The Anglican Church of Canada's management team met with National Bishop Susan Johnson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and her senior staff on March 18 and 19 to discuss ways to strengthen the relationship between the two churches, including plans for a joint General Synod/National Convention to be held in Ottawa in 2013 and the possibility of sharing national office space in the future.
"If full communion is really going to have some sense of visibility across the Canadian church, there have to be some pretty bold steps that we take together to help people realize that we are, in fact, churches in full communion," said Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, noting that it has been eight years since the two churches reached an agreement to be in full communion.
Officers from both churches will meet next fall, followed by a joint meeting of the Council of General Synod, (CoGS, which governs the church between General Synods) and the Lutheran National Church Council, "probably in March 2011," said Hiltz. This would culminate in 2013 with a joint gathering of the governing bodies of each church. "It is exciting to see the momentum," he said.
Johnson said she expects the idea will be well received by Canadian Lutherans, whom she thought wanted more joint events after the two governing bodies met in Winnipeg in 2007. "Frankly, I think people found the joint day to be somewhat disappointing in that we just got together and started meeting with each other and then we were hived off into different places," she said. "(The 2013 gathering) will allow more opportunities for people to engage with one another and build up relationships at a grassroots level."
Hiltz said the plan for 2013 is to do most things together. "The only things that we would do separately and apart from one another would be those things that our respective constitutions would require us to when we meet in National Convention or General Synod -- dealing with resolutions of a constitutional or doctrinal nature, for example," he said.
Johnson said the churches are already working together on issues such as homelessness, and such work will continue. "In terms of 2013 and the programmatic aspects of it, I think it is a little too soon to tell what the main features will be," she said. But she described a suggestion that the joint gathering should try to address one Anglican-Lutheran issue, one Canadian issue and one international issue.
Both churches face serious financial challenges, but Hiltz said cost-cutting was not a major factor in the plan for a joint gathering. "We still need the same number of beds," he said, although he noted that the ELCIC's National Convention is generally four days long, while the Anglican General Synod is about a week long. "Lutherans might be challenged to tack an extra day on. Anglicans might be challenged to take a couple off," he said.
Sharing space for national offices in the future would result in a "huge cost saving," said Hiltz. But "this is not something that is simply driven by our current financial circumstances," he added. "There's no question that has some impact, but I really think that what's driving it is the commitment that we made as churches in 2001."
Possible scenarios for sharing office space haven't been worked out yet, said Hiltz. "A shared office might be that one office moves into the other or together we move into a brand new location and open a new office together. Or certain areas of ministry are centered out of the ELCIC office, and other areas of ministry are centered out of the Anglican office," he said. "Who knows what could come of this? There could be an ecumenical office that could represent more than Anglicans and Lutherans."
"If it can work, I think it would be fantastic," said Johnson of the shared office space idea. "It's nice that we got together and met for two days in Toronto, but the real possibilities of working together programmatically aren't going to happen until we're in closer proximity, no matter where that ends up being," she said, adding that conversations at elevators and water coolers sometimes generate the best ideas. "I think that's when we'll really start to see the possibilities of where this relationship might go."
Both Johnson and Hiltz were clear that these discussions are not about merging the two churches. "We're not talking about being one church in one office space. We're talking about being two churches in one office space, and I think people would see the wisdom of that," said Johnson.
"I think we're moving ahead in our relationship as churches in full communion, not out of fear but out of hope; hope for what we can do together as we try to bear faithful witness to the Gospel," said Hiltz.