WHEN I began writing these columns, my commitment was that they would not be a “state of the union” message or a platform for national church policy or international church gatherings.
My goal was to write of events in my life, small and great, which surprise me, and to reflect on them in a way that might connect with the thoughts and lives of others.
This month and next I propose to draw on the events from the 2001 General Synod, not its proceedings, but its surprises for me.
For 20 years we have been talking with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada about growing closer. In 1989 we both approved “interim” communion, formally permitting Anglicans and Lutherans to receive communion in each other’s churches.
For me, this was a welcome turn of events. Thirty years ago, our parish welcomed in our building a Lutheran congregation looking for a home. We shared the building equally and began to share worship, especially in the summer. The dialogue of these years has been the coming together of friends.
This summer General Synod and the Lutheran National Convention, meeting in Waterloo at the same time, approved full communion by overwhelming majorities. Not a surprise – I had attended five diocesan synods where this was discussed and found the attitude very positive, and had the same experience at five Lutheran conventions.
Both bodies of bishops had met together in 1988 and agreed six years ago to meet together once each year. So every bishop in both churches, in the first year after ordination, meets all the bishops of the other church.
And for me, the results of these friendships were very real.
For some Anglicans, especially in the east and the far north, the practical implications were few because Lutheran congregations in those areas are rare. For some in the west, practical issues, especially the interchangeability of ministers, were very important.
So what was the surprise? The extraordinary emotion which the vote produced. Knowing in my mind the likely outcome and presiding with reserve and calm did not prepare me for the welling up of tears, nor for the spiritual impact of receiving from Lutheran observers a tray of loaves of bread and bottles of wine.
It did not prepare me for sharing in a Eucharist in a Waterloo arena with 3,500 people to celebrate this event, for hearing intercessions in Latvian and Finnish which I never hear in our churches (just as Lutherans rarely hear our Cree or Inuktitut intercessions).
It did not prepare me for the end of the service when Lutheran Bishop Telmor Sartison suggested that instead of leaving for the vestry we walk together around the arena and greet the people. We were all singing a powerful South African hymn which I have often shared with Desmond Tutu. I found myself doing the same gentle dance to that song that Desmond did.
And why all this emotion, not just mine but almost everyone else’s? Is it because we have great ecumenical hopes, which have come to so little in our formal life, and at last something is actually changing? Or because when we worship with one another we so quickly recognize “church”? Or because God the Spirit can actually break through and make a difference? All of the above?
Perhaps it is simply the splendidly hopeful affirmation that when Christians meet, think, eat and pray together, we find not only right actions but also profound, unforgettable joy.
Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.