Monday, August 31, 2009

Evangelical Lutheran Church of American and The United Methodist Church in Full Communion

On August 20th the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America at their church wide assembly in Minneapolis, MN voted to be in full communion with the United Methodist Church. In 2008 at the UM General Conference the United Methodists voted for full communion and now with the vote on August 20th the Lutherans have also agreed to it. Full communion is when two denominations establish a relationship based on a common confessing of the Christian faith and a mutual recognition of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It also recognizes the ordinations of the clergy. This day was long in coming. The dialogs around this began 30 years ago. This does not mean that the United Methodists are merging with the Lutherans. It means we recognize either others faith statements, sacraments and ordinations. It can pave the way for United Methodist clergy and ELCA clergy to serve in each others’ churches. Most importantly, it is a call for all of us to work together with the ELCA churches in our neighborhoods in new and fuller ways.

When I was growing up there was a Lutheran Church in my neighborhood. My family attended the Methodist Church just down the street from the Lutheran Church. The Lutheran Church building was much more grand and beautiful than the Methodist flagstone building. The Lutheran Church had gothic architecture and a large red wooden front door. Not understanding a whole lot about history or geography I remember hearing about Martin Luther and nailing the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany (the beginning of the Protestant Reformation). I figured that it happened at the Lutheran Church down the street and I looked at the door when we passed by and wondered why the 95 Theses were not there. Sadly we never really knew much about the Lutherans because their religion and ours in those days were kept separate. I never got to see the inside of the Lutheran Church until much later when as a young adult I helped teach a cooperative Vacation Bible School with the Lutherans down the street. How much more we could have been doing together all those years but our polity kept us apart. My little home town was poorer because of it.

We are living in a better day now. People of good will from a variety of denominations are freer to share ministries due to the ecumenical work of full communion. Religion divides but the Spirit unites. I see the Spirit at work here.

Bishop Peggy A. Johnson

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