It might be said that the seeds of Full Communion between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) were planted when two friends, an Anglican priest and a Lutheran pastor from Winnipeg, decided in 1970 to bring their two congregations under one roof.
Decades later, the fruit of those seeds will be tasted at a day-long celebration of unity, or Full Communion, between the two denominations at the June meeting of General Synod.
Rev. Michael Peers, then-rector of St. Bede’s Anglican church, who later became primate, and Rev. Win Mott, pastor of St. Stephen’s Lutheran church, united their congregations, into a facility they called the Mount Royal Christian Centre. The two clerics moved on to other parishes, but their vision survived, with the determination of a small group of people.
“We nourished one another in times of difficulty and soon began to celebrate significant events as a single unit like Pentecost, forming a parade and walking through the neighbourhood bearing banners and singing God’s praises,” said Lutheran Neil Bardal, who recalled recently in the Rupert’s Land News, the newspaper of the Anglican diocese of Rupert’s Land, that he was among those who had “vehemently opposed” the unification; he later became a convert.
Thirty-one years later, in July 2001, that co-operation was deemed desirable on a much wider scale, with the signing of the Waterloo Declaration, which established Full Communion (mutual recognition of each other’s members, ministries and sacraments) between Anglicans and Lutherans in Canada. Signing for the Anglicans was Archbishop Peers, and for the Lutherans, Telmor Sartison, then-national bishop of the ELCIC. The vote by the two churches was the culmination of a relationship that had developed for many years and resulted in an official dialogue.
As for the two congregations that started it all, in 2004, they decided to become one community, calling themselves the Church of St. Stephen and St. Bede. “We call one pastor and we have developed a service folder reflecting what we consider the most appropriate liturgical sentnences from both our Anglican and Lutheran roots,” wrote Mr. Bardal. The story of this fully amalgamated congregation and the fruits of other joint work across the country will be shared when the governing bodies of the two churches meet together on June 21. The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and the Eleventh Biennial Convention of the ELCIC are scheduled to meet in Winnipeg that same week.
“The joint day is a celebration – meeting, discussion, reflection, worship,” said Canon Alyson Barnett-Cowan, director of General Synod’s faith, worship and ministry department. “The whole day is a eucharist, and something will be made of each of the stages of the eucharist.”
It will be quite a spectacle, said Rev. Paul N. Johnson, the national bishop’s assistant for ecumenical relations: “Maybe a thousand of us, in a day of celebration, in the form of the greatest Christian celebration, the Eucharist.” There will be small and large group discussions, he said adding delegates should expect “good music, good conversation, good fellowship, good food for every part of the person and for the whole body.”
Sallie McFague, one of North America’s leading theologians who is currently theologian-in-residence at the Vancouver School of Theology (VST) will be the keynote speaker. The day will also incorporate elements of indigenous spirituality since it is also the National Aboriginal Day of Prayer in the Anglican Church of Canada,.
Rev. Richard Leggett, a member of the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commission, reflected on the significance of the gathering in an interview: “The word ‘synod’ means, at its roots, ‘the places were roads come together.’ Throughout history, places where roads cross have provided humanity with opportunities to learn about the world beyond our immediate horizons. To meet together as national churches in ways where the gifts of our diverse peoples can be shared can be just such an opportunity.”
The hopes expressed for the joint event are modest but important. “Our hope is that new friendships will begin at the tables where we shall gather,” said Mr. Leggett. “It is significant that we are honouring our commitments to meet together whenever possible, to take counsel together whenever possible and to worship together whenever possible.”