Working towards full communion with Lutherans

Published July 1, 1998

Lutheran Bishop Telmor Sartison addresses synod.

Cordial relations over the past 30 years have blossomed into potential full communion between the Canadian Anglican Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.

Approving in principle a declaration of full communion between the two churches, General Synod asked Anglican dioceses and provinces to respond to the declaration by the first Sunday in Advent, 2000.

The Waterloo Declaration: Called to Full Communion will be further considered at the 2001 General Synod. A final decision is expected at the concurrent meeting of General Synod and the Lutherans’ national convention in Waterloo in 2001.

What is being proposed is not an actual merger of the two churches but the recognition of each other’s rites, services, sacraments and clerical orders. It could, for example, mean that the two groups could consider each other’s church services equal and that could result in a much greater sharing of resources and personnel, particularly in sparsely populated areas.

The Anglican Church has about 750,000 members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church — the largest Lutheran body in Canada — about 200,000.

Would full communion mean Anglicans would have to surrender part of their heritage? A study resource for Lutheran-Anglican relations says no:

“Anglicans would not be changing their own self-understanding, but recognizing that another church, which for historic reasons has reached different conclusions without in any way abandoning its sense of continuity with the apostolic church, is indeed a church in the tradition of the apostles.

“By the act of entering full communion, we would each come to share a larger heritage.”

As Anglican co-chairman of a joint working group which helped draw up the full communion declaration, Archdeacon Jim Cowan of Victoria has a professional interest in Anglican-Lutheran relations.

He also has a personal interest.

Archdeacon Cowan’s grandmother’s name was Tetzel. And, after researching his family history on his mother’s side, he believes the family is related to John Tetzel, the 16th century German Dominican preacher whose aggressive sale of indulgences helped spark Luther’s rebellion against the church.

Interestingly, Archdeacon Cowan says there is some evidence that despite being on diametrically opposed sides, Tetzel and Luther continued to correspond with one another after the church split and remained friends until death.

Similarities between Anglican and Lutheran worship are striking, Archdeacon Cowan said in an interview. To illustrate, he recalled attending a Lutheran church in Surrey, B.C., earlier this year with other members of the Lutheran-Anglican working group.

It was a modern church, the interior like any modern Anglican church, “particularly an Anglican church of the Catholic persuasion.” The vestments were similar to those worn by an Anglican cleric and the form of worship was similar.

“It was like being in an Anglican church,” he said.

If there was a difference it was “probably in some of the liturgy itself. While the shape is the same, the wording is different in some ways.”

Archdeacon Cowan noted that under the existing terms of sharing the Eucharist, Anglicans can already worship in a Lutheran church and vice versa.

“The primary difference after 2001, if this does pass, is the clergy will be able to have much more freedom of movement between the churches,” he said.

In related business, synod adopted the first reading of a canon on the reception and recognition of clergy from churches in full communion with the Anglican Church.

The canon says clergy ordained by a bishop of a church in full communion with the Anglican Church may, under certain terms, be received into a diocese as a lawful bishop, priest or deacon of the Anglican Church.


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