Monday, December 19, 2016

A Project in Local Ecumenism - The Virginia Model - After 25 Years

By the Rev. Tom Prinz, LEIRN Board Member

In the late 1980’s the accumulation of ecumenical dialogue documents and the well-publicized intention of denominations to seek concrete forms implementing a growing convergence among traditions, long considered hopelessly divided, prompted a Virginia Commonwealth wide Committee of Lutherans, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics to expand their mandate to promote an annual conference on issues of mutual concern, to consider a “covenant” as an instrument of encouragement among and within congregations and parishes. The group realized that for such a document to carry any impact the various judicatories themselves would have to be seen as committed to similar actions at the level of the local church.

The 1990 public signing and release of the then LARC Covenant (Lutheran-Anglican-Roman Catholic) was preceded by a lengthy and comprehensive drafting process.

Judicatory heads were consulted individually and when assent had been achieved a meeting of the bishops was held in the context of the annual judicatory leaders conference held under the auspices of the Virginia Council of Churches. A committee of three drafters was approved, one from each of the traditions, to bring a text back to the bishops in their next annual gathering.

This began a busy process that would involve several drafts. The committee settled on a design of a Preamble, a Declaration and a Call into Covenant made up of a series of 20 actions.

The Preamble section was followed by a carefully worded Declaration by the proposed signatories to do all that could be done within the confines of what ecumenical documents at the time encouraged. It was significant and necessary to the success of the agreement not to challenge or advance beyond what was then accepted understandings. This basic decision has been confirmed over and again during the life of the Covenant. 

Most importantly the document was written to supply a series of discrete actions in bullet form that the dioceses and synods committed themselves to do. It included several actions which would be carried out by the coordinating committee of LARC, and especially a series of actions that were encourage within and between parishes/congregations and other ministries of the church such as institutional chaplaincies.

In the summer of 1990 the bishops made a final set of changes to the document and it was signed and released in the midst of celebratory worship at the annual LARC conference in the fall. The document received national and even international attention at the time. It has been the model for several covenant agreements across the U.S.

It is important to note that the process of preparing the text is one of its major benefits. It brought judicatory leaders together in a way that built trusted relationships which continue to benefit the ecumenical life of the Commonwealth. Over the last quarter century all judicatory leaders of the Covenant communities without exception have affixed their names to the document. 

The LARC conference committee now became the coordination committee under the aegis of the Covenant. The coordinating committee held a series of meetings within and between the partner churches to explain the contents of the document. Published copies of the documents were encouraged to be displayed by the judicatories and the congregation/parishes. It is heartening to find after 25 years the document on display at all the judicatory offices and within many local gathered communities. The Commonwealth coordinating committee fostered regional LARC’s. These groups have seen a checkered history in the five regions of the state, nevertheless, three are active today and two have been in continuous existence since first initiated.

A major augmentation of the Covenant came when the local Conference of the United Methodist Church publicly entered into the agreement in 2006. This precipitated a helpful evaluation of the whole document and was accomplished with only a very few editorial changes.

The past twenty five years have seen an enormous amount of additional ecumenical work; the formation of “Full Communion” relationships and not a few challenges to ecumenical relationships. The document has stood the test of this time. The original encouragement continues to challenge the local churches to live into the initial commitments that are more profound than many first recognized.

The annual meeting of LARC (now LARCUM) was transformed from a conference with a general ecumenical focus, often on specific documents, to a conference which highlighted one of the action items in the Covenant. Nearly every aspect of the document has thus been highlighted sometimes more than once over the years. The coordinating committee has devoted annual meetings to the issue of racism, inter-faith marriages, the history of the traditions in the Commonwealth of Virginia and a three year look at Vatican II and its continuing implications. Each annual conference has striven to find the best voices in the country to help unpack the topics. This has been immeasurably assisted by the rich theological resources in the Middle Atlantic Region of the U.S. Three times the venue for the conference, which rotates its location among the regions of Virginia, has been held on college campuses in order to encourage a new generation of ecumenists.

The Conference itself has evolved from a traditional lecture series to a more interactive relationship with the presenter and time for the assembly to meet in regions, to both get to know each other and initiate conversations that might lead to local activity. The annual conference continues to see attendance of between 100-200 participants for an overnight event, no less.

One of the strengths of this whole process has been the longstanding and matured relationship of the planning committee and the trust that the church leadership maintains for the committee in its custodianship of the document. Every conference has a planned meeting of the bishops and the state committee at a dinner prior to the Conference and a planning lunch meeting in the midst of the conference.

