Celebrations ring out across the land

February 1, 2004

In cities, towns and hamlets from New York to Los Angeles, Episcopalians and Lutherans gathered in worship to celebrate the agreement that brought the two denominations into full communion. In California's San Gabriel Valley, congregations ushered in the new year with a Dec. 31 service that included a march by clergy and hundreds of worshipers from the Episcopal parish of St. Edmund's in San Marino to Trinity Lutheran Church in San Gabriel. There, they celebrated Eucharist. Bishop Frederick H. Borsch of the Diocese of Los Angeles looked out over the standing-room-only crowd and thanked the choir members from Trinity Lutheran Church for wearing red. "Otherwise, it's very difficult to tell who's a Lutheran and who's an Episcopalian," he joked. At Seal Beach, Calif., south of Los Angeles, Lutherans and Episcopalians at a joint service on Dec. 31 applauded as the Bishop Coadjutor Jon Bruno hugged his Lutheran counterpart and declared: "I think we made history!"He told the congregation that the agreement, Called to Common Mission, is more than two denominations setting aside their differences to stand together. "It's being part of one another," he said. "We have ways in which to join that will make us stronger." The agreement went into effect Jan. 1. "I wouldn't have missed this for the world," said Mary Mizer, who attends St. Wilfred's Episcopal Church in nearby Huntington Beach, and who was a deputy at last year's General Convention, which approved the agreement. "When it actually happened, it was an emotional sense of history. The more people join hands, the more of God's work we can do. This a wonderful thing." Diocesan-wide celebrations are planned in San Francisco and Sacramento, where bishops in the dioceses of California and Northern California will join with Lutheran bishops to mark the new relationship. Episcopal-Lutheran campus ministries will benefit from the offering at the observance in Sacramento on Feb. 2. The San Francisco service will take place at Grace Cathedral on Feb. 25. In some communities where celebrations are planned, there has been little history of joint work. In others, Episcopalians and Lutherans have developed a relationship through years of cooperation. In Charleston, S.C., for example, St. Michael's Episcopal Church and St. John's Lutheran Church have been sharing Thanksgiving services for years. The silver chalices that St. John's uses at the Eucharist are gifts from St. Michael's, thanking the Lutherans for helping St. Michael's rebuild after the Great Earthquake of 1886. Now, St. John's pastor says, his church may consider an Episcopalian as it reviews applicants for a new associate pastor for education and youth ministry. "This agreement says to us to discover ways to turn some of this relationship that's already in existence into some real ministry," said the Rev. Edward L. Counts. In Savannah, Ga., the Rev. Leslie Hague, assistant rector at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, participated Jan. 7 in a service between her parish and neighboring Messiah Lutheran Church. "We're thanking God where he has brought us," she said. "It is a very important agreement and a real step in our witness to the world of the unity of Christ." On Jan. 14, at St. James Episcopal Church, Milwaukee, Episcopal Bishop Roger White and Lutheran Bishop Peter Rogness presided over a service that renewed baptismal vows and then concelebrated the Eucharist. The two bishops have had a close relationship for years and congregations from both denominations are already cooperating in various ways. In rural areas, small congregations and a shortage of clergy could encourage clergy sharing or joint missions. At the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, Episcopal Bishop Richard F. Grein will be celebrant and Lutheran Bishop Stephen Bowman will preach as the city's Episcopalians and Lutherans commemorate the historic agreement on Feb. 3. "The Eucharist will bring Episcopalians and Lutherans together to provide a fitting foundation for the exploration of closer dialogue and relationship with our Lutheran friends and to celebrate the beginning of our life in full communion," said Bishop Coadjutor Mark Sisk.