Lutheran Bishop Telmor Sartison addresses the Anglican gathering.
AS A CHILD, outgoing Lutheran bishop Telmor Sartison always felt there was more to church than his own little Lutheran congregation, and in university, he says he was “writing on ecumenism early.”
Those early convictions, and a conversation in his backyard in 1995 with Anglican Archbishop Michael Peers, kick-started the two churches along the road to their new full communion agreement, approved by both in Waterloo, Ont. in July.
In 1995, however, nine years of talks between the two had stalled. They started up again after each bishop wrote to respective members who sat on the joint working group, urging them to make a breakthrough. They did, and Bishop Sartison sees the new partnership as a fitting high endnote to his eight years as national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).
He retires effective September 30.
“It intrigued me as a student to think that the body of Christ was something much larger,” he said in an interview just moments after the Waterloo declaration linking the two churches in full communion was adopted by both the Lutheran convention and the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada in separate and nearly unanimous votes.
The bishop, who was often emotional when he spoke publicly about the new and historic partnership, related how his early ecumenical leanings were nurtured during regular conversations he had with a Roman Catholic priest one town away, when he was a young parish minister in Jansen, Sask.
Later, in Calgary as a parish minister, Bishop Sartison participated in monthly meetings with a group consisting of an Anglican priest, a Baptist pastor, a Roman Catholic priest and two United church ministers.
“We learned a lot about one another,” he said. The excitement he felt from those meetings led the bishop to push onward ecumenically, and in the late 80s when he was Bishop of ELCIC’s Saskatchewan Synod he helped to engineer a signed agreement between the province’s four main protestant denominations – Anglican, Lutheran, United, and Presbyterian. The agreement encouraged congregations to work together in sharing resources, pulpits and altar supplies.
Under his leadership, talks have begun with the United, Presbyterian and Reformed churches, to explore a more serious dialogue, and there is now a form of recognition with the Roman Catholic Church.
Having helped bring the Lutheran side to the Anglican table, Bishop Sartison hands over the reins to bishop-elect Raymond Schultz with hopes that the “celebration and excitement will result in more and more of our congregations finding ways to work and serve together.”
He hopes, he added, to see the Lutheran church become more involved in discovering other churches. “We have to get beyond the stone-throwing of the past. Bishop Ray will be a good person to pick this up and run with it.”