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NCC leaders welcome Lutheran decision
to enter into full communion with UMC

New York, August 24, 2009 – The General Secretary of the National Council of Churches has welcomed the decision of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to enter into full communion with the United Methodist Church. 

“Every step toward the visible unity of the church is an occasion for celebration,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon. “All persons who confess Jesus Christ as savior share the fruits of Christ’s salvation, and differences in worship or ecclesiastical styles always pale in the light of God’s redemptive power.” 

Kinnamon and the NCC President, Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, sent a congratulatory message today to ELCA and UMC leaders.

"Allow us to express the delight of the wider ecumenical community at news of the overwhelming decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Churchwide Assembly to enter into full communion with the United Methodist Church. This completes the joy we felt last year when the United Methodist Church General Conference made the same decision," the message said. 

"This important step is the obvious manifestation of much good will, dialogue and prayer. We will all agree – and we have all preached – that since God is the center, the closer we are drawn to God the closer we draw to one another. As Yves Congar, the great Roman Catholic theologian noted, the way through the door of unity is on our knees."

By a vote of 958-51, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) adopted a full communion agreement Aug. 20 with the United Methodist Church (UMC).  This is the ELCA’s sixth full communion relationship and the first for the UMC.  

In 2008, the UMC General Conference adopted the same agreement.  

National Council of Churches staff who witnessed the vote in Minneapolis were Clare J. Chapman, Deputy General Secretary and Chief Operating Officer, and the Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, director of NCC Women’s Ministries. 

“It was a wonderful step forward and I’m glad I could be there,” said Chapman, a United Methodist. Tiemeyer is an Evangelical Lutheran pastor who was present as a voting member from the Metropolitan New York Synod of the ELCA.

Full communion is not a merger. But it means that the two churches express a common confession of Christian faith; mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing Holy Communion; join worship and freedom to exchange members; agree to mutual recognition of ordained ministers for service in either church; express a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service; engage in common decision-making on critical matters; and a mutual lifting of criticisms that may exist between the churches.

The assembly also adopted an implementing resolution by a vote of  922-15. 

The ELCA’s churchwide assembly, the chief legislative authority of the ELCA, is meeting here Aug. 17-23 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.  About 2,000 people are participating, including 1,045 ELCA voting members. The theme for the biennial assembly is “God’s work. Our hands.”

Before the ELCA’s vote, the Rev. Gregory D. Palmer of the UMC said it would be “a great day” for both churches. “I am grateful that we have come to this point.”  At a news conference following the two actions, Palmer -- who is president of the UMC Council of Bishops -- said that “God has brought both our churches to a broad place where Jesus Christ calls us ... to all be one [and] to go out for the sake of the world.”

“We welcome you as you welcomed us last summer,” the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, ELCA presiding bishop, told Palmer after the first vote, “and we rejoice at what the spirit has in store for us.” 

“This is indeed a day of great rejoicing,” said the Rev. Donald J. McCoid, the ELCA’s executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations.

United Methodist and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America leaders expect by November to appoint members of a joint commission to implement the agreement. The commission’s work includes joint planning for mission, developing worship materials to celebrate full communion and developing guidelines on sharing clergy. Practical applications of the new agreement include providing pastors together in areas that are underserved. Palmer said that he and the Lutheran bishop in his part of Illinois “are deeply interested in talking about what a cooperative parish ministry looks like.”

While opportunities now exist for the interchange of ordained ministers, that is not an automatic process, Palmer pointed out. United Methodist bishops will not be required to appoint a Lutheran pastor, nor would Lutherans be required to put a United Methodist name on their list of pastors.

The Rev. Sarah Heaner Lancaster, a professor of theology at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, said the agreement should have an impact at the seminary level as the need arises to prepare those seeking ordination as United Methodist pastors to be able to function in a Lutheran setting as well. Such considerations are made at Lutheran seminaries in relation to their full communion partners, Lancaster said.    

Ten ELCA bishops were among those who lined up at microphones to speak in favor of the full-communion agreement. Speakers told of cooperative and joint ministries already being conducted by Lutherans and United Methodists and noted the need for more such ministries and cooperation, especially in rural and remote areas.

Steven Chapman, a layman from the ELCA Northwest Washington Synod, asked, “What took so long?” in reference to the agreement.  “I know what Lutherans are going to bring to the potluck,” he quipped, “but what are the Methodists going to bring?”

“I think we have the same recipe books,” answered Bishop Sally Dyck of the UMC’s North Central Judicatory Episcopal area of Minnesota, which drew laughter and applause from the assembly.  

The two churches began formal theological dialogues together in 1977, which led to declarations of “Interim Eucharistic Sharing” in 2005.

The ELCA has 4.6 million baptized members. The UMC has 8 million members in the U.S. and 3.5 million outside the U.S..


NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228 (office), 646-853-4212 (cell) , pjenks@ncccusa.org

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