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 erinfo@elca.org) 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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