‘Like trees planted by streams of water’

The author plants a tree with help from Archbishop Fred Hiltz (left), then-primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, in Mississauga, Ont., 2011. At right is then-dean of Niagara Peter Wall. Photo: Trina Gallop Blank
Published July 7, 2021

Acting editor’s note: As part of our collaborative project with Canada Lutheran, the Anglican Journal is running this month a column by the national bishop of the Evangelical Church in Canada in place of our regular columns by the primate and national Indigenous archbishop.

Columns by the primate and national Indigenous archbishop will appear in the June issue of Canada Lutheran. Their regular columns will resume in the next print issue of the Anglican Journal, in September.

They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
—Psalm 1:3

Bishop Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

In 2011 at a joint meeting of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Council of General Synod (CoGS) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s National Church Council (NCC), our two churches planted a tree to honour the tenth anniversary of their full communion at Queen of Apostles Renewal Centre, Mississauga, Ont. Many years later, in March of 2020, CoGS and NCC met again at the same location and went back to that tree we planted. We were amazed how much it had grown and flourished. It was now even strong enough to have someone sit on one of its branches!

When we affirmed the Waterloo Declaration in July of 2001 we planted something new, and in these last 20 years, we have watched it grow. Let me share with you some markers of our growth together.

We now have an Anglican full voting member serving on NCC and a Lutheran full voting member serving on CoGS. We have joint national events such as the Canadian Lutheran Anglican Youth (CLAY) gathering and National Worship Conference. Up until the time of the pandemic, the bishops from both churches met together annually.

When Archbishop Fred Hiltz was elected primate and I was elected national bishop, we started the practice of monthly phone calls, something Archbishop Linda Nicholls and I still carry on. We continue to look for ways to facilitate synergy among staff. Lately, we are focused on the areas of communications, social justice and ecumenical and interfaith relations. Not that we do everything together—but we know we are stronger when we work together.

We have seen huge growth in the number and variety of ways that Anglicans and Lutherans work together in local ministries, sometimes with other ecumenical partners. This includes joint congregations, parish alignments, a synod and diocese working out of the same office, and so on.

In 2013, we tried a grand experiment of having a Joint Assembly in Ottawa. We did as much as we could together and separated into “General Synod” and “National Convention” only to carry out business matters. It was amazing! We are looking forward to coming together again for Assembly 2022 next year in Calgary.

When we adopted the Waterloo Declaration, we laid out some ongoing homework for our churches. We are still working on a common understanding of deacons. We have not yet come to a consensus regarding who should preside at confirmations. I believe God has more lessons and opportunities for us as we engage these questions.

Johnson at the same tree with Anglican primate Archbishop Linda Nicholls and members of the two churches’ councils in 2020. Photo: Trina Gallop Blank

Some of our most exciting work has to do with our commitment to continue working together for the unity of the body of Christ. We have entered into full communion relationships with our partners across the border—the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and The Episcopal Church. Our two churches are in conversation with the Northern Province of the Moravian church. We are hopeful we can continue to build relationships and strengthen bonds to enhance the body of Christ.

We certainly have learned to share gifts with each other, some expected and some surprises. One of the biggest gifts to me has been participation in four different Sacred Circles. Building relationships with the Anglican Indigenous church has been a gift I have been able to share with my church and it has helped us walk on the road towards reconciliation.

To what can we attribute the growth and such fruit of full communion? Is it our own wisdom and work? Of course not. What has led us to this day is that both our churches are fed and nourished by the true vine, Jesus Christ. “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) It is God’s grafting of branches from our two churches onto the true vine that allows us to root and grow. I look forward with excitement to see where God takes us next!

Susan Johnson is the national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.


  • Susan Johnson

    Susan Johnson is the national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

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