Words from the Bishop—“Good is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate.”
Once again racism has raised its ugly head in America, even overshadowing the threat of nuclear annihilation for a bit. Racism is not a new phenomenon—it is as old as sin. As we delve more deeply into the Doctrine of Discovery (which we formally repudiated as a Synod and at the Churchwide Assembly in 2016), we see that there is racism embedded into the European colonization of the Americas, racism embedded into our Indian policy, racism embedded into our history of slavery, racism embedded into our immigration policies.
Last winter, a particularly virulent strain of racism appeared in, of all places, Whitefish, Montana. A high profile White Supremacist with a political group behind him became the center of a controversy in the Flathead that included anti-Semitism. Religious groups, including our ELCA congregations, responded appropriately, condemning White Supremacy, anti-semitism, and all forms of racism as antithetical not only to common human decency, but to the Christian faith.
In the 1990s, the Montana Association of Churches (MAC) adopted a Declaration on the Distortions of the Gospel. Hate groups were claiming that their racist and violent theories and practices were a true interpretation of the Gospel. MAC took that on, and repudiated any connection between racism and hatred espoused by these groups and the Gospel. Eight mainline Christian denominations signed on—American Baptist, Christian Church Disciples of Christ, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church USA ( Glacier and Yellowstone) Roman Catholic (Helena and Great Falls/Billings),United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church. Other Christians, from across the spectrum, asked to sign on as well. There was consensus that any attempt to justify bigotry by using religious language was simply wrong, misguided, even evil.
That was a quarter century ago, before the internet was a near constant part of nearly everyone’s lives, providing information and misinformation indiscriminately. Today’s hate groups spread demonize people of color, people of “other” faiths (especially Muslim), immigrants and more.
That widespread hatred was what was highlighted in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past weekend, in the White Supremacist rally. People of faith—of all faiths—including ELCA Lutherans—were there to stand against bigotry, to stand against hate.
I have read many of your Facebook posts this week, lamenting what was going on in Charlottesville, and looking for ways to move forward. Confession is always good for the soul. Examining ways that we as individuals and we as a primarily white church benefit from White Privilege might be a start. The key is not getting defensive. We have had to do that as a Synod as we have taken our Apology to tribal councils.
When I was growing up in the 1960’s north of the Mason Dixon line, I thought racism was something that happened in the South. And then I saw the violence in Boston in response to busing, and I thought it was an urban thing. I know now that it is a human thing, a thing we must repent, and work hard to overcome.
As I struggle with the implications of racism in America, I remember Bishop Desmond Tutu’s words: “Good is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Full communion proposal of Episcopal Church-United Methodist: A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness
[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release]
The Episcopal Church – United Methodist Dialogue group have prepared A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness; The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church – A Proposal for Full Communion, the result of dialogue for a formal full-communion relationship.
In a recent letter, Bishop Frank Brookhart of Montana, Episcopal Church co-chair of the committee, with Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, the United Methodist Church, Ohio West Episcopal Area, offered, “The relationships formed over these years of dialogue, and the recognition that there are presently no theological impediments to unity, paved the way for this current draft proposal.” The entire letter is available here.
A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness; The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church – A Proposal for Full Communion, is located here.
In the coming months, opportunities for feedback, regional gatherings, and discussions will be slated.
Additional related information, including historical documents, is available here.
The work of the Episcopal-United Methodist Dialogue is enabled by two General Convention resolutions: 2015-A107 and 2006-A055.
For more information contact the Rev. Margaret Rose, Episcopal Church Deputy for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations at email@example.com.
Members of the Episcopal-United Methodist Dialogue
Bishop C. Franklin Brookhart
Bishop David Rice
The Rev. Dr. Thomas Ferguson
The Rev. Dr. Deirdre Good
The Rev. Jordan M. Haynie Ware
The Rev. Margaret R. Rose – Staff
Bishop Gregory Palmer
Reverend Patricia Farris
Reverend Dr. James Howell
Reverend Dr. Pamela Lightsey
Bishop Michael Watson
Reverend Dr. Robert J. Williams
Kyle Tau, PhD, MTS – staff
Religious Freedom, the First Amendment, and Common Sense
For Montana residents it turns out that the political season is not over yet. Our lone representative in the US House became the Secretary of the Interior, leaving us without any representation in the House of Representatives. I have certainly felt that lack, as I have written to my senators about various issues in these last months. On May 25 (ironically, it is Ascension Day) Montana will have an election for our representative in the House.
