Thursday, January 06, 2011

10th Anniversary of the ELCA-ECUSA Concordat

 Apparently, it is the 10th anniversary of the Episcopal-Lutheran Concordat wherein the Episcopal Church USA and the ELCA entered into full Communion. There was initially much enthusiasm and idealism in the hope that the two denominations would usher in a new era of inter-denominational cooperation. The 10th Anniversary has gone largely unnoticed in either the Episcopal or Lutheran modes of communication as far as I can discern. The only reason I learned about it was from a seminary friend who posted the link above over on Facebook. I thought it might be an interesting topic to discuss here.

The interim minister here at my current parish was actually a Lutheran. He was well thought of and did a good job at getting the parish back to a place to hire a full time priest (which turned out to be me.) Other than that, I, personally, have not seen much impact other that Lutheran bishops being involved in Episcopal bishop ordinations. There's been a lot of ecumenical dialog back and forth on the top levels, but largely the hoped for era of cooperation never much panned out as much as was initially hoped.

Certainly, the free move of Lutheran and Episcopal clergy, or clergy sharing if you like, back and forth across denominational lines has not been normative. I've known a few who have come here or gone there, but in essence they basically either go over and become de facto Lutheran ministers or come over and become closet Episcopal priests, at which point they basically "go off the deployment radar" of their previous denomination, as it was described to me by a Lutheran minister who supplied in Nebraska and occasionally frequented my former parish in Lincoln when there was no Sunday supply gig somewhere. In fact, I think she formally got received by the Episcopal Bishop of Nebraska in the end.

And I think also that the fact that the Lutheran church (ELCA) tends to not be dominant in places the Episcopal Church is more dominant (and vice versa) has hamstrung a bit of the institutional cooperation. The Lutheran Church is big here in the Upper Midwest and Northern Plains (much to the comedic fodder of Garrison Keillor and Lake Wobegon on the Prairie Home Companion radio variety show), though the Episcopal church here is much smaller. Likewise, there are a lot of Episcopal Congregations in places like Virginia and New York, where the ELCA is not profuse in congregational numbers.

Surely, I've had excellent relationships with the local Lutheran ministers during my ordained life, though my ordained life has been in Nebraska and South Dakota. The local ELCA head pastor and I even did a joint Remembrance Service with the local funeral homes back in December here locally that went well. In terms of institutional joint efforts and cooperation, I think it has been few and far between, at least in areas of the country I have lived.

For instance, I remember 10 years ago when the priest where I went to church announced the Concordat, he did an adult forum before the Sunday Service about it. He was really excited. This was in the South, mind you, where Lutherans basically don't exist unless they are adult transplants due to jobs. He did this big song and dance about what this means and all this. He had posters and a picture of Luther. Mercifully, these were the days before Powerpoint.

He was just getting complete blank stares from everybody in the room. It was like he had announced we were now in full Communion with the Church of the Aardvark in Southwest Smurfdom. People just had no frame of reference for what the ELCA was. He finally paused when he realized that people were simply not tracking with him. He asked, "Ok, let's backtrack...does anyone here know any Lutherans?"

AT WHICH POINT, THERE WAS DEAD SILENCE FOR WHAT SEEMED SEVERAL MINUTES.

Finally, this little old Southern lady with hat and gloves raised her hand and said, "I think my son-in-law is a Lutheran..."

AT WHICH POINT EVERYONE POLITELY SMILED AND MURMURED, "OH, THAT'S NICE!"

But then she piped up with, "But, bless his heart, he's a drunk!"

AT WHICH POINT THERE WAS MORE DEAD SILENCE.

The priest (flustered at this point) finally says, "Okay, well, maybe we'll revisit this some other time when I can get the Lutheran minister to come and speak to us...It must be time for Mass."

AT WHICH POINT EVERYONE APPLAUDED.

I was not in seminary or the ordination process at the time, but I had a feeling right then and there that the whole enterprise was largely going over like a lead balloon, at least in the South. Unfortunately, that sentiment I think has largely carried the day in a lot of places. We're Episcopalians, and they are Lutherans (and probably vice versa), and we can be nice and all, but for the most part, denominational life continues as normal.

