Lutherans, Anglicans closer still

Published June 1, 2003

Canada Post will issue a stamp on July 21 to coincide with the start of the Lutheran World Federation Tenth Assembly in Winnipeg, the first time the international event has been held in Canada.

Ask leaders and members of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) how their new, closer relationship is working and you get answers that sound like family: warm ? comfortable ? a little dismay ? working things out ? a gift from God ? surprises ? some misconceptions.

In the two years since “full communion” was proclaimed at each church’s governing conference, Lutherans and Anglicans have worshipped together, exchanged clergy, had joint bishops’ meetings and shared experiences.

“The conversation is easy. There are people of good ecumenical will on both sides and there is a high level of trust ? It’s like getting together with cousins we haven’t seen since we were little kids,” Bishop Ray Schultz, national bishop of ELCIC, said in an interview.

Archbishop Michael Peers, the Anglican primate, said he’s been surprised by the extent to which local congregations are responding to the new relationship. “I hear all the time people say, ‘Our congregations are meeting together.’ The amount of time we spend in each other’s presence is greater than any of us expected,” he said in an interview.

Anglican bishop Fred Hiltz, of the diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, chairs the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Committee, which is charged with implementing full communion. The committee has produced a set of guidelines for common worship and for clergy serving in the other church, he said. Now, it is looking at confirmation, said Bishop Hiltz. “Their preparation program is far greater than ours, about two years, where ours can be as little as three months,” he said. A task force is studying the churches’ theology and practice with a view to preparing joint resources for confirmation, he said. The committee is also studying the roles of deacons in the two churches, he said.

The group’s larger role, he said, is to “help people understand what full communion means, that it’s not a merger.” However, in such areas as Newfoundland, where there are no Lutherans, “we have to leave the conversation where it is,” he said. In other areas, congregations have decided to share buildings, clergy, resources, even refrigerators (see related story).

After the two denominations (about 600,000 Anglicans and 193,000 Lutherans) formally got together in 2001 after years of talks, there were a few misconceptions to iron out, noted Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of faith, worship and ministry for the Anglican church. Some Anglicans, aware of the Lutheran church’s German and Scandinavian background, thought “we may not be able to speak English to them,” she said. Some Lutherans, aware that the Anglican church is in communion with the Church of England, thought the Canadian church had a close relationship with the British monarchy, she said.

One or two Lutherans expressed some dismay “over some of the liturgies in the BAS (Book of Alternative Services)” believing that some of the Eucharistic prayers were “pagan-sounding or pantheistic,” said Bishop Schultz.

Lutheran bishops have been regular guests at the Anglican bishops’ twice-yearly meetings and have attended each other’s ordinations. Accepting the roles of bishops was one of the most contentious issues for the two churches, since Anglicans consider bishops successors to the Apostles and part of the hierarchical authority in the church. Lutherans “have an allergic reaction to hierarchy,” noted Ms. Barnett-Cowan, elect bishops for limited terms and see them primarily as pastoral leaders.

In related news, Anglicans and Lutherans will be getting together at a major forum this summer from July 21-31 when the Lutheran World Federation meets in Canada for the first time (the direct result of a pitch by both Archbishop Peers and Bishop Schultz). Anglicans also are helping with organization and planning.

Archbishop Peers will speak to the international gathering about full communion. Bishop Donald Phillips of the diocese of Rupert’s Land will participate in an ecumenical service July 27 at the Forks on the west bank of the Red River in Winnipeg. Dean Robert Osborne of the Cathedral of St. John sits on the central planning committee. “Right now ten percent of all volunteers are Anglican, but that will go up as the time draws nearer,” he said in an interview.

Based in Geneva, the LWF represents 63 million Lutherans and holds international assemblies every six years to set policy and hold elections. The conference was initially expecting 1,000 delegates, but Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome may cut the numbers, Dean Osborne said. “We’re not sure how many may not come because of not being allowed into the country,” he said. “We are trying to work with the Canadian embassies in various countries to find out if delegates need medical certificates,” he said.

(with files from Jane Davidson)


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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