Ecumenical & Inter-Religious Relations Staff Report to LEIRN
National Workshop on Christian Unity
Minneapolis, Minnesota; May 1, 2017
We celebrate Bishop Eaton’s presence at our LEIRN session and look forward to the Tuesday morning plenary, when she and Bishop Denis Madden will lead reflections on “After 500 Years: Catholics and Lutherans Together on the Way.”
- BILATERAL CONVERSATIONS
Lutheran-Catholic Relations/500th Anniversary of the Reformation
The anniversary year is giving prominence to this relationship, and participation in anniversary events continues at all levels of this church. Keep up with events through www.elca500.org. Our office welcomes reports of activities in your synods or local settings: please send them to Kathryn.Johnson@elca.org.
On March 2, the ELCA Conference of Bishops’ Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations Committee hosted a joint meeting with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee. The committees adopted a joint statement on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (in your folders) and co-hosted a Lutheran-Catholic service of common prayer in the Lutheran Center chapel, following the Common Prayer liturgy developed for the commemoration held in Lund, Sweden last October 31, and based on the Lutheran-Catholic dialogue report, From Conflict to Communion. Full communion and ecumenical dialogue partners were present as special guests. The service was followed by a festive reception and dinner. A video of the service, the service program booklet, and the signed joint statement are available at: http://elca.org/livestream.
Events of the Joint Ecumenical Commemoration of the Reformation in Sweden on October 31, 2016, can be seen at www.lutheranworld.org/lund2016. The press conference is also interesting: https://vimeo.com/189685569.
You might also enjoy Bishop Eaton’s Webcast, “Ecumenical Witness and the Reformation,” October 27, 2016: www.elca.org/webcast.
On Good Friday, April 14, Bishop Eaton together with Bishop Wayne Miller of the Metropolitan Chicago Synod, other synod leaders and churchwide staff participated in a “Walk for Peace” initiated by Cardinal Blase J. Cupich. A week prior, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago launched an anti-violence initiative in the city of Chicago. Cardinal Cupich invited the ecumenical and inter-religious community to join together in calling for peace, addressing the root causes of violence including poverty and racism. The march began at St. Benedict the African Church in the Englewood neighborhood, and participants traced the Stations of the Cross and paused to remember those whose lives have been lost to violence in Chicago this year. Lutherans participated in strong numbers out of our shared concern for the city and our desire for deeper reconciliation as Lutherans and Catholics.
Among the many settings using the Lund liturgy this year was the annual meeting of the U.S. Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, Round XII, which is shaping its report on Faithful Teaching. Bishop Madden and the Rev. Lowell Almen are co-chairs.
Multiple activities respond to the actions of the 2016 Churchwide Assembly concerning the Declaration on the Way:
The co-chairs and members of the Declaration on the Way task force have provided leadership for many synodical events to discover, explore, and deepen understanding about Lutheran-Catholic relations, and to consider the ecumenical dimensions of the 500th anniversary – with focus on the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, From Conflict to Communion, and the Declaration on the Way. We welcome these invitations as opportunities for partnership.
We are grateful to Augsburg Fortress for creating an online study guide for the Declaration on the Way. This is a resource for deepening our reception of the agreements, and strengthening local Lutheran-Catholic relations. It is available for free download from the Augsburg Fortress website & www.elca.org/ecumenical.
Finally, Professor Gordon Lathrop has written a theological and practical resource to help expand our understandings of hospitality in Eucharistic worship: “How do we bless Roman Catholic or other ecumenical guests who feel they cannot come to communion?” (in your folders). It is available at http://www.elca.org/en/Our-Work/Congregations-and-Synods/Worship/FAQ
On November 15, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago ceremoniously returned a rare 9th century Greek manuscript of the complete New Testament to the Greek Orthodox Church. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America (GOA), Bishop Demetrios of the Chicago Diocese, and members of the staff of the GOA were also present. Conversations have led to the possibility of renewed dialogue between the ELCA and the GOA, possibly on the topic of care of creation.
- FULL COMMUNION PARTNERSHIPS
On March 26, a worship service in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Formula of Agreement – the full communion agreement between the ELCA and the PCUSA, the RCA, and the UCC – was held at the Amistad Chapel in the UCC Center in Cleveland. Bishop Eaton preached, lifting up the Formula’s framework of mutual affirmation and admonition as critical for holding our life together as churches in a world that is deeply divided. Local judicatory leaders and others were invited to be present and to participate in various ways. The service was held in conjunction with a meeting of the heads of communion, ecumenical officers, and ministry staff. Revisions will be made to update the Orderly Exchange document, and the next iteration of the coordinating committee will be convened as a theological roundtable tasked with exploring questions of church and Empire, topics which the international world communions, Lutheran & Reformed, have also examined.
Our other full communion partnerships are tended to in regularly occurring coordinating committee meetings. Please find more information in our staff reports to the LEIRN Board published at http://leirn.blogspot.com/.
- CONCILIAR LIFE
This year, we hosted two meetings with colleagues visiting from the World Council of Churches. The first was in January to explore preparations for the 14th World Mission Conference to be held in March 2018 in Arusha, Tanzania, prepared by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism under the theme “Moving in the Spirit: Called to Transforming Discipleship.” The second, in April, was a relational visit from Mr. Stan Noffsinger, director of the Office of the General Secretariat, to explore how the WCC might accompany the ELCA in these divisive times in the US. This visit continued concern expressed in the April 2016 “racial justice visit” to the U.S., during which WCC Central Committee moderator Dr. Agnes Abuom declared, “We come with heavy hearts because we have been following developments in this nation. The WCC recognizes the many positive actions of churches here, but they do not seem to be enough.”