Although there is some talk out of Washington about allowing religious organizations to become more partisan in their advocacy, even endorsing candidates without losing tax-exempt status, do not yield to the temptation, no matter how strongly you feel about the candidates, the election. In the ELCA we do not endorse candidates. We talk about policy. We encourage discernment. We encourage voting as a way not only to demonstrate civic responsibility, but also to show love for your neighbor. Voting is a way to be accountable for policies that affect the least and the lost.
Presiding Bishop Eaton has written an important statement on Religious Freedom. You can read it below:
On May 4, President Trump signed an executive order titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” The measure addresses the IRS ban on political campaigning by tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations, an important protection for houses of worship. That regulation is codified into law, so it would take an act of Congress to reverse, but President Trump signaled his administration’s opposition to the rule by directing the IRS to use maximum discretion to refrain from enforcing it.
The Lutheran Confessions state “the power of church and civil government must not be mixed ... [while] both be held in honor and acknowledged as a gift and blessing” (Augsburg Confession, Article 28). The ELCA Constitution affirms that one of the purposes of this church is to “work with civil authorities in
areas of mutual endeavor, maintaining institutional separation of church and state in a relation of functional interaction” (ELCA Constitution 4.03.n.). Our social teaching encourages members and leaders to be politically active as citizens and to provide moral leadership that advocates for just and fair policies.
Nothing in the current IRS rules prohibit such activities. Neither our theological heritage nor our social teaching lift up what we would understand today as partisan activity by church officials—endorsing or funding specific candidates, for instance—because
that confuses the appropriate responsibilities of church and state leadership.
Exemption from taxation is an appropriate benefit granted to churches and other charities.
The restriction on endorsement of political candidates in no way restricts freedom of religion. In fact, it allows churches to continue to focus on ministry and protects them from being lured into participation in partisan politics to the detriment of their proclamation and mission. The ELCA provides this guidance to ministries on participation in the electoral process.
Earlier this year, the ELCA joined with 99 diverse faith groups in sending a letter to Congress opposing any effort to undermine the so-called Johnson Amendment—those IRS regulations that protect both the taxpayer and our houses of worship. We do not seek or desire a change in tax law that could prove divisive in our congregations or detrimental to our witness of Christ.
Let us not be tempted to participate in partisan politics, but rather focus on being part of God's reconciling work through Christ in the world and proclaiming the gospel word.
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Words from the Bishop - A Social Message on Homeless
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25: 35)
The ELCA has long been concerned about homelessness, and adopted a Social Message “Homelessness: A Renewal of Commitment” in 1990. Like so many of the social messages adopted several decades ago, this message is still quite relevant. Some of it is prescient: “Without major changes in our society, homelessness will be more pervasive in the 1990’s than it was in the 1980’s.” And indeed it has become more pervasive.
The message affirms the long-standing efforts of Lutheran congregations, individuals and agencies to assist homeless individuals and families, acknowledging that the fastest growing segment of the homeless population is families. Since this message was written, a number of communities in our Synod have enlisted in Family Promise, a program designed for groups of churches to help homeless families find long-term housing and employment.
Another group with high rates of homelessness is veterans. Montana and Wyoming have a high proportion of veterans, and homelessness is a significant issue. A large number of veterans have returned from our ongoing wars in the middle east since the message was written.
There are many root causes of homelessness articulated by the message, including: poverty, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, health issues, mental illness, addiction, racism, domestic violence, natural disaster. In the intervening years since the message was written, the ELCA has taken on many of these issues in social messages (Mental Illness; People Living with Disabilities; Suicide Prevention; Community Violence; Gender-based Violence), or social statements ( Economic Life; Race, Ethnicity and Culture). And ELCA congregations and individuals are responding to a number of these issues as part of their ministry.
The message note that Christians’ responsibilities for homeless and not simply responding with temporary assistance. Helping to prevent homelessness through prevention and advocacy is essential.
“Christians walk with the homeless when they join with others to voice deep concern about homelessness, ask hard questions, ad advocate policies that seek to provide job training, employment opportunities, housing, education, health care, and support for the homeless. While as Christians we may differ in our views on what policies will be most effective, we ought not overlook the need for new and sustained initiatives by government, businesses, and non-profit organizations, including church groups. Church leaders are challenged to help create the public will to eliminate homelessness.”
The message concludes:
“Let the church pray for a renewal of commitment to walk more closely with and among peole who are homeless and who are at risk of becoming homeless in their daily struggles, sufferings, and hopes.”
