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Canadian ecumenism the envy of Americans: JALC co-chair

By Tali Folkins on November, 14 2015

Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commission co-chairs Brita Chell, left, and Dean Peter Wall, right, share a laugh during a presentation before Council of General Synod on Novenber 13.  Photo: Tali Folkins 

Moving forward as they are on a number of ecumenical fronts—including, now, working toward an international “communion of communions,”—the Canadian Lutheran and Anglican churches have become the envy of their American cousins, the co-chair of the Joint Anglican-Lutheran Commission said Friday evening, November 13.

“Certainly the Americans are equally interested in some kind of ability to join congregations together, and they are not as nimble as we are—you’d be surprised to hear that,” Dean Peter Wall told a joint meeting of Council of General Synod (CoGS) and the National Church Council (NCC) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada  (ELCIC). “The Americans are a little more tightly wrapped about many things. They look on us with some envy because of the freedom with which we act, because we do something and realize that out of that come great things.

“Both The Episcopal Church and the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] have a little more trouble doing that,” Wall said. “But they are really happy that we live in that kind of world and provide them with all sorts of models for doing that.”

Wall, together with his co-chair from the ELCIC, Brita Chell, briefed members of CoGS on three resolutions passed by their commission during a meeting in late September and early October, and attended by both Anglican Church of Canada Primate Fred Hiltz and ELCIC National Bishop Susan Johnson. The resolutions concerned authorized lay ministry; transitivity; and the development of a “model constitution” for joint congregations.

Authorized lay ministry, a process allowing lay people to preside over services of the eucharist in extraordinary circumstances, was approved by the ELCIC national convention last July.  A paper commissioned by the JALC and released this summer concludes that the ELCIC’s policy on authorized lay ministry “may represent a matter on which Canadian Anglicans and Lutherans diverge, but not in a way that ought to threaten or diminish” the commitment of the two churches to “express, strengthen, and enable [their] common life, witness, and service to the glory of God and the salvation of the world.”

At its fall meeting, Wall said, the JALC resolved to commend the report to both the ELCIC and the Anglican Church of Canada, and also affirmed its conclusions.

Transitivity, Chell explained, deals with the working-out of how regional ecumenical agreements between churches that are members of different global communions affect each other. In response to a recent report to the JALC on transitivity, she said, the committee resolved to direct its co-chairs to “make a written overture to their counterparts in the Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee and the equivalent body in the Porvoo Communion to begin a discussion on establishing a ‘communion of communions’ that would effectively make the implications of the three regional full communion agreements, including mutual exchange of clergy, operative in all three regions.”

The Lutheran-Episcopal Coordinating Committee is tasked with implementing the full communion agreement between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Church in America. The Porvoo Communion is a communion of Anglican and Lutheran churches in Europe.

The resolution on transitivity, Chell said, is “really a very exciting opportunity to sort of broaden the net around co-operation and full communion further across the globe than just our Canadian borders.”

The JALC’s resolution on a model constitution for joint congregations, Wall said, originated with a request from the executive archdeacon of the diocese of Edmonton, Alan Perry, “who was dealing with a joint parish and was somewhat frustrated with trying to develop a model constitution or model set of bylaws for this joint parish.”

Some joint congregations in Canada have already developed their own such agreements, he said, but a better way seems to be to develop a single template to be used for new joint congregations.

“As we do more and more of these, the necessity to have some kind of agreed-upon format and/or formula and/or template becomes ever more important, so that everyone is not starting at square one all the time,” Wall said.

And so, he said, the JALC resolved to put together a working group to gather together a set of “best practices” from existing or past joint congregations. The working group is to deliver a progress report in the spring, he said.


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By Tali Folkins| November, 14 2015

About the Author

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins

Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.  His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer

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