I would argue that there is an added problem, from a completely Anglican Communion standpoint, of what exactly we as Episcopalians even mean by Communion anymore amongst ourselves, much less with other denominations. Unlike some traditions, we don't really have a Confession of Faith that binds us together. We don't have a Westminster or Augsburg Confession for example where you are clearly "in" or "out" of the denomination if you don't ascribe to the Confession of Faith at least on some level.

There was a time when what bound us together was the doctrine of  "How we pray shapes how we believe," in that Anglicans had basically one standardized form of worship from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, or at least a Book of Common Prayer that was clearly a theological descendant of the original Church of England prayerbook. That is no longer the case. The Episcopal Church has been putting out supplements that have theology and language that clearly separates itself from traditional Anglican liturgical and theological norms. Even within the Church of England,  there is a plethora of worship styles ranging from the Common Worship series to the Anglo-catholic English version Paul VI missal to some of the more Evangelical C of E churches that wouldn't touch a prayerbook but instead use Willow Creek type mega-church stuff with guitars and all that.

Though I was horrified, the prevailing thought in the Church of England was "how grand" that we have liturgical diversity. My question, which I never got a satisfactory answer to, was "Okay, if we have no Confession or magisterium or even these days common theological doctrines or views that holds us together, and now we have no common worship that holds us together...what exactly holds us together in some form of meaningful Communion?"

The silence I always get from that question both here and abroad is deafening and greatly concerning. Is Communion in the Anglican Communion nothing more than the name on the Church Sign out front? Are we bound together by nothing more than an assertion to have some bureaucratic but meaningless tie to the See of Canterbury? If we have absolutely nothing in common in that we do not believe anything in common nor pray anything in common, can we really claim to be in Communion with one another in any meaningful sense? And if we can't claim that, what does saying that we are in Full Communion with the ELCA possibly mean?


There is even the bizarre conversations/debates going on with the Episcopal church to do away with Confirmation (that's been going on since the 70's) and to allow Communion for the Unbaptized (which is a relatively recent thing). I, for the life of me, don't understand the idea of Communion for the Unbaptized. I do understand the logic in that its supposedly an issue of "hospitality." In terms of the meaning of the actual term "Communion" itself, the idea of allowing Communion for the Unbaptized is preposterous. I mean you are literally allowing someone to join into Communion with God and the Church (Eucharist is not just a me-and-God thing but a me-and-you thing) having not been joined in Baptism. How can one join in Communion (through the Eucharist) if you have not in fact been joined in Communion (through Baptism)? You're joining but not really joining? You're just temporarily joining this one time? 

To me, Communion of the Unbaptized is at best a logical impossiblity and at worse extremely spiritually dangerous, as St. Paul is very clear that  if you partake of the Lord's Supper without proper discernment, you "eat and drink judgment against yourselves." If one hasn't discerned baptism, I don't understand how anyone can say they have had proper discernment for the Holy Eucharist. 

I invite comment. I think the Episcopal Church's understanding of Communion needs serious work. I think this is a major elephant in the Ecumenical room that people don't want to talk about but I think does need to be considered and ennunciated in some logical form. Communion is serious business, and not something to be taken lightly by theological tourists.

7 comments:

The Underground Pewster said...

We live in a culture that scores low on the long term commitment scale. Communion to me means a long term commitment, after all, when I partake in Holy Communion, I really get the "union" part.

The full communion of ELCA and TEc illustration is characteristic of a lack of commitment. In our town, Lutherans and Episcopalians are tiny minority populations. We have been having a joint service on Ash Wednesdays for the past several years and only the choirs are in communion. When the service is at the Lutheran church, Lutherans attend, and when it is at the Episcopal church only Episcopalians attend. This is in spite of the fact that the churches are less than a mile apart from each other.

Judging by this failure, communion is a serious business, and people just don't want to be that serious.

The Archer of the Forest said...

The following is a comment I got on Facebook regarding this post:

"This post makes me rather sad. It is sad in that in some ways it seems that Anglicanism and Lutheranism would have natural affinities on many levels. As an Anglican of the Anglo-Catholic bent, I see amongst the Evangelical Catholic faction ...within Lutheranism fellow Catholic Christians. (See the Church of Sweden as good or perhaps not so good example of what I mean.) As for Anglicanism, I think that moving away from a more standardized liturgy is not so good, and yes some of the supplemental liturgical material is bad news. Using say ACNA as an example, with their crazy mix of prayer books and liturgies. I think Anglicanism needs to grapple with the question of when is diversity good and when does it become crippling and dis-uniting."

