A partnership, not a merger

Published May 1, 2001

AT A RECENT bishops’ meeting near Toronto, irrepressible Bishop Ann Tottenham of Toronto, explaining she was “dead keen on Lutherans,” asked whether Anglicans couldn’t do more than just talk with their Lutheran counterparts at General Synod 2001 in Waterloo, Ont.

She was assured by staff that they will do much more than just talk. To use the bishop’s phrase, both Anglicans and Lutherans will be “dead keen” on each other at General Synod, July 4-11, as they approve a new relationship, worship, eat, discuss world issues and enjoy musical entertainment together.

The Anglican Church of Canada’s move toward “full communion” with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada follows a similar move in January in the United States and is part of a broader trend toward greater Christian unity. In recent years, Anglicans and Roman Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists, and various other denominations, have explored closer ties.

The vote on full communion will be held on Friday, July 6. Lutherans and Anglicans will attend a joint worship service on Sunday, July 8 in a converted hockey arena in the Waterloo Recreation Centre. The Lutheran church will be holding its governing convention at the same time nearby and the two conventions will exchange delegates for a lunch and discussions of social-justice issues concerning food and water. On Saturday, July 7, the two denominations will attend a celebratory banquet.

The two denominations share some early parallel history, noted Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of faith, worship and ministry for the Anglican church. Both had their beginnings in the 16th century as movements to rebel against or reform the Roman Catholic church. In Wittenberg, Germany, Martin Luther nailed his 95 criticisms of the church to the door of the castle church. In Britain, King Henry VIII, whose early castigation of Luther had earned him the title “defender of the faith,” turned on Rome when denied a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and established the Church of England.

Discussions between Lutherans and Anglicans began almost immediately, noted Ms. Barnett-Cowan. “(Thomas) Cranmer (author of the Book of Common Prayer) corresponded with major Lutheran figures,” she noted. However, it is only in the last part of the twentieth century that the two churches entered into formal dialogue, mainly under the influence of the ecumenical movement.

The first Lutheran churches in Canada were organized by German immigrants in Nova Scotia in 1749. Subsequently, immigrants from Scandinavia, Germany and Eastern European countries brought their Lutheran religion to Ontario and the prairies. There is a notably strong German and Lutheran influence in the Waterloo, Ont. area.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church, which has its national office in Winnipeg, has nearly 200,000 members in Canada and its leader is Bishop Telmor Sartison. The evangelical church has more than twice as many members as that of the Lutheran Church-Canada, which has about 86,000. There are about 700,000 Anglicans in Canada.

The evangelical church was formed in 1985 through a merger of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada and the Lutheran Church in America-Canada Section. Several years earlier, the Lutheran Church-Canada, the Canadian arm of the conservative American Lutheran denomination called the Missouri Synod, had considered merging with the other two wings of the faith, but declined.

When Anglican-Lutheran dialogue began in Canada in 1983, it became apparent that the major differences between the two churches concerned the role of bishops. In the Anglican church, bishops are considered to be serving in direct succession from Christ’s apostles, a belief central to Anglican identity. Lutherans have maintained the function of bishops, but some wings of the church have had bishops in historical succession and some have not.

As the discussions between the two churches developed, Anglicans leaders agreed to broaden their understanding of apostolic succession to recognize Lutheran bishops. Each church agreed to recognize the other as a church faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The discussions culminated in the Waterloo Declaration of 1997, which is the document to be voted upon at General Synod. It calls for a partnership, not a merger, noted Ms. Barnett-Cowan. For example, each church will accept the other’s clergy, but the two churches will still be independent.

“I feel very good about (the new relationship),” commented Bishop Sartison.

“It’s not only words, but the experience about being one in Christ,” he said in an interview. He also said he hopes the new relationship will not just be a declaration of leaders. “It’s got to be part of the experience in parishes and local groups,” he said.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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