In February, the National Council of Churches’ Executive Committee invited Ecumenical Officers to attend its meeting in Hollywood, California, to explore the role of the Ecumenical Officers in light of the NCC’s recent restructure, which focuses on Head of Communion leadership. The 2017 Christian Unity Gathering will be held in November in Baltimore.
On March 2, Christian Churches Together in the USA hosted a forum in New Jersey on the persecuted church. The forum created space for praying together, raising awareness about anti-Christian persecution, exploring the needs of the churches facing persecution, and developing guidelines for a coordinated ecumenical response of US churches. A statement was released following the Steering Committee meeting in April.
On March 29, the Circle of Protection – a broad ecumenical coalition convened by Bread for the World, the National Council of Churches, Christian Churches Together, and Sojourners – hosted a prayer vigil, press conference, and Congressional visits in opposition to the proposed cuts to the federal budget in human needs, healthcare, and foreign aid programs. This coincided with the ELCA Advocacy convening in Washington DC, allowing for ready participation of ecumenical and advocacy staff.
As you continue to be part of planning for synod events related to inter-religious relations, please remember the resources available to you, including the book of case studies, Engaging Others, Knowing Ourselves: A Lutheran Calling in a Multi-Religious World, now available for Kindle on Amazon. The workshop templates are available at: http://elca.org/Faith/Ecumenical-and-Inter-Religious-Relations/Inter-Religious-Relations/Case-Studies.
- LUTHERAN-JEWISH RELATIONS Lutheran-Jewish Relations
We are currently working with the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and his staff to reconvene our bilateral Jewish-Lutheran dialogue, building on our long-standing partnership in advocacy. We continue to participate in the national Jewish-Christian dialogue table on pastoral issues co-convened by the National Council of Churches and the National Council of Synagogues, with the next meeting taking place in May 2017 in Philadelphia.
- LUTHERAN-MUSLIM RELATIONS
Our Lutheran-Muslim relations have taken two forms in recent months: rapid response to anti-Muslim bigotry, and continued engagement in long-term relationship-building, education, dialogue, and cooperation for the common good. We are working in partnership with the Islamic Society of North America on church-mosque pilot projects in three synods: Southeastern Pennsylvania (Bishop Burkat), Southwestern Washington (Bishop Jaech), and Southeast Michigan (Bishop Kreiss). This important work, our growing partnership, and Bishop Eaton’s leadership will be highlighted during the July 2017 Islamic Society of North America Convention.
We are also partnering through the Shoulder to Shoulder Campaign to respond to increased incidents of anti-Muslim bigotry over the past year, and to concerns about anti-Muslim policies, including the recent Executive Orders. We have participated in statements, press conference, events, and strategic planning sessions. Thanks to Bishop Gafkjen for giving a statement and to Bishop Graham for participating in the November 18 press conference in DC: https://youtu.be/ijoNgnI8Er8
- INTER-RELIGIOUS TASK FORCE
Chaired by Bishop Patricia Lull, the Inter-Religious Task Force is working to develop an inter-religious policy statement that will complement the 1991 Ecumenism vision statement. The Task Force is on schedule to complete its first draft by the end of this summer, at which time a consultative process for input and feedback will unfold across this church, and with ecumenical and inter-religious partners. The timeline calls for a proposed statement to come through the Church Council to the 2019 CWA.
Historic Black Church Relations
As we work on racial justice and reconciliation within the ELCA, we are also working in partnership with Historic Black Churches, both in coalitions and bi-laterally.
For a second year, the ELCA was a co-sponsor of the cross-racial dialogue convened by the Conference of National Black Churches in Charleston, South Carolina, December 13-15, 2016. The CNBC is the annual conference of the Historic Black Churches in the US. This continues to be an area of growing partnership between Racial Justice Ministries, the African and European Descent Lutheran Associations, and Ecumenical & Inter-Religious Relations.
A significant dimension of the Bishops’ Academy was the presence of Bishop John White, president of the AME Council of Bishops, along with Rev. Darby. We are exploring possibilities for re-engaging our churches’ dialogue, which took place in the 1990s. It will be important to consider fresh models that combine theological dialogue and common action for the sake of the Gospel. Your synod initiatives will continue to be critical for shaping this future together.
The Lutheran World Federation Assembly will take place in Windhoek, Namibia on May 10-16 under the theme, “Liberated by God’s Grace.” Following Pre-Assemblies for women and youth, delegates from 145 member churches will convene to set the vision and priorities of the communion for the next period, and to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. New leadership will be elected, including a new president. Regional Pre-Assemblies have taken place over the last year, including a joint pre-assembly of the North American and Latin American and Caribbean Regions held in Suriname in September. The ELCA delegation consists of 10 people, including Chris Olkiewicz. There will be approximately 50 ELCA members attending the Assembly in various capacities. Information about the Assembly, including the Pre-Assembly messages, can be found at: https://www.lwfassembly.org/ and through social media at #LWFAssembly
Together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, the ELCA continues to engage in conversation with the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). Another meeting of heads of churches is being planned for the fall.
Churches Uniting in Christ
On the evening of June 4 in Dallas, heads of communion, local judicatory leaders, ecumenical officers, and local clergy and lay leaders will participate in a national worship service of recognition of ministries amongst the Churches Uniting in Christ. 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.
Reformation Day Event
Bishop Eaton will co-host a public witness event on Reformation Day, October 31, 2017, with Vice President Horne, Bishop Gafkjen, and Bishop Graham at Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Washington, DC. Details will be forthcoming.