When the heads of the Anglican and Lutheran Churches in North America met recently in Toronto, a common theme emerged when they shared developments in their respective churches: all felt a sense of “renewed energy” that they attributed to a “renewed focus on mission.”
One of the big things he heard, said Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, was that, “We’re in a different place…Notwithstanding the fact that there’s still some tension within our churches around human sexuality, we could all say, ‘we’re in a much less conflicted place.'”
While conflicts around same-sex blessings and same-sex marriages remain, “it’s not all consuming compared to, say, a few years ago,” said Hiltz in an interview.
Hiltz, along with Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada Bishop Susan Johnson, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton met in Toronto July 2 and 3. The meeting was the fifth of informal talks colloquially known as the “Four-Way” dialogue.
Jefferts Schori and Hiltz underscored the value of the four-way dialogue. In an interview via email, Jefferts Schori said she considered the “opportunity to gather with peers and colleagues about developments in our respective churches, and to strategize for shared mission,” as a highlight of these meetings.
“We’re encouraging one another…It’s really good for the Anglican Communion and the LWF to see that we’re not just interested in relationships between the two churches in Canada or the US, but in fact across North America,” said Hiltz.
These meetings, added Jefferts Schori, show that “we believe deeply in shared mission, and are finding creative ways to expand and deepen our capacity as partners.”
The day and a half meeting also included discussions on indigenous issues, peace in the Middle East, migration, refugees, state of full communion partnerships, ecumenical developments, and plans around the 500th anniversary commemoration of the Protestant Reformation in 2017.
Among others, they agreed that they would issue a joint statement on climate change this year and next year, on the churches’ relationships with indigenous people in North America. Each of the bishops will also be providing a reflection and a prayer for this year’s Advent devotions, which will be recommended for use by the four churches.
There were deep conversations around the concept of “transitivity,” or how the full communion relationships between Anglicans and Lutherans in Canada can also be lived out in the US and vice versa. “Most of these full communion relationships are between two churches. A few in the Communion that include a whole pile of churches,” explained Hiltz. “How do you take what’s local and give it a rippling kind of effect?”
The leaders also agreed to consider a joint response to The Church Toward a Common Vision, an ecumenical text prepared by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, which has been commended to member churches for review and study. “It might be, among other contributions to the WCC, helpful to hear from some churches who have actually made strides in the interest of Christian unity,” said Hiltz.
A hope was also expressed that the four leaders could have a four-way pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the Middle East and that such a visit would involve Jewish and Muslim leaders, said Hiltz. Possibilities for a four-way church observance of Jerusalem Sunday, along with an invitation for the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) to consider doing the same was also discussed. The Anglican Church of Canada observed Jerusalem Sunday for the first time on June 1, following a 2013 General Synod resolution to set aside the seventh Sunday of Easter as a day to learn about the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
Also present at the meeting were Archdeacon Paul Feheley, principal secretary to the primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Archdeacon Bruce Myers, General Synod co-ordinator for ecumenical relations and interfaith relations; Bishop Donald McCoid, executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations in the ELCA; The Rev. Canon Charles K. Robertson, Canon to the Presiding Bishop; and the Rev. André Lavergne, assistant to the ELCIC national bishop for ecumenical and interfaith relations.