Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, left, and Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. Photo: ELCA
Holding aloft a spade with a bright green pointed blade, Archbishop Fred Hiltz delivered a stirring May Day sermon at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Buffalo, N.Y. The service was one of two Canada-U.S. border services, the other in Fort Erie, Ont., celebrating a decade of full communion between Anglicans and Lutherans.
He brought this horticultural prop to the pulpit in a salute to the April tree-planting ceremony last month at Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre in Mississauga, Ont. The maple tree now marks the 10th anniversary of the Declaration of Full Communion between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada, made at Waterloo, Ont., in July 2001.
Archbishop Hiltz prayed that the tree would be “a sign of our rootedness in the Reformation, in the faith and tradition of the early church, and in the prayer of Jesus that they all may be one.” He prayed that this tree would always be a sign of our “growth in full communion, rising to new heights and branching out with ever-broadening expressions of our common life and witness in the service of the Gospel.”
In Canada, full communion is already manifest in a number of ways. “The National Bishop [Susan Johnson] and I speak with one another every month,” said Archbishop Hiltz. “We share joint messages for Christmas and Easter and release joint statements on many issues, most recently on poverty and homelessness in Canada.”
The two churches held the first joint meeting of their respective governing councils in April and are developing a theme for the joint meeting of the National Convention and General Synod in July 2013 in Ottawa.
At the local level, noted Archbishop Hiltz, full communion takes the shape of guidelines for common worship; joint participation in the ordinations of bishops, priests and pastors; serving in one another’s churches; shared ministries; and joint church plantings.
Every year, there is a joint National Worship Conference and every second year, a lively event called Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth (CLAY). “One thousand strong in attendance, it is by far the largest, most vibrant and hope- filled expression of full communion,” he said, adding that for young people of the future, inter-church communion will be the norm. “It will be in their DNA,” he said.
Harking back to the Cold Ash Report of 1983, one of the earliest documents to emerge from international Anglican-Lutheran dialogue, Archbishop Hiltz noted that, “Full communion implies that where churches are in the same geographic area, they are working together in common worship, study, witness, evangelism and the promotion of justice and peace.” And Anglicans and Lutherans are fully engaged in dialogue on tackling poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa; addressing violations of human rights in Latin America; and working for reconciliation in the Middle East.
The central focus of the International Commission for Anglican Lutheran Relations is diakonia-the servant ministry of the church. Quoting Norwegian Lutheran theologian the Rev. Dr. Kjell Birger Nordstokke, the primate said, “While diakonia begins as unconditional service to the neighbour in need, it leads inevitably to social change that restores reforms and transforms. It boldly addresses root causes and is change-oriented.”
In that spirit, the four national bishops call for urge attention to developing compassionate and sustainable economies; addressing systemic issues of poverty; enhancing social safety nets; reforming immigration policies; renewing relations with the First Nations People; and stewarding the resources of the earth in concern for those who come after us.
On this historic occasion, said Archbishop Hiltz, “With boldness we venture now with a time of breaking new ground, planting more seeds, and tending them in the spirit of authentic partnership in the Gospel. In God’s name, may we never be afraid to break new ground. May we be faithful in watering the seeds others have planted and diligent in planting more seed.”