Jessica Crist, Bishop
EPPN Lenten Series
"Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy." -Proverbs 31: 8-9
"Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful." -Luke 6:36
Today marks the beginning of the season of Lent, and as Christians, we will spend the next 40 days in preparation and reflection. We may seek to deepen our practices of contemplative prayer, to renew our commitment to worship, and to read and to meditate on God's holy Word. For many, it is a time of turning inward, of devotion, and individual daily practices that serve to ready the spirit. Indeed, we are all called to renew our repentance and our faith. We ask for this renewal when we pray: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit with me." (Psalm 51:11).
As we carry out the ministry of public policy together, what particular meaning does this season of fasting and penitence have for us? What work must we do to ready ourselves for the Holy Days to come that this season prepares us for?
First, we must recognize that the seemingly outward-facing work of public witness is not separate from the inward work of prayer, self-examination, and repentance. In repentance, we examine our hearts and our consciences in the hopes that we can move forward transformed and renewed. From that place of ongoing repentance, forgiveness, and renewal, we turn to the work we are called to do: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to clothe the naked, to welcome the stranger, to care for the sick, and to visit those in prison. Our advocacy aims to help our society meet the needs of the hungry, the sick, and the prisoners, and yet the work is made meaningful in and through our repentance. Ephesians 6:2 tells us that" "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God."
Secondly, we must come to this work with humility - knowing that we live in a world that is redeemed through Christ and not through our own efforts. Advocacy at its best can address great systemic injustices and effect changes that save and improve lives. We aim to ensure protections for society's most vulnerable, responding to the call of the Prophets: "Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17); "Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place." (Jeremiah 1:23); "Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien, or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another." (Zechariah 7:10). We must strive for justice even as we know we live in a world that is aching and broken. We know that our faith must lie with God, and not in illusions about our own strength or power. We approach the work of advocacy with careful discernment and prayer.
Finally, we must recognize that the work we do in the Office of Government Relations is one way among many to answer the call to righteousness and love we find in Scripture. We are grateful for those who carry out work in their communities: through feeding the homeless at soup kitchens, through visits to the incarcerated and their families, through inviting and welcoming refugees to their communities. We are grateful for those who lift up prophetic voices in public fora and in churches, calling us all to account for the injustices we are complicit in. We are not in this work alone, and we believe that through federal public policy advocacy, we can serve as a public witness, that we can advocate for more just policies and laws, even as we recognize the complexity and variety of righteously-held views. Our job is to bear witness, knowing that the outcome is God's kingdom.
This Lent, we will share with you our perspectives on the work we do, sharing more personal stories and reflections. We will share how it is that we conceive of advocacy and how we are focusing our efforts on the three pillars of the Jesus Movement: stewardship of creation, evangelism, and reconciliation. Together, these pillars can help to ground us and help us to live out our faith.
Creation Care: when we welcome a new member to our family at Baptism, Episcopalians recite together the Apostles' Creed, which begins: "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth." God's act of creation of the earth and oceans we share together is bound to our own creation, to the spirit of life that animates our souls. We honor God by caring for creation. This day in particular, when we are reminded that we return to dust, to the earth, we must remember our connection to God's world.
Evangelism: the work we do through public witness is sharing the good news. We encounter one another as fellow humans, where we advocate on behalf of one another and strive towards justice. Love of God and love of neighbor. At this moment, we evangelize by advocating for refugees and migrants globally and raising awareness about the life-giving work of refugee resettlement in the U.S. We strive to listen to their stories, and to work with Congress and the Administration to ensure that we can welcome refugees to the U.S.
Reconciliation: we strive to reconcile ourselves to God and to one another. As we work towards the goal of reconciliation, we have a particular focus on the global Anglican Communion, recognizing the need for foreign assistance, for conflict mediation and peacebuilding, and for eliminating all forms of gender-based violence.
As we engage in policy advocacy on each of these pillars, we are attentive to issues of racial justice and racial reconciliation. We remember that environmental racism has meant that communities of color may not have the same access to clean air and clean water. We recognize that discrimination plays a role in how immigrants and refugees are treated, and we aspire to look beyond national boundaries towards a global community in our international advocacy efforts.
We will continue to work together to share Christian perspectives and values with legislators and policymakers. We will continue to ask you to make phone calls, send letters, set up meetings and attend town halls. But in these next 40 days, let us also reflect on what these three pillars of the Jesus movement mean to each of us - in our daily lives as well as on a national scale. "O give us strength in thee to fight."
Thank you for joining with us in this journey.
