Called to Common Mission

What does it mean to Episcopalians and Lutherans?
December 31, 2005

Called To Common Mission is an agreement that in 1999 established a new relationship of full communion between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and opened the way for increased cooperative-mission efforts.

“Full communion” means that each church recognizes that the other holds “the essentials of the Christian faith” within the catholic and apostolic tradition. In this relationship, neither church seeks to remake the other in its own image, but each is open to the gifts of the other as it seeks to be faithful to Christ and his mission. Together they are committed to a visible unity in the church’s mission to proclaim the Word and administer the Sacraments.

In a full-communion relationship, partner churches fully recognize each other as part of the whole church of Jesus Christ. They seek opportunities to cooperate with each other in service, life and witness. The churches mutually recognize baptism and a sharing of the Lord’s Supper, allowing for joint worship and an exchange of members.

No theological division

The agreement doesn’t change any doctrine. Lutherans and Episcopalians agree that nothing divides them theologically. Both churches were born out of the 16th-century Reformation -- one in England and the other in Germany. Episcopalians and Lutherans have much in common, notably patterns of worship and liturgy.

The relationship does not imply or anticipate a merger. Called to Common Mission is the result of a process that took 30 years, beginning with the first U.S. Lutheran-Episcopal dialogue in 1969.

In 1982, the church bodies that would become the ELCA entered into an “interim” agreement with the Episcopal Church for Eucharistic sharing. The churches also committed to continued dialogue addressing the issues that had to be resolved for a relationship of full communion.

The churches recognize each other’s ordained ministers. A Lutheran parish might serve an Episcopal parish, but only if invited with the authorization of the diocesan bishop. A Lutheran pastor serving as an Episcopal rector remains a Lutheran but serves under Episcopal teaching and practice.

A Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee (called for in Called to Common Mission) first met in 2001 to assist in joint planning for mission. It is consultative and works with the appropriate boards, committees, commissions and staff of the two churches.