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Bishops talk full communion

Posted on: April 23, 2003 2:51 PM
Related Categories: Canada

[Anglican Journal] The Lutheran World Federation Assembly, which meets in Winnipeg from July 21-31, is expected to draw more than 1,000 Lutherans from around the world, and Anglicans are helping in a significant way.

Among the 500 guests and visitors to the conference will be the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, who will give a presentation to the international crowd on how the Anglican-Lutheran partnership in Canada is working, and how difficulties have been faced and ironed out.

Both the Anglican and Lutheran churches in Canada voted, in 2001, in favour of full communion, whereby the two denominations maintain their identities but recognise each other's rites, ministries and sacraments. The arrangement is not a merger.

Based in Geneva, the LWF represents 63 million Lutherans in 76 countries, and holds international assemblies every six years to set future policy and elect people to key positions. The July assembly will mark the first time it has met in Canada.

Furthermore, Anglican volunteers are helping to plan and host visitors for the conference, which has, as its theme, For the Healing of the World.

The LWF acts on behalf of its member churches in ecumenical relations, theology, humanitarian assistance, human rights, communications and mission and development work.

Archbishop Peers and Bishop Raymond Schultz, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, met recently in Winnipeg and discussed full communion in Canada and their hopes for the upcoming assembly.

The following are some excerpts from that conversation, which was moderated by journalist Michael McAteer:

McAteer: How is full communion working?

Bishop Schultz: I think it's working very well. When I visit my colleagues in the United States, where the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is in full communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States, they look at us with considerable envy because the relationship that we have is so amicable. It also has a great deal of flexibility compared to the US relationship where everything is kind of nailed down from the beginning and is a much more rigid process. It's working [in Canada] because there is the opportunity to make responses based on situations that arise.

The most obvious examples of how it is working are that our two churches are exchanging clergy so that clergy for each denomination are serving congregations in the other. And it's working in many kinds of local events at the grassroots.

Where once Lutherans would have a study event together or would discuss an issue by themselves, now none of that planning is done without their Anglican sisters and brothers.

Archbishop Peers: What Bishop Schultz says about the particularly Canadian way we've approached things and are approaching them is very important. We made a number of specifically Canadian choices. One of them was that if we want to encourage local initiative and local 'getting to know each other,' the leadership must give some encouraging signals and do some modelling.

So the bishops have been meeting together once a year, for about eight years now. We meet at the same time and in the same place, and as well have some common time together discussing issues, not just Anglican-Lutheran issues. And, as well, our worship is in common. That means, for example, that in a person's first year as bishop he or she will not only meet every bishop of their own tradition, but also every bishop of the other tradition.

So, then, everybody knows one another, and if there is an issue or a problem, either a positive or negative, in some local situation involving Anglicans and Lutherans we each know who we are talking to, and that makes a huge difference.

We have a group that's working on the implementation of our agreement - what are its implications and how should we proceed in some specific situations? For instance, in Winnipeg, there is a congregation that is jointly served by an Anglican priest and a Lutheran pastor. As well, the largest Anglican church in Regina has called a Lutheran pastor its rector and it just sort of happened. Bishops on both sides are quite content with this; so are the congregations, so there's lots of initiative locally.

On the LWF Assembly

McAteer: Do you expect some vigorous debate from delegates to what has been the North-South issue? Between churches in the developing south and churches in the affluent north?

Bishop Schultz: I think so. What I know for sure is that there certainly is a difference between the churches in the south and the churches in the north. And some of that is positive experience and some of it is not. ... Probably the most major topic of debate will be around economics, because many of the southern churches exist in countries that are poor and are not the countries that make the rules about globalisation and international trade treaties. Churches in the south receive money with conditions tied to it. They're still very close to a colonial experience not only in the politics of their country but also in the politics of their churches.

McAteer: Archbishop Peers, with your experience of international church gatherings do you have any advice on where the Assembly's focus should be?

Archbishop Peers: One of the most challenging tasks is to be able to produce a setting in which people who come form the north and the south can actually converse. One of the difficulties about these things is to relate our unity in the faith and in the Gospel to the diversity in our culture or politics or economics.

It's already been said that one of the contributions we can make is to acknowledge there is a north in the south. That is, there is a wealthy minority in some of the poorest countries in the world and sometimes churches are often allied with and represented in that constituency.

There is also a south in our north. Aboriginal people are very much part of that but they are not the only participants - there are refugees and immigrants facing difficult situations in Canada.

The most challenging presentation I've heard on the subject was at an Anglican worldwide gathering from the secretary general of the Lutheran World Federation who is an African who studied and worked in Canada and who knows us well. He talked to us in a way that could be heard in both the south and north in our meeting. That kind of challenge arises when we deliberately put topics like healing and reconciliation in the main agenda. It can happen through the agenda, but it also often happens for individuals around the edges of the meeting. Bringing it all together is the challenge.