‘We’re the ones who are testing it out’

By

Brenda Still

Archbishop Linda Nicholls (left), primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, shares a moment with Bishop Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Photo: Anglican Church of Canada

How full communion in Canada fits into global ecumenism

The full communion partnership between the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is both influenced and influencer when it comes to models for ecumenical partnerships.

Primate Linda Nicholls and National Bishop Susan Johnson, respective leaders of the Anglican and Lutheran churches in Canada, suggest that full communion between their two churches draws upon previous models while offering a testing ground for similar partnerships in other countries.

An early partnership between Anglican and Lutheran churches was the Porvoo Communion, established in 1992 between Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran churches predominantly in Northern Europe.

However, as Bishop Johnson notes, “that has far less practical application because there are very few in each other’s churches.” Many churches in the Porvoo Communion, such as the Church of England, are state churches that predominate in their respective nations.

“You don’t get a lot of Anglicans in Sweden or Norway or Finland or Estonia or whoever’s a part of that,” Johnson says. “But it does allow for exchange of clergy and exchange of memberships.”

In the case of the Anglican and Lutheran churches in Canada, she adds, “we’re talking about two churches living on the same territory in more or less equal numbers, comparatively. So it allows us to do different things.

“There are a number of other relationships involving Anglicans and involving Lutherans in other churches in other areas. But I think we’re the ones who have taken it the farthest in terms of the work we do and the partnerships we have.”

A major influence on the full communion partnership in Canada was the similar agreement between The Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The two U.S. churches have been in full communion since 1999, although they did not sign a formal agreement until 2001.

“I was at the signing ceremony, and it had failed the first time it went in front of the Lutherans,” Johnson recalls. “So we learned a lot from that failure as we prepared for [the Waterloo Declaration] in 2001 … Sometimes you learn from failures as much as you learn from successes.”

“I think both our agreement and the one in the States are kind of forerunners,” Nicholls adds.

“We’re the ones that are testing it out, and testing it out because we need to. We need to on the ground. We need to be pointing to that unity as churches. It doesn’t require us to be identical, but can show us working together and having a stronger voice because we do work together.”

A growing four-way partnership between these churches in Canada and the United States has emerged, now called Churches Beyond Borders. Johnson highlights how work of the different churches can complement each other in different areas, such as dismantling racism.

“There’s a lot more work being done in the States in terms of anti-Black racism,” the national bishop says. “But there’s more work being done in Canada in terms of racism against Indigenous peoples. So we’re bringing those things together in terms of racism and our work there.

“We can learn from each other and share gifts with each other, which is the whole point of a full communion.”

Meanwhile, dialogues involving the Anglican Communion and Lutheran World Federation have continued at the international level.

From work together in the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification group, the Anglican Lutheran International Commission on Unity and Mission (ALICUM) has been established to find new areas for shared work between the two denominations. ALICUM is modelled on the similar International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity in Mission (IARCCUM).

Nicholls says that the work of ALICUM “will concentrate on supporting local cooperation in mission and ministry between Anglicans and Lutherans. Like IARCCUM, which was the Roman Catholic version, it’s looking for ways to nurture support and lift up places where Anglicans and Lutherans are working on the ground together.”

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Matt Gardner

Matt Gardner

Matt Gardner is a staff writer for the Anglican Journal. Most recently, Gardner worked as corporate communicator for the Anglican Church of Canada, a position he held since Dec. 1, 2014. He previously served as a city reporter for the Prince Albert Daily Herald. A former resident of Kingston, Ont., Gardner has a degree in English literature from Queen’s University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario. He will continue to support corporate communications efforts during his time at the Journal.

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