Full communion with Lutherans as seen on the ground

Published December 1, 2002

In my parish, the historic Waterloo Declaration simply made legitimate something that we have been chipping away at for more than 30 years. To push the word ?legitimate? one more step, we can finally stop living common-law and enter into the marriage we should have been in all along.

For years we had been anticipating full communion between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Let me give you a bit of a sketch as to where we have come from.

In 1970, St. Stephen?s Lutheran Church, then a church of the Lutheran Church of America ? Canada Synod, sold its building and moved down the street to share quarters with St. Bede?s. The building was entrusted to the care of The Mount Royal Christian Centre, of which the two congregations were equal stakeholders.

Throughout the 1970s, various programs and activities were run jointly. Most notable was a shared youth group, which gave witness to a living ?unity in diversity? style of ecumenism.

Over the 1980s, shared worship services were held occasionally, and this led, in the 1990s, to shared services during the summer. A shared Sunday school was also established.

In 1995, under the direction of Allen Simms (the then-rector of St. Bede?s) and Roger Olson (until recently, the pastor of St. Stephen?s) the congregations moved into a regular shared worship arrangement. The pattern was simple, alternating weekly between the liturgies of the two traditions, with the rector preaching at Lutheran liturgies and the pastor preaching at Anglican liturgies.

In the late 1990s, it became clear that the shared worship pattern had about it an interim character. We worshipped together, yet otherwise ran completely parallel congregations. In real terms, this meant parallel boards, budgets, envelopes, pastoral leaders, altar guilds, coffee cupboards? just about everything outside of worship and Sunday school. It was time, to use the old cliché, ?to fish or cut bait.?

Of course, life is always more complicated than a cliché, and so we wrestled on and off with the shape and texture of our future for a couple of years. As can often be the case, it was a set of financial questions that moved us toward decisive action.

Neither parish was particularly flush, and while St. Bede?s was just holding financially, there were signs that St. Stephen?s would have difficulty meeting its proposed 2002 budget. We also came to the realization that we were burning far too much time and energy on parallel structures.

What if we could move from a cumbersome administrative structure to a single governing board? Move from tying up the time and energy of more than 30 committee members to a system that would use the administrative gifts of eight or 10 people?

And so, after our respective annual meetings, a working group was formed to generate a proposal for a unified parish. On April 28, 2002, this proposal was brought before a joint meeting of the two congregations.

In broad terms, it proposed a single parish (The Church of St. Stephen and St. Bede), under the jurisdiction of both the ELCIC synod and the Anglican diocese with one board, one budget, and one pastor. The proposal passed with a resounding majority.

There remain some unanswered questions and areas of concern: How to preserve Anglican and Lutheran identity in this amalgamated congregation. Can we, in other words, be true to our traditions without becoming narrowly denominational? Can we be truly ecumenical without sacrificing the richness and distinctiveness of the two foundational traditions?

It?s more than enough to keep a congregation busy for a year or five, but we are working at it with some fresh energy, a renewed vision, and a resilient spirit? and that is good news in any church. community. Rev. Jamie Howison is rector of St. Bede, Winnipeg.


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