‘Justice work is relational’ How full communion supports advocacy

Anglicans and Lutherans at the Gathering for Right to Water-Fill the Hill in Ottawa, July 2013, an event to draw attention to the need for clean drinking water. photo: Trina Gallop Blank
By on May 2, 2022
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Faith communities may have lost some of the heft they once had in shaping public opinion in Canada—but ecumenism, including full communion between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC)—has allowed churches to partly make up for this by advocating for change in a single voice, say a pair of Anglican and Lutheran social justice leaders.

The Rev. Paul Gehrs, assistant to the bishop, justice and ecumenical and interfaith relations for the ELCIC, says the two churches regularly collaborate on justice issues—under the guidance of church leaders or by participating in joint campaigns and activities. Teaming up to do advocacy, he says, helps each church do it better.

“For both churches, we’re expanding the pool of wisdom and experience that we [can] draw on.”

Gehrs compares the relationship between Lutheran and Anglican church staff at the national level to that between trusted friends.

Ryan Weston, lead animator of Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice in the Anglican Church of Canada, says the churches share updates on their respective justice work and will commonly invite each other to get involved.

“I think we have cultivated a culture of considering each other as we do advocacy and always, if one of us is participating

in something, extending that invitation to the other church to join in as full communion participants,” Weston says.

Since 2013, the Joint Assembly Declaration has been a key point of reference for Anglicans and Lutherans in shared justice advocacy. That declaration committed the churches to focus attention on two issues: homelessness and affordable housing, and responsible resource extraction.

Other common concerns include climate justice, the right to water, dismantling racism, putting an end to human trafficking, and working together on a framework of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, Gehrs says.

As an example of the latter, he highlights the self-determining Indigenous church within the Anglican Church of Canada as a source of inspiration and learning for Lutherans.

Anglican-Lutheran joint advocacy work extends to the United States. Last November, Churches Beyond Borders— the four-way partnership that includes the Anglican Church of Canada, ELCIC, The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—compiled a 16-day devotional opposing violence against women. The release of the devotional coincided with the United Nations campaign “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.”

National Anglican and Lutheran leaders sometimes also issue joint statements or letters.

These joint declarations are partly about raising awareness, Gehrs says—but they’re also calls to prayer. Sometimes they’re addressed to government, with the aim of influencing policy.

Both the Anglican Church of Canada and ELCIC are members of KAIROS Canada, established to bring together Canadian churches and religious organizations to advocate for justice, peace, human rights, and social change. As members of KAIROS, both churches have representatives on its climate justice initiative, For the Love of Creation.

“Ecumenical connections are really important to justice advocacy, in general, that we’re doing,” says Weston.

Anglicans and Lutherans are also members of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC). Both Gehrs and Weston are involved in the Commission on Justice and Peace, a CCC forum that supports work of related groups in the council such as Project Ploughshares, a peace research institute. Two other ecumenical organizations Anglicans and Lutherans participate in together are the Church Council on Justice and Corrections, which seeks to promote restorative justice, and the Women’s Inter-Church Council of Canada, which focuses on helping women and children facing injustice.

“I think the voice of the church in the public sphere is not as great as it once was,” Weston adds. “Certainly the voice of a single denomination or two in full communion is not the same as a voice of many churches coming together. So I think that that is a real key meeting point, where actual work might be done or information [can be shared] and discernment and reflection can happen.”

Author

  • Matthew Puddister (aka Matt Gardner) is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He will continue to support corporate communications efforts during his time at the Journal.