The Waterloo Declaration at 20

Telmor Sartison, then-national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and Archbishop Michael Peers, then-primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, sign the Waterloo Declaration. Photo: Vianney Carriere
Published July 5, 2021

Reflecting on our past and future in full communion

Much hard work preceded the signing of the Waterloo Declaration in 2001. It officially established a full communion partnership between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). Much hard work followed as the two churches cemented their partnership through shared ministry.

But at the signing of the declaration itself, work was set aside for a moment as Anglicans and Lutherans joined together in celebration.

“It was humbling and I just felt so extremely honoured to be part of it,” recalls Telmor Sartison, then national bishop of the ELCIC.

Sartison felt a “quiet joy” after the document was signed and saw a similar joy in the face of his counterpart Archbishop Michael Peers, then primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

After the signing and worship service, Anglicans and Lutherans marched out together and began dancing and singing We Are Marching in the Light of God.

“The whole experience was very uplifting,” Sartison says.

The Waterloo Declaration marked the culmination in Canada of years of ecumenical dialogue which began internationally in the 1970s with discussions between the worldwide Anglican Communion and Lutheran World Federation—part of a broader ecumenical movement sweeping Christianity at the time.

Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, ecumenical officer of the Anglican Church of Canada from 1991 to 2009, describes ecumenism as rooted in “the vision of the one church of God” and the fundamental wish of Jesus that all Christians be one.

She pinpoints the origins of the Waterloo Declaration to two developments: the defeat of a plan to merge the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada in 1975, and the merging of several different Lutheran churches into the ELCIC in 1986.

“I think [Anglicans] were all smarting a little bit from [the former] and thought, ‘Well, if church union is not the way to proceed ecumenically, maybe there’s another way,’” Barnett-Cowan says. “That’s why we began to talk about relationships of communion rather than union, and the Lutherans were interested in that model.”

A key factor in the growing bond between the Anglican and Lutheran churches in Canada was the close personal friendship between Peers and Sartison. The two had first met in 1986, shortly after Sartison’s ordination as Saskatchewan bishop of the ELCIC. At that time Peers was moving from Regina, where he had served as bishop of Qu’Appelle, to Toronto to take over as primate.

When Sartison visited Toronto and Peers visited Winnipeg, the pair went on walks together and established a strong rapport “at a faith level, but also on a personal level,” Sartison says.

They soon wrote to their respective church committees and encouraged them to work towards a potential agreement between the two churches.

Sartison and Peers began a tradition of bringing together Lutheran and Anglican bishops once a year in Toronto, where they would hold joint meetings to talk about issues of mutual concern along with their separate meetings. In 1995, the two churches established a joint working group to move towards the implementation of some form of partnership.

Anglicans and Lutherans in Canada found they shared the same faith, territory and understanding of the Eucharist. They agreed on many points of doctrine and Scripture and worshipped in a similar way.

Though differences remained on understandings about ordained ministry and apostolic succession, Barnett-Cowan says, “We discovered that our similarities vastly outweighed our differences.”

The joint working group prepared a draft of the Waterloo Declaration, which was circulated for discussion through the two churches. In July 2001, both the ELCIC National Convention and the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada took place in Waterloo, Ont. and each formally approved the declaration.

Barnett-Cowan calls the Waterloo Declaration “a good model for ecumenism,” balancing independence and cooperation.

“Each church is still free to be itself,” she says. “But we do so much in partnership.”

The Waterloo Declaration may have marked the culmination of growing ties between their respective churches, but Anglicans and Lutherans in Canada had been worshipping together long before the signing of the agreement.

St. Stephen and St. Bede, Winnipeg

One of the country’s first joint Anglican-Lutheran congregations was the Church of St. Stephen and St. Bede in Winnipeg. Here, too, Peers played a vital role. In 1970, he was the rector of St. Bede’s and had struck up a friendship with Win Mott, pastor of the nearby St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church (and now a retired bishop of the breakaway Anglican Church in North America).

The two began to talk about the possibility of moving their congregations into one building, which they believed could create a stronger neighbourhood ministry and make finances more manageable.

On Sunday, Oct. 18, the congregation of St. Stephen’s walked 500 metres to St. Bede’s and took part in an inaugural service for the combined church—Lutherans on one side, Anglicans on the other. As the years went on, that divide between the two traditions gradually began to disappear.

Congregants re-enact a 1970 walk from St. Stephen’s to St. Bede’s. Photo: Murray Still

Canon Murray Still, an Anglican and current pastor at St. Stephen and St. Bede’s, says the two churches’ early challenges involved sorting out questions like who was using the building when, whose property was whose, where items such as dishes could go and how to manage the building.

Initially, the church held separate services for each denomination on Sunday: one at 9:30 a.m., the second at 11. Altar guild members had to rush to prepare for the second service, since Anglicans and Lutherans set up the altar differently.

Jean Brown, a 93-year-old Anglican and retired nurse, served on the altar guild for 35 years. In the early days, she recalls, Anglicans and Lutherans maintained separate altar guilds and some members were “very protective of their territory.” However, as members moved away or died, the congregation put the two guilds together.

In a similar vein, early on the joint church had separate coffee hours for Anglicans and Lutherans. But Brown remembers overseeing the Anglican coffee hour alone when a “very nice” Lutheran woman approached her and the two decided to co-operate, merging the coffee hour and taking turns to organize it.

By 1996, ties had grown close enough that the church began offering joint worship services for the first time.

Brita Chell, a Lutheran who participated in the 1970 walk and has worshipped at St. Stephen and St. Bede ever since, served as a member of the Joint Anglican Lutheran Commission from 2010 to 2019.