This email was sent by:Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations
110 Maryland Ave., Suite 309 Washington, DC, 20002, USA
This is the third in a series of reflections on the Social Messages adopted by the ELCA Church Council over our history. The messages can be found at www.elca.org/socialmessages, and these reflections will be archived at www.montanasynod.org.
In 1998, the ELCA Church Council adopted a social message on immigration. Although it is almost 20 years old, it is remarkably relevant to today's immigration debates. Immigration is not a new issue. It is a faith issue. Scripture is full of admonitions to care for the stranger in our midst. "The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." (Leviticus 19:34)
The vast majority of ELCA Lutherans are descendants of immigrants. We are an immigrant church in an immigrant country. Stephen Bouman and Ralston Deffenbaugh write in They are Us: Lutherans and Immigration:
"The United States is one of the few nations in the world-Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and some of the Latin American countries also come to mind-that understands itself as a nation of immigrants. America celebrates and symbolizes its immigrant heritage with the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor." (p. 39)
Immigration is not only in our DNA. It is in our story. At the end of World War II, one out of every six Lutherans in the world was a refugee. In 1939, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service started as a way to resettle war refugees. Six thousand Lutheran congregations in the US resettled over 57,000 refugees from Europe. Again, after the Vietnam War, US Lutherans resettled over 50,000 refugees from Southeast Asia. LIRS has expanded its mission from resettling European Lutherans to resettling and advocating for refugees and immigrants wherever there is need. (To learn more about LIRS, go to www.lirs.org.)
There are now more displaced persons in the world than at any time since World War II-60 million is a rough estimate. And yet the political climate in the US has turned against our welcoming stance. It is not the first time that the United States has tried to limit immigrants and refugees. But it is the time we live in. It is the time to be the church at our best.
Our 1998 statement says:
"Immigration, refugee, and asylum policies express who we are as a nation, influence the nation's future character, and affect the lives of millions of people. We encourage our members, in light of our history and our ministry with newcomers, to join with other citizens in our democratic society to support just laws that serve the common good."
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has joined faith leaders from across the globe exhorting us to work and pray "on behalf of those who seek refuge on our shores." She invites congregations and individuals to contact members of Congress to express support for refugees. And she reminds us of the ELCA's AMMPARO strategy with unaccompanied Central American minors, and of our ministry through LIRS. She writes:
"We must offer safety to people fleeing religious persecution regardless of their faith tradition. Christians and other religious minorities suffer persecution and rightly deserve protection, but including additional criteria based on religion could have discriminatory effects that would go against our nation's fundamental values related to freedom of religion."
In 1998 our church stated:
" This is a fitting time for us to examine anew our attitudes toward newcomers, to strengthen out church's ministry among, with, and for the most vulnerable of newcomers, and to continue to advocate for immigration, refugee, and asylum laws that are fair and generous."
It was true in 1998. It is true in 2017.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
From Episcopal News Service: Olympia diocese welcomes refugees, sues to keep resettlement efforts alive
[Episcopal News Service] The federal appeals court ruling Feb. 9 that blocked reinstatement of the Trump administration’s temporary ban on refugee admissions was welcomed by Episcopal Church leaders in Washington, where the Diocese of Olympia is pursuing a separate lawsuit against the president’s executive order.
The diocese helps coordinate the resettlement of 190 refugees each year. Of the refugees now preparing to arrive in the Seattle area, about 90 percent are expected to come from one of the seven Muslim-majority countries singled out in President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 order, which also banned visitors and visa holders from those nations. A federal judge in Seattle temporarily blocked his ban on Feb. 6. It was that ruling that the three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, upheld on Feb. 9
To read the full article, click here
From our friends at the Progressive Clergy Network of Montana. Interfaith Advocacy March 24th and Human Rights Advocacy Day Feb. 20th
Happy second day in February. This month, we celebrate Black History and the long arc of the moral universe that, we pray, bends toward justice.
I keep returning to the new hymn by Mark A. Miller from his collection Roll on Justice!, a setting of Eric Garner's last words, "I can't breathe." Miller then asks, "how long? How much longer must we wait?" May we continue to work in that impatient urgency for real, enduring justice.
In that spirit, we have a wide variety of opportunities for advocacy and legislative action. I also welcome YOUR input for other issues, actions, or campaigns you'd like to see us take on:
Mark Your Calendars: Interfaith Day of Advocacy on March 24th
We invite you to participate in a reception, interfaith prayer service, and day of advocacy on Friday, March 24th, in Helena with other progressive clergy! Details forthcoming, but please save the date!
