On a commanding vote in both houses, the 73rd General Convention approved the landmark agreement Called to Common Mission (CCM) between the 2.3 million member Episcopal Church and 5.2 million member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The accord sets out the conditions for the full interchange of clergy, and the sharing of ministry and sacraments. Since it was already adopted by a 27-vote margin by the ELCA’s Churchwide Assembly in August 1999, the vote means that CCM goes into effect Jan. 1, 2001.
The document adopted by Convention is a successor to the original Concordat of Agreement that had been approved by the Episcopal Church, but was narrowly defeated by the ELCA in 1997.
Both documents set the same conditions for full communion: recognition that both the Lutheran Augsburg Confession and the Book of Common Prayer contain “the essentials of the one catholic and apostolic faith,” a common understanding of baptism, Eucharist and the authority of Scripture; and a full acknowledgment of the authenticity of each church’s ordained clergy.
The main impact of CCM will be the interchangeability of clergy. Episcopal priests might be allowed to serve ELCA congregations, and ELCA pastors will be able to do the same for Episcopal congregations. In both instances the clergy will be required to function in ways consistent with each church’s doctrine, discipline and worship. In cases where clergy agree to a long-term ministry in a congregation of the other denomination, they must transfer their residency to the diocese or synod they serve and make a vow of conformity to that church’s doctrine, discipline and worship. For an Episcopal priest serving a Lutheran congregation this means reading and accepting the unaltered Augsburg Confession, while an ELCA pastor called to an Episcopal congregation must conform to the statements in The Book of Common Prayer.
A joint commission will be appointed by the two presiding bishops this fall to implement the agreement.