The Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted during its mid-November meeting to send the current draft of "Called to Common Mission: A Lutheran Proposal for a Revision of the 'Concordat of Agreement'" to the ELCA's 1999 Churchwide Assembly for approval. The document, if approved, would establish a partnership of "full communion" with the Episcopal Church.
The council voted to transmit an October 1998 draft of the document to the assembly, so the church's 5.2 million members will have nine months to study it. Three of the council members present voted against transmitting the document. Linda J. Brown, council member from Moorhead, Minnesota, said the decision to establish full communion with the Episcopal Church has another question embedded in it: "Is the historic episcopate a model of leadership for the ELCA as we enter the 21st century?"
Lutherans and Episcopalians agree on the doctrine of "apostolic succession," an ongoing faithful proclamation of Christ; Episcopalians bring to the relationship the "historic episcopate," a succession of bishops as a sign of unity back to the earliest days of the Christian church.
"As a result of their agreement in faith and in testimony of their full communion with one another, both churches now make the following commitment to share an episcopal succession that is both evangelical and historic," according to CCM.
"There are those within the ELCA who say this is simple," said Brown. "There is also a large group that says it's not that simple. Quite frankly, who am I supposed to believe? Is it really a simple thing?" The assembly will vote next August in Denver on whether or not to accept CCM "as the basis for a relationship of full communion to be established between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America." Voting members of the assembly will be able to amend the document.
ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson said CCM is "our document," and the council could recommend amendments when it meets again in April and in August 1999.
The Concordat of Agreement, referred to in CCM's subtitle, was a blueprint for full communion drafted by the Lutheran-Episcopal Dialogue. The 1997 General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the Concordat, but the ELCA assembly that year defeated the proposal by six votes and asked that the Concordat be revised, taking the assembly's debate into account and clarifying the technical language of the dialogue. The Rev. David K. Johnson, council member from Fargo, North Dakota, said the Concordat failed because it required the ELCA to incorporate the historic episcopate, as does CCM. "The main issue is not addressed. There is no change and that issue is creating more heat this time, more anger," he said.
The Rev. Fred Opalinski, council member from Latrobe, Pennsylvania, pointed out that no matter how the vote turns out in August many people will be disappointed. "We as leaders must consider what can be done for healing," he said. The Church Council passed an accompanying resolution that admitted CCM "may not be a document acceptable to the entire membership of the ELCA," so it called for "honesty, mutual respect and pastoral care for all persons" in both churches during the processes of discussion and decision-making.
The Rev. Steven L. Ullestad, bishop of the ELCA's Northeastern Iowa Synod, reported to the council for the Committee to Create Lutheran/Episcopal Educational Opportunities, which he chairs. "Volumes of material have been produced over the past 30 years, and much of it has gone largely unread," said Ullestad. He attributed this to the lofty academic language used in many ecumenical documents. Ullestad said the committee has been working to "translate" some of those documents into materials that congregations can use in adult forums. It has also produced two videos-"Who are the Episcopalians?" and "Who are the Lutherans?" David F. Hagen, council member from Dearborn, Michigan, said he hoped the educational materials would also inform members about the processes the two churches are using to come to a decision about establishing full communion. CCM will be mailed to voting members of ELCA synod assemblies in 1999. It will also be included in materials sent to voting members of the Churchwide Assembly. The document is also available on the ELCA web site, www.elca.org.
-- Frank Imhoff is the Associate Director of ELCA News and Information Services.