Full communion nearer

Published September 1, 1999

National Bishop Telmor Sartison of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and Anglican Church of Canada Primate Michael Peers are all smiles during the Lutherans’ national convention where full communion was approved.


Balloons, party streamers and sustained applause greeted the almost unanimous decision of the National Convention of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada to approve in principle a declaration of full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada.

The Anglican General Synod adopted an identical resolution in June 1998. The ELCIC National Convention and General Synod are to meet simultaneously in July 2001 in Waterloo, Ont., when they are expected to give final approval to the agreement for full communion.

The decision at that time will be based on a revised version of a document know as the Waterloo Declaration, outlining theological agreement on matters of faith and order, including the episcopate, which enabled the interim sharing of altar fellowship now taking place.

Spokespersons for both churches emphasized that full communion is not a merger – each church will retain its separate identity while co-operation increases. Clergy can minister and members can worship across denominational boundaries.

About 350 delegates, plus 150 visitors and special guests attended the July convention in Regina, representing about 200,000 ELCIC members across Canada. The denomination was formed in 1986 by a merger of the Lutheran Church in America – Canada Section and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada.

The Anglican Church of Canada has about 800,000 members. After the vote, Anglican Primate Archbishop Michael Peers quoted the first Anglican Primate, Robert Machray, who said at the first General Synod in 1893, “This is a coming together not for harmony but for strength.”

The enthusiasm of Canadian Lutherans for full communion contrasts sharply with attitudes toward similar proposals in the United States for inter-communion between the Lutheran Church of America and the Episcopal Church, where, as one delegate said, “They’re having a terrific battle.”

The only real opposition at the Regina convention came when a speaker alleged that public statements by Bishop Michael Ingham of the Diocese of New Westminster on issues of religious pluralism and same-sex relationships raised questions about Anglican theological orthodoxy.

At a news conference later, ELCIC National Bishop Telmor Sartison called U.S. opposition “mean-spirited.” He added that there had been no similar organized opposition in Canada: “There is a desire to do this,” he said, though he admitted that in parishes where there has been little communication some Lutherans fear losing their identity.

Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America had earlier commended the Canadians for their ecumenical efforts, especially between Anglicans and Lutherans and said the ELCA was watching developments closely.

Canadian Anglicans and Lutherans will probably notice little change in their churches. Approval of the declaration will mean continued co-operation, especially in thinly populated areas, and probably an increase in situations where a cleric from either the Anglican Church or the ELCIC ministers to members of both denominations.

Observers said the real significance of full communion is acknowledgement of the similarity between Anglicans and the Evangelical Lutherans.

Lutheran pastor Jon Fogelman of Guelph, Ont., said the two traditions could be compared to the magazines Time and Newsweek: “Once you take off the front cover, the contents look very much alike inside.”

Canon Helena Houldcroft of Regina, a member of the Anglican Church’s Council of General Synod and an observer at the Lutheran convention, added, “Of all the churches, we probably have the most similar of histories.”

Both agreed that the present-day beliefs and worship styles of the two churches, while not identical, are difficult to distinguish from one another.

If the Waterloo Declaration receives final approval from both churches in 2001, the Anglican Primate and Lutheran National Bishop will sign a document that ends with this statement:

“We rejoice in our Declaration as an expression of the visible unity of our churches in the One Body of Christ. We are ready to be co-workers with God in whatever tasks of mission serve the Gospel. We give glory to God for the gift of unity already ours in Christ; and we pray for the fuller realization of this gift in the entire church.”

William Portman attended the Evangelical Lutheran national convention in July.


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