglican Consultative Council, which facilitates the cooperative work of the church of the Anglican Communion.
"We found the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby to be a highly relational leader, who had a good pulse on the challenges in the church and in society," said McCoid.
The archbishop "welcomed us into his public drawing room for conversation, which included everything from the progress of Lutheran-Anglican dialogue to the global witness of Pope Francis," said Ekdale. Members of the delegation "were delighted that [we] had the opportunity to describe the challenges we face in our ministries and ask the archbishop a question," she said.
"Knowing of his passion for spiritual renewal and prayer, I asked him if he would recommend a spiritual practice to ELCA members to help us grow in our faith lives. His simple yet profound answer surprised us all. 'Start where people are, not where you think they should be,' he shared. 'And, if they are interested in contemplative prayer or adoration of the sacrament, encourage them to explore this devotion which will help them grow.' We all agreed that starting where people are was a helpful reminder," said Ekdale.
"Anglicans and Lutherans have been involved in close dialogue since their distinctive denominations emerged at the time of the Reformation," said Selnick.
In 2017, ELCA members and Lutherans around the world will observe the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.
Visits in Geneva
In Geneva, the ELCA delegation met with General Secretary Martin Junge and staff of The Lutheran World Federation, a global communion of 144 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion's only member church from the United States. The delegation met with Deputy General Secretary Georges Lemopoulos and staff of the World Council of Churches. Conversation topics with the communion and council included ecumenical and interreligious dialogues, relief and development work, faith, mission and more. The delegation also met with Dr. Ioan Sauca, associate general secretary and director of the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey of the World Council of Churches.
"Our partners at the World Council of Churches summarized an important learning when describing how at the first World Council of Churches assembly in 1948 the commitment of the churches was 'to stay together,' whereas in 2013 it was 'to move together.' In that moment, I realized that our pilgrimage was at once an example of and a metaphor for contemporary ecumenism: Together with our partners we are a band of pilgrims who are committed to be 'on the way to unity' in Christ, taking both concrete and contemplative steps," said Lohre.
"Through each encounter, we can [strive] to a deeper understanding of how we as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America are part of a global communion that witnesses to the gospel and serves our neighbors," said Lohre. "The questions asked and stories shared by the pastors and bishops in our delegation helped us to make critical connections between the local, regional, national and global contexts in which we live out our vocation as church."
Visits in Rome
Visits in Rome included meetings with Monsignor Matthias Turk, Cardinal Kurt Koch (president) and Bishop Brian Farrell LC (secretary) of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity; Cardinal Marc Armand Ouellet, prefect, Congregation for Bishops in The Roman Curia; and with Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (Cardinal Tauran announced from the balcony the election of Pope Francis). Members of the ELCA delegation also participated in a general audience with Pope Francis.
"At the Vatican, our meeting with the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity was highly productive. We shared our work on how we are introducing 'From Conflict to Communion,' as well as our work on a 'Declaration on the Way (to Unity).' There was strong interest by the Council in what the ELCA and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is developing. As we approach 2017, agreements on the church, ministry, and the Eucharist are seen as a contribution after 50 years of dialogue," said McCoid.
"Being able to address Pope Francis was a highlight. After some cardinals and Catholic bishops went to the pope, Pope Francis came downstairs to greet a few persons. The first person to be greeted was Bishop Eaton. It was a very moving time to see his warm greeting and exchange," he said.
"A highlight for me was when I mentioned our commitment to ecumenical cooperation and our appreciation for his example and encouragement to work on the unity of Christ's followers. Pope Francis reached out and gently patted my arm with a warm smile and simply said 'God bless you.' We are blessed by Pope Francis," said McCoid.
In speaking about the 2015 Ecumenical Journey, Lohre called the pilgrimage "a remarkable opportunity to deepen our understanding of and commitments to our ecumenical partners." She added that, "As pilgrims to some of the most significant global communions, we discovered more deeply who we are as Lutherans and at the same received fresh insights and ideas for our common witness and service. Opportunities for worship and prayer in each context helped us to experience our unity in diversity and spiritually enriched us for the journey."
"I was particularly impressed by praying with each of the groups with which we met," said Lull. "From a prayer for our wellbeing with the archbishop of Canterbury to prayers for those who are vulnerable in our world with the Community of Saint Egidio in Rome, I was reminded on this pilgrimage that we are a living church. This was a prayer-led time and I come home moved and renewed by that."
"We experienced, in each place, an emphasis on religious formation in developing authentic grassroots leaders of faith," said Flippin.
"This journey helped me remember (what I had read about in church history classes) and to know (through the privilege of being there) the depth and breadth of the Christian tradition that we are a part as the ELCA," said Kreiss. "I was moved by the faithful witness we encountered in each place we visited, and by the passion for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ demonstrated in local communities -- though both the witness and the passion looked different in different places. And I was grateful for the hospitality we were offered in each place, where we were welcomed as fellow Christians, and as pilgrims on a journey."
For photos of the 2015 Ecumenical Journey, visit www.ELCA.org/Living-Lutheran/Photos.
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About the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:
The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with more than 3.8 million members in nearly 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.
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