She found that worshipping with Anglicans clarified the Lutheran teaching that salvation comes from God’s grace, as well as distinctions between the Lutheran and Anglican liturgies.

“You start to appreciate things in your own liturgy and you start to appreciate things in the Anglican liturgy as you bring it together,” Chell says. “And you build something that is meaningful, spirit-filled, for both denominations.”

The experience of St. Stephen and St. Bede played a vital role in laying the groundwork for the Waterloo Declaration by offering a glimpse of what was possible when Anglicans and Lutherans worked together.

Still says congregation members were “justifiably thrilled” by the signing of the declaration, which “validated what they were already doing.” But Chell says it did not impact their life together “because in effect, we had been living the Waterloo Declaration long before it actually came into being.”

For additional reflections on St. Stephen and St. Bede, see also “On being raised in a joint congregation”, written by the Rev. Dirk G. Lange.

All Saints Lutheran Anglican, Guelph

Patience and providing space for people to grieve were key elements in the amalgamation process between St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and St. David and St. Patrick’s Anglican Church in Guelph, Ont.

Photo: Brian Janzen

The process saw the creation of All Saints Lutheran Anglican Church in 2017. Lutheran pastor the Rev. Jeff Smith and Anglican priest the Rev. Thomas Vaughn oversaw and helped guide the process from its beginning over a meal between congregational leaders.

“You have to have patience and you have to allow people time to grieve and for each congregation to have a voice if the process is going to work,” Smith explains. “It was a four-year process talking about how this could work.”

Part of the process was determining how to respect the traditions and practices of the respective congregations as they forged a new identity.

Vaughn likens the process to a game of Jenga. “Built too fast, your tower will fall,” he explains.

“But slowly, with intention, you can build a solid foundation. The congregations built their future together by being intentional in the present.”

By the time the amalgamation talk began in earnest over a meal between representatives of the two congregations in 2013, there was already a foundation of collaborating on outreach efforts, especially the Chalmers Supper—an outreach dinner in downtown Guelph where people from both congregations served. The congregations also shared a summer service schedule.

Once the amalgamation process was underway, there was a learning curve that needed to be tackled. A joint task force was struck to examine the possibilities amalgamation offered and the two-year trial process began in 2015.

St. David and St. Patrick’s moved all of its resources to St. Paul’s. The Anglican leadership decided that too large an investment was required to repair and maintain the property. The time allowed for the relationship to deepen and develop further.

The sanctuary of All Saints Lutheran Anglican, Guelph. Photo: Brian Janzen

“People had to understand what a Lutheran is and what an Anglican is, and even understanding the terms the two use,” recalls Smith.

One of the main challenges faced by the congregations was the difference in governance models. The Anglican church generally operates in a more top-down fashion than Lutheran congregations. Current council chair Brian Janzen says it’s a challenge that still arises from time to time.

“Not only did the leadership voices have to learn, but the congregation members as well,” Janzen explains. “This took some time and we still have to stop and pause once in a while to clarify the understanding of how decisions are made.”

Steps were taken to ensure that both congregations were represented in all aspects of church life. Janzen points out that constant communication was essential to ensure the process operated as smoothly as possible to ease concerns over the identity of both denominations.

The two-year process allowed for the members of both congregations to become familiar with the worship practices of each.

“It even came down to questions about where you put Confession and Forgiveness. Lutherans put it at the beginning and the Anglicans place it before the prayers of the people,” Smith says, adding that even deciding on which hymnal to use was a point of discussion.

“In the end, everything worked. The people realized that this is a wonderful opportunity to make a statement about how the Lutheran-Anglican relationship can work.”

Providing shared ministry in Saskatchewan and British Columbia

Redeemer Lutheran in Biggar, Sask., has been part of shared ministry arrangement with St. Paul’s Anglican since 1999. A Lutheran couple then ministered to both congregations—one to Redeemer and one to St. Paul’s, the Rev. Brenda Nestegaard-Paul and the Rev. Ian Nestegaard-Paul.

Nestegaard-Paul (centre) with clergy of Redeemer Lutheran. Photo: Dennis Nestegard

Under their shepherding, the congregations began to share services, alternating buildings once a month. After a time, the local Presbyterians contracted services from Redeemer, and worship rotated between three buildings.

This, according to Redeemer congregational council chair, Cindy Hoppe, meant the members of the three congregations got to know each other and become familiar with the worship practices of each congregation.

Hoppe sees the church gaining “a greater appreciation of the gifts of each denomination and more impatience with structural stones in the road.” She adds, “I hope we grow closer and do more co-ordinated ministry and mission together.”

After serving in Biggar, Brenda accepted a call to serve at Trinity Anglican + Lutheran Church in Port Alberni, B.C. She reports that in such partnerships, support, resources and values are shared and are able to make the transition into the future better.

Celebrating becoming one at Trinity Anglican + Lutheran Church, Port Alberni, Dec. 1, 2019. Photo: Julie Morgan

“Rather than worrying about having enough funds, enough people, enough talents to be the church, by working together and pooling our resources and experiences, we can focus on what’s most important now,” she says.

“At the same time, [we can] experiment, think outside the box, follow where we think God is calling us as we look to the future,” she advises. “There is nothing more important than a Christian presence of unconditional love—no ifs, ands or buts—being present in our communities, in my humble opinion.”

“Working together we model, not just for the wider church, but for the wider community … what can be gained by church bodies functioning as partners and not being consumed by competitiveness or simply surviving,” she says.

Matt Gardner is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Chris Krejlgaard is pastor of Our Saviour, Owen Sound, Ont.


  • Matthew Puddister

    Matthew Puddister is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Puddister worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Puddister has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He also supports General Synod's corporate communications.

    [email protected]

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