ELCA Adopts Full Communion Agreement with The United Methodist Church
Historic vote acknowledges each other as partners in the Christian faith
Minneapolis: In what church leaders are calling a "historic moment" and an "ecumenical breakthrough," the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has voted to adopt a full communion agreement with The United Methodist Church.
Meeting in Minneapolis on August 20, 2009, ELCA delegates overwhelmingly approved the full communion agreement - with 958 delegates voting yes, and 51 voting no. The delegates also passed legislation setting up a joint coordinating committee that will decide how the resolution will translate into action. The top policy making body of The United Methodist Church voted in favor of the same agreement during the 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
"We are walking through a door of opportunity together. The opportunity is to more visibly embody the biblical unity of the Body of Christ and increase our capacity to share in Christ's ministry to transform the world," said Bishop Gregory Palmer, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
"Since 1997, this church has established full communion relationships with five - now six - partner churches," said ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. "It is exciting to see these relationships bearing fruit within synods and among congregations."
In essence, full communion means that each church acknowledges the other as a partner in the Christian faith, recognizes the authenticity of each other's baptism and Eucharist, observes the validity of their respective ministries and is committed to working together toward greater unity. While it does not mean there are no differences or distinctions between the churches, the differences are not church dividing. A full communion agreement is not a merger of the two denominations, but a recognition of each other's ministry and mission.
In simple terms, the pact means that United Methodists and Lutherans will formally partner in matters of worship, mission, and clergy. United Methodist pastors may preach from Lutheran pulpits, and vice versa. In addition, congregations in local communities might combine resources for a range of ministries, such as mental health services, missionary outreach, or domestic violence prevention. Members of both denominations may also participate in each other's Holy Communion observances.
Although this ecumenical partnership is a first for The United Methodist Church, the ELCA had formed prior full communion relationships with other bodies - the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ in 1997, and the Moravian and Episcopal churches in 1999.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America counts its membership at 4.7 million, while The United Methodist Church has 11.5 million members worldwide.
The historic vote is the culmination of decades of dialogue on subjects from justification by faith to the Eucharist, among the religious traditions founded by towering figures in Christian history - Martin Luther and John Wesley. For 32 years, the two denominations have held talks about doctrine and theology. Baptism was the focus from 1977 to 1979, followed by a six-session discussion of ministries, specifically the episcopacy in 1985-1987. Most recently, from 2001 to 2007, talks focused on sanctification, the Lord's Supper, and the implications of full communion.