On September 24 and 25, the head bishops of the Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran churches in North America will meet in Washington, D.C. to talk about how to more fully live out and affirm their full communion relationships.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Katherine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church (TEC), Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), will continue a tradition of annual meetings that began in 2010. The meetings provide an opportunity for the bishops to have some time alone to speak informally together about topics that concern the four churches.
While the “four-way” dialogue, as the meeting has come to be known, will occur at the same time Pope Francis is in Washington for his first visit to the U.S., the church leaders will not have an opportunity to meet the Catholic pontiff, but they will watch the broadcast of his September 24 address to Congress.
Being in Washington will give the Canadian bishops an opportunity to see how the ELCA and TEC conduct their advocacy operations, according to Archdeacon Bruce Myers, General Synod co-ordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations, who will be accompanying Hiltz to the meeting.
“[TEC and the ELCA] have a joint policy office and staff person, based in Washington D.C. who handles domestic and international policy issues and co-ordinates advocacy for the two churches at the capitol,” he noted. “Given that our whole government relations piece is in its early stages and evolving, can we learn from our American cousins on something such as having a credible effective voice in the public square?”
But that is not the only area where American experience may be useful to the Canadian churches. One the topics to be discussed this year include lay presidency, a dispensation which allows for lay people to preside over eucharistic services in some circumstances and a circumscribed form of which was adopted by the ELCIC in July.
Some in the Canadian church have expressed concern over what this means for the full communion agreement between Anglicans and Lutherans in Canada, as the Anglican Church does not allow lay people to preside.
“This is something that has been a presenting issue in the full-communion relationship between the Episcopal Church and the ELCA also,” said Myers. “This is something our American full communion partners have lived through, and they’ve come through the other end of it still in full communion. I think there will be great value in hearing from the American churches on what their experience of this was.”
This will be the last dialogue Jefferts Schori will attend. In September 2014 she announced that she would not be standing for re-election, and in June 2015 Bishop Michael Curry was chosen as the new presiding bishop. Curry’s consecration will take place on November 1.