The Archer of the Forest said...

My response on facebook to the 2nd comment above was thus:

I think you make a good albeit politically incorrect point about diversity in general, in the church as well as in society as a whole. The general buzzword mantra is that "diversity is good," which the political orthodoxy being that all di...versity is good. Unfortunately, that's not always logically true.

Robert Putnam, who is a political theorist and sociologist, has done some very interesting research on this in the last few years. He actually did a big study where he actually started with that premise of "All diversity is good," which he actually did set out to prove at the beginning. But he found as he did the research that actually, the more extreme diversity you have, the more that community and ultimately democracy actually begins to break down.

Basically, the more diverse people are, the less they have in common, till you logically get to the point where people are so diverse they don't have anything in common, even basic language or cultural assumptions, at which point community breaks down because people become insular by only associating with other people with whom they can communicate on some level. Without a core community, people stop voting, people stop talking to each other, and become virtual strangers but still living next door to each other.

Putnam was speaking of society in general, but I think its true in the Church as well, which was what I was getting in by asking the question of what we mean by Communion with one another in the Church. If theological diversity is so large that the Church community literally begins to break down as in Putnam's studies, does Communion have a meaning as word anymore?

JC Fremont said...

A comment on Lutherans in the South: my uncle married into a Lutheran family in Jackson, SC. I believe the family had been in the area since colonial times. Don't know what denomination it was, but my uncle, who passed away in the late 1970s, is buried in a Lutheran churchyard.

Re the liturgical chaos: it's sad. I tend to agree that the concept of ELCA and ECUSA being in communion is pretty nebulous. I think they are both harking back to a time when the word meant something other than it does today...they want the approval of the post-WWII culture which many of their adherents have done their best to erase. Perhaps that's the price of becoming part of the "elite" level of the culture.

The Archer of the Forest said...

I said that there were no Lutherans in the South somewhat tongue-in-creek. I realize there are and have been communities of them here and there since colonial times.

But, I don't think I ever personally met one until I moved out to Nebraska after college. I think they are the South's version of Bigfoot. We have alleged sightings, but not conclusive evidence. ;)

Anonymous said...

As a non-Episcopalian and non-Lutheran,
I've found this whole "Concordat" thing a bit odd.

The Episcopal Church and the ELCA ordain women and gays, and have rather liberal theological and liturgical practices. And,BOTH have an "open table" policy in regard to holy communion, with baptism being the only pre-requisite (and that seems to even be questioned among some Episcopalians...and lay-presidency has even been on the table too.) So, why the need for a "concodat" to facilitate a "shared ministry" when either denomination can go to the other's without issue?

d.jenner said...

Hmn. I recall when CCM went down. I attended a decent size church in Lower Manhattan, and the Vicar (effective, exec.vp for church -- it was pretty decent size...), Bishop Donovan, was very pleased. Why not? PECUSA got more out of it (potentially) than ECLA.

The Episcopal Church seems to be going through a sort of prophetic period, doesn't it? After, first it let women vote -- 1963, as I recall. Then it ordained them. It messed with the Prayer Book -- and compounded the problem by messing with the hymnal. Not to mention, adding strange thing like Lesser Feasts & Fasts, and several additional-hymnals. Persons of hitherto hidden sexual orientation came out and even were made bishop -- even when their coming out appeared to involve something like adultery.

The papist faction, having gotten everything they wanted, dropped "p" from PECUSA. Still dissatisfied, some went back to Rome -- while the rest merged with -- Nigeria (a church which despises its colonial roots, but survives on donations from colonial powers such as that large Lower Manhattan parish mentioned above).

Along the way, that faction has revived more ceremony -- and icon-oriented worship (Dom Bosco!?...) -- than presently obtains in Rome. They stick birettas on anyone near the communion table -- which is now truly an altar. Many -- most? -- ignore the inconvenient parts of the 39 Articles -- which really is a foundation confession and neatly minimalist at that.

I have come to miss the days when you knew it was Communion Sunday because the Rector shifted from a tippet & hood to a stole.

ECUSA has much to learn from ECLA. Sadly, I think that will not happen.