The partnership between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and the Episcopal Church received strong affirmation July 27 as the Global Mission Event (GME) opened at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
Welcoming more than 1,300 participants, including a strong contingent of Episcopalians, GME is offering a full and varied agenda through July 30 as it meets under the theme "Sent by God's grace for the sake of the world."
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and ELCA's Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, president of the Lutheran World Federation, offered keynote addresses at the opening ceremony that underscored the churches' call to common mission.
Hanson expressed gratitude to Griswold for his leadership, especially in ecumenical affairs, and for being a "prophetic voice for justice and peace."
He noted that most North Americans generally want to be seen as a generous, freedom-loving people, "but that is not how we are seen so often today. We are seen increasingly as a people preoccupied with economic power and mesmerized by our military might," he said. "Mission is not associated with restoring the world to a reconciled world [as it should be]. It is associated with what we must do to expand a global economy ... and to satisfy our endless needs ... rather than to accompany one another as fellow guests in the company of God and the light of Christ."
Griswold underscored the value of honoring the dignity of every member of different communities. "Our stance toward the other needs to be one of expectation, curiosity, availability; how is Christ seeking to show up here, in this tradition, in this culture, and indeed in this religion as well?" he said. "Often, confronting our judgments and biases help us to encounter Christ in a deeper and richer way."
Upholding the importance of the partnership with the ELCA, Griswold underscored that full communion is more than just sharing the sacrament.
"Reconciliation is very much the core of God's project, God's work in the world, and we through our baptism are caught up in the work," he said.
He explained that the reconciliation of the world has already taken place when God reconciled the world unto himself. "Reconciliation is our participation in what God has done in Christ and our role is to remove the impediments that exist to enable the world to see that reconciliation has occurred ... and the light of Christ can shine forth," he said.
The Rev. Rafael Malpica-Padilla, ELCA's executive director for Global Mission, noted the significant participation of sisters and brothers from the Episcopal Church, as well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and encouraged those present to reflect on the baptismal calling "to explore complete ways to actively engage in God's mission of restoring community."
The Episcopal presence at GME highlights the strong relationship that exists between the two churches, particularly since both denominations on January 1, 2001, entered into a relationship of "full communion" on the basis of the document "Called to Common Mission," culminating thirty years of dialogue with one another.
Alexander Baumgarten, international policy analyst for the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations, will join the Rev. Lisandro Orlov of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Argentina, and others, on a July 29 panel that will focus on ministry, faith and challenge in the Latin American context and explore how different denominations are working "to establish God's reign on earth." The panel will be moderated by Margaret Larom, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Anglican and Global Relations.
Throughout the event, participants choose from more than 50 Global University Sessions -- one-hour teaching sessions led by missionaries, international participants, and others involved in the global and domestic ministry of the ELCA -- and gather twice daily in plenary and for global music.
Through special programming for children and high school students, young participants learn how they can live as faithful Christians in a global culture.
Other highlights will include general sessions with: He Qi, one of China's most internationally sought-after contemporary Christian artists who is professor at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and a tutor for master candidate students in the Philosophy Department of Nanjing University; and the Al-Raja (Hope) Folkloric Dance Troupe, whose members are Palestinian Christian and Muslim students from the Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah.
The GME will conclude on the morning of Sunday, July 30, with a Eucharist service with Wahu Kaara, Millennium Development Goals campaign program coordinator at the All Africa Council of Churches in Nairobi, Kenya, and a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, as guest preacher.
Further highlighting its commitment to global mission, the ELCA facilitated an International Youth Gathering with a cross-cultural program in June, bringing together 150 Latin American youth, 150 ELCA Latino/Latina youth and 50 youth from ELCA hosting congregations.
Further information about the Global Mission Event is available at: http://www.elca.org/gme