The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the United Methodist Church observed the fifth anniversary as full communion partners during a Nov. 13 worship service at the Lutheran Center in Chicago.
In his sermon, the Rev. Wayne N. Miller, bishop of the ELCA Metropolitan Chicago Synod, said, “We come together to celebrate a convergence of two great Christian traditions. One initiated by Martin Luther and the other John Wesley.”
Miller spoke about the early days of each faith and said that, although both denominations were “thoroughly grounded in the word,” their “contexts were different.”
“The paths of these traditions diverged for many, many years until now,” he said. “Because we, you and I, sisters and brothers, on this day when the evening is nearly over, have been granted the extraordinary grace to meet again on the road, and in a very modest way, to reassemble the whole body of Christ – head, hand and heart together – by tipping the walls that might otherwise separate us on their sides, and to transform those walls into a table set by the etiquette of three simple rules to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.”
“This is yet another partial fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer that all may be one for the sake of the world, that they might believe,” said the Rev. Jonathan W. Linman, assistant to the bishop for faith and leadership formation, ELCA Metropolitan New York Synod, and one of the co-chairs of the ELCA – United Methodist coordinating committee. The committee, which meets every nine months, helps coordinate the relationships among church staff as they share ministry and resources. The committee met at the Lutheran Center Nov. 13-14.
“We give thanks to God for the opportunity to celebrate five years of full communion – to reflect on what we have, by God’s grace, been able to accomplish together, and to renew our commitments to the unity we have in Christ,” said Kathryn Lohre, executive for ELCA ecumenical and inter-religious relations. “Our full communion partnership is grounded in a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service. It is no coincidence that evangelical outreach has been the recent focus of the coordinating committee’s work, and we pray that this will become a hallmark of Lutheran-Methodist partnerships throughout our churches in the years to come.”
Full communion is not a merger between denominations. It is a relationship based on common confessing of the Christian faith and mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing of the Lord’s Supper. The churches worship together and may exchange clergy.
The Rev. Dr. Edgardo Colón-Emeric, assistant professor of Christian theology at Duke University and also a committee co-chair, said the observance of the fifth anniversary means, “a celebration of a new relationship. One that is in the process of sowing and beginning to see the first shoots of what we hope to harvest. (It) is not a relationship that is an agreement that stays on paper, but something that brings new life to the mission of our churches.”
Highlights of the ELCA and United Methodist Church agreement include: joint mission, especially in the areas of evangelical outreach and congregational vitality; clergy exchanges; and the development of a one-day ELCA-United Methodist Church retreat model for Lutherans and Methodists in local communities to come together to learn about each church’s traditions. The coordinating committee is also exploring how the two churches can further engage in the area of advocacy.
“The Lutheran church has such an amazing heritage and an amazing history,” said Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, United Methodist Church ecumenical officer for the Council of Bishops. “So, for us United Methodists to deepen our relationship, and to realize we are part of the family of God together, and to share our visible signs of unity, it broadens our understanding and it improves our discipleship. I believe we are living into the prayer that Jesus prayed that we might be one that the world might believe. I just feel like it’s what God has called us into and that we’re living into the possibility where the time is right, and it really is time for us to celebrate that union.”
In addition to the Methodist Church, the ELCA is in full communion with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), the Reformed Church in America, the United Church of Christ, The Episcopal Church and the Moravian Church in America.