You're Invited: Montana Human Rights Network Advocacy Day on Feb 20th
MHRN will host an LGBTQ Lobby Day on Monday, February 20th, including a teach-in and workshops. It's a great way to show clergy solidarity with Montana's LGBTQ community—come if you're able!
Raise Your Voice: Upcoming Issues
Jules sent this a few days ago, but here is a reminder that a few critical pieces of legislation are coming up in our state. Consider testifying, writing a letter, or calling your Senator or Representative. Please let Jules (firstname.lastname@example.org) know if you'd like to raise your voice on any of these, and she'll be in touch.
1) Paid Leave: Currently, there are no protections for employees in the instance of extended illness, caregiving for parents, childbirth, or bereavement. The United States remains the only industrialized economy in the world that does not guarantee paid leave for new mothers or a paid sick leave standard, and one of a handful that does not guarantee leave for new fathers. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides job security but does not allow employees to receive any portion of their pay. This bill would create a pool similar to Unemployment Insurance, that asks for shared contribution from employer and employee. For someone making $40,000/yr, shared contribution would be $7.65. The definition of family is kept intentionally broad to make sure LGBTQ families are included.
Hearing Date: Tentatively Thursday, Feb 9th in the morning
Bill #: LC350
Bill language: http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2017/lchtml/LC0350.htm
More Info: http://www.montanabudget.org/helping-people-balance-work-and-family/
2) Montana Human Rights Act: Would add "sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression" to the Montana Human Rights Act to protect from discrimination.
Hearing Date: potentially third week of February
Bill #: LC1152
Bill language: http://leg.mt.gov/bills/2017/lchtml/LC1152.htm
More Info: http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Montana-ND-March-2015.pdf
Thanks, all. I will send out regular legislative updates as they surface! The leadership team has a few updates soon, as well, so please look for another e-mail to come!
Called to Common Mission: 15 years of Episcopal-Lutheran partnership
By Richelle Thompson | December 12, 2016 2 Comments |Editor’s Note: On Jan. 6, 2001, after 30 years of dialogue, the Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, while maintaining their autonomy, agreed to come together to work for joint mission in the world and to allow clergy to move freely between the two churches. This week, ENS is running a “Called to Common Mission” series celebrating 15 years of Episcopal-Lutheran full communion.
[Episcopal News Service] Most of the time, the Rev. Miriam Schmidt doesn’t think about the differences in her union congregation of Episcopalians and Lutherans. Members of both denominations – and others in the small community of Big Sky, Montana – work together for common cause, sharing worship, meals and ministries.
But there are some challenges, Schmidt concedes. Among them: picking out beloved hymns – and with the same text and tune – for both constituents.
All Saints is among about 65 worshiping communities across the country engaged in Episcopal-Lutheran partnerships. These congregations and campus ministries are living into Called to Common Mission, an agreement between the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to be in full communion, able to share clergy leadership and operate as blended congregations.
Nearly all of the more than 20 people interviewed for a series of stories commemorating this year’s 15th anniversary of Called to Common Mission lauded the benefits of working together – from sharing resources, especially in small places, to being a model for unity and collaboration. Merging congregations in Baltimore has created a dynamic, vibrant ministry of “Lutherpalians” intent on serving the neighborhood. A college chaplaincy program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is a place of sanctuary and community for students. And in Alaska, a union congregation (they call themselves Lutepiscs) is the only mainline Protestant presence for more than 200 miles.
All Saints in Big Sky is growing in numbers, said longtime member Laura T. Sacchi, and more importantly the people are growing spiritually as they learn about different traditions.
They had to work together to figure out how to compromise and sacrifice, “how to make everybody feel welcomed and included.” Those good habits have carried over and shaped a church committed to hospitality and to welcoming the stranger and neighbor alike.
This sense of welcome is echoed at Epiphany Lutheran-Episcopal Church in Alaska, where they don’t lock the doors. They want the building to be open to any one, a stranger in need, another denomination in search of a worship space, a visitor looking for a faith home.
“We’ve always been known as the church in town where everyone was welcome to come and worship,” said the Rev. Christian Mauntel, a Lutheran pastor at Epiphany. Her church was ahead of the curve, coming together as a joint ministry in the late 1970s. Called to Common Mission confirmed what the congregants have believed all along: that they are better together.
“What was ‘we-have-to’ has now become a point of pride,” said Mauntel. She believes the small congregation is a living example of what many churches will look like in the future: strong lay leaders and collaborative ministry with other traditions.