Ecumenical fortunes have swung up and down like the stock market over the years. It is sometimes in the news, sometimes all but forgotten and dismissed. The Virginia model has endured because of the commitment of its planners, a structure that supports and draws attention to ecumenical substance and potential, but most of all to a well nurtured and constantly attended to web of relationships. In ecclesiastical settings seriously challenged and distracted by many things, just as is the larger world, a persistent and patient attention to something as fundamental to the life of the church as is its unity has not been lost and bears much fruit in many hidden but profoundly important ways.

The Covenant history in Virginia shows that no matter what the future brings in challenges and celebrations to the church, the future for the church in this place will also bear the marks of an ecumenical future.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

November Update

From Kathryn Lohre and Kathryn Johnson

DOTW Follow-Up/500th Synod Events

Kathryn J has been participating in several events concerning ecumenical aspects of the 500th Reformation anniversary.

On Sunday, she preached for a service at St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, Iowa, which was based on the Common Prayer used at Lund but adapted to the local context in music, prayer, and participation. Both ELCA Bishop Michael Burk (Southeast Iowa Synod) and Catholic Bishop Richard Pates (Diocese of Des Moines) were present, and our own “Pastor Chris” had a key role in presiding and planning.

In September Kathryn spoke to the Theological Conference of the Rocky Mountain Synod, and in October was in Michigan for leadership retreat of the regional LARC group, whose worship also included a modification of the Lund liturgy.

In the works are plans for a study guide for The Declaration on the Way for local use and a brief liturgical resource to help pastors prepare, practically and theologically, for welcoming with a blessing those worshippers – including Roman Catholics following the guidelines of their church – who do not receive the elements.

Pluralism Project 25th Anniversary

In late September, the Pluralism Project at Harvard University celebrated its 25th anniversary. Founded in 1991 by Prof. Diana L. Eck, the Pluralism Project is the premier research organization on the changing religious landscape in the United States. Kathryn Lohre, who served on the staff of the Pluralism Project between 2000 and 2011, the last five years as assistant director, participated in the public conference and spoke on a panel about religious pluralism and the promise of peacebuilding. Her remarks focused on Lutheran-Muslim relations in an era of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry. She was also present for a series of advisory council meetings before and after the event. You will find many excellent educational and dialogue resources at

Four-Way Meeting

In late September, the heads of churches and staff of the Anglican Church of Canada, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, The Episcopal Church, and the ELCA had their annual meeting at the Lutheran Center. Updates from the churches were shared – including the significant events of the ACC General Synod and the ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Bishop Curry was welcome to the table for the first time. The group finalized the 2016 Advent Devotions, focused on the LWF 2017 theme,” Liberated by God’s Grace,” and subthemes. These were made available online on October 31 and are available at:

Bishop Eaton’s Webcast

Bishop Eaton’s webcast on October 27 was devoted to ecumenical witness and the Reformation anniversary. Joining the Bishop for the discussion were Martin Marty; Sr. Susan Wood, a Catholic member of the DotW task force who was with us for the Churchwide Assembly; and Khadijah Islam, a college student and voting member of the CWA who had spoken memorably at the hearings. There were also short video clips from the CWA and from three of the ecumenical guests present for the vote on the Declaration, who spoke about its ecumenical significance. For the first time for one of these webcasts, Facebook was used as the platform, and live questions from 3 congregations were received as well as those from social media. Click here to watch the recorded webcast.

Joint Ecumenical Commemoration of the Reformation in Sweden, October 31

The staff of the Lutheran Center were invited to participate in a viewing party of the live-stream. Colleagues from across the units and offices of the church gathered together to experience and reflect upon the remarkable events which took place.

The day’s events included first a Common Prayer in Lund Cathedral, led by Pope Francis and LWF President Munib Younan and General Secretary Martin Junge; the procession was led by a Salvadorean cross created for the occasion and involved women and men from every continent and many generations. Bishop Eaton and LWF treasurer Christina Jackson-Skelton represented the ELCA, and Dr. Dirk Lange from Luther Seminary had ably shaped the liturgy. Also present because of former LWF roles were Presiding Bishop Emeritus Mark Hanson and Kathryn J. Later an event in Malmö sports arena included commitment to common work for the suffering and included music and testimonies around a large illuminated floor cross; Rocky and Beverly Piro were among the ELCA participants in this event.

