Lutheran Bishop Telmor Sartison preached at Rev. Ian Mills’ Winnipeg church, St. Andrew’s Woodhaven.
The leaders of the Anglican and Lutheran churches in Canada each spent the fifth Sunday in Lent preaching in churches blocks from their homes. What made April 9 more unusual was that each spoke in the other’s church.
Archbishop Michael Peers preached at Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church on Bloor Street West near his Toronto home while Lutheran Bishop Telmor Sartison preached at St. Andrew’s Woodhaven in Winnipeg.
In 2001, both denominations will hold their general synods in Waterloo, Ont., at separate gatherings, while coming together for worship. At that time they hope to seal an agreement of full communion that has been approved in principal.
Archbishop Peers told the congregation at the small church – also home to a Lithuanian congregation – the exchange was Bishop Sartison’s idea. Preaching in the other’s local church allowed them to communicate the growing relationship between the Anglican Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, he said.
His personal relationship with the Lutheran Church stretches back a good 30 years, Archbishop Peers said, to when he was rector of St. Bede’s in Winnipeg. A nearbyLutheran church congregation asked to move in with the Anglicans and St. Bede’s consented. The two co-own the building and today there is just one congregation, with alternating Lutheran and Anglican liturgies.
“It was one of the first of a number of joint congregations across Canada,” the Primate said, made possible “because we learned to live and worship with one another.”
Bishop Sartison reminded St. Andrew’s that the two denominations are travelling on the same “ship,” the church of Jesus Christ. St. Andrew’s has been in a dialogue on the local level with a neighbouring Lutheran church.
Bishop Sartison spoke at all three morning services at St. Andrew’s, the closest parish to his home. And as Archbishop Peers assisted the Lutheran pastor, Rev. Tim Dutcher-Walls, with the eucharist, so did Bishop Sartison assist Anglican rector Rev. Ian Mills.
Confirmed in a Danish Lutheran church in southern Alberta, Bishop Sartison said he knew little about Anglicans until he was 13. As former head of the Lutheran Church in Saskatchewan, he noted that even in small villages, where the population had diminished over the years, there would be several churches. “It was very hard for people to worship in another church.”
But more recently Christians are gaining a better understanding of one another’s church backgrounds, he said. The ELCIC, along with the Lutheran World Federation, has begun talks in recent years with other churches, including the Roman Catholic Church (last year the two groups signed the Joint Declaration on Justification), but most notably with the Anglican Church.
Dialogue, Bishop Sartison said, “simply means a conversation to discover who we are and who you are. It’s not a debating society. It’s a place where we learn about one another.”
At the beginning of a dialogue, he said, “it’s very hard to move from the differences to find something in common.” It also means looking past images, “some of which were not true.”
Bishop Sartison used the text from John’s Gospel (chapter 12) to draw an analogy between Jesus’ death and resurrection and the growth of the Christian church. As Jesus is the seed that dies and bears fruit, those who believe in him will form new values. Christians will find that “our values will be driven by things like justice and peace, and the need to proclaim the Gospel.” It is only by “dying” to ourselves that we can live in Jesus, he said.
“Coming to church is like coming to die,” he added. “Coming here is a sign that there is something more important than ourselves, a way that acknowledges that God also comes here to do something with us that will impact on our lives and shape who we are.”
Using the same text, Archbishop Peers said Jesus was talking about living and dying as choices. “Choosing to live with the risk of losing your life, with the risk of dying, is what it means to follow Jesus,” he said. “Jesus says that whereas life and death are given, living and dying are choices.”
We are called to live with a total disregard for self as Jesus did, which “is an extraordinary challenge,” he said.
Bishop Sartison told the Winnipeg congregation that Anglicans and Lutherans had begun a dialogue in 1989, “even without a full understanding” of each other. Since that time, the two denominations have agreed on transferability of memberships, baptism and receiving the eucharist in each other’s denominations. Priests can also serve the other’s congregations.
Full communion, he explained, is a relationship between two distinct groups, where each retains autonomy and each believes the other “to hold the essentials of the Christian faith.
“Next year we want to say, ‘We’d like to live this way on a long-term basis,'” he said. That doesn’t mean a merger, he stressed, but simply recognition of each other as churches of Jesus Christ who have a shared ministry.
“I think that by the Holy Spirit, anything is possible.”
Deb Fieguth is associate editor of Christian Week in Winnipeg.