“We try to make people feel the love of God when they come in the door. We don’t ask who they know or how long they’ve been here or which denomination they are. We treat everyone who comes here as beloved children of God.”
In the history of Christendom and the rise of denominations, sometimes people and churches lost sight of what binds them, says the Rev. Margaret Rose, deputy for ecumenical and interreligious relations for the Episcopal Church.
“Our divisions – not our differences – are part of the polarizing nature of today’s culture. They prevent us from working together for a better world,” said Rose. “I’m very clear that our differences are part of the unique richness that allows us to understand ‘the other’ and ourselves.”
Our work as Christians, said Rose, is “to reveal the unity of the church that is already there.” This requires forging relationships with people who have different faith traditions, “getting to know one another at the deepest levels of who we are and to be transformed by that.”
On a practical level, this commitment to unity takes shape in the form of sharing space, worship, ministry and mission. “It’s a big, chaotic and wonderful mess,” said Rose.
Local iterations of partnerships between Lutherans and Episcopalians take all forms: from union congregations and merged ones to two separate legal entities committed to working as one. Some congregations have vestries and councils and are under the jurisdiction of both an Episcopal bishop and a Lutheran one. Others fall under the episcopal authority of one denomination but work closely with the other.
On a church-wide level, Called to Common Mission has prompted increased collaboration and discussion. The ecumenical officers often work together to find common interests and ways to amplify each other’s ministry. For instance, Rose’s office will soon be sending out to dioceses “Discover Islam,” a set of DVDs and curriculum developed by the ELCA and the Islamic Society of North America. The Episcopal Church and ELCA share one full-time employee in the Office of Government Relations. That office also developed and produced, with their counterparts in Canada, a free Advent devotional this year.
The two denominations collaborate and coordinate on social issues, said Kathyrn Johnson, director for ecumenical and inter-religious relations for the ELCA.
Lutheran Immigration Services is working with the Episcopal Church, she said. And the ELCA is “grateful for the Episcopal Church’s longer attention to some of the questions of justice for Native people. We have really appreciated the leadership from the Episcopal Church in Standing Rock (the controversial proposal to build a pipeline through sacred land).”
Even with the progress of the past 15 years, there is still tremendous work to be done. Some is structural. The ministries in Alaska, Montana, Maryland and Massachusetts all talked about challenges in governance. Epiphany in Alaska still doesn’t have a constitution and bylaws because of conflicting demands by the denominational structures. In Maryland, they are trying to navigate insurance: One denomination won’t extend insurance coverage to the other’s leadership group. Programming provided by a diocese or synod has to be adapted for a multi-denominational audience at MIT. And in Montana, Schmidt is always weighing how to promote church-wide activities.
“Do I advocate for Lutheran Relief or Episcopal Relief & Development? How do I choose?” she asked. “I want to retain our denominational ties, but there’s also only so much energy a congregation has for mission and outreach.”
Johnson said that she hopes more work can be done in formation, particularly with seminaries. “We should be teaching about one another’s traditions,” she said. “In this time of great challenge for the viability of seminary institutions, we haven’t looked at this issue with as much intention as I wish we had.”
The Rev. Tom Ferguson, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Sandwich, Massachusetts, recalls the early days of the agreement. He joined the staff of the Episcopal Church just a few months after Called to Common Mission officially came into effect on Jan. 1, 2001. There were two challenges in the early years: the practical one of figuring out policy and the more ambiguous one of healing rifts and finding ways to bring everyone onboard, even those who had vigorously opposed the agreement.
Today, most people agree in theory about the importance of common mission, but many of the structural changes are unresolved, Ferguson said.
Now that the agreement has been in place for 15 years, it’s probably time to reevaluate and reinvent it, he said. The church has changed from what it was then. As both denominations continue to decline in numbers – as have most mainline traditions – it’s apparent that churchwide structures need to change, he said.
“Maybe the purpose of the agreement was to get us where we need to be in the coming years,” Ferguson said. “Now is the time to live into the incredible vision and freedom that the original agreement gave. We should be asking the questions: What other ecumenical partnerships can we pursue? What do we need to be doing our work together?”
Jesus came to establish the kingdom of heaven, not denominations, Ferguson said. “I’ve served in a Lutheran congregation, and I’ve served in an Episcopal church, and I’ve preached the same gospel in both places. I’m way more interested in the way to be a Christian and to find our common ground.”
– Richelle Thompson is deputy director and managing editor of Forward Movement.
Letters & Publications from Faith Leaders Across the State & Region that coincide with MAC's Mission & Work.