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Previous activity:

For three decades, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has been in dialog with the Episcopal Church. Their goal is to establish full communion between the two denominations. The combined membership of the two groups is estimated at 7.5 million members.

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1999-2000 authorization:

At its 1997 General Convention, the Episcopal Church approved a  "Concordat of Agreement" to establish full communion between the two churches. The ELCA turned it down in a narrow vote. 

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The agreement was altered to produce a new document "Called to Common Mission." (CCM)


On 1999-AUG-19, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted 69% to 31% to accept the CCM, at its Churchwide Assembly. A 2/3rds vote was needed to pass. 


On 2000-JUL-11, the Episcopal Church also passed the accord, but by a much larger majority than did the ELCA. Two additional resolutions were also passed with minimal opposition:

One suspended the Episcopal ordinal to enable Lutheran pastors to function in Episcopal churches


The other admitted Lutheran clergy according to the Episcopal Church's constitution. 

Some reactions to the Episcopal vote were:


The Most Reverend Frank T Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church issued a statement on JUL-8, which said in part:
"...the Episcopal Church is now, as of today, in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on the basis of a shared ministry in the historic episcopate and for the sake of common mission in proclaiming and serving the Gospel. Constitutional changes will be implemented as of January 1, 2001."

"The agreement will be a very significant sign to the ecumenical community that our two churches can live in communion with one another for the sake of a greater unity in the service of a common mission. Besides allowing an interchange of ordained ministers, this agreement gives us the confidence to go forward together in a sharing of our resources and traditions for the sake of a greater good in evangelism, witness, and service. This is the mission that is now before us, and I pray that we can proceed toward its implementation in a timely manner. In obedience to the Lord we serve, I now call on all of us, even those who may have had some doubts or hesitations, to join in this process. At the same time, I thank all those who worked to bring us to this day. May this agreement signal a new beginning, a jubilee of word and deed, for both our churches at the dawn of this new millennium. Now is the time of the Lord's favour
!" 5


Rev. Jane Gould, Episcopal chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicted that inter-denominational cooperation will not result in "Lutherpalians or Episcorans," but in a deeper understanding of what it is to be Episcopalian, Lutheran, "and even Christian."


"At a news conference following the vote, the Rev. Lowell Almen, ELCA secretary, offered to take the Rev. David Perry, the Episcopal Church's deputy for ecumenical relations, to the convention exhibit area to buy matching stoles.  The gesture would commemorate the occasion, he said. 
'Today marks the beginning of a marvelous new future for both of our churches,' Almen exulted.  'David, we're going shopping.' He added that there will be an inaugural event marking the agreement on the Feast of the Epiphany"
on 2001-JAN-6. 3

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Implications of the CCM agreement:

The two denominations will not actually merge. However, they will be able to share clergy, and fully recognize each other's members, ministries and sacraments. Rev. Donald Brown, chair of the Committee on Ecumenical Relations of the Episcopal Church explained during the 2000 convention: "It is not a marriage or a merger of our two churches. Each church will retain its own liturgical, theological, and organizational uniqueness and integrity..."We Episcopalians will still be inspired by the liturgical genius of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, and Lutherans will still proudly claim the theological insights of Martin Luther.  But most importantly and significantly, both our churches will be living into the reality of Jesus' prayer in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John that all his followers might be one." 3

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Opposing full communion:

Opponents within the ELCA mainly objected to the Episcopal Church's concept of episcopate ordination. This involves "three bishops laying their hands on the new priest allegedly extending an unbroken line they trace back to the apostles." 2 This belief that ordination has continued in a continuous line from Christ's apostles to the present time is called "apostolic succession." 

On 2000-MAR-26, the WordAlone Network held its inaugural meeting at St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, MN. Roger Eigenfeld is chairperson of the WordAlone Network, and pastor of St. Andrew's. The Network is a Lutheran group which objects to communion with the Episcopal Church. Over 1,000 attended the four day convention. 

The group wanted to preserve the historical Lutheran concept of the priesthood of all believers. They feel that this would end with the acceptance of the Episcopal Church's liturgical episcopate. They feel that the latter would create a caste system within the ELCA. However, WordAlone supporters "don't oppose other aspects of the Lutheran pact with Episcopalians, especially the call for combined missions work and shared sacraments."

On 2000-APR-14, the entire faculty of Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary unanimously agreed to issue a statement called: "On the Pastoral Implementation of 'Called to Common Mission'." It states that "the decision made at Denver [in 1999 to accept the CCM] was a legitimate corporate act of the ELCA." They suggested that the CCM be "implemented with the greatest possible pastoral sensitivity toward those who are angry or uncertain about its meaning and implications. We support the effort of our Presiding Bishop to hold fast to the course set by the Assembly at Denver, while nonetheless inviting all viewpoints in the church to join in continuing dialogue." They suggest a constitutional amendment that would allow some individual ordinands to decide whether they wished to opt out of ordination by a bishop. 6

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The Canadian situation:

In Canada, the Anglican and Lutheran denominations are planning to achieve full communion in the year 2001. This will involve 800,000 Anglicans and 200,000 Lutherans. 

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  1. Ecumenical News International, (ENI) News highlights, 1999-AUG-20
  2. "Lutherans Challenge Changes in Clergy Ordination," Maranatha Christian News Service, 2000-MAR-29, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000329d.htm 
  3. Jan Nunley, "Episcopal Church approves full communion with Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," Episcopal News Service, 2000-JUL-11, #00249.
  4. Questions and answers on "Called to common mission," Department for Ecumenical Affairs, ELCA, at: http://www.elca.org/ea/index.html 
  5. J.M. Rosenthal, "Statement on 'Called to common mission' passage," ACNS Mailing list, 2000-JUL-11.
  6. "On the Pastoral Implementation of 'Called to Common Mission'," Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, 2000-AOR-14, at: http://www.ltss.edu/faculty_statement.htm 

Copyright © 1999, 2000 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2000-JUL-13
Author: B.A. Robinson

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