Videos are available at; you might especially enjoy the press conference, which includes discussions of DotW and Eucharistic hospitality:

Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves Update

The final report for the Peeler Grant was submitted in October. This grant, from the NC Synod, supported the publication of the case studies book, Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves, and has provided ongoing support for distribution efforts. With the remaining funds of the grant, we were able to purchase a number of additional copies. We will be able to provide a complimentary copy to each LEIRN member at the 2017 National Workshop on Christian Unity. As you know, Bishop Eaton invited the church into conversation about our inter-religious calling and commitments in her remarks at the Churchwide Assembly. This book was lifted up as a key resource. Now is the time to contact your synod assembly planning teams to offer your support for possible workshops. You will find the workshop templates here: Staff are also available to support the utilization of this resource.

Christian Churches Together

CCT’s annual convocation in 2017 will be held in Anaheim, California, January 31 – February 3. The theme will be “500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation: Signs of Hope & What Divides Us Today.” Racial justice and Lutheran-Catholic relations will be two foci. The Declaration on the Way will be discussed in plenary. Bishop Eaton will be present, along with Bishop Suzanne Dillahunt who serves on the Steering Committee, and staff. LEIRN representatives are welcome to participate. For more information see:

Formula of Agreement

Ecumenical Officers and worship staff of the Formula of Agreement churches have begun planning for a worship service in celebration of the 20th anniversary, to be held in Cleveland, Ohio on the afternoon of March 26. Heads of communion, ecumenical officers, local judicatory leaders, and local clergy and lay leaders will participate. This will be held in conjunction with a heads of communion meeting the next day, which will explore the next chapter of our life together as full communion partners.

Churches Uniting in Christ

In October, the Coordinating Council of Churches Uniting in Christ met in Dallas, Texas at Perkins School of Theology. The Council issued a statement of support for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The majority of the meeting was spent planning for a national worship service of recognition of ministries that will be held on the evening of June 4 in Dallas. Heads of communion, ecumenical officers, local judicatory leaders, and local clergy and lay leaders will participate. This service is one of the significant mandates of the CUIC plenary held in January 2016. A public forum on race relations will be held on June 3, along with a pulpit exchange between local clergy and national CUIC leadership on the morning of June 4. If you are interested in more information contact Kathryn L.

Board Highlights

  • Several board members are currently researching options for a guide to Reformation-related travel that would help travelers to reflect on their experiences in the context of the modern ecumenical movement.
  • An update of the LEIRN handbook and governing documents is underway and will include the addition of sample job descriptions showing various possibilities for configuring the work of a LEIRN representative.
  • A new process for maintaining the LEIRN roster is being considered. If you have updated contact information to share, please send it to LEIRN Secretary, Tim Philabaum at
  • Save the dates for the National Workshop on Christian Unity, May 1-4, in Minneapolis. Registration information will be available at soon.
  • The next meeting of the board will be December 15.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Sermon at Common Prayer

Below is the sermon preached by Dr. Kathryn Johnson, Director for ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations, at a common prayer service in Des Moines, Iowa on November 6, 2016 to inaugurate the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

This is truly a remarkable day!
It’s a time for thanksgiving, repentance, commitment and hope. We gather here amid so much that is familiar: well-loved hymns, a well-known text, prayers for one another and for the world, the greeting of peace. We know how to be with one another on such occasions, for over the course of our lifetimes most of us have had many opportunities for such common prayer for Christian unity. But today is distinctive; today is surprising. Today offers to us a strong sense of hope and new beginning, and it calls on us not to miss taking the next steps toward the doors cracking open before us.

We see the distinctiveness at once when we ask why we are here today: not during Week of Prayer for Christian Unity or on Pentecost or another of the festivals of the Church, but on this unconvincingly Novemberish day in 2016. We are here today because soon it will be 2017, the 500th anniversary of the beginnings of the Lutheran movement, when Martin Luther famously posted 95 provocative theses for discussion in Wittenberg, Germany – and since that posting was on All Saints’ Eve, October 31, the commemoration year began last Monday and will run until next October. And what a beginning that was! Continue reading . . .

Monday, October 10, 2016

Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Witness on the Eve of the Reformation Anniversary

Join Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton on Thursday, Oct. 27, from 7-8 p.m. CDT for a live webcast that will explore ecumenical and interreligious witness on the eve of the Reformation anniversary.

What was the Reformation, and what does it mean for Lutherans and ecumenical partners?
What is “Declaration on the Way,” and why is it significant for Lutheran-Catholic relations?
What might ecumenical and interreligious relationships look like in the future, and what does this mean for our faith community?

Check back here for additional information concerning webcast participants and resources. We invite you to participate and join the conversation by using #ELCAwebcast on social media.

You are also encouraged to view the webcast with your congregation, group or committee. This may help conversation as you plan for and discuss your observation of the Reformation in 2017. Find additional information on how ELCA synods and congregations are observing the Reformation here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Additional tickets available for Malmo


Additional tickets for the Malmö arena events on October 31, 2016 have been made available for LWF member churches. The Common Prayer service at the cathedral in Lund will be live-streamed into the arena, and then Lutheran leaders and Pope Francis will proceed to the arena itself for the second part of the day in the arena. 

Initial tickets for the arena events sold out almost at once. But additional tickets are available at this site:

Please tell anyone you know who might want to attend – especially anyone who might have tried for a ticket and found them sold out at the first Ticketmaster site.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations Updates

August 2016

In II Corinthians, Chapter 5, we read: “All this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (NRSV). As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the ministry of reconciliation was at the heart of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly’s ecumenical and inter-religious witness. We want to lift up three significant dimensions of this witness:
  • Racial justice and reconciliation
  • Reconciliation among religions
  • Reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics and among all Christians
With regard to racial justice and reconciliation: in addition to our church’s important internal work, this Assembly gave witness to our decade-long discourse with the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and our churches’ joint statement of mission, adopted in 2010. We welcomed the senior bishop, four episcopal district bishops, several general officers, and their colleagues and families as our special guests. We received the Word in worship on Thursday from Bishop George Battle, Senior Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, and some of our ELCA bishops hosted our guests in order to build and nurture relationships as we look forward to strengthening our partnership in the coming years.

Next, with regard to reconciliation among religions, the Assembly received powerful greetings from
Jewish and Muslim partners – Rabbi David Sandmel of the Anti-Defamation League and Dr. Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America – who described the importance of partnership across religions lines, on common ground and through difficult differences. Bishop Eaton also invited the ELCA into conversation over the next three years about our inter-religious callings and commitments and announced a new task force on inter-religious relations which will work to draft an inter-religious policy statement that is intended to come before the 2019 Churchwide Assembly for action. She lifted up the new publication of ELCA inter-religious case studies, Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves, as a resource for this work available from Lutheran University Press.

Finally, with regard to reconciliation between Lutherans and Catholics – we turn to the historic action on the Declaration on the Way available from Augsburg Fortress. The Declaration on the Way is a

new and unique kind of ecumenical text that seeks to seal in those areas of agreement reached after 500 years of division and 50 years of dialogue. The action of the Assembly on the Declaration on the Way can be understood as one which declared that with regard to several matters concerning church, ministry, and Eucharist, there are no longer church dividing issues between us. Yes, differences remain in these and other areas – but it is important to take stock in order to acknowledge, and perhaps even celebrate, just how far we have come “on the way.”

What we witnessed afresh at the Assembly was the depth of yearning in this church to be moving forward toward reconciliation and greater unity in this crucial relationship. All our ecumenical guests, who were witnesses, and especially our Catholic participants, were surprised by the intensity of this desire for growth in communion evident in our church -- in the plenary sessions but also in two standing-room-only hearings and hallway conversations and throughout the Assembly. We can say that many of us Lutherans too were wonderfully surprised when the votes were posted: 931 votes for, 9 against. As memorable as the vote was the joy of the moment.

So what comes next? Part of that answer rests with all of us. The Assembly vote was in some ways a mandate to us to honor the desire to be “on the way together.” The Assembly also commended to the church the Declaration, with related texts, as “resources for the common life of the church as we approach 2017 and beyond.” In the press conference that followed, when Bishop Eaton was asked what might make this moment different from the other announcements of ecumenical statements that quickly faded from memory, she appealed first not to the distinctive form of the Statement or its new method, but rather to the people who had participated in the moment of that vote who would go home with that memory and that desire to continue to move forward. The experience of the hearings, where people spoke from the depth and range of their experiences, also encourages us that next steps can be taken at local levels. We are learning of many synodical engagements in preparation for the 2017 year around the country. We look forward to the journey, and invite your sharing (to about how the next steps are unfolding in your context.

In Christ,
Ms. Kathryn M. Lohre
Assistant to the Presiding Bishop
Executive, Ecumenical & Inter-Religious Relations

Dr. Kathryn L. Johnson
Director, Ecumenical & Inter-Religious Relations
Declaration on the